Monday, March 29, 2010

Kate and Alex, a Million Bucks Later

Every time I look out my window I see him. Every time I walk to the bus stop I see him. And every time I head up the street to the grocery store or the drugstore I see him.

Alexander Hamilton.

Dressed in threadbare gold leaf and standing on a pedestal at the northernmost section of Lincoln Park in the triangle formed by Diversey, Sheridan and Stockton.

How the statue ended up in this place, 31 floors beneath our living room window, is a story that goes back over 80 years.

In 1928 Kate Sturges Buckingham put one million dollars into an Alexander Hamilton Trust Fund, the purpose of which was to mount a memorial to a man she felt was an underestimated American hero.

Of course, you recognize Buckingham’s name -- the most popular attraction in Chicago’s Grant Park is the Buckingham Fountain, a one million dollar gift to the city from Buckingham along with a $300,000 endowment to support the fountain’s continuing operation. Dedicated to the people of Chicago, the fountain was built to honor her brother, Clarence, who died suddenly at the relatively young age of 58.

Buckingham, who never married, was born to a family that was very much a part of Chicago history. The Fulton elevator, the city’s first grain elevator, was built by her grandfather, Solomon Sturges. Her father, Ebenezer Buckingham, was also responsible for the construction of grain elevators and elevated railroads in the city.

Buckingham eschewed the life of the wealthy. Instead, she turned to philanthropy. She was called “Godmother to opera” and was a generous patron of the arts. Whenever the subject of her generosity was raised, she responded, “I did no more than I ought to do as a good Chicagoan.” [Owens, Carole. Pittsfield—Gem City in the Gilded Age]

When she died in 1937, she left $500,000 to her friends and relatives and $126,000 to her maid and chauffeur, the children of her caretaker, her nurses, and the doormen and elevator men at her Chicago residence. In today’s dollars, that’s over $8.9 million. Tanglewood, the summer home of the Boston Symphony Orchestra, is the former estate of Kate Buckingham.

Anyway, Buckingham pledged the million bucks to the Chicago Park District to honor Hamilton, who she felt had put the United States on a sound financial footing and had made “its glorious future possible.” [Chicago Tribune, October 28, 1993] Park District officials suggested a number of locations, but Buckingham, for one reason or another, found each one unsuitable.

Work began, however, on the statue and the architectural setting on which it was to be placed. John Angel, one of the most prolific and highly regarded sculptors of his day, was selected to create the figure of Hamilton. Angel’s work can be found at St. Patrick’s Cathedral and St. John the Divine in New York City, at the Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington, D.C., and on the Cook County Courthouse right here in Chicago.

The architect chosen was Eliel Saarinen. His groundbreaking entry for the Tribune Tower competition of 1923 was widely viewed as the best entry even though the New York firm of Hood and Howells was awarded the commission.

Saarinen created an extraordinary monument with 115-foot columns, a tad oversized for the nine-foot statue John Angel had been hired to create. You can see Saarinen’s design. It hangs in Architecture and Design Gallery 285 at the Art Institute of Chicago.

Well, you can imagine how the design tickled the fancy of a woman so understated that she had her name removed from the Social Register. To say the least, Ms. Buckingham was not pleased. “My statue would be lost,” she said, noting that the monument to Hamilton "shouldn’t look like a modern skyscraper.” [Chicago Tribune, October 28, 1993]

Then in December of 1937, after spending over $41,000 on the project, Kate Sturges Buckingham joined Alexander Hamilton in the Great Beyond. Her will directed the trustees of the Alexander Hamilton Trust Fund, two of whom were directors of the Art Institute of Chicago, to carry out the work that she had started. The will stated further that if contracts for the project were not completed within ten years, the one million big ones would go to the Art Institute. [The Milwaukee Sentinel, May 13, 1951]

Conflict of interest? What conflict of interest?

Within four years after Buckingham’s death, a larger 13-foot statue had been cast in bronze at the cost of $50,000. Still, no agreeable sight could be found after continuing meetings with the Chicago Park District, and Hamilton was carried off to a warehouse.

In 1943 came the inevitable lawsuit. The States Attorney for Cook County sued the Board of Trustees, accusing them of slowing the progress of the Hamilton project so that the lions of the Art Institute could wrap their paws around the million.

On April 16, 1943 Judge Benjamin P. Epstein decreed that the years of the war, however long it lasted, should be regarded as a moratorium with the terms of the will to be resumed at the war’s end.

Judge Epstein, by the way, once held an entire jury in contempt of court after the individual on trial, along with the sheriff in charge of the jury, took the panel on a day trip of local saloons which included “many a beer, dancing, attempted petty larceny of a radio and a bar stool.” [Time Magazine, May 3, 1937]

What’s not to love about Chicago?

On May 7 of 1947 the project received yet another setback when Park Board President, James H. Gately, announced that the trustees of the fund and the board could not come to agreement on placing Hamilton’s statue in Grant Park as part of a larger music court. [Chicago Tribune, May 8, 1947]

Then, finally, 24 years after Kate Buckingham made the offer, the statue was unveiled in its present location on July 6, 1952, just five months short of the deadline that Judge Epstein handed out years earlier.

Chauncey McCormick, chairman of the Alexander Hamilton Memorial Trust, acted as master of ceremonies. John Angel was on the dais along with the architects of the new memorial, Samuel A. Marx, Noel L. Flint, and Charles W. Schonne. Brigadier General Pierpont M. Hamilton, a descendant of Alexander Hamilton and holder of the Congressional Medal of Honor gave a speech along with Illinois Senator Everett Dirksen. [Chicago Tribune, July 5, 1952]

The Tribune described the architectural setting for the statue as a “modern fortress of limestone and granite.” A pylon of polished black granite rose 78 feet above the ground. It towered above a three-level plaza of Indiana limestone and polished black and red granite.

