Friday, March 25, 2011

Photo of the Week: Go Cubs

JWB, 2011
I am a Chicago Cubs fan.

I didn’t realize how stark those half-dozen words would appear until I typed them.  I have spent my life moving between exultation and bitterness, sometimes in the same day, sometimes in my Leon Durham or Steve Bartman memories in the space of a few seconds.

I rode high with Ron Santo’s heel clicks in 1969 and fell to the ground with Don Young’s missed catch that same summer, symbols of the aura of great men and goats that surrounds my men in blue.

And now Ron Santo is gone, another one of the tens of thousands of fans who were born, lived their lives and then died, never once seeing the team they love defend the honor of Chicago in the baseball championship of the world.

In 1984, up two games to none in a five-games series against the San Diego Padres, the Cubs let the national league west champion back into the series, losing 7-1 in Game 3 and allowing a Steve Garvey homerun in the bottom of the ninth to tie the series.  Then, leading 3-2 in the seventh of Game 5, with the eventual Cy Young winner, Rick Sutcliffe, on the mound . . . The Error.

Cubs lose, 6-3.

They installed lights at Wrigley in 1989.  The Cubs went on to win 93 games and the Eastern Division championship.  They won the first two games at home against the Giants, held leads in each of the next three games, managing to lose all three.   

Just before the season started in 1998, Harry Caray died.  He would have loved the new flame-throwing rookie, Kerry Wood, a name Harry could have actually pronounced.  The Cubs finish 90-73 and win a one-game wild card game against the Giants at Wrigley.

Too much work.  The team scores four runs in the series against Atlanta and spends the next two years in the cellar.

Five years later, 2003, and the magic is back.  Five out of six from St. Louis in September when it actually mattered.  Dominant ball against the upstart Marlins.  Five outs away from the World Serious. 

Great men and goats.  Exhilaration and bitterness.

Which is a lot of words to get to the Picture of the Week.

Cruising along the Fort Lauderdale intracoastal waterway yesterday on the Carrie B with my wife and eldest daughter, one particular feature at one of the many lavish waterfront estates caught my eye.

With the glare of the water and the bright blue sky, I couldn’t trust myself until I got home and downloaded the pictures, but I thought I had seen a Cubs flag beneath the stars and stripes up on the beautiful home’s flagpole. 

I was right, some fabulously wealthy Cubs fan, was proudly proclaiming loyalty as the team gets ready to defend the honor of Chicago in a new season. 

But look more closely.  The flag is flying upside down.

In another month or so, I’ll be on the deck of a Chicago Architecture Foundation tour boat, narrating the glories of the Chicago River.  I will speak nonstop for an hour-and-a-half, describing between 70 and 80 buildings during that time.

Every one of those great buildings, except one, has been built since the Cubs last won the World Series.  In some places structures have been designed, built, torn down and new buildings erected during that time.  In a few cases the cycle has occurred several times.

A century is a long time.   The flag is flying upside down.

Go Cubs.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Down They Forgot as Up They Grew: Sherman House

Chicago’s next mayor, Rahm Emanuel may do well to take to heart the words of a man who occupied the office that he is about to occupy, words spoken nearly 150 years ago. 

In the administration of the affairs of the city let us always remember that we are but the agents of the public, and that personal feelings and partisan suggestions must never be permitted to influence our action in any way to the detriment of the interests of the great city of which we are the present official representatives. []

Francis Cornwall Sherman
These were the words of Mayor Francis Cornwall Sherman in his third inaugural address delivered on May 4, 1863 prior to his last term as Mayor of Chicago.  Not a bad set of ideas there . . . ideas that we could do worse than follow these days.

Sherman arrived in Chicago in April of 1834, three years before the little hamlet on the shores of Lake Michigan was incorporated.  He established himself as a brick manufacturer, and in July of 1935 he was elected a village trustee.  He served his first term as mayor from 1841 to 1842.

The Original Sherman House
It was in 1837 that Sherman opened the City Hotel on the north side of Randolph Street between Clark and LaSalle.  Renamed the Sherman House in 1844, it wasn’t a big place, measuring just 18 by 44 feet.  []  It probably went up pretty quickly when the flames of October, 1871 engulfed it.

Sherman quickly rebuilt his hotel, hiring architect W. W. Boyington (Chicago Water Tower and Pumping Station; Illinois State Capital) to design a Second Empire eight-story hotel of 300 rooms, clad In Kankakee limestone. [Host and Portman.  Early Chicago Hotels. Arcadia Publishing, 2006] 

Upon its completion in 1873 the second Sherman House was one of the three most opulent hotels in Chicago, the other two being the Palmer House and the Grand Pacific on La Salle and Jackson.

