There are several stories about how the Rookery got its name. Some say it was called this because of the ramshackle appearance of the hastily built City Hall that occupied this site until 1885. Others claim the name originated with the crows that lived in the previous structure’s walls, paralleling the politicians who roosted there each day. It is also said that an adjacent fire station attracted scores of pigeons to the site to feed on the horses’ oats. Whatever the case, newspaper articles and first-hand accounts apply the word “rookery” when referring to the site of the post-fire City Hall. Unfortunately, people continued to call the new Burnham & Root masterpiece by the same name, which did not please the invested parties.
Owen Aldis wrote to Peter Brooks, “I do not like the name which has been given to the Central Safety Deposit Company building, ‘the Rookery’ any more than you do, but it seems utterly impossible to give any name to it by which it will be called except that. We always speak of it, and many of our contracts are signed under the name of the ‘Central Building’, but no human being in Chicago knows of any other name for it, or will repeat any other name than ‘The Rookery Building’, or ‘The Rookery’ or usually call it simply the ‘Rookery’. It is to a certain extent historical, but I don’t like the name and think that the best plan will be to have the Street numbers on the Adams and LaSalle Street doors and whoever doesn’t not like the name can simply put the street number on their letterhead.”
Perhaps Root had the last laugh. He designed open-mouthed crows – or rooks – on the building exterior that are reminiscent of the squawking corrupt city officials that once crowded about City Hall.