The centerpiece of this new neighborhood was Terrace Row located on Michigan Avenue, facing the lake, between Jackson and Van Buren, designed by a recently arrived addition to the city’s growing architectural community, William W. Boyington.  He had come to Chicago in November 1853, abandoning a flourishing practice in Massachusetts at the age of thirty-five in order to cast his lot with Chicago’s burgeoning construction boom.  In addition to the customary background in carpentry and construction, Boyington apparently had also received some architectural training in New York City that had helped to point him toward the design side of the profession, in which he had easily excelled in his native Massachusetts.  He had become quite facile in producing buildings in a variety of historical styles that he would prove in Chicago as he quickly accrued a series of projects, making his workload comparable to that of Van Osdel’s within two years of his arrival.  The commission for such a high profile project as Terrace Row gave Boyington the opportunity to exhibit his talents to the city’s elite, a number of whom were committed to move into the project upon its completion.

W.W. Boyington, Terrace Row, block of Michigan bounded by Van Buren and Tyler (Congress), 1856. The Panic of 1857 prevented the completion of the project, only eleven of the planned fourteen townhouses were built.

In contrast to Chicago’s traditional single-family house, these families had opted to experiment with an idea that was very much in vogue in New York City at the time: the attached row house.  The project was intended to comprise of fourteen attached four-story walk-ups.  Boyington avoided the inherent monotony of similar projects by breaking the composition into a central pavilion of two five-story units that was flanked with corner pavilions that also comprised of two five-story apartments.  Athens marble and a bracketed cornice lent an appropriate air of sophistication to the building that afforded its residents an unobstructed view of the lake (and, eventually, the puffing IC trains).  Such a grandiose project and investment by some of Chicago’s leading families seemed not only to guarantee the success of the surrounding area’s residential development, but also served to acquaint these people with Boyington’s talent that would quickly net a series of projects for him in the immediate neighborhood.

W. W. Boyington, McVicker’s Theater, Madison, between State and Dearborn, 1857.

As Boyington started the construction of Terrace Row, one of America’s leading comedic entertainers, James H. McVicker, had returned to Chicago to build the best theater house in the west.  McVicker had made his theatrical debut on John B. Rice’s stage on March 2, 1848, where he joined the stock company, eventually becoming the manager of Rice’s rebuilt theater following the fire in 1850.  A few years later he went on tour, first to the east coast where he established his reputation that eventually thrust him across the ocean to play to European houses in 1855.  The following year he returned to the states and established a theater in St. Louis, only to be drawn back to Chicago in March 1857.  McVicker chose a site south of Rice’s theater, on Madison between Dearborn and State Streets and spared no cost in erecting a design by Boyington that had a final price of $85,000 (by comparison, Rice had spent $11,000 to rebuild his theater).  Boyington planned a freestanding (there were alleys on all three sides) three-story structure of red brick and stone trim.  The first floor contained stores while the upper two floors contained offices and clubrooms that fronted on the street.  Boyington completed the elevation with flanking corner pavilions that rose an extra story above the roofline.  Entrance to the theater was gained through a central lobby, 30′ wide and 40′ deep, from which stairs led to the auditorium that could seat 2500 theatergoers.  Upon entering the theater, theatergoers were greeted by a poignant painting on the stage curtain of Farnum’s Rock Island Bridge over the Mississippi River  The doors opened on November 5, 1857, with a performance of the comedy “Honeymoon” to what quickly became a Chicago landmark. (McVicker was so successful with the new theater that John Rice was forced to eventually admit defeat and tear his theater down in 1860 and replaced it with a business block.)


Andreas, Alfred T. History of Chicago- vols. 1&2. Chicago, 1884-1886. Reprint, New York: Arno Press, 1975.

Bluestone, Daniel. Constructing Chicago. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1991.

Gilbert, Paul T., and Charles L. Bryson. Chicago and Its Makers. Chicago: F. Mendelsohn, 1929.

Pierce, Bessie Louis. A History of Chicago-v. I/II. New York: Knopf.  1940.

Sloan, Tom L. B., The Architecture of W.W. Boyington, Northwestern University, M.Arts, 1962.

Tallmadge, Thomas Eddy. Architecture in Old Chicago. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1941.

(If you have any questions or suggestions, please feel free to eMail me at: thearchitectureprofessor@gmail.com)

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