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.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

The Shakespeare Building was building designed by Dwight
Perkins and John L. Hamilton former employees of the renowned architect Louis Sullivan. Simeon B. Eisendrath was the architect of the Plymouth Building.