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John Wellborn Root


John Wellborn Root, Architect [1850-1891]

John Wellborn Root [†] was born and educated in Georgia. During the American Civil War, Root was taken to England and while in residence there attended Oxford University. On returning to the United States in 1866, Root entered City College of New York, where he received his basic architectural and engineering training. Root was employed within the offices of Renwick and Sands and remained there for approximately one year.

In 1871, following the devastating Chicago fire, which destroyed much of the city, Root went to Chicago, summoned by architect Peter Wight, who had recently become junior partner of the firm of Carter, Drake and Wight. Wight installed Root within the drafting department. It was there that Root met Daniel Hudson Burnham (1846-1912) and in 1873, these two men formed one of the greatest partnerships in the history of modern architecture. Although their early years were lean, the firm gradually acquired various important commissions. Root, serving as chief designer of the firm, was primarily responsible for much of the firm's originality in building design and function.

During the 1880's, Chicago experienced great building activity. It was within this decade, that the firm became responsible for many of the city's most outstanding public and commercial structures. Early Burnham and Root works in Chicago include the Moutauk Block, 1881-82, the Rial to Building, 1885-88, and the renowned Rookery Building 1885-88, erected during the transition from masonry to skeletal construction.

Burnham and Root became nationally prominent and contributed to a vast number of building designs in other American cities, including San Francisco, Cleveland and Kansas City. In Kansas City, the firm furnished plans for the Midland Hotel, begun in 1886 at Seventh and Walnuts (demolished). That same year, a competition was held for the design of the second Kansas City Board of Trade Building. Architects from all over the United States submitted plans which were subsequently awarded to Burnham and Root. On the building's completion in 1888, the Board of Trade was the first large building and earliest fire-proof structure in the city (razed 1968).

Additional Kansas City designs executed by the Chicago firm included the Y.M.C.A. Building constructed in 1887 at East Ninth and Locust Streets (razed 1973). The American National Bank was under construction from 1886-88 (demolished). In 1887-88, the James L. Lombard residence on Norledge Avenue was erected. That same year construction began on the Grand Avenue Station, commissioned by the Kansas City Belt Railway (demolished).

Other exceptional structures of Burnham and Root in Chicago and elsewhere, included the San Francisco Chronicle Building, 1887-90, the Rand-McNally Building in Chicago, 1888-90, and the Fidelity Trust Company, in Tacoma, Washington, 1889-91. Chicago's Monadnock Block, 1689-92, was one of Root's most challenging designs. The Monadnock, combining various Egyptian influences, was the last of the great line of load-bearing masonry structures and remains one of the most impressive designs in the evolution of large modern office buildings. The immense Masonic Temple Building, erected in 1890-92, and scaling twenty stories, was the largest of Root's works.

During the planning for the World's Columbian Exposition which was incorporated in Chicago in 1890, John W. Root was chosen as Consulting Architect with Daniel H. Burnham selected as Chief of Construction. Roots untimely death in 1891, forced the Exposition's plans to be completed by Burnham with the fair's eventual opening in 1893. The death of John Wellborn Root brought to a close, a major period of architectural innovation in America.

† Edward J. Miszczuk, Chief Research Historian, Landmarks Commission of Kansas City, Missouri, Kinder Care Nursing Home (William Chick Scarritt Residence, Kansas City, Jackson County, MO,, nomination document, 1976, National Park Service, National Register of Historic Places, Washington, D.C.


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