The Reach of the Pit: Negotiating the Multiple Spheres of the Chicago Board of Trade Building in the Late Nineteenth Century

Open Access
Tritch Roman, Gretta Suzanne
Graduate Program:
Art History
Doctor of Philosophy
Document Type:
Date of Defense:
June 08, 2015
Committee Members:
  • Craig Robert Zabel, Dissertation Advisor
  • Madhuri Shrikant Desai, Committee Member
  • Amara Leah Solari, Committee Member
  • Deryck William Holdsworth, Committee Member
  • architecture
  • architectural history
  • urbanism
  • capitalism
  • Chicago
  • public sphere
  • Midwest
  • commodity exchange
This dissertation centers on the Chicago Board of Trade Building, designed by William W. Boyington, completed in 1885 and demolished in 1929, as a significant example of shifting social and cultural values that were responses to larger transformations in the city’s economy. Serving as the region’s central grain exchange, the monumental Board of Trade Building in downtown Chicago bridged the far-reaching palpable repercussions of industrial capital’s expansion into Midwestern agriculture with the less conspicuous representational and conceptual evidence in the everyday experience of the built environment. Architectural histories have afforded little room for this building since its appearance seems to preclude it from its more progressive neighbors—the early skyscrapers of Chicago built at the same time. The Chicago Board of Trade Building, as well as the multiple spheres that intersected with it, uncover a contested terrain between the processes of commercial and industrial capitalism and expose the “modernity” of the city to be a matter of a difficult transition. This analysis repositions this building’s significance as an important example of early corporate identity formation, a negotiated image within a contested field of commercial dominance, new forms of capital security and risk, changing definitions of social space and morality, and especially interpretations of public and the common good.