Monday, May 30, 2011

Memorial Day, 2011

The American Cemetery, Normandy, France (JWB, 2009)

Presidential Proclamation--Memorial Day

Since our Nation's founding, America's sons and daughters have given their lives in service to our country.  From Concord and Gettysburg to Marne and Normandy, from Inchon and Khe Sanh to Baghdad and Kandahar, they departed our world as heroes and gave their lives for a cause greater than themselves.
On Memorial Day, we pay tribute to those who have paid the ultimate price to defend the United States and the principles upon which America was founded.  In honor of our country's fallen, I encourage all Americans to unite at 3:00 p.m. local time to observe a National Moment of Remembrance.
Today, Americans from all backgrounds and corners of our country serve with valor, courage, and distinction in the United States Armed Forces.  They stand shoulder to shoulder with the giants of our Nation's history, writing their own chapter in the American story.  Many of today's warriors know what it means to lose a friend too soon, and all our service members and their families understand the true meaning of sacrifice.
This Memorial Day, we express our deepest appreciation to the men and women in uniform who gave their last full measure of devotion so we might live in freedom.  We cherish their memory and pray for the peace for which they laid down their lives.  We mourn with the families and friends of those we have lost, and hope they find comfort in knowing their loved ones died with honor.  We ask for God's grace to protect those fighting in distant lands, and we renew our promise to support our troops, their families, and our veterans.  Their unwavering devotion inspires us all -- they are the best of America.
 It is our sacred duty to preserve the legacy of these brave Americans, and it remains our charge to work for peace, freedom, and security.  Let us always strive to uphold the founding principles they died defending; let their legacy continue to inspire our Nation; and let this solemn lesson of service and sacrifice be taught to future generations of Americans.
 In honor of their dedication and service to America, the Congress, by a Joint Resolution, approved May 11, 1950, as amended (36 U.S.C. 116), has requested the President to issue a proclamation calling on the people of the United States to observe each Memorial Day as a day of prayer for permanent peace and designating a period on that day when the people of the United States might unite in prayer.  The Congress, by Public Law 106-579, has also designated 3:00 p.m. local time on that day as a time for all Americans to observe, in their own way, the National Moment of Remembrance.
NOW, THEREFORE, I, BARACK OBAMA, President of the United States of America, do hereby proclaim Memorial Day, May 31, 2010, as a day of prayer for permanent peace, and I designate the hour beginning in each locality at 11:00 a.m. of that day as a time to unite in prayer.  I also ask all Americans to observe the National Moment of Remembrance beginning at 3:00 p.m. local time on Memorial Day.
I request the Governors of the United States and the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico, and the appropriate officials of all units of government, to direct that the flag be flown at half-staff until noon on this Memorial Day on all buildings, grounds, and naval vessels throughout the United States and in all areas under its jurisdiction and control.  I also request the people of the United States to display the flag at half staff from their homes for the customary forenoon period.
IN WITNESS WHEREOF, I have hereunto set my hand this twenty-eighth day of May, in the year of our Lord two thousand ten, and of the Independence of the United States of America the two hundred and thirty-fourth.
                                                                                   BARACK OBAMA
To the President's words I add these . . . For all those who have served and for all those who have been touched by someone who has served -- and that includes us all -- may this day be one of deep humility and profound thankfulness.  

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Tree Studios

Tree Studios, the continuing gift of Judge Lambert Tree (JWB, 2011)
A few days back I showed you two statues that Judge Lambert Tree donated to the city, the statue of the French explorer LaSalle that stands at the corner of LaSalle and Stockton and “A Signal of Peace” that stands just north of the Diversey Harbor inlet on the lakefront path.  You’ll find that blog entry here.

Lambert Tree was born in the nation’s capital in 1832, the son of a post office clerk.  He was educated in private schools, enrolled in the University of Virginia, and began to practice law in 1855.  It was in Washington, D. C. that the young lawyer sought advice from Senator Stephen A. Douglas concerning the best place in the West to begin his law practice.  Douglas recommended Chicago, a city that gained almost 100,000 souls between 1850 and 1860, moving from the twenty-fourth to the ninth largest city in the union during that decade.

It was in the law offices of Clarkson and Tree on the corner of Lake and Clark Streets, so the story goes, that the newly transplanted lawyer first met Abraham Lincoln.  Lincoln, just a few years away from the presidency, dropped by Clarkson and Tree to borrow a law book.  Tree leant him the tattered volume, and after a time gave up hope of ever seeing it again.  That was when Lincoln returned with the book, having had it rebound before returning it.  This act of thoughtfulness and honesty may well have been a lesson that Lambert Tree carried with him for the rest of his life.

