An Early Aerial View of the University of Chicago

Aerial panoramic view of the Quads taken from west of Ellis Avenue.
George R Lawrence was a pioneer whose specialty was panoramic aerial photography.  A native of northern Illinois, he invented the means to take high-quality “bird’s eye” views using a camera hoisted aloft with balloons or kites.  His most famous photographs are of a ruined San Francisco after the 1906 earthquake, but he also photographed Chicago, its waterfront and factories, and various towns nearby.

This early view of the University of Chicago documents the twelve-year-old school taking shape in Hyde Park.  (Click the image to enlarge it.)  The photograph was taken looking east from just beyond Ellis Avenue, the vacant spot at center left being where Searle now stands.  To the left is Snell-Hitchcock dormitory (where yours truly once lived—I can actually see the window of my old room).  Beyond that, above 57th Street, is Stagg Field; in the distance stands the new Bartlett Gym.

In the right foreground is the University Bookstore; just above it is Cobb at one end of a row of buildings housing the humanities. Kent is at center, with its distinctive auditorium attached to the back.

Denizens of the campus can envision the buildings that are missing.  There is no Admin building; no Harper yet (in 1904, he was still living).  No Divinity School.  No Oriental Institute, and no Rockefeller, whose tower would become a dominating landmark in the future. The young university had, however, put up the Lab School and Hutchinson Commons, along with a few essential science buildings still in use today.

Given that the University opened in 1892, its founders had accomplished a tremendous lot in a very short time.

Image: from the Library of Congress via Wikimedia Commons.
Click here to see more of Lawrence’s aerial photographs
or here to learn more about University’s buildings.

4 responses

  1. Update: Today, anyone, even without special camera smarts, can take in a heavenly view of the U of C by rising to the tenth floor of the new Logan Family performance center and looking out the window. There it all is. W. Komaiko

  2. Amazing that such a sharp picture was taken from a basket lofted on a balloon ! . . . . Nice job finding it.