The second Sherman House (1873)
Photo from Early Chicago Hotels (Host and Portman)
As the 20th century began, the hotel had lost much of its luster and carried the label of “deadest hotel in town.” [Host and Portman].  It was at this point that Joseph Beifeld, who had emigrated from Hungary in 1867 at the age of 14, stepped in and bought the property.

Beifeld is another one of those many figures in post-fire Chicago who made a fortune in the rapidly growing city.  After he arrived in the city, he worked for Marshall Field and Levi Leiter for nine years from 1869 to 1878, at which point he struck out on his own, growing rich in the manufacture of ready-made cloaks for women. 

Combining impeccable customer service with some of the best entertainment in town, Beifeld had the Sherman House back to its original glory by 1904.  Bringing in Chef Joe Colton, Beifeld opened up the College Inn, famous for its chicken ala king. 

By the way the chicken broth you buy at the grocery store is directly related to the restaurant in the Sherman House.  The folks at the Sherman had the idea of offering Chef Colton’s dishes in cans at specialty shops and by mail order. By the early 1920’s the chef’s special recipe for chicken broth was a hit in kitchens across the country. []

Beifeld turned the hotel around so spectacularly that he tore the whole thing down and in 1911, at a cost of several million dollars, built a 15-story beaux arts palace in its place, using the firm of Holabird and Roche to design the 757-room hotel.  At a time when hoteliers protected their reputations by carefully monitoring their clientele, Beifeld opened the first lunchroom in a major Chicago hotel, making a tidy profit with a simple menu and an eatery open at all hours.

Construction of the 1911 Sherman House
It didn’t hurt that Holabird and Roche’s City-County Building, finished in 1910, was right across Randolph Street from the Sherman.

In 1925 at a cost of over seven million dollars, Beifeld expanded the hotel with a 23-story tower, another Holabird and Roche design.  By the end of that decade the Hotel Sherman contained 1600 guest rooms and a banquet hall seating 2500.  It was reported to be the largest hotel west of New York City.

The Sherman House and Annex ( 

It was at the new Sherman House in 1926 that “Big” Bill Thompson, former mayor of Chicago, acted as a mediator in a “peace conference” between Al Capone and Bugs Moran. On September 26, after a long spring and summer of violence, eight carloads of Moran’s northsiders led by mobster Hymie Weiss, shot up the Hawthorne Hotel in Cicero, where Capone was dining.  Days later Capone ordered the assassination of Weiss, who died in a hail of bullets shot from a snipers’ nest at 747 North State Street, almost directly across the street from Holy Name Cathedral.

At the Hotel Sherman conference, Capone pleaded, “I couldn’t stand hearing my little kid ask why I didn’t stay home in Chicago . . . If it wasn’t for him I’d have said, ‘To hell with you fellows!  We’ll shoot it out.’ But I couldn’t say that, knowing it might mean they’d bring me home some night punctured with machine gun fire.” []

It was decided that Moran’s gang would control the northside of the city near the lake and Capone would control the southside below Madison Street, plus Cicero.  As a result there was a 70-day period where no gangland murders occurred, the longest period without machine gun fire in years.

It was also about this time that the College Inn restaurant established itself as one of the city’s foremost jazz venues under the direction of bandleader Isham Jones.  The new jazz idiom, which Jones described as “modern emotional music . . . expressive of the happy dance; it is rhythm that is simple and yet inspiring.  It is music that is irresistible to the feet and at the same time appealing to the heart and head,” [] was a daring departure from the violin-based waltz bands that had held sway in the major hotels of Chicago up until then.

The Sherman House toward
the end (
The Sherman House maintained its reputation as one of the city’s finest hotels right up into the 1950’s when the luster began to fade.  The 1911 building was razed in the early 1950’s, and the annex of 1925 lasted until 1973, when it, too, was demolished to make way for Helmut Jahn’s State of Illinois Building, now the James R. Thompson Center. 

So here’s an idea . . . one day take a stroll around the atrium of the Thompson Center with your ear buds in and your IPod on.  And see if you can get hold of Isham Jones’s and Gus Kahn’s It Had to Be You.  Close your eyes and picture yourself in one of the greatest jazz venues in the city.