They had to surface poor Alex in 14-karat gold leaf so that someone would notice he was there.

In late 1993 the whole affair was dismantled. Neighbors had complained that it attracted a bad element. It was marred with graffiti. And it had deteriorated so badly that a half-million dollars was needed to make it structurally sound again.

Julia Sniderman, the Park District’s preservation planning supervisor at the time, said, “I’ve gotten a lot of calls from people in the neighborhood who have wondered what was going on. But when I tell them that the statue will be back on a smaller pedestal, they’re relieved. I keep waiting for someone to be really upset, but so far it’s been really positive.”

Erna Tranter, director of Friends of the Parks, said, "That thing was horrible."

Today Alexander Hamilton, as much bronze as he is gold, the man whose life prompted the philanthropic Kate Sturges Buckingham to pledge a million dollars to honor him, sits in the northwest corner of Lincoln Park atop a simple polished red granite base, dwarfed by the dark and menacing muscularity of Johann Wolfgang von Goethe and his eagle just to the north.

Just my opinion, of course, but looking out my window at Mr. Hamilton's coat tails, I don’t think old Kate got her money’s worth.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

The Span that Started It All

Took the car in for an oil change over on Clybourn this afternoon . . . great service, in and out in less than ten minutes. With time on my hands I drove south about a half-mile, parked by the Treasure Island and walked down to Courtland to visit a relic.

Crossing the Chicago River on Courtland Street is the oldest trunnion-bascule bridge in the country. Most of the bridges that cross the river in Chicago fall into this category, a type of bridge in which counterweights below the deck of the bridge lift the structure as it rotates around a large axle called a trunnion to raise.

Chicago is packed with them, and their strength and grace complement the strength and grace of the city’s architecture. Just imagine Chicago’s river being crossed countless times by monstrous, black and graceless bridges, and you will get an idea of how much the city owes the designers of the Courtland Street bridge.

The bridge, completed between 1901 and 1902, is 216.5 feet long and 36.1 feet wide with a vertical clearance of 15. 74 feet. Although it still retains its original mechanism, including the wooden bridge tender’s shanty on the east side, it no longer is raised or lowered.

The plaques on the bridge are not the simple square bronze plaques seen on other bridges in town with inscriptions that can only be read by passersby. These are nicely wrought decorative plaques that motorists can see as they enter the bridge. The ornate finials placed at the middle of the span also show the additional attention given to the aesthetic design of the bridge. []

This bridge's truss superstructure was built by the American Bridge Company, Lassig Plant. The steel didn’t have to travel far . . . the Lassig yard was just up Clybourn where Wrightwood meets the river.

The trusses probably cost a lot more than they would have, had the bridge been finished five years earlier. I ran across an article from the Aurora Daily Express of February 23, 1899 which announced the merger, on the previous day, of 11 separate bridge building companies with Andrew Carnegie’s operations, a combine which would control 90 per cent of the iron and steel used for bridges in the United States.

Things like that happened back in the day . . . before folks started to get fussy about an overbearing government trying to bust up loyal American business interests.

The construction of the bridge, originally called the West Clybourn Place bridge, was carried out under the supervision of Chief City Engineer John Ernst Ericson. He was one of those “can do” Chicagoans who made Chicago at the end of the 19th century into the engineering marvel of the world.

Ericson was born in Sweden in 1858 and came to the United States in 1881 after attending the Royal Polytechnic Institute in Stockholm and designing bridges in the Stockholm area. According to the 1908 History of the Swedes in Illinois, Part II “During his service as assistant city engineer Mr. Ericson was in charge of all tunnel and crib construction and made the plans and specifications for twelve miles of new tunnels, together with two new pumping stations . . . About 70 per cent of the Chicago water works system has been designed and constructed under Mr. Ericson’s supervision.”

Mayor Daley’s name is also up there among the trusses as the bridge was renovated in 1997. Located among brawny steel fabricating concerns, the Courtland Street bridge is a sleepy span that doesn’t see a lot of action these days.

If you're in the area, it’s worth a trip across the North Branch to say hello to this old timer.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

The Fountain and the University

Every time I do the research on a favorite picture from our recent trip to New York, I find another Chicago connection. It’s amazing. I know it’s tough to love two cities, especially two cities as proud and soaring as Chicago and New York. It’s kind of like trying to support the White Sox and the Cubbies at the same time.

But, for want of a better word, both New York and Chicago have guts. And the architectural connections between them are everywhere.

Here’s just one small example.

I fell in love with Bryant Park, just off Fifth Avenue between 41st and 40th streets, the first time I saw it. In the southwest corner of the park stands a lovely fountain, conceived by Charles A. Platt, executed in glazed granite and dedicated to Josephine Shaw Lowell.

Married to Charles Russell Lowell, a businessman, in 1863, Josephine Lowell followed him to Virginia, where Lowell died in a Civil War battle, less than a year after they were married and only one month before their daughter, Carlotta, was born.

Returning to Staten Island, the home of her parents, Josephine committed herself to social justice and reform. She once said, ”If the working people had all they ought to have, we should not have the paupers and criminals. It is better to save them before they go under, than to spend your life fishing them out afterward."

I wonder where her allegiance would have rested in the current brouhaha about health care.

