Thursday, June 26, 2014

Grant Park -- The Beginning (Or Close to It)

Work on the landfill that would eventually lead to Grant Park
(Chicago Daily News Photo Archive)
Interesting article on this date, June 26, back in 1894 as the Chicago Tribune reported on the Chicago City Council meeting of the previous evening, at which the principal topic for consideration was a resolution regarding the Lake-Front park, that area of the city which is today Grant Park.

Two years earlier the city had begun the Chicago Sanitary and Ship Canal, the immense earth-moving undertaking that would, it was hoped, reverse the flow of the Chicago River, relieve the city of its foulness, and save the city’s supply of fresh water from Lake Michigan into which the river had always flowed.

The 28-mile excavation was, among other things, creating a lot of dirt, and the Drainage Board had offered the city 3,000,000 cubic yards of fill, free of charge, fill that could be dumped into the lake east of the Illinois Central Railroad tracks on the lakefront, instantly creating a new expanse of land that could become park space.

Alderman Madden urged a quick acceptance of the offer.  According to The Tribune, Alderman Madden stated, “This offer ought to be accepted and the earth utilized at the present time.  The project was feasible.  The park was a necessity for the people of the overcrowded districts of the city.  The project had been approved by the intelligence of the city.  It was demanded by the masses.  The matter ought to be acted upon at once.”  [Chicago Tribune, June 26, 1894]

Alderman Ballard immediately opposed the plan saying that the lakefront was a nuisance and would continue to be a nuisance, adding that the only time he had ever been offered a bribe had been in connection with the lakefront.  Alderman “Bathhouse” John Coughlin also opposed the development plan, saying that it would necessitate viaducts to access the new property and that viaducts were “objectionable.”

Alderman Gallagher then rose to speak, asserting that the aldermen whose wards lay close to the lake had opposed every plan for improvement which did not “increase the value of their property or put money in their pockets.”  Chicago would still be a lake village if everyone shared their “unprogressive” views was the thrust of his argument.

A motion to table the resolution was voted down, 40 to 25, and soon after the lakefront resolution was passed.

It read:

    WHEREAS, It has long been the desire of the citizens of Chicago to know what use is to be made of the Lake-Front, from Randolph street to Park row; and,
    WHEREAS, It appears from the late decision of the United States Supreme Court that the unquestioned title is in the City of Chicago; and,
    WHEREAS, It is desirable that it be put to some use; and,
    WHEREAS, The Drainage Trustees have let the contracts for the eastern portions of the Drainage Canal, the terms of which provide for the removal of the earth excavated from the line of said canal; and,
    WHEREAS, Such contractors are now towing all the material to a point in Lake Michigan, where a depth of 50 feet of water can be found; and,
    WHEREAS, It is desirable that the space east of the Illinois Central right of way to a point 750 feet west of the government breakwater be utilized for a people’s park; and,
    WHEREAS, There is no doubt that the Drainage Canal contractors would be glad to dump the excavated from the canal in this space without cost to the city; therefore, be it
    ORDERED, That the Mayor and Commissioner of Public Works be, and they are herby, requested to enter into negotiations, the result to be reported to the Council:
    First—With the Illinois Central railroad company for the lowering of its tracks from the present grade so that the present Lake-Front Park can be carried over them.
    Second—With the proper government officials with a view of securing permission to extend the park 1,250 east of the Illinois Central railway; and,
    Third—with the Drainage Canal contractors with a view to having them fill the space indicated without cost to the City of Chicago.

Note the below grade railroad tracks running straight up the middle
of the photo (JWB Photo)
At that meeting on that night one hundred twenty years ago Chicago began to lift itself out of the smoke and stench and become the city it is today.  When you stand on the Nichols Bridgeway leading from Millennium Park to the Modern Wing of the Art Institute of Chicago and survey those railroad tracks running below grade . . . they are where they are because of that resolution.

And when you enter Grant Park from Columbus Drive and draw close to a Buckingham Fountain, the setting in which that gem is placed would not have existed without the action taken on that night so long ago.

Buckingham Fountain in Grant Park (JWB Photo)
All in all, not a bad couple of hours of work for the pols on that early summer evening back in 1894.

Sunday, June 22, 2014

Flagler College and the Ponce de Leon Hotel

Question.  What do the following three structures, one a private residence, now a museum, the next a public library, and the third, once a hotel, now a college dormitory, have in common?