Then go out and buy some chicken broth.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Photo of the Week: Spring Reflections

JWB, 2010
Now that we’ve got that first 70-degree day out of the way, and all the cars have been towed off the snowbound Lake Shore Drive (There ain’t no road just like it anywhere I’ve found), it’s time to begin the uplifting business of appreciating what a beautiful city Chicago is.
On a sunny day you can do that in far more places than you can in most cities.  Parks abound, and green space is never far away . . . even if there is only a little patch of it.  A city needs that, especially a big, brawling hog butcher to the world of a city.
Nowhere is the city more beautiful in the summer than along the river. And strolling the River Walk on a bright spring morning, you’re reminded of e. e. cummings words:
i thank You God for most this amazing
day; for the leaping greenly spirits of trees
and a blue true dream of sky; and for everything
which is natural which is infinite which is yes

Mr. Trump’s tower is two-years-old now, and we’re accustomed to seeing its reflective surface.  But it’s like anything else; sometimes we become too familiar with something or someone and we don’t notice it, we don’t love it, as we did when everything was new.

But Adrian Smith’s design for Skidmore, Owings and Merrill rates a serious look, especially on a sunny day.  Here the reflective glass surface mirrors the great buildings across the river – Mather Tower, Hotel 71, 360 North Michigan, Prudential II, and the Aon Building.

THIS is what a great city looks like at the end of a long winter.

Friday, March 18, 2011

A tale of Two Statues (Part Two)

Carl von Linné (1707-1778)

In my last blog I wrote about the Ellsworth Kelly sculpture, Curve XXII, that stands on the northeast corner of Fullerton and Cannon Drive in Lincoln Park.  Kelly’s work sort of makes up for the movement of another statue that sat on the south side of Fullerton for close to 80 years – the monument to the great Swedish botanist, physician and zoologist, Carl von Linné.
Of Linné, who lived from 1707 to 1778, the German writer Johann Wofgang von Goethe wrote, “With the exception of Shakespeare and Spinoza, I know no one among the no longer living who has influenced me more strongly.” 
The statue was erected in time for the celebration surrounding the World’s Columbian Exposition of 1893.  The New York Times made the announcement of the plan on May 17, 1891 in an article that stated, “A monument to Carolus Linnaeus, the eminent Swedish man of science, will be unveiled here on the one hundred and eighty-fourth anniversary of his birth, May 23 next.  It is placed in Lincoln Park at the foot of Fullerton Avenue.  It has been erected, by voluntary subscription, by his fellow-countrymen now living in Chicago.  It stands upon a heavy granite base.
The Swedish Linnaeus Monument Association was the catalyst that brought the statue to Chicago, and it seems reasonable to assume that the community saw the site just north of the Lincoln Park Zoo as a logical place for Linné’s likeness.  After all, Linné’s Systema Naturae and Species Plantarum began the modern system of naming and classifying living things.
Linné Monument, Stockholm
Fullerton Avenue Linné
The bronze sculpture was created by C. J. Dufverman in Stockholm, where the Otto Meyer Co. cast the monumental work, which was a copy of the Linné monument that stood in Stockholm.  The statue stood – still stands -- 39 feet high.  The complete installation, including the base of Maine granite, soared 111 feet at the foot of Fullerton Avenue.
The statue was originally surrounded with four figures that represented botany, medicine, chemistry and zoology, the diverse fields in which Linné had worked.  The completed work cost approximately $122,000.  [Simon, Andreas.  The Garden City.  Franze Gindele Publsihing Company, 1893]
The statue had a conspicuous enough presence that Frank Norris included it in The Pit, his 1903 epic tale of Laura Dearborn’s experiences in Chicago . . . She made a circle around North Lake (now the North Pond), and came back by way of the Linné monument and the Palm House (now the Lincoln Park Conservatory), Crusader ambling quietly by now, the groom trotting stolidly in the rear.
As a result of the expansion of Lake Shore Drive in the 1930’s, Fullerton Parkway was extended to meet the new highway.  That put Linné in a bit of a bind, and the wide open space over which he had reigned for nearly a half-century was now tight against the new road.
But it was another 40 years before something was done about it.  In 1976 the statue was moved to the University of Chicago, where it sits alongside the Midway Plaisance, minus its four allegorical gee-gaws.   The relocation, which involved the City, the university and the Central Swedish Committee of the Chicago area, coincided with the visit of Carl XVI Gustav, King of Sweden, to Chicago.  The King was feted at a luncheon, and the rededication of the monument was part of the festivities on April 19, 1976.
Carl von Linné on the Midway Plaisance (JWB, 2010)
The great man looks pretty darned good there today, his best foot forward, and all that great Collegiate Gothic architecture over his shoulder.  Stop by on a sunny day and let him know you’re a representative of that group taxonomically known as Homo sapiens, the only living species in the Homogenus of bipedal primates in Hominidae, the great ape family. He'd probably like that.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

A Tale of Two Statues (Part One)

Exit Lake Shore Drive (There ain’t no road just like it, anywhere I’ve found) at Fullerton and head west a block.  Look to your right, and you may see a vertical mass of stainless steel set back from Cannon Drive.   That would be Ellsworth Kelly’s Curve XXII, a shining announcement that there must be at least another XXI curves out there somewhere.