In 1876 the Governor of New York appointed her as Commissioner of the New York Board of Charities. Fourteen years later she established the New York Consumers’ League, an organization that worked to improve the wages and the working conditions of women workers in New York City. []

The Fountain Terrace in Bryant Park is dedicated to her. The fountain is the city’s first public memorial dedicated to a woman. []

Charles Platt, the fountain’s designer, was born in New York in 1861. His artistic training was as a landscape artist. He studied at the National Academy of Design and later in Paris, where he exhibited his work at the Paris Salon of 1865, no small achievement considering this was the salon that brought Édouard Manet’s Olympia to fame.

A trip to Italy in 1892 turned the direction of Platt’s career and he turned his attention to landscape design and architecture, particularly for the well-heeled. One such project was Villa Turicum in Lake Forest, the country estate of Mrs. Edith Rockefeller McCormick, one of the finest examples in America of the Italian treatment in landscape design. []

Platt joined a group of artists that formed around Augusts Saint Gaudens (remember Standing Lincoln) in Cornish, New Hampshire, where he died in September of 1933. Platt, that is -- not Lincoln.

So how do we go from a lovely fountain, dedicated to a courageous humanitarian in midtown Manhattan, to Illinois?

It was Charles A. Platt who laid out the formal plan for the campus of the University of Illinois and designed nine of the buildings that occupy that space. Six of the most significant of those buildings are as follows . . .

Mumford Hall, the original agriculture buildings, was the first of the Platt buildings, its cornerstone being laid on November 8, 1922. It featured 86,000 square feet of space, housing 50 offices and 25 classrooms.

Platt’s second building, the Main Library, was begun in 1923. It was built in three sections, the last of which was finished in 1927. It was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2000.

On June 7, 1924 the cornerstone was laid for the Men’s New Gymnasium, what is today Huff Hall. The building cost $515,000 with a $225,000 addition coming two years later. Today it serves as host for four different Big Ten sports and seats 4,500.

Platt’s Dairy Manufactures Building was completed in 1925 at a cost of $183,000. Here a student could take a course on "Ice Cream Making,” which taught the " types of freezers; methods of freezing. Mixing and freezing ice cream, sherberts, puddings, and other frozen products. Study of flavoring extracts, fillers and binders. Ice cream standards." [UIHistories Project]

The Commerce Building, now David Kinley Hall, was constructed in 1925 for $506,000. This is one of the northernmost buildings on the South Quad, lying directly across Gregory Drive from the Main Library. The Commerce Building is where the College of Business developed at the university.

Construction on the Building for Architecture and Kindred Subjects was begun in November of 1926. The great sculptor Loredo Taft, who created the “Alma Mater” statue in front of Altgeld Hall, laid the cornerstone. The building’s 65,000 square feet cost $486,000.

From an inspiring fountain in New York City to a fountain of knowledge in the farm fields of central Illinois, by way of Paris and a 300-acre estate on a Lake Forest lakeside bluff, that’s the work of Charles Adams Platt. Not a bad set of accomplishments.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Hood and Plenty

If these thoughts appear to ramble, it’s because we have just returned from New York City where we acted like two gawking Midwesterners. The trip came as a Christmas gift from our daughter and son-in-law, both fantastically talented and thoughtful, and the best part of it was that we got to spend much of our time with them.

I had not been in Gotham since the mid-80’s, a trip that I remember mostly as an intimidating experience of cab rides to unfamiliar places in an alarmingly large city where everyone knew where he or she was going but us.

This weekend I returned as a different visitor, older, a little more knowledgeable about architecture, better at figuring out where subways do and do not go.

I did a lot of wandering, both with the family and alone. I’ve learned that the architectural walks are best done by myself. It’s annoying to your strolling companions when you stop every half-minute to point out a cast iron façade or a terra cotta cornice.

I slipped out of the hotel early Sunday morning and walked down Fifth Avenue, past the Library to Bryant Park, where I found a stunning building on the south side of the park, the current home of the Bryant Park Hotel.

The building and I hit it off. It had character and a presence on the street that competed handsomely with the glassy angles of the Bank of America building diagonally across the park.
The Bryant Park Hotel is a relatively recent incarnation of this 1924 building, operating since Valentine’s Day of 2001. [http://new-york.meuk/radiator building.htm] Originally the building was the American Radiator Building, a transitional wonder that bridges the ages of Beaux Arts and Art Deco.

And here is the coolest part of all . . . it was the first building to be completed in Raymond Hood’s long career.

No wonder I liked the building so much. Raymond Hood, along with John Mead Howells, won the design competition for Chciago’s Tribune Tower, besting over 250 other proposals from architects all over the world and winning fifty thousand bucks in the bargain.

Until he joined Howells in the Tribune competition, Hood had been living with his wife and growing family over Mori’s Restaurant in Greenwich Village. He designed the renovation plan for Mori’s in 1920 and then, to make ends meet, went to work for the American Radiator Company, designing radiator covers.

Then came the big win in Chicago. When American Radiator decided to build a new showroom and office building on 40th Street just off Fifth Avenue, the company already had its man.

Concerned with the appraisal of some critics that Finnish architect Eliel Saarinen’s Tribune plan was the superior proposal for Tribune Tower, Hood combined elements of traditional and modern design in the American Radiator Building. The steelwork in the building was finished just seven months after the designs were submitted, and the building was occupied a year before Tribune Tower opened.

Hood designed the building to be free standing, a rarity in Manhattan where most buildings are built to the lot line, often sharing walls with adjoining buildings. Hood’s design meant that 90 percent of the interior space was within 25 feet of a window. It also meant, though, that elevators gobbled up a lot of interior space with the area of a typical floor coming in at about 5,600 square feet. [February 20, 1994 New York Times]

The architect disliked the typical office building’s façade of the time in which the dark shadows of the windows punctuated a cladding of light stone or brick. He therefore designed the building’s exterior of black brick, with gold terra cotta accents atop the 18-story structure and along the top of the four-story base.

