The renowned Chicago Symphony Orchestra is one of the most respected orchestral organizations around the world. It’s known for its distinctive sound, its powerful brass section, and its many recordings, which have garnered more than sixty Grammy Awards. But its beginnings were fraught with uncertainty and chaos. The creation and early survival of Chicago’s orchestra, and its permanent home on what is now Michigan Avenue, came down to a few dedicated philanthropists, a public that needed the arts, and one man in particular who insisted on creative freedom and excellence.
Up until the end of the 19th century, Chicago was not known for its cultural aspirations. That doesn’t mean they didn’t exist, but in comparison to New York, Boston, and other cities that had been around a lot longer, Chicago was the wild wild west. It was perceived as a town of merchants and industrialists who cared more about making money than enjoying the finer things in life. Who had time for frivolous things like concerts when there were hogs to be butchered and railroads to build?
Chicago did. Its first orchestral organization dates back to 1850, a mere thirteen years after the town officially became a city.
Read more about this landmark in Living Landmarks of Chicago.
Architect: D. H. Burnham & Co.
Address: 220 S. Michigan Ave.
Sources for Orchestra Hall (Symphony Center)
This is a selection of specific sources used to provide details while researching this landmark. Additional sources, including books and websites, can be found on the Resources page.
- Andreas, Alfred Theodore. History of Chicago: From the fire of 1871 until 1885. United States, A. T. Andreas, 1886.
- Chicago Association of Commerce and Industry. Chicago: Souvenir Booklet : the Chicago Association of Commerce Trade Tour, May Nineteen-twenty. Chicago: The Association, 1920.
- Ffrench, Florence. Music and Musicians in Chicago: F. Ffrench, 1899.
- “History of the CSO.” Chicago Symphony Orchestra
- Marden, Orison Swett, 1848-1924. How They Succeeded: Life Stories of Successful Men Told by Themselves. Boston: Lothrop Publishing Company, 1901.
- Otis, Philo Adams, 1846-1930. The Chicago Symphony Orchestra: Its Organization, Growth, And Development, 1891-1924. Chicago: Clayton F. Summy, 1924.
- Smith, Alson J. (Alson Jesse), 1908-. Chicago’s Left Bank. Chicago: H. Regnery Co., 1953.
- Spencer, Gwladys, 1885-1947. The Chicago Public Library: Origins And Backgrounds. Chicago, Ill.: The University of Chicago Press, 1943.
- Upton, George P. (George Putnam), 1834-1919. The Musical Progress of Chicago.1870.