It sits its site well, surrounded by daffodils in a few more weeks, lolling about in the shade during the summer months, providing a bit of sparkle during the dullness of winter.

Curve XXII (JWB, 2010)
Curve XXII was installed in 1981, and it was artist Ellworth Kelly’s first major commission for an outdoor sculpture.  Kelly is another one of those fascinating artists and architects who was born between World Wars I and II.

Raised in the small New Jersey town of Oradell, he developed an eye for color before he was ten-years-old as a result of his grandfather’s introducing him to bird watching around the Oradell reservoir.  Upon graduation from high school, he attended the Pratt Institute in New York City, a private school focusing on art and design, a place with names like Robert Mapplethorpe, Peter Max, and Robert Redford included in its alumni.

His studies were interrupted by his Induction into the Army in 1943 interrupted Kelly’s studies, and he served in the Ghost Army from 1943 until the end of the war. [Wikipedia] This branch of the service specialized in the manufacture of inflatable tanks, trucks and other pieces of fabricated equipment designed to mislead the Axis powers on the strength of Allied forces, a act of subterfuge that was particularly important as the preparations for the invasion of Normandy were being made.  

After the war he returned to the United States and studied at the School of the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston before returning to Paris, where he studied at the École nationale supérieure des Beaux-Arts.  It was in Paris that Kelly began his career as an artist, beginning first with a series of paintings inspired by the play of light and shadow over the 20th century architecture of that city.

In 1954 Kelly again returned to the United States, settling in a loft in Manhattan.  By the late 1950’s he had an international reputation, primarily as a result of his paintings which “juxtaposed blocks of single, flat colours with silhouetted shapes, abstracted from organic forms.”  []

Ellsworth Kelly at installation of
sculpture at U. S. Embassy in
Berlin, Germany (Google images)
Kelly turned to sculpture in 1970, taking inspiration from his residence in upstate New York.  In these totemic pieces “he was not concerned with colour, except for that of the material itself in order to stress shape and give the pieces consistency and easier maintenance.” [moma]

It was in 1976 that a sculpture across Fullerton to the south, the likeness of Carl von Linné that was created for the 1893 celebration in Chicago, was moved to the University of Chicago campus to celebrate the visit of the King of Sweden during that summer . . . probably easier to impress a king at the university than next to the zoo.

Cindy Mitchell, who was a founding member of the Friends of the Parks and who served as its president for ten years, was determined to replace the Linné statue in a park that had not seen a new piece of statuary in over a quarter-century.

A grant came from the National Endowment for the Arts, an additional $100,000 was raised, much of it a dollar at a time, and a jury which included architect Walter Netsch selected Ellsworth Kelly to create the new artwork.

Kelly did not accept a fee for his design, and Paschen Cosntruction donated its services to build the foundation and install the sculpture, a work that is more commonly known as I Will, the unofficial motto of the city.  [Chicago Park District]

Another large Ellsworth Kelly sculpture can be found in the Pritzker Garden of the Modern Wing at the Art Institute of Chicago.  Entitled White Curve, its was commissioned by Director Jim Cuno for his predecessor, James Wood, who began the planning for the Modern Wing during his tenure from 1980 to 2004. Click on the YouTube clip below and see Ellsworth Kelly watching the installation of White Curve.

My next blog will concern the original statue of Carl Linné, a piece that has a fascinating history of its own.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

The Shakespeare Cooperative

JWB, The Bard, and The Shakespeare
Cooperative in Background (JJB, 2009)

Just west of William Ordway Partridge’s sculpture of William Shakespeare, a statue that was, by the way, created for the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition and which now sits across Stockton from the zoo, is a neat little 24-unit courtyard co-op at 2236-2244 Lincoln Park.

It’s easy to pass it by . . . its muted palette is partially obscured by trees in warm weather and blends in with the gloom during the winter season.   It’s the kind of building you could walk past dozens of times and not even notice that it was there.

