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Owen Aldis. The National Cyclopaedia of American Biography, Yale University Library.

In 1875, Owen Aldis—a wealthy, erudite Vermont lawyer—moved to Chicago to practice real estate law for East Coast investors. When Boston developer Peter Brooks asked Aldis to manage the Portland Block in 1879, it launched a partnership that gave Chicago some of its most notable buildings, including the Montauk, Monadnock, Rookery, and Pontiac Buildings.

With enough money, anyone could erect a skyscraper, but Aldis perfected them. He carefully considered every aspect of their construction and deliberated each detail in sometimes daily communications with architects and the Brooks brothers. This successful business partnership developed into friendship; their correspondence touched on vacations traveled, illnesses suffered, and gifts exchanged.

Aldis was a private man, and little is known of his life. His wife died in 1885 and his only son in 1903. He remarried in 1912 and spent the rest of his life in Europe. Though his name never graced a building, by 1902, more than one-fifth of Chicago’s office space was Aldis & Company-produced and managed.

© 2012 John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation