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Howard Van Doren Shaw ‹ Back to Map

Howard Van Doren Shaw (1869-1926), was born in Chicago, the son of Theodore Shaw and Sarah Van Doren. His father acquired a fortune as a dry goods wholesaler and his mother, who was the great-granddaughter of the first mayor of Brooklyn, New York, was an artist. Both parents were socially active, his father serving on the planning committee for the World’s Columbian Exposition of 1893, and his mother as a member of the Chicago Arts League. Howard attended highly regarded private schools and was accepted by Yale University when he was only a high school junior. He graduated from Yale in 1890.


After graduate school in architecture at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Shaw returned to Chicago and accepted a position with the firm of Jenney & Mundie. William LeBaron Jenney was the dean of Chicago architects, a master of architectural engineering who was widely recognized as the “Father of the Skyscraper.” The timing of Shaw’s arrival in the office in June 1891 coincided with the design of two of the firm’s most important and famous buildings: the eight-story Ludington Building (NR, CL), 1104 South Wabash Avenue, now owned by Columbia College and described elsewhere in this report; and, the 16-story Manhattan Building (NR, CL), which was, at the time it was built, the world’s tallest building. Jenney was already well-known for his skill as a teacher as well as an architect; his apprentices of the 1870s and ‘80s included Daniel Burnham, John Root, William Holabird, Martin Roche, and Louis Sullivan. At the time Shaw began working for Jenney, another generation of noteworthy young architects was on staff, including James Gamble Rogers and Alfred Granger.

Shaw worked for Jenney during 1891 and early 1892, leaving on a trip for architectural study in Europe for half a year. He then returned to Chicago and Jenney’s office early in 1893. During the next two years he continued to work for Jenney on a contractual basis, married, moved to Hyde Park, and established his own firm. Fortuitously for the young architect, the new University of Chicago had just opened, leading to a residential building boom in the Hyde Park neighborhood that provided Shaw the opportunity to build many of his earliest designs.

The Lakeside Press Building was constructed as a printing facility for the Donnelley family, whose prominence in Chicago’s printing industry has lasted for generations. One of Shaw’s Hyde Park neighbors was Thomas Donnelley, a fellow Yale alumnus and the son of Richard Donnelley, cofounder of the Lakeside Press. It was through these connections that Shaw was hired to design the company’s new plant at 731 South Plymouth Court. Although he had never designed a building as large as that needed by the Donnelleys, Shaw had already gained some experience with large-scale printing facilities in the work he had done with Jenney on the design for the Ludington Building, which housed the presses of the American Book Company. Jenney built the Ludington with the world’s first all steel structural frame sheathed in terra cotta for fireproofing, which was a distinct improvement on the tradition of heavy timber lofts for printing presses. Shaw took the concept even farther, and proposed “a fireproof design of poured reinforced concrete columns and an open-shell concrete floor. Although it was more expensive, the Donnelley family was impressed with its fire safety and approved it” (Greene, Virginia A. The Architecture of Howard Van Doren Shaw, p. 11).

The reinforced concrete structure of the Lakeside Press Building was one of the earliest uses of this new structural engineering technology in Chicago. Like his teacher, Jenney, Shaw was pursuing innovative technology as the means to best meet the practical requirements his clients had for the commission. The building needed to withstand the loads presented by tons of paper, and the weight and vibrations of the moving presses. Aesthetically, however, the building is in touch with the histories of printing and of design, and was meant to symbolize the values of its ownership.

“The carefully composed façade that Shaw designed for the building was also significant. According to a company history published by R.R. Donnelley & Sons in 1929, Shaw had been asked to design a building that would ‘represent the close affiliation between printing and the fine arts’ because the Lakeside Press specialized in high-quality work. The history goes on to assert that nineteenth-century industrial buildings had been lacking in aesthetic value and that the Lakeside Press building was such an outstanding departure in factory design that it marked a new epoch in manufacturing architecture” (Greene, Virginia A. The Architecture of Howard Van Doren Shaw, p. 11).

Shaw chose a picturesque elevation design that ignored the history of industrial design and placed the building in the tradition of dignified historic public architecture. To accomplish this, he gave the building a monumental scale arcade that stands from the third to the seventh floors, an architectural form that reveals the influences exerted on him by the architecture of Henry Hobson Richardson and John W. Root. Shaw ornamented the building with medieval guild symbols that refer to fine printmaking, bookbinding and, in reference to Chicago and the heritage of the Midwest, Native Americans. “The Donnelley plant uses the ideal of the guild, not the factory, to develop floor plans that are resourceful, practical, and instructive. These aspirations exactly represent the notion of a company leading the way to equitable and just worker rights through fair wages, hours, and educational opportunities. For the Donnelleys, pride in the product being produced and in participating in the pursuit of truth was also part of the design” (Greene, Virginia A. The Architecture of Howard Van Doren Shaw, p. 86).

Shaw’s success with the Lakeside Press Building, his first large-scale commercial design, led to many other commissions from prominent Chicago clients. Unlike most architects, who specialized in design for one or two building types, Shaw designed a wide variety of buildings for patrons who commissioned residential, industrial, commercial and religious buildings from him. In addition to the Donnelleys, his clients included such prominent Chicago families as the Swifts and Ryersons. His most famous buildings are the 1906 Mentor Building at 39 South State Street, the 1130 North Lake Shore Apartments of 1910, the new R.R. Donnelley & Sons Company plant of 1911-29 at 350 East Cermak Road, the Fourth Presbyterian Church of 1911-26, at Chestnut Street and Michigan Avenue, and the 1924 McKinlock Court at the Art Institute, all in Chicago; and the Market Square of Lake Forest, Illinois, designed in 1914-15 and begun in 1916. Shaw was made a Fellow of the American Institute of Architects in 1907.

 

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