Walk past it often enough, though, and, like any good work of architecture, it will reach out and speak to you.  At least it did to me . . . largely, I think, because of its transitional elegance.  Finished in 1910, the building combines the ending of one era with the beginning of another.

The architect of what some sales brochures call The Shakespeare Building was Simeon B. Eisendrath, a guy whose name doesn’t often come up  in discussions of Chicago architecture. 

Born in Chicago in 1868, Eisendrath was educated in the public schools and while in high school “was elected by the teachers to receive the honorary scholarship of a full course at the Chicago Manual Training School.”  [Eliasoff, Herman.  The Jews of Illinois. 1901.]  The school eventually became the University of Chicago Laboratory School.

Not long before Eisendrath entered the school, its director, Dr. Henry H. Belfield, said in an 1884 address to the Chicago Manual Training School Association: “The fact should never be lost sight of for an instant that the product of the school should be, not the polished article of furniture, not the perfect piece of machinery, but the polished, perfect boy. The acquisition of industrial skill should be the means of promoting the general education of the pupil; the education of the hand should be the means of more completely and more efficaciously educating the brain.” []

That was the environment in which Eisendrath spent his formative years, an environment that echoed the philosophy of John Ruskin, whose criticism and philosophy served as principle influences in the Arts and Crafts movement. 

One of Ruskin’s principles, summarized by Kenneth Clark, stated that Art is not a matter of taste, but involves the whole man. Whether in making or perceiving a work of art, we bring to bear on it feeling, intellect, morals, knowledge, memory, and every other human capacity, all focused in a flash on a single point. [wikipedia]

With this background Eisendrath went east to study architecture at M.I.T.   In 1888, at the ripe old age of 20, he secured a position in the office of Dankmar Adler and Louis Sullivan.  It must have been an exciting time as the Auditorium Building was nearly completed, Adler and Sullivan’s masterpiece that would be for a short time the tallest, largest, heaviest building in the world.

Also working in that office as a draftsman for Sullivan was a young architect who would go on to a reasonably successful career of his own -- Frank Lloyd Wright.

Think about working in that environment for a couple years!

In 1890 Eisendrath hung up his own shingle, and in that same year the county engaged him as an expert in its attempt to convict a number of contractors who had enriched themselves by bribing government officials.  Some architecture is timeless; so, it seems, is some boodle.

Probably as a result of the boodle case, Eisendrath was appointed Commissioner of Buildings in Chicago in 1893, a job which he didn’t hang onto long, giving it up in 1894 because of “the pressure of private business.”

Eisendrath’s plans can be seen in buildings across the city and across the country.  The 1896 Plymouth Building which stands immediately to the north of William LeBaron Jenney’s Manhattan is Eisendrath’s most well known work in the city. It’s now a newly renovated dormitory.
The Plymouth (right) and the Old Colony
on Dearborn, south of Van Buren (JWB, 2007)
But he also designed the Michael Reese Training School for Nurses and the Michael Reese annex for women and children.  Works outside Chicago range from Deadwood, South Dakota where he designed the Franklin Hotel to New York City where he planned the Stephen Wise Free  Synagogue at 30 West 68th Street in Manhattan.

Michael Reese Training School for Nurses
Eisendrath’s building on Lincoln Park shows the influence of the two years that the architect spent with Louis Sullivan at the very onset of his career.  The building’s entrances are set off with decorative terra cotta that are reflections of much of Sullivan’s ornamental work.

The building also looks forward, combining many of the characteristics of the Arts and Crafts movement and the influences that would be so instrumental in the work of Frank Lloyd Wright.  The low-pitched roofs, along with the pronounced, overhanging eaves clearly are elements of this style.  The decorative brackets under the eaves further emphasize the style.  Then there are the design motifs in the brickwork at the top of the building, clearly hand-crafted and labor-intensive, designs that Frank Lloyd Wright’s work picks up and expands upon.

Shakespeare Coop -- Note the low pitch of the roof,
overhanging eaves, decorative brackets under eaves,
and horizontal orientation.  (JWB, 2010)
Arts and Crafts detailing at
Shakespeare Coop (JWB, 2010)
And . . . how beautifully the building fits its location.  This would have been even more pronounced back in 1910.  Just across the street, built in 1908 sits Dwight Perkins’s Lincoln Park Refectory, also in the Arts and Crafts style.  Two years later the Perkins-designed Lion House at the zoo was finished.  Cutting edge design – all three buildings – all within sight of one another.