New York Public Library (JWB Photo)
Whitehall, Palm Beach, Florida (JWB Photo)
Flagler College, St. Augustine, Florida (JWB Photo)
Answer.  All three were designed by the New York firm of John Merven Carrére and Thomas Hastings, a partnership that lasted from 1885 until 1911.

I’m always amazed, but never surprised that, no matter where one looks in the field of architecture, there always seems to be a Chicago connection, and there is one here as well even through Carrére and Hastings never designed a building for Chicago.

In 1917 the University of Chicago Press published six lectures, two each by three distinguished architects, delivered at the Art Institute of Chicago as part of the Scammon Lectureship endowed as a bequest of Mrs. Maria Sheldon Scammon upon her death in 1901.

One lecturer was Ralph Adams Cram, the designer of Chicago’s Fourth Presbyterian Church.  Another lecturer was Claude Bragdon, a regional architect in New York who was among the first generation of “prairie school” designers.  The third was Thomas Hastings.

In his lecture Modern Architecture, Mr. Hastings said:

If there be beauty in the plans of our cities and in the buildings which adorn our public squares and highways, its influence will make itself felt upon every passer-by.  Beauty in our buildings is an open book of involuntary education and refinement, and it uplifts and ennobles human character.  It is a song and a sermon without words.  It inculcates in a people a true sense of dignity, a sense of reverence and respect for tradition, and it makes an atmosphere in its environment which breeds the proper kind of contentment, that kind of contentment which stimulates true ambition. [Six Lectures on Architecture.  University of Chicago Press, 1917]

On our way back home in May Jill and I stopped in St. Augustine, the oldest town in the United States and the home of Flagler College.  Today the college’s dormitory building is a prime example of Thomas Hasting’s assertion that beauty in a place’s buildings is a force that does uplift and ennoble.

Originally, this grand building was the Ponce de Leon Hotel, designed for Henry Flagler, the railroad magnate who lent the money to John D. Rockefeller to start the Standard Oil Company.  Built between 1885 and 1887, it was designed in the Spanish Revival style (think Wrigley Building in Chicago) and was one of the first commissions to be executed by Carrére and Hastings, who had left the prolific New York City firm of McKim, Mead and White.

Henry Flagler (JWB Photo)
Wired for electricity from the start and constructed entirely of poured concrete, the hotel had graceful twin towers, each of which originally contained 8,000 gallon water tanks that provided running water for guests.  Louis Comfort Tiffany supervised the creation of the stained glass, mosaics, and terra cotta ornamentation on the walls and ceiling. [National Park Service, Department of the Interior]

In the first of his lectures at the Art Institute of Chicago in 1815, Architectural Composition, Thomas Hastings said . . .

The most difficult thing in composition (and I believe this to be true of all art) is to know how to be simple, but to be simple without being stupid and colorless; to be firm and strong without being hard and angular; to have good detail, which, on the one hand, does not assert itself to the injury of the ensemble, and, on the other hand, is not timid for fear of a want of refreshment.  When a man has acquired a certain knowledge of his art, timidity is almost as bad as vulgarity and weakness as unpardonable as coarseness.

There is nothing timid, vulgar or weak in this design.  It lives up to the assertion of Thomas Hastings, perhaps the most important ingredient in design – it is simple without being hard or angular and its detail does not detract from the unity of the whole.

Wonder what Mr. Hastings would think today of the new signage at 401 North Wabash . . .

The Dome at Flagler College (JWB Photo)
Mosaic Detail at Entrance of Flagler College (JWB Photo)
Fountain Turtle in Courtyard (JWB Photo)
One of the Towers, formerly containing an 8,000 gallon water tank (JWB Photo)
Fountain Frog (JWB Photo)
Nameplate with Date of Completion (JWB Photo)









Thursday, June 19, 2014

Fort Sheridan's Arc of Nature

A couple of years ago you could see a beautiful oculus of a mosaic on the North Branch of the Chicago River, entitled Rora.  The lovely work won an Honor Award from the American Society of Landscape Architects in 1999, and was the creation of Ginny Sykes.  Unfortunately, the section of the work that could be seen from the river was removed due to the deteriorating condition of the old Erie Street bridge abutment upon which it was displayed.