Hood felt that this lessened “the visual contrast between the walls and the windows and [gave] the tower and effect of solidity and massiveness.” [ radiatorbuilding.htm] It carries the same kind of tough street cred that the Burnham boys' Carbide and Carbon Building does in Chicago. Some critics looked at the building metaphorically, suggesting that the black brick symbolized the iron of a furnace and the gold accents the fire that it created.

The fussy top of the building is of another era, but the sleek brick façade of the tower itself is a clear indication that a new style was just over the horizon. It’s interesting to view the building from Bryant Park because one can see the Art Deco behemoth that is the Empire State Building, just a few blocks down Fifth Avenue, looking over the shoulders of Hood’s building.

In 1927 Georgia O’Keefe captured the skyscraper in her “Radiator Building at Night.” At the time O’Keefe and her husband, Alfred Stieglitz, lived in a suite on the 30th floor of the Shelton Hotel on 49th Street and Lexington, just to the northeast of the building’s location. Her painting shows the American Radiator Building, lit by floodlights, a solid beauty in a city filled with remarkable buildings.

The Landmarks Preservation Commission of New York City designated the Radiator building a landmark in 1974.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

The Alarm

If you’re zipping along on Lake Shore Drive, especially if you’re headed north, slow down just past Diversey Boulevard and look toward the lake. You may see a small monument of a Native American family – father, mother, baby and dog – staring back at you.

The sculpture is entitled “The Alarm” and most experts agree that it is the first sculpture in Chicago to portray Native Americans, having been unveiled in 1884. Like several other sculptures in the Lincoln Park and Lakeview area, the piece has been uprooted from its original placement, a more elaborate grouping, and now rests in an open area just off the bike path.

Cast in bronze in Philadelphia, the original statue included a surrounding low concrete wall with urns. The original display had bronze plaques on the four sides of the pedestal, but vandals reportedly stole them. New plaques of engraved stone were put in place depicting The Hunt, Forestry, The Corn Dance and The Peace Pipe. []

The sculptor’s name was John J. Boyle and in a 1903 book on American sculpture Loredo Taft, a world renowned sculptor in his own right, said of him, “He feels things deeply; his likes and dislikes have in them something elemental . . . no languid interest his; no ‘primrose path of dalliance!’”

Born in 1852, Boyle was educated at the Franklin Academy and the Academy of Fine Arts in Philadelphia, continuing his professional education at the prestigious Ecole des Beaux Arts in Paris. He was invited to participate in the largest artistic effort of the nineteenth century, sculpting pieces for the Transportation Building at the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago.

Three years later Boyle was chosen as one of the 23 sculptors to create works for the Congressional Library in Washington, D.C., where he created the statues of Plato and Sir Francis Bacon. Other notable Boyle works can be found in Philadelphia, including the sculpture of Benjamin Franklin in front of College Hall at the University of Pennsylvania.

As is the case with so much sculpture in the city, a wealthy Chicagoan, Martin L. Ryerson, donated the funds for “The Alarm” in 1884. Ryerson was another one of those early Chicagoans who began life with almost nothing and made a fortune from a combination of shrewdness, timing, and hard work.

A Chicago Tribune article about Ryerson, carried in the September 15, 1886 Muskegon Weekly Chronicle says this about Ryerson’s formative years, “At 16 years of age young Ryerson was an ambitious lad and made up his mind to seek his fortune in the Far West . . . He saw there a large profit in the business and saved his wages until he was able to start in for himself. Then with a stock of trinkets and gaudy notion such as the Indians most desired he began to tramp the State of Michigan from one end to the other . . . This extensive acquaintance with the geography of Michigan made him the best known among the Indians of any white man in the State, and fixed indelibly upon his mind the ultimate value of the pine lands.” [ ~mimuskeg/Ryerson.html]

In 1843 Ryerson began to produce lumber on his own, drawing from the immense stands of white pine in Michigan. By 1846 he had lumber interests in Muskegon, Kenosha, Wisconsin, and Chicago. Before moving on to real estate, Ryerson had made almost three million dollars in the lumber business.

In the right place at the right time, Ryerson began to develop property in what is now Chicago’s Loop just as the Illinois and Michigan Canal was being finished and the railroads were making Chicago into the fastest growing city in the country. One of his later projects can be found on the east side of Wabash, just south of Madison Street, where in 1882 Ryerson commissioned Dankmar Adler and Louis Sullivan to design a building for the S. A. Maxwell Company. [History of the Development of Building Construction in Chicago] Located at 15-19 South Wabash, you can lease space in the building for ten bucks a square foot.

Moving back to the sculpture that Ryerson commissioned in Lincoln Park, we can see that as he looked back on all that life had brought him, he thought fondly of those early days. The inscription on the base of “The Alarm” reads, “To the Ottawa Nation of Indians, my early friends."

Martin Ryerson is buried in Graceland Cemetery. In the second item of his will he gave the cemetery three thousand dollars to be held in trust “to keep the same perpetually as a fund the income from which shall be used for the purpose of ornamenting and keeping in good condition and repair all monuments and stones thereon.” [ ~mimuskeg/Ryerson.html]

His memorial was designed by Louis Sullivan.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Bees in My Fists

Just a few items from the past week or so. . . .

Jill and I like to walk, and up around Belmont Harbor a while back we came across two geese. One was doing the standard goose-in-the-water thing. The other, I will call him Jesús the Goose, was performing a miracle. He was, as you can see, walking on water.

* * * * *

A couple days later I was riding the old 151 downtown to lead a tour. The bus was crowded, and I took the last seat. Slumped across both seats behind me a frail woman with blank eyes mumbled to herself, her mahogany hands twitching as she fought with some internal backstabber.