All within sight of the next phase of architecture styling in the new century.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Photo of the Week: Spring Sniffle

JWB Photo, 2009

It’s that time of year . . . cold and damp . . . the typical start to the gradual spring run-up to the long awaited summer season that this great city grabs and makes her own.  In the chill the makings of a head cold await, and that’s what apparently has happened to the guy on the far right of Henry Hering’s Regeneration sculpture, the piece located on the southeast pylon of the DuSable Bridge. 

It looks like the muscular lad in the blacksmith’s apron, holding a pair of blacksmith’s tongs in his left hand, has caught himself a little spring sniffle.

Although Regeneration presents a metaphorical display of the city’s astonishing rise from the ashes of the 1871 fire, it looks like our bare-armed blacksmith may be hanging on to his runny nose for awhile.

Regeneration, along with the opposite piece on the southwest pylon (Defense), were works funded by the Benjamin Franklin Ferguson Fund.  (For more on Ferguson and his legacy, see my February 11, 2011 blog on the Illinois Centennial Monument).

The sculptures on the north pylons (Explorers and Pioneers) were funded by William Wrigley, who would build his new headquarters on the north side of the bridge almost as soon as the bridge was finished. 

Earle Fraser sculpted Explorers and Pioneers on the north side.  Henry Hering sculpted the two works on the south side, where our ailing blacksmith finds himself today.

Hering got his early training under two sculptors who left their mark on Chicago – Augustus Saint-Gaudens (Storks at Play, Standing Lincoln) and Philip Martiny (Art Institute friezes).  He studied at the École des Beaux Arts before returning to the United States, working as an assistant to Saint-Gaudens until Saint-Gaudens’s death in 1907.

The Henry Hering medal is presented for outstanding collaboration between architect, owner and sculptor in the use of sculpture in an architectural project.

Monday, March 7, 2011

Down They Forgot as Up They Grew: Hotel Kaiserhof

Head south of Jackson on Clark Street and on the west side of the street you'll find Helmut Jahn's 1983 addition to the Board of Trade, the architect's second commission in Chicago.  Passing the building today, it's hard to believe that at one time it was the site of the Kaiserhof Hotel, renamed the Atlantic Hotel during the backlash against Germany during the First World War.

The original Kaiserhof at 320-328 South Clark Street was finished in 1889.  Chicago was on the move.  Buildings, most of them new-fangled "skyscrapers' were being erected one after the other, and bidding had begun for the Great Fair that would bring 27.5 million guests to Chicago within four years.  The building's architect has vanished into the past without leaving a name.

According to Host's and Portman's Early Chicago Hotels, "The 1889 building reflects the concerns of well-known Chicago architects, starting with the rusticated stone.  The sense of movement and rhythm from bottom to top indicates an awareness of the importance of creating a unified whole.  Still, the awkward stacking of the top three floors indicates the architect has not yet solved the problem of the tall building."
The original Kaiserhof bears a passing resemblance to the Manhattan, William LeBaron Jenney's effort that still stands on South Dearborn, in the way the two buildings awkwardly reach their full height.  But you have to remember that no one had ever built commercial buildings of this height, and the early designers were inventing a new way of doing things.  It's astonishing how quickly they did it.

The Kaiserhof (renamed Atlantic
with the 1915 Holabird and Roche addition
The name that seems to be most closely associated with the original Kaiserhof and with the 1915 addition just to the north designed by Marshall and Fox is Max Teich.  Teich was born in Germany in 1873 and didn't come to Chicago until 1892, where he found work as a waiter, eventually working his way up to the assistant manager of the Eitel Brothers' Bismarck Hotel up on Randolph Street.

Teich apparently made good use of the tips that he got in the early days because in 1910 he and Carli C. Roessler, another Bismarck waiter in the early 1890's, purchased a controlling interest in the Holabird and Roche's Congress Hotel and annex, the complex that still exists at Jackson and Michigan.  At that time the hotel had over a thousand guest rooms.

Ladies' Parlor at the Kaiserhof
Speaking of his rise from waiting to tables to owning one of the great hotels in the city, Teich said, "Yes, Roessler and I started in Chicago twenty-one years ago as waiters.  We owe our start to the liberality of the American people in giving tips.  We saved our money and about fifteen years ago, bought a small hotel in Chicago." [Alton Evening Telegraph, December 13, 1910]

At the time Teich and Rosseler gained controlling interest, the Congress Hotel and annex were valued at more than four million dollars.  Not bad for guys who started out waiting tables.

