William Holabird, Architect of Tall Buildings

Founding Father of the Chicago School (1854-1923)

Black and white portrait of white man, receding grey hair, full dark beard, intense eyes
William Holabird. Alexander Hesler/Chicago History Museum/Getty Images (cropped)

Architect William Holabird (born September 11, 1854 in Amenia Union, New York), along with his partner Martin Roche (1853-1927), forged America's early skyscrapers and launched an architectural style known as the Chicago School. The architectural firms of Holabird and Roche, Burnham and Root, and Adler and Sullivan were some of the most influential teams in American architectural history and modern design.

William Holabird began his education at the West Point Military Academy, but after two years he moved to Chicago and worked as a draftsman for William Le Baron Jenney, who is often called "Father of the Skyscraper." Holabird founded his own practice in 1880, and formed a partnership with Martin Roche in 1881.

The Chicago School style featured many innovations. The "Chicago window" created the effect that the buildings were composed of glass. Each large pane of glass was flanked by narrow windows that could be opened.

Many of the first skyscrapers were built in Chicago, Illinois after the Great Fire of 1871. In Chicago, Holabird and Roche designed the Tacoma Building (1888), the Pontiac Building (1891), the Old Colony Building (1893), the Marquette Building (1895), the LaSalle Hotel (1909), the Brooks Building (1910), the Palmer House (1923), and the Stevens Hotel (1927).

Between 1889 and 1908 Holabird and Roche built a number of buildings at Fort Sheridan, Illinois — 66 buildings have been designated a National Historic Landmark District.

In addition to their Chicago skyscrapers, Holabird and Roche became leading designers of large hotels in the midwest. The Plankinton Building in Milwaukee Wisconsin started off as a two-story building in 1916 and five more floors were added in 1924. The Plankinton, like other new tall buildings being built at the time, was steel frame with a facade of terra cotta.  After William Holabird's death on July 19, 1923, the firm was reorganized by his son. The new firm, Holabird & Root, was highly influential in the 1920s.

The John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation is proud to own and occupy the Marquette Building in Chicago. As a supporter of creativity, the Foundation is the perfect owner of a building steeped in history. Early skyscrapers from the Chicago School era are now over a century old, if they haven't already been torn down. Holabird and Roche designed the original 1924 neoclassical style Soldier Field in Chicago, a national landmark stripped of its designation after a gut-wrenching 21st century renovation. Restoration and historic preservation are the price of caring for history.