Her struggle remained under control until the bus passed the entrance to the zoo at which point the tormented soul screamed into the back of my head, “Don’t be trustin’ no PO-lice. I knew they come into that house.”

It’s this way in the city. Crowded bus . . . everyone plugged into their I-pods or thumbing away on their Blackberrys. It’s a normal trip downtown until the wrathful shadow of the anti-Jah swipes its fare card and barks for attention.

Usually no one looks up. At least not right away. That would be too voyeuristic, too public an acknowledgement that something in the predictable world had gone awry. But most eventually do look. On this particular day, they had to look through me to get a peek at her.

There were two more outbursts, one at Banks and the Inner Drive, one at the Randolph Street stop. There either was or was not someone in the house and the police did or did not respond. And NO ONE would ever be trusted ever again.

That’s a long story to get to the most poetically impromptu lines I have heard spoken, actually shouted, in a long time. In the midst of the last rant, concerning all that she had done to protest the break-in, real or imagined, the poor exile behind me screamed, “I told everyone they come into that house. I got knots in my hands and bees in my fists from all the writin’ downtown.”

Translate it into Latin and you could carve it in stone.

* * * * *

Finally, this was the view from our living room most of last week. But we have jonquils on the dining room table, and abundant hope for warmer weather, sooner rather than later.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Brilliant and Brave

Bruce John Graham, one of the greatest architects of the mid-century era of Modernism, died in Hobe Sound, Florida on Monday. For as long as they stand the Willis Tower and the John Hancock Building, Graham’s two most well-known (and well-designed) buildings will be dressed in black.

Over a dozen years ago Graham sat down for a lengthy interview as a part of the Chicago Architects Oral History Project that the Art Institute of Chicago was underwriting. Often portrayed as a gruff and demanding figure, Graham reveals a sensitive side along with an intolerance of anything that is done without passion and honesty.

In a town in which so many architects over the years have been so successful in sharing their passion and honesty with the world, Bruce Graham’s voice spoke just as loud as Sullivan’s or Root’s or Mies’s. It’s interesting to listen to some of the things he had to say about his career, about the field of architecture, and about the city he loved.

Born in Columbia and raised in Puerto Rico along with six brothers and two sisters, Graham began thinking about architecture at an early age.

“I used to draw cartoons for my younger brothers and flip them for them. I used to draw people, trees. And I took drawing lessons. I was also interested in the city of San Juan,” Graham said. “I used to plot the slums of Puerto Rico. I made maps of them. I loved it.”

Finishing high school in three years, Graham applied to the University of Dayton. He said, “. . . you have to remember that I really had only heard of two or three universities: Notre Dame, because it was Catholic, the University of Pennsylvania, because my brother George went there, the University of Virginia, because my brother Charles went there, and Harvard. I originally didn't know any others. But I got a scholarship to Dayton, that's why I went there.”

He finished the undergraduate engineering program by the age of 15. “But that's nothing, because my brother was thirteen,” he said. Graham joined the Navy Air Force at 17 and entered a pre-officer training program at Case School of Applied Science, concentrating on civil engineering.

He washed out of the flight program because “I had an accident with an airplane,” and entered the Navy’s radar training program at Chicago’s Navy Pier.

The young recruit was impressed with Chicago’s ethnicity. In the 1988 interview he lamented, “But it's not the same any more. Once you built the expressway, the wealthy left downtown for the suburbs after the war. That was the biggest curse on urban planning in Chicago, but not only Chicago, in the entire United States. These expressways were funded in a terrible way by a gas tax that can only be used for building roads. So the more you drive, the more roads they build and the 'highway road gang' loved it. Even though you don't need the roads, and we proved that a number of times, they built it anyway.”

After serving in the South Pacific. Mannis Island and the Philippines during the invasion of the Philippines, Chief Petty Officer Graham came back to the United States to attend the University of Pennsylvania, convinced that he wanted a career as an architect. He experienced some frustration with the Beaux Arts focus of the curriculum.

While in Philadelphia Graham made a trip to Chicago to see Mies van der Rohe. His observations on that first meeting as well as on a number of other aspects of his long and distinguished career follow.

On Mies van der Rohe
. . . he received me. He was a very nice man, a very simple man. You know the story of why he never moved into the top of 860 Lake Shore Drive?

I heard him say in his old apartment, he had an easy chair, with a table and his cigars and his martini, and all the furniture against the wall. Somebody asked him—I forget who asked him—why he didn't move into that building, and he said, "There's no place to put the furniture. I was born in a little village of Germany. I can dream and imagine this new world, but I can't live in it."

On the artistic sensibility
. . . painting is two- dimensional. And sculpture is three-dimensional. But music is four- dimensional. There's an element of time. And that's architecture. When you design a building, that's a shape, a sculpture. It has to have a sense of space, it has to have a sense of... What's the beauty of Chartres Cathedral? Not standing outside and looking at it. It's going into that space. The first time I walked in there, they were playing Mozart's Unfinished Requiem, there was a funeral. I had to cry . . . I had a feeling for the whole time, not just for the epoch, when I walked in there. That's not true in painting and sculpture. There isn't a sense of movement, of going through. A building can tell you, give you a hint, of what's going to come, but more important, where you were. Ballet is the same way. Ballet is movement in which you remember where you were, and you get a sense of where you're going. That's architecture. That's why a city, a building, is not by itself architecture. It has to be in a locale, in a place, be it in a jungle or be it in a city. The sense of movement through it and to it...