Rora by Ginny Sykes -- Locus Tree by Nature (JWB Photo)
I had heard some time ago that there was a way to see another work that Ginny Sykes had a hand in, hidden under a viaduct at Fort Sheridan.  I got a chance to search it out on Tuesday when I paid a visit to the old Army base, once my home, and nosed around a little bit.  After limping down a three-story stairway, I found it . . . beneath the Patten Road bridge that lifts that road over another lane, now closed to automobile traffic, that used to carry cars full of bathers down to the enlisted men’s beach at Fort Sheridan.  This is now part of the Openlands Lakeshore Preserve, which is R-E-A-L-L-Y cool.  If you have an extra hour or so, and you are up on the North Shore, this is one little trek that you may want to consider.

The work is worth the walk (JWB Photo)
Arc of Nature, which was placed there in 2010, is the work of Ginny Sykes and Augusina Droze, working with the Chicago Public Art Group.  According to Ms. Sykes’s website the work

. . .  speaks to the particular ecosystem within the ravine environment and the ongoing restoration work of the ravine.  Meant to inspire and engage visitors as they walk the ravine towards the lake, the mural suggests real and metaphoric connections between the variety of human experiences of nature, as part of nature, and that of nature within a larger cosmology.  The breadth of scale of the work is meant to suggest the sweeping sense of openness and peace that can be found in this area.

It all works – all of the glass tile, the painted surfaces, the aluminum rays – make sense.  A bridge crosses over a road, a road that once carried car after car down to the lakeshore.  Looking at the work of art, you forget the bridge as much as you are able, and you stand on a shaded and winding lane in the bottom of a lakeshore ravine, within hearing distance of waves on the lake, which occasionally get confused with traffic overhead.

Arc of Nature, Openlands Lakeshore Preserve (JWB Photo)
As I stood there, I remembered the old days, when this was a real road with cars carrying real people, many of them dead now, down to the lake, so eager, I suppose for a few hours in the sun, that they didn’t notice the nature that surrounded them. 

At this place we notice it now.  And that’s a good thing.

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Fort Sheridan Quartermaster Stable -- Then and Now

The Fort Sheridan Tower, designed by Holabird and Roche
(JWB Photo)
I spent a lovely Monday afternoon walking around the Town of Fort Sheridan, its historic district and the Lake County Forest Preserve prairie just north of that area.

My father was stationed at Fort Sheridan twice, once in the early sixties and then again a few years before the end of that decade.  In fact, it was on the parade ground at Fort Sheridan where his retirement was made official after 26 years of service.

So going back to the old Army base brought back some memories.  This place was where I lived when I saw my first baseball game, the Cubs at Wrigley Field.  I’ve been a lifer ever since.  It was home when I rode my first roller coasters, the Fireball, the Silver Streak, the Bobs, and the Flying Turns at Riverview.  It was the place where I first defied my father, riding off to see Journey to the Center of the Earth at the post theater as he stood on the front stoop yelling at me to get back in the house.

I did not enjoy the movie.

It wasn’t a time in my life that I don’t remember with a great deal of fondness, not the first time around, anyway.  The North Shore isn’t a great place for an 11-year-old Army brat living in government housing so cheap that It was the first thing to be demolished when the government turned the property over for development in the 1990’s.

But it was, looking back, a cool place to hang.  Our back yard abutted a landing field with a Nike missile base just beyond that.  There were ravines that would take us all the way to the lake, and we played in them during the summer from morning until suppertime.

Chicagoans talk a lot about adapting older buildings for modern purposes.  Look at all the factory buildings on the near west side that have gone over to loft residences.  Notice what is taking place at Goose Island with the proposal to turn an old window frame factory into a high tech incubator.  This city should be proud of the strides it has made in preserving the old by folding it creatively into a variety of new uses.

At Fort Sheridan that process has been about as tasteful, respectful and historically accurate as one might hope for a project of its size.  The following three photos of the same building will show how sensitive the process has been.

I have a special place in my heart for the second photo.  When I was putting myself through a Master’s degree program at DePaul in the early 1970’s, I worked as a letter carrier for the United State Postal Service and for a while delivered mail at Fort Sheridan.  I spent a lot of time in the building shown in the photos below.  The repurposing of the structure was so historically accurate that when I was on the former base on Monday, I had no idea that the private residence I was photographing was really the old office in which I had sorted mail.