The hotel was demolished in 1971, but it's interesting to note the kind of city in which Old Max Teich was rising to prominence.  Just a block away from the Kaiserhof was the old Atlantic Hotel at the corner of VanBuren and what was then Sherman Street.

It seems that a Mrs. Mattie Alexander, "badly bruised about the feet and ankles" was found on the corner of Sherman and VanBuren sometime early on December 28 of 1910.  Mrs. Alexander had been married for exactly 12 hours to one Winfield B. Jefferson, a rancher from Douglas County, Oregon.  Jefferson, in an early attempt at an moment, had placed an ad for a wife in a farming magazine, and Mrs. Alexander, a wealthy widow from Kinderbrook, New York, answered.

Apparently Mrs. Alexander became aware during the evening that her new love had something other than a lifetime of wedded bliss on his mind.  According to a December 29, 1892 in The New York Times, "She declared that last night she became confident that the ranchman had married her simply on account of her money and said that she had been duped by him.  He had already borrowed $880.  She confided her fears to the night clerk and asked him to assist her in getting away from her husband." 

The clerk officiously attended to Mrs. Alexander's desperate pleas and chivalrously gave her a room in "a remote part of the house from that occupied by her husband."  Alas, during the night the clerk entered the room and attempted to assault the Oregon cattleman's new bride.  

So she jumped.  "The thinly clad woman" jumped out of the second floor window with $500 in cash and $9,700 in stocks, flagging down a copper, who took her down to the station house, where her husband declared that she must be "temporarily demented," adding the hope that her condition would be "all right" within a few days.

The article ends, "The police are after the night clerk."

Hotel Kaiserhof Lobby (agreetingfrom.blogspot)
Who knows . . . maybe the night clerk already had made enough money to purchase a hotel or two in the coming years.

Saturday, March 5, 2011

Tale of a Postcard: Cobb Divinity

Cobb Hall, University of Chicago
Since I had some time on my hands the other day and e-bay is open 24 hours a day, I threw a few shekels away a week ago on a batch of old postcards.  Included in the collection was a black and white card with a photograph of an older building and the caption "Chicago Cobb Divinity."
It turns out the the building in the photograph still stands on the University of Chicago campus.  It is named after Silas Bowman Cobb, another one of those early Chicagoans who came to the fledgling city with nothing and left this earthly coil rich, rich, rich.

Silas B. Cobb (Rootsweb)
In presenting the building to the university, Cobb wrote, "As my years increase, the desire grows upon me to do something for the city which has been my home for nearly sixty years.  I am persuaded that there is no more important public enterprise than the University of Chicago." [Goodspeed, The University of Chicago Biographical Sketches:  Volume 1. U. of Chicago Press, 1922]

The building still stands as the Silas B. Cobb Lecture Hall at 5811-5827 South Ellis on the University of Chicago campus.  It was designed, fittingly, by Henry Ives Cobb, who was no relation to the benefactor, but who did design the original plan for the brand new university in Hyde Park.  When he designed the plan for the new university, Cobb was just about 30-years-old.

Henry Ives Cobb's Newberry
Cobb, the architect, brought the Romanesque and the neo-Gothic styles to the new campus as well as to other sites in Chicago.  You can walk between three of them -- the Excalibur, the first home of the Chicago Historical Society, up on North Dearborn, Harry Caray's place on West Kinzie, and the Newberry Library on West Walton.

Cobb, the benefactor, provided $150,000, one fourth of the sum that was to be raised independently for John D. Rockefeller's $600,000 university endowment to take effect.  On that same day he wrote the check for a hundred fifty grand, Cobb added $15,000 so that the new recitation hall, the present Cobb Hall, could be finished.  It was the first academic building on the new campus.  

The building opened on October 1, 1892 with over 60 rooms, including a chapel, a large lecture hall that seated 200, and offices for the new university's president, William Rainey Harper, as well as offices for the school's deans and other officials.

But the real story is the story of Silas Bowman Cobb.  Born in Montpelier, Vermont, Cobb was apprenticed three times by his father before he was 17-year-old, to a shoemaker, a mason and finally to a saddle-maker.  The first two occupations fell through, and it seems the elder Cobb took his youngest son aside and told him he was on his own.

Bust of Silas Cobb in Cobb Hall
(U. of C. Archival Phtographic Files)
In 1833 the boy started for the west, to a small settlement he had heard was called Chicago.  He had half of his stake stolen somewhere along the Erie Canal and when he arrived in Buffalo, he had only seven dollars remaining.  He bartered with the captain of a lake boat who agreed to give him passage if Cobb surrendered his remaining cash and provided his own food.  