The image of Mrs. Annie Tree on the Ohio Street annex  (JWB, 2011)
Tree didn’t hurt his chances in his new city by marrying Annie J. Magie, the daughter of a Chicago pioneer, in 1859.  By 1864 Tree was President of the Chicago Law Institute and in 1870 he was elected to the Cook County Circuit Court.  In 1885 President Grover Cleveland appointed him minister to France, where he worked for three years and where he commissioned the LaSalle sculpture.

As a judge Lambert Tree took a determined stand against corruption, one of his first official acts involved an investigation of the city council that led to a trial, the outcome of which yielded the first conviction for corruption in Illinois.  It was the first . . . evidently not the last.

Lambert Tree was also a strong supporter of the “City Beautiful” movement, a motivation that led to the position for which he is most remembered today – as a patron of the arts.

Ornamentation above Ohio Street entrance (JWB, 2011)
There were the sculptures, of course.  But there was also the first artists’ colony in the country, which Judge Tree established in a studio building that still stands today on State Street between Ohio and Ontario.  The original building, at 600 North State Street, was designed to house European artist who had come to Chicago to work on the World’s Columbian Exposition of 1893.

The studio building was constructed on the Tree family’s property; Judge Tree’s home stood on Wabash where the Medinah Temple-Bloomingdale’s Home Store is now located.  Tree Studios would have been a half-block walk to the west.  The Parfitt Brothers designed the airy ateliers with retail space at street level, and the project was completed in 1894.

The Ohio Street entrance to Tree Studios (JWB, 2011)
Judge Tree died in 1910, whereupon his widow sold Tree Studios to the Order of the Nobles of the Mystic Shrine, using proceeds from that sale to construct two annexes to the original studio building, each building finished by 1913, each running east and west on Ohio and Ontario streets.  By 1912 the Tree family home was gone and Huehl’s and Schmidt’s Medinah Temple stood in its place.

Over the years an impressive list of artists used the studio spaces in Tree Studios.  John Henry Bradly Storrs, the sculptor who created the statue of Ceres that stands atop the Board of Trade building, was one.  Albin Polasek, who created the Masaryk Memorial in Hyde Park and who served as head of the sculpture department at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago for over 30 years, was another.

Ohio Street entrance to Tree Studios (JWB, 2011)
The Tree Studios and annexes were placed on the National Register of Historic Places in December of 1974; it was 23 years before Chicago landmark status came, but that was only for the original building on State Street.  Finally, in 2001 did the building on Ohio and Ontario receive landmark status.

By that time Albert Friedman, a real estate developer, had come to the rescue, announcing a plan to save Tree Studios, Medinah temple and the courtyard between the two, restoring the badly deteriorated exterior ornamentation, converting the temple into Bloomingdale’s Home Store, and re-purposing the Studio buildings for retail space and business offices.  The deal was moved along as the city contributed $17.5 million dollars in Tax Increment Financing money to the project.

The renovation, orchestrated by Daniel P. Coffey and Associates, led to Friedman Properties receiving the Richard H. Driehaus Foundation President’s Award from Landmarks Illinois.

So this block survived the caprices of time, largely intact, bringing a charming sense of historical character to a section of the city where high-rise towers predominate.

I think Judge Tree would render a favorable verdict.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Photo of the Week: Urbs in Horto

City in a Garden -- Downtown as viewed from the north end of Diversey Harbor (JWB, 2011)

The few folks who lived in the swampy mess that would become Chicago back there in the mid-1830’s either had an enormously optimistic vision of the future or an uncommonly wicked sense of humor when someone chose “Urbs in Horto” as the phrase that was to be placed on the little hamlet’s corporate seal.

First of all, there wasn’t much garden (horto) in the city’s muck and mire.  For a distance of eight to ten miles around the town, water lay two to three feet deep in many places.  And there wasn’t much city (urbs), either . . . just a few thousand soles squatting alongside a brown river.

Still, in July of 1837 the citizens of the newly incorporated village enacted an ordinance that stated,  “The seal of Chicago shall be represented by a shield (American) with a sheaf of wheat on its center; a ship in full sail on the right; a sleeping infant on the top; an Indian with bow and arrow on the left; and with the motto ‘Urbs in Horto’ at the bottom of the shield, with the inscription “City of Chicago-Incorporated, 4th of March, 1837 around the outside edge of said seal.”

It may have been a grandiose gesture on the part of a small constituency back then, but the little Latin phrase on the city’s official seal set the stage for a philosophy that has carried down, ebbing and flowing with the times, to the beautiful city we find today.