The structure, according to a 1979 Historic American Buildings Survey, was designed by William Holabird and Martin Roche and completed in 1890.  Its original purpose was as the Quartermaster Stables (the Quartermaster in 1890, among other things, would have been responsible for the procurement of horses for the cavalry on the base), but was used for many years as a veterinary hospital.  It also served as a cafeteria for the Post Exchange in the 1940’s and finally as the Fort Sheridan post office.

According to the survey the building “. . . has a distinctive design which is different from the other stables on the post and makes a notable addition to the comprehensiveness of the surviving building stock at Fort Sheridan.  The attractive appearance and decorative detail is illustrative of the importance of the horse in the pre-World War I army.”

Check out the tympanum above the loft doors with that checkerboard pattern of projecting and recessed brick headers, just one detail, subtle, handled with an early illustration of the sensitive, understated and deft touch that would characterize the great Holabird and Roche buildings in Chicago.

Today the building is a single-family residence, a really, really cool place to live.

Fort Sheridan Quartermaster Stable (Holabird & Roche) 1897
Historic American Building Survey
United States Post Office at Fort Sheridan 1997
Historic American Building Survey
Single-family home -- June, 2014
JWB Photo



Thursday, June 12, 2014

A Tribune Farewell -- June 12, 1928

The Tribune stable master, Frank Pember, bids the last of the paper's
work horses farewell on June 12, 1928 (Chicago Tribune Photo)
The end of an era took place on this date, June 12, 1928 when The Chicago Tribune sold its last six horses.  “For the newspaper world has grown too speedy for equines, and it was reluctantly determined to rout the old guard and to motorize the remaining horse drawn equipment at the stable on Grand Avenue,” reported the paper.  [Chicago Tribune, June 13, 1928]

At one time The Tribune stabled 78 horses; then the first gas-powered truck was purchased in 1911.  More trucks followed until the end of the line was reached in 1928.  “Big and powerful though they are, muscles rippling under the sheen of their coats, it is no longer safe to use the horses because of the crush of traffic,” wrote The Tribune reporter.

Mark Pember, the man in charge of the stables led the last six horses out to the purchaser as they “seemed to run reproachful eyes on the bystanders, and to bend quizzical heads toward the sputtering and smelly motor trucks that had usurped their quarter and their duties.”

“They’re just victims of the times,” Mr. Pember said.  “Too slow to carry The Tribune to folks these days.  But it took seventeen years to finish ‘em . . . But the circulation has kept going up and up and the demand for speed got more insistent all the time.  That’s what’s done it – circulation.  But it’s too bad they have to go.”

As he spoke “Dick, the dapple gray beauty, and the chestnut and the white and the other steeds seemed to think so, too.  For they tugged uneasily at the ropes of their halters, and tried ineffectually to get back up the runway to their familiar stalls.”

Then they were gone and with them all of the years during which they did their work as the great city motored its way without hesitation toward the uncertainty of the future.

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

The Chicago River -- June 11 of 1864 and 1892

Man standing on crusted refuse on the Chicago River (Chicago Daily News Archives)
Two items today about the Chicago River – the first from June 11, 1864 and the second from June 11, 1892.

To begin, consider a poem Samuel Taylor Coleridge published in 1834, a scathing piece written about the city of Cologne, a poem that stands in an angry irony against the city’s name.  It’s a short poem for Coleridge, and here it is . . .

In Köhln, a town of monks and bones,
And pavements fang'd with murderous stones

And rags, and hags, and hideous wenches;
I counted two and seventy stenches,
All well defined, and several stinks!
Ye Nymphs that reign o'er sewers and sinks,
The river Rhine, it is well known,
Doth wash your city of Cologne;

But tell me, Nymphs, what power divine

Shall henceforth wash the river Rhine?

The Chicago Tribune on this day in 1864 made reference to Coleridge’s work in an editorial concerning the Chicago River.  “All the stinks Coleridge found in Cologne . . . are to be found exhaling from the wretched cess-pool disturbed by our shipping; and occasionally we doubt if there be not a whiff or two that Coleridge would have found an addition to his list.  It smells.  It is foul,” the paper hissed.  [Chicago Tribune, June 11, 1864]

The editorial board went on to discuss an incident that occurred days earlier along the river. 