That's why I tell you that the architecture in each part of the world should reflect the ecology of that place. The ecology shapes the people, not the other way around. Man destroys the
ecology and then he has to live with that non-ecology. The ecology is the basic formation of the culture. The Nile made Egypt. It wasn't the other way around. The Mediterranean made Greece, they didn't make the Mediterranean. You have to make the buildings sympathetic with God's

On a choice of “career path”
I don't think that designing houses for wealthy people is a problem. It's a non-problem. The problem is to make the city beautiful.

On the Middle West
I'm sure that America, the power of America and the character of America, is strongest from the Alleghenies to the Rockies. You take that part of America out and it's just another European nation. It's the power of the water, and the land, and the steel mills that makes the United States . . . From the top of the Standard Oil building I showed some Arabs the lake and they wondered what sea it was. I said, "That's not a sea, it's a lake." They said, "We'll trade you all our oil." That's the power of America. Without that, and the steel mills of Pittsburgh and Chicago, we would never have won the war. What were we going to do? Throw rocks from California at the Japanese? Or from Oregon? It's the Middle West that makes us wealthy.

On Nathaniel Owings (Founding partner, along with Louis Skidmore of Skidmore, Owings and Merrill)
That guy, he knew everybody. I don't know how he did it. He knew absolutely everybody, in Chicago, in San Francisco, in Portland, Oregon. People in the government. He could be very attractive . . . He scared me most of the time. He went around firing people like they were going out of style. He fired Harry Weese. And Harry said, "You can't fire me. I quit."

On Ego in Architecture
And historically in architecture, an architect without craftsmen doesn't exist. He's nobody. This is true today that architecture is not a personal art. It's an art that, number one, involves a community to start with.

On Frank Lloyd Wright
He was a mean old man . . . one time he came to an AIA meeting in which he was invited to give a talk. He came in with his cape and his hat and he ran up the aisle and went
up and said—we were celebrating Sullivan—he said, "Oh, you killed Sullivan!" and he got up and walked out. What an animal! "Oh, you killed Sullivan!" He was meaner to Sullivan than anybody else.

On a uniquely “American” architecture

You can't build the same thing in Florida that you can in Alaska. You can't build the same thing in Florida that you can in California. Maine is different, Chicago is different. We have to stop thinking about all this one... This country is too big to think about a single architecture that covers everything. You have to have one in Florida that comes out of the sun and the land and the heat. And one in Maine that comes out of the snow and the rocks. That's what architects have to search for locally.

On Sears Tower
It was very simple, there were no big stainless steel interiors. There were white plastic elevators. And the building was very simple. And who was the sculptor? Sandy Calder. What have they done now? They've changed the lobby and made the ceiling higher and they changed the proportions of the Calder. They're animals.

Originally there were more tubes, it wasn't just nine. The original design had six more tubes, so it was fifteen, a series of tubes going up and down. Harry Weese cried one night and said "Bruce, I wish I had thought of that." It was the best compliment I ever got from Harry Weese. We were in a bar under Wacker Drive.

When the chairman—at that time Sears was different than it is now, it was strictly a marketing department and it did not have all the corporate things that it does now—the chairman wanted to build downtown. He first wanted to move out, those were the two choices, move out or build downtown. Mayor Daley and he made a deal, so he decided that he would move downtown. It was not so much to occupy a monument—in fact the building that they had in mind was only sixty stories high, but with a massive floor. I told the chairman that if you ever move out of this building, nobody else is going to be able to occupy it and it will be a black cow in the middle of the city of Chicago. So he agreed. And I made the tube thing so that the top floors would accommodate smaller floors and I made the other floors smaller too so that they could be used by other users than Sears Roebuck.

The cigarette pack story in his own words
One of the things—the chairman's name [of Sears], by the way, was Gordon Metcalf, and he was brilliant—Gordon said that he didn't want any of those damn diagonal things like the Hancock building. So by this time, I was working with Fazlur Khan on a lot of tube buildings, like the Shell Plaza building. It's very efficient, and costs a lot less than any of the New York skyscrapers, and you can build taller. We had built so many single tubes that I took out my cigarettes and I said to Faz, "Why don't we build a whole bunch of little tubes that stop at different heights?" This was at the Chicago Club . . . So I built my cigarette structure and it worked. And it doesn't need diagonals because the structures go through.

On the difference between Chicago and New York
Chicago is a city of skyscrapers. New York is not. New York is a city that's a huge rock that has been carved out to make streets . . . I was actually standing in front of the Empire State building with Roy Allen and a couple asked me where the Empire State building was. I said, "You're standing right in front of it." They didn't have any idea. You have no sense of the buildings. Rockefeller Center was the first one that you could see, and after that there were really none. Even Mies tried to do that by setting the Seagram back and then the architect next door took his building back, so it takes away from what Mies was trying to do which was to salvage a little plaza that was surrounded by buildings so that you could see the Seagram. So in Chicago, most buildings you can see. People love living in apartment buildings. They move there deliberately. In New York you can't help it. My son lives in New York and he can't help it, he's got to live in an apartment building. But in Chicago, people actually fight to see who's going to be over the twenty-first floor. You never build an apartment building less than twenty-one stories in Chicago, forget it. You can see the lake and the city and the airport.

Listen to the conversation in the New York subway sometime. They really think that apples came out of the factory. They're totally unrelated to the land or to anything. They're one hundred percent abstract people. The businessmen are abstract and you should just talk to any of the insurance people there. They're totally abstract. They have no visual capabilities whatsoever. Zero. That's New York, and New York is always going to be New York, because that's the rule of people. Those people are mathematically oriented, they're not visual people.