The young man bought six loaves of bread and a preserved ham and slept on the open deck.  Bad weather extended the normal three-week trip to Chicago to five weeks. It's reasonable to assume that the ham sandwiches didn't last the whole trip.  

Construction of Cobb Hall
(U. of C. Archival Phtographic Files)
Of course, in those early days there was a sandbar across the mouth of the river, and ships anchored a half-mile or so offshore while passengers and cargo were transported to shore by small boat or canoe.  The trip to shore cost three bucks.  Cobb had no money left and was held aboard the ship for three days until a returning passenger lent him the three dollars.  Cobb set foot in Chicago, a hamlet of some 200 residents, on June 1, 1833. Cobb's first efforts in his new home were spent earning enough to repay his benefactor.

After working for John Kinzie, a Canadian who had settled in Chicago in 1804, in a construction of a new log "hotel," Cobb must have taken inspiration from the plan because  soon after he hightailed it out to Plainfield, the site of the closest sawmill, bought enough wood for a city structure and started back toward Chicago with "three yoke of oxen and a wagon." [Album of Genealogy and Biography, Cook County, Illinois with Portraits. Calmumet Book & Engraving Co.  1895]

You can guess what happened.  More rain . . . three days of it.  He reached the Des Plaines River, twelve miles from Chicago, to find it running so deep that he couldn't cross.  He tossed the wood off the wagon, turned the oxen loose to find their way back to Plainfield, and waited until better weather to get the wood back to town.

Somehow the hard-luck kid managed to get a two-story structure built, begin a harness-making business, and in 15 years sold the business for a good profit. During that time Cobb and four others became the first fire fighters in Chicago, signing on as members of the Pioneer Hook and Ladder Company. 

The vicinity of Lake and Wabash,
 about a block west of Cobb's $516 purchase (JWB, 2009) 
In 1839, scraping what little money he had together, he purchased two lots at the corner of Michigan Avenue and Lake Street for $516. That corner is worth considerably more than that today.  By 1848 he ended up on the Board of Directors of the Galena and Chicago Union Railroad, the first railroad to run out of the growing city.  In 1852 Cobb retired from mercantile operations, and by 1855 he had been elected President of the Chicago Gas Light and Coke Company, which subsequently became the Peoples Gas Light and Coke Company.  Sound familiar?

He was one of the principal capitalists when a number of street railways were consolidated into the Chicago City Railway Company, serving as director when the cable system supplanted the horses.

Cobb moved his residence several times after his purchase of the property at Lake and Michigan, finally building a home at 979 Prairie Avenue.  Today he would have a nice view of One Museum Park Place, but back in the day he overcame the bad luck of his early years and escaped the ravages of the Great Fire of 1871.  Although his properties in the center of town took a beating, his residence escaped the flames and he quickly rebuilt his real estate holdings.

Cobb Hall (U. of C. Archival Photographic Files)
No anecdote about the aging Cobb that I have found illustrates his character better than this.  A young banker in the city who was at the time only making 50 dollars a month took his lunch at a cheap restaurant where patrons sat on stools in front of a long counter.  Next to him sat an elderly gentleman who only seemed able to afford a doughnut and a cup of tea.  Since they met almost daily, they fell into the habit of daily conversation.

Then came the day when the young banker, learning that he had received a raise and would soon be receiving 75 dollars a week, informed his lunch buddy, "I am afraid we shall not continue to lunch together.  I have received a raise in pay and I am thinking of going to a restaurant where I can sit in a chair at a table with a table cover on it."

"Let me advise you not to do it," began the older lunch mate. "Continue to economize; save your increased pay; live simply, and when you become an old man, you may be a rich one."

On his way out of the restaurant, the young man asked the cashier for the name of the old gentleman.  "Why, that's Silas B. Cobb," he was told.  [Goodspeed]

Cobb Hall from the Northeast
(U. of C. Archival Photographic Files)
So there you have it.  Silas Bowman Cobb . . . a man who had to borrow money to disembark the ship that brought him to the dirty swampland they called Chicago, a town that had at the most maybe 300 non-native residents.  He worked diligently, never borrowed more than 600 dollars and never for longer than six months, and like the great city that grew along with his fortune, surpassed all expectations.  

It might be a fun trip sometime to go out and see Cobb Hall at 58th and Ellis, a legacy of the harness-maker who made it big.  Cobb's story is the story of Chicago.