The other day . . . we stood upon the brink of [the river] when the stern-wheel steam craft from the Rolling Mill passed down.  We were to leeward.  Faugh!  The paddles dipped up the water, carried it over and threw it out, in its swashing style, and we caught its rank odors; as we caught them we parted company with them speedily, but not before we had formed an opinion that something must be done about it.

Then the writers looked forward to the long, hot summer and what implications it and the river would have on the inhabitants of the city.

It will breed a pestilence, this huge, filthy ditch, which reeks with the garbage of distilleries and slaughter houses, sewers, and cesspools, and the odorous refuse of the Gas Company.  We do not remember to have ever before seen it as abominably unclean as it is now . . .

The remedy to the horrors of the river, the editorial suggested, was to employ huge pumps already installed at Bridgeport to move water from the river into the Illinois and Michigan Canal, at that point already 16 years old.  “. . . in twenty-four hours time, fresh, pure water form the lake will take the place of this infamous broth concocted of all uncleanness and pent under the very nostrils of our citizens.”

Clearly, the idea of reversing the river and moving its “cologne” out of the city to the west was an idea that was proposed long before the storied reversal of the river in 1900.

*      *      *      *      *

JWB Photo
The second item comes from this date in 1892 when a curious incident occurred on the Chicago River according to The Tribune, what the paper called a “queer coincidence.”

At the time that incumbent President Benjamin Harrison was renominated in Minneapolis, reports of the event were being received at the offices of the V. O. T. company.  Much to the amusement of those gathered there, “the schooner Benjamin Harrison was passing through Harrison street bridge in Chicago, the Protection towing her and the Union astern, with the barge Sunshine following in tow of the satisfaction.  Capt. Dunham’s schooner, James G. Blaine is somewhere on Lake Superior, but has not been heard from for several days. She is supposed to be safe.”

James G. Blaine served as the Secretary of State in President Harrison’s first and contested the nomination as the Republican candidate for President with the incumbent Harrison.  A Chicago public school on Janssen Street and Waveland Avenue is named for him.  Benjamin Harrison went on to lose the election for a second term to Grover Cleveland, whose running mate was an Illinoisan named Adlai E. Stevenson.

Monday, June 9, 2014

Negotiations on Dearborn -- June 9, 1955

A masterpiece of mid-century modernism (JWB Photo)
Back in 1955 the Chicago School Board owned lots of valuable property, property that in some cases was not used for schools.  Perhaps the most conspicuous plot was the entire block bounded by Monroe, Dearborn, Madison and State Streets.  On this date, June 9, in 1955 the school board’s finance committee authorized the beginning of negotiations for a section of that property that extended 192 feet on Dearborn and 120 feet on Monroe.

It must have hurt to give up that much valuable property in the heart of the Loop, but School Superintendent Benjamin Willis had disclosed that in the following four years the board would be spending a minimum of 50 million dollars for school construction because of an anticipated need of 250 new classrooms each year through 1960.

Standing on the property were two buildings.  The first was the 1878 Crilly Building, which housed the Chicago Stock Exchange until 1894.  It was in this building that the Harris Trust and Savings bank began as well as the first headquarters of Carl Laemmle, the founder of Universal Pictures.  On the north end was a three-story structure, a portion of the old Saratoga Restaurant and Hotel, built in 1888.  It was in the Saratoga Restaurant that many believe the first jazz was played in the city.  [Chicago Tribune, August 12, 1955] 


 What the Board of Education lost in the sale, along with the old buildings that the city would lose were more than made up for  -- because the buyer that sought the property was the Inland Steel Company.  With offices located across Dearborn on two floors of the First National Bank of Chicago, the rapidly growing company was looking to expand.

And what an expansion!  In a design by Skidmore, Owings and Merrill’s Walter Netsch and Bruce John Graham, this was the first major structure in the Loop in more than two decades.  Its office floors were supported entirely by seven columns on the east and west sides, located outside the building’s perimeter. As a result all the office spaces had a clear span across the entire floor.  [emporis.com]  A 24-story service building supports the office tower, holding the elevators and mechanicals.

Negotiations between the Board of Education proceeded quickly, and by early September of 1955 the great mid-century modern masterpiece was begun.  By 1958 its completion moved the city into the forefront of modern skyscraper design.

Inland Steel and One South Dearborn (JWB Photo)