On Chicago’s construction unions
My personal experience with Chicago construction workers was terrific in every sense. The union trained them . . . Who else trains them? If you think the schools on the South Side train them, they don't. They're trained by the union. Apprenticeship. That's the way architects used to be trained. How do you think Sullivan was trained? He was an apprentice. How do you think Frank Lloyd Wright was trained? He was an apprentice . . . I learned architecture by working at Holabird and Root as an apprentice and at Skidmore as an apprentice.

On Fazhur Khan (called the "Einstein of Structural Engineering")
It's quite a different thing to visualize the structure in mathematical terms in your head, which Faz could do. And he could explain it to architects. That's why people loved him. He was the only engineer I ever met who could explain structures to architects in a poetic way. He had a very gentle way.

He was the best architectural engineer in the United States of America, if not the world, there's no doubt in my mind about that. Not only did he understand the mathematics, but he understood the architecture. Most engineers don't . . . The purity of his structure and the purity of his thinking was what I fell in love with.

On Chicago’s Early Architects
In Chicago there was an architect named David Adler. He designed most of the houses for the very wealthy. He realized that most of these people were industrialists who were uneducated and had never gone to a university and didn't know the difference between Michelangelo and Richard Haas. Adler used to travel and bring back postcards of buildings in Europe. When he went to a client, he would flip through them until they would find one that they liked. Then he would say that they were going to have a palazzo like this or that. He would design that. But he went beyond that. He told them what furniture to use, how to cook meals, what wine to drink. Think of what these men were. These clients were brilliant and brave, but they were animals. None of them had gone to any university. They just came west to Chicago from the East Coast. Look at pictures of Chicago from before the fire and then after the fire. It was ugly, badly built. Then the fire gave Daniel Burnham and Louis Sullivan the great opportunity to rebuild in a vision of a beautiful city. They loved it because they were powerful men. I loved those men, they were pioneers. They built the city of Chicago and they influenced the world.

On bringing the Henry Moore sculpture (Large Interior Form) to the Art Institute
So we came to visit Moore about Three First National Plaza and when we were having dinner and I said to Henry, 'You know, Picasso gave his piece to the city for free. Miró gave a piece. Calder gave a piece. Why don't you give a piece for free?" He had agreed that the bronze for Three First National Plaza would not be reproduced, which was very unusual. Usually he could make five copies and keep one or two, sell two and have one for the owner. He said, "You know, I've always wanted to see the child inside the mother and child. What if I give that one to the city of Chicago?" I said, "Why don't you give it to the Art Institute?" He said he thought that was a good idea.

On art and architecture
Architecture contains life. People move through it. Part of life—perhaps the most neglected part of life, although maybe less in Chicago than elsewhere—are the arts . . . I like to see not just sculpture and painting, but poetry and music in the piazzas, for example. In most cities in the world, they use the piazzas that way, but we don't in Chicago. There should be music playing in First National Bank Plaza. Look what's surrounding it: Inland Steel, Helmut Jahn's Xerox building, and Walter's Harris Trust building on another corner. It's a great place to have music. It should be the same in the Civic Center Plaza.

On the double role of architect and businessman
Sometimes I wouldn't charge a client for the time that we spent because I didn't think that we had earned it. That's not being a good businessman. But it does mean that you are being honest, and that I tried to do all my life. I tried not to cheat the clients, not cheat the employees, but to treat them fairly. I happen to think that's one of the things that good businessmen are not doing now, and that's also bad.

On architecture and urban planning
The problem in the United States is that in the schools, they're split when they teach urban planning from architecture. That's a mistake. The great urban planning in the United States has all been done by architects, if you think about it. In New York, Olmsted did Central Park. They don't even teach urban planning in the landscape architecture schools now. Urban planning has almost become the enemy in-house and a lot of planners go on to work in the government. Some graduates with an urban planning degree haven't studied any architecture at all. That's the mentality of it; they study the laws and the government, not the structure and the architecture of it. I think that the greatest visions of buildings, even imperial ones, were from architects, not urban planners . . . You can't teach it in school. But you do it as an architect. You teach architecture and architecture includes exterior spaces. You can't think of a building without thinking of where it fits or the spaces it creates . . . The Parthenon wasn't casually done by a graduate of urban planning of the University of Pennsylvania, it was done by architects.

On the Future
I think that the major cities are in such disaster that the great opportunity is for visionaries to repair them. The solution is not going to be office buildings alone. It's got to be in residential communities and rearranging the cities visually and structurally. Chicago is an easy one because you still have the transit system. But you must destroy things like the Taylor Homes . . . It's just a terrible mistake to put all the poor in one area, it just makes a ghetto. You have to destroy that and make it possible for the poor to move to any part of the city.

John MIlton ended the well-known sonnet On His Blindness with these words, "They also serve who only stand and wait." Bruce John Graham served by avoiding, at every turn, the temptation to stand on blind traditions and cultures that he felt were harmful to the beauty of the urban environment. The buildings that he designed will stand as monuments to his genius, his honesty and his passion.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Quite a Haul at Whitehall

Fresh from the spanking they received at the State of the Union address, the Supreme Court justices must be thrilled to see Jeffrey Skilling’s lawyers skipping up the front steps. Skilling, you may remember, was sentenced in 2006 to a couple dozen years in jail for securities fraud, insider trading and lying to federal investigators.

Now the former Enron executive who directed a company so fundamentally dishonest that its 20,000 employees lost their jobs and an estimated 1.3 billion dollars in its implosion, wants a new trial, his lawyers arguing against a law that requires executives to behave honestly.

Geez . . . and then those brave souls on the Potomac wonder why the average American Joe is just a bit touchy these days.

If you step back, though, and look at this country’s rich history of big guys who loved living large, the Skillings, the Madoffs, Lays and Kozlowskis are pretty poor runners-up.

