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La Influencia de Bruce Graham

National Hispanic Heritage Month runs from September 15 to October 15. The Chicago skyline you see today was largely influenced by a Peruvian American architect who was born in Colombia and raised in Puerto Rico. Bruce Graham worked at Skidmore, Owings & Merrill from 1951 to 1989, where his projects included the Inland Steel Building (1957), John Hancock Center (1969), and Sears Tower (1974), among others.

An undated portrait of Bruce Graham from Wikipedia.

Graham’s father, Carroll, was born in Canada, raised in Puerto Rico, and traveled throughout Latin America for his work as a bank inspector for Chase Bank. While in Arequipa, Peru, he met and married Angélica Gómez de la Torre Bueno, and was transferred to La Cumbre, Colombia, where Bruce John Graham was born on December 1, 1925. Within a few months, the family moved to San Juan, Puerto Rico, where Graham grew up, not speaking English until age seven or eight. He showed interest in drawing as a youngster, taking drawing lessons and sketching cartoons. Graham was also fascinated by San Juan’s built environment, so he combined those interests and made a hobby of mapping the city’s slum neighborhoods. After attending Colegio San José Río Piedras for high school, he graduated at fifteen and came to the United States to study at the University of Dayton on a scholarship, but his studies were interrupted by World War II. Graham then served in the US navy from 1941 to 1945 and resumed his education at the University of Pennsylvania on the GI Bill, graduating in 1948. From then on, he grew his career in Chicago, first at Holabird, Root, and Burgee until 1951, then at Skidmore, Owings & Merrill until 1989. 

The Inland Steel building at 30 West Monroe Street, Chicago, March 24, 1958. HB-21235-B4, CHM, Hedrich Blessing Collection.

As Graham reached the heights of his storied career, he maintained ties to South America as one of the founding members of the School of Architecture at the Universidad de los Andes in Bogotá, Colombia, and as an honorary member of the Institute for Urbanism and Planning at the Universidad Nacional Mayor de San Marcos in Lima, Perú, the oldest continuously operating university in the Americas.

The Sears Tower under construction, Chicago, c. 1972. In the left background is the John Hancock Center. HB-36150-H2, CHM, Hedrich-Blessing Collection.

Learn more about Bruce Graham’s extraordinary life and career in our Chicago History article, “Creating a Dance: Interviews with Bruce Graham and Maria Tallchief.” Read the article.

Chicago History Magazine

For fifty years, the Chicago History Museum’s Chicago History magazine has been featuring scholarly articles that tell Chicago stories, shedding light on well-known events and giving voice to lesser known people and happenings that have also shaped the city’s history. The magazine’s pages have covered everything from reshaping Chicago’s waterways to the history of the city’s murals, from the mayor’s office during Prohibition to Black abolitionists during the mid-nineteenth century, from the songs of the labor movement to streamlined modern design. Read the magazine.

26th Annual Making History Awards 

Tuesday, October 6, 6:00 p.m. 

In 1999, architect Bruce Graham was honored with one of the Chicago History Museum’s Making History Awards, which are bestowed upon Chicagoans and Chicago companies whose enduring contributions to art and culture, sports, business, and civic life have made this city a more vibrant place to live. While we’re unable to gather in person this year, tonight’s virtual ceremony will celebrate the accomplishments of seven distinguished honorees who have left their mark on Chicago. Learn more.


Chicago History Museum Sharing Chicago Stories