That is clear this morning as I look out my living room window and see the landscapers hard at work, arranging attractive floral schemes around the statues of Goethe and Hamilton on the north boundary of Lincoln Park.  It was true this weekend as I skirted the northern end of Diversey Harbor on my way to the lake and saw the island of downtown skyscrapers framed between the flowering crab trees, a city in a garden.

“. . . the need for breathing spaces and recreation grounds is being forced upon the attention of practical men,” Daniel Burnham and Edward Bennett wrote in the Chicago Plan of 1909.  “who are learning to appreciate the fact that a city, in order to be a good labor-market, must provide for the health and pleasure of the great body of workers.  Density of population beyond a certain point results in disorder, vice, and disease, and thereby becomes the greatest menace to the well-being of the city itself.”

Urbs in horto.  Find a place.  Make your space.  Give thanks for all that we have been given and for all that we might still do.

Monday, May 23, 2011

Saturday Morning, 6:30 a.m.

Diversey Harbor as day begins (JWB, 2011)

I get up early, usually by 5:30.  It’s a lifetime habit that it doesn’t look like I’m going to be able to break.  I never had a job that didn’t require an early out, and now that I’m retired I’m kind of thankful for that.

The two hours or so before the world starts to move are my special time.  I can watch the sun come up over the lake, read the paper, write in my journal, get a blog entry started or on good days go for a walk before I have to fight for my share of the scenery.

That’s what I did this past Saturday. 

Walking in a city that hasn’t woken up yet . . . to me that provides more peace and quiet than taking a walk out in a country forest preserve.  In the middle of this steel and stone hunk of a city, I’m alone. 

The two a.m. Friday drunks are home, sleeping it off, and the homeless guy is still asleep under the locust tree.  He had a good night; Friday was warm enough to dry out his blankets and sheets. 

The harbor was quiet.  Boaters wouldn’t be buying ice for the beer for another couple hours.

It was just the two ladies in the double scull and I . . . they, slipping across the soft complexion of Diversey Harbor . . . me, watching them emerge from the shadows . . . all three of us part of a good place in the great, sleeping city. 

A good start to a great day in the finest city in the world.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Lambert Tree's Gifts

Count Jacques de Lalaing's "LaSalle"
Corner of Stockton & LaSalle (JWB, 2011)

On October 12, 1889 a group of dignitaries and onlookers gathered at the corner of what is now LaSalle and Stockton to dedicate the statue of Robert Cavelier de LaSalle.   The group included Edward G. Mason, the President of the Chicago Historical Society; William C. Goudy, the President of the Lincoln Park Board, along with the Lincoln Park commissioners; Mr. Edmond Bruwaert, the French Consul in Chicago; and Senator C. B. Farwell.

It was a distinguished group that came together to honor the accomplishments of the French explorer and to express gratitude to the man who had donated the statue. That man, Lambert Tree, was not in attendance.

The secretary of the Lincoln Park Board, Mr. Taylor, began the formalities by reading a letter from Lambert Tree, explaining the reasons for his donation of the statue of LaSalle.

“Gentlemen,” the letter began.  “Recently while residing abroad in an official capacity, I caused to be executed in bronze a statue of Robert Cavelier de La Salle, and my purpose in doing so was that I might on my return home offer it as a gift to Lincoln Park.”

The letter went on to detail the accomplishments of La Salle.  “He unquestionably discovered the Ohio and Illinois rivers, and . . . I think it is beyond controversy that he was the first white man who ever descended [the Mississippi] to its mouth.”

The first view of the great river (JWB, 2011)
Also mentioned was the reason for Lambert Tree’s gift.  “With his [La Salle’s] explorations of the interior of the North American continent the history of the Mississippi valley really begins . . . La Salle therefore belongs as much to our history as to that of France, and it seems appropriate that a monument should be erected to his memory in this proud city of a million people, which stands in the center of the superb country with which his name is so inseparably associated, and on the site of which he camped as early as 1682, when there was not a white man outside of his own small party within a thousand miles of the place.”

Next, the letter reveals the name of the sculptor, Count Jacques de Lalaing, “a Belgian sculptor of distinction.” (President Grover Cleveland had appointed Lambert Tree minister to Belgium in 1885.)  Lalaing depicted La Salle “at a point at which he is supposed to have the first view of one of the rivers which he has the credit of having discovered.”

A second letter was read in which Mr. Goudy, on behalf of the Lincoln Park Board, accepted the statue.  At that point the statue, which had been draped with an American flag, was unveiled “and its appearance was greeted with an enthusiasm which indicated full appreciation.” [Ceremonies Attending the Unveiling of the Statue of Robert Cavelier de La Salle at Lincoln Park, Chicago.  Chicago: Knight & Leonard Co., Printers, 1889.]