When it came to making money at the expense of everyone and everything else, you have to go back a century or so. I had the chance to do that in January on a visit to Whitehall, Henry Flagler’s 55-room winter cottage in West Palm Beach.

Flagler was one of the larger-than-life rags-to-riches figures that populated the last quarter of the nineteenth century in this country. Born in New York in 1830, he left school after the eighth grade and moved to Ohio where he ultimately met John D. Rockefeller, a fellow grain merchant.

John D. wanted to get into the oil business and Flagler loaned him a hundred grand to start the partnership that would become Standard Oil in 1872. In an ordinary man this would have been enough to make a legendary career. But Flagler was no ordinary man.

In the mid-1880’s, seeing the warmth of southern Florida as an untapped source of revenue, Flagler scaled back his involvement with Standard Oil and purchased the Jacksonville, St. Augustine & Halifax Railroad. With a way to get people to the state, he began work in 1885 on the 540-room Ponce de Leon Hotel in St. Augustine.

Less than ten years later Flagler extended the railroad to West Palm Beach and built the 1150-room Royal Ponciana Hotel, followed by the Palm Beach Inn, which is today The Breakers, the most exclusive hotel in the area.

A series of severe freezes in 1894 and 1895 convinced Flagler to extend the railroad south to a warmer area surrounding Biscayne Bay, where he created the infrastructure necessary for a resort city. When the city was incorporated in 1896, its citizens wanted to name the new town "Flagler". The developer nixed the honor, persuading the grateful citizens to use an old Indian name, "Mayaimi". [Henry Morrison Flagler Museum]

Finally in 1902 Flagler contracted with two architects who had begun their careers as draftsmen with the prestigious New York firm of McKinn, Mead and White to design a winter retreat as a wedding present for his third wife, Mary Lily Kenan. John Carrere and Thomas Hastings created Whitehall, a 60,000 square foot mansion that the Flagler clan used for six to eight weeks during “the season,” Finished in just 18 months in one of the most remote locations in the country, the mansion had 22 bathrooms, electric lighting, central heating, and a telephone system. When it was completed the New York Herald called it, “more wonderful than any palace in Europe, grander and more magnificent than any other private dwelling in the world.”

The main entrance of the mansion is reached by strolling through palm trees and orange trees. The two-story entrance portico, on the east side of Whitehall, is 101 feet across and 18 feet deep. It is divided into five bays by grand Doric columns that rest on large plinths. Surrounding the portico are white marble steps interrupted by pedestals in front of the columns. The two pedestals on each side of the main entrance hold large marble Grecian urns. [Historic American Buildings Survey]. The whole thing is a dazzling white that reflects the tropical sun.

The entry hall is of marble, lots and lots and lots of marble, including a blue-veined stone used in the columns that I have never seen before. As near as I can tell, it was shipped from somewhere in South America. The “front hall” is 110 feet long and 40 feet wide, and the ceiling is 20 feet high. A dome in the center represents the “Crowning of Knowledge.” Allegory abounds with medallions, statues and panels representing Earth, Sea, Air and Soil, Peace, Science, Pensiveness, Prosperity and Happiness. Originally a Persian rug was a part of the interior. The Kirmanshah pattern covered a space that measure 42 feet by 27 feet, the largest such carpet in existence. Today a new Kirmanshah 4 x 7 foot rug would cost close to $40,000.

On the south side of the main hall stands a nine-foot high clock, done in bronze. It represents Time riding the world in a cloud. The top is topped by rays of sun, and below the bronze is made to show the earth's bounty. [New York Hearld, March 30, 1900]

Passing through the Library, just to the south of the Main Hall, you enter the Music Room, which measures 66 x 21 feet. The room has a domed ceiling with a canvas painting of the aurora. Elaborate crystal chandeliers hang at each end of the oval dome. The pipe organ was one of the largest ever placed in a private home. It must have rattled the crocodiles in Lake Worth, sunning themselves in back of the home in what they supposed was a wilderness area.

The Grand Dining Room is 41 by 23 feet and is finished in satinwood, a tree native to the Florida Keys and the West Indies. The long table, also of satinwood, occupies the center of the room. Flagler kept a strict timetable, as one would expect of a railroad man, and if you didn’t show up for a meal on time, you didn’t eat. Meals were known to last up to three hours. The carving on the cabinets and the mantel is rich and detailed. Some of it is so fine that “a magnifying glass is needed to see the details of the work.” [New York Herald, March 30, 1900]

Just to the east of the Dining Room is the French Salon, 42 x 30 feet, finished in a Louis XVI design. The grand piano, done in silver and gray, is a commanding presence in the room and one can imagine the guests leaving the table after a three-hour feast and walking a few steps into the salon for the evening’s entertainment.

The Flagler’s hospitality extended to famous people of the day such as the Duke and Duchess of Manchester, opera stars Nellie Melba and Enrico Caruso, Admiral and Mrs. George Dewey, and such other notable figures as Woodrow Wilson, Elihu Root, and John Jacob Astor. [Historic American Buildings Survey] Imagine downing a couple cognacs with that crowd.

On the second level are located at least 17 bedrooms, including the two largest rooms that Mr. and Mrs. Flagler occupied separately. Off Mrs. Flagler’s chamber is a bathroom that measures 11 by 17 feet. The floor is of marble, and the double sink is of onyx. Like her chamber, the bathroom’s windows look out toward Lake Worth, which is now part of the Intercoastal Waterway.

“Helping others is like helping yourself,” Henry Flagler was fond of saying. Flagler opened up the state of Florida, virtually created the city of Miami, and ran a railroad at great expense all the way to the Florida Keys. In the process, from the looks of his winter home at Whitehall, he didn’t do too bad a job at helping himself.