The benefactor, Lambert Tree, was quite a guy.  That’s pretty obvious, right?  Not many of us know someone who could say, “Oh, yeah, I just happened to be in Belgium on government business and thought it might be a good idea to commission a piece of sculpture for the city.”

Next week I’ll be writing more about Judge Tree, his life and another of his gifts to the city, Lambert Tree Studios down on State Street.

Before I close this, though, how about taking a nice walk east from the LaSalle statue, under the Lake Shore Drive bridge, and out to the Lakefront path?  Walk north for a mile and a half, and just past the Diversey Harbor inlet, looking to your right, you will find another sculpture that Lambert Tree gave to the people of Chicago.

"A Signal of Peace," another Lambert Tree
gift at Diversey Harbor inlet (JWB, 2011)
“A Signal of Peace” was inspired by Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show, which the sculptor, Cyrus E. Dallin, saw when it came to Paris in 1890.  With the show and its depiciton of the American frontier fresh in his mind, Dallin created the work for the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition.  After the fair Lambert Tree purchased the sculpture and donated it to the people of Chicago.

In a letter concerning the sculpture and the Native Americans it memorializes, Judge Tree wrote, “It is evident there is no future for them, except that they may exist as memory in a sculptor’s bronze or stone or a painter’s canvas.” [Bach, Ira J. and Mary Lackritz Gray.  A Guide to Chicago’s Public Sculpture]

So there you are, two sculptures twelve blocks removed from one another, the man who began the process that would sweep the young warrior at Diversey from the Great Plains forever and that young warrior himself, gifts of a modest man who wanted to give something back to the city he loved.  

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Dr. Nels T. Quales house at 1951 West Schiller

The Nels T. Quales house at 1951 W. Schiller (JWB, 2011)

Just south of Wicker Park sits a home of red brick with a cyclone fence around it.  Clearly 1951 West Schiller has seen better days.  Completed just two years after the Chicago Fire of 1871 and enlarged in 1890, this was in its early days the home of Nels T. Quales, a Norwegian who came to Chicago in 1856, a man who accomplished enough to fill three lifetimes and whose work left an impression on the city that remains to this day.

Quales was born on January 17 of 1831, the next-to-youngest of six children.  His father, Tangiles, was a farmer of modest means near Hardanger in the fjord country of southern Norway.  By the age of 26 the young Quales had entered the Royal Veterinary College of Copenhagen, where he spent nearly four years securing a degree in veterinary science.

In 1859 Quales made his way to the United States, arriving in Chicago on July 6th of that year.  He went to work for a railway company in the city, taking English language classes at night.  In August of 1861 he enlisted in Company B of the First Illinois artillery.

Quales house entrance (JWB, 2011)
Now, why would a Norwegian veterinarian, in the country for less than two years, enlist in a war brought about solely by the institution of slavery?  To answer that question, we have to put aside everything that we today take for granted and imagine how important the concept of freedom was to those who came to this country, a nation not even 80 years old at the time.

Remember that the Statue of Liberty, Frederic Auguste Bartholdi’s great gift to the country on behalf of the people of France, has Lady Liberty stepping out of a set of broken chains. Those broken chains, the movement from powerlessness to freedom, were significant.  The United States government and its great experiment in democracy was a shining beacon to all those who yearned for liberty.  No doubt Quales was brought to enlist because he felt that call in the core of his being.

The rest of his life bears out that idea.

By 1863 Quales was detached for service in General William Tecumseh Sherman’s headquarters.  He was placed in charge of a large veterinary hospital in Nashville, working in the post hospital at the same time.  In 1864 he was discharged, at which point he returned to Chicago and entered Rush Meical College, graduating in 1867.  After a competitive examination he was appointed house physician and surgeon of Cook Country Hospital.

Dr, Quales's home sat just across Schiller from Wicker Park (JWB, 2011)
At that point things began to move quickly.  The new doctor became involved with the North Side Free Dispensary and in 1868 he was appointed City Physician, holding that position for three years, adopting a series of methods that allowed the city to control a fairly serious outbreak of smallpox during that time.

It’s apparent that Quales never forgot his own early attempts to find a place in a foreign land.  He served as physician to the Scandinavian Immigrant Aid Society, served as a surgeon at the United States Marine Hospital until it was destroyed in the Great Fire of 1871, and after the fire was one of the physicians appointed by the Chicago Relief and Aid Society to help relieve the suffering that took place after that horrific event.  This was a huge operation; the society attended to the needs of some 157,000 individuals in the fire’s aftermath.

There are at least three important institutions that still remain which are directly attributable to the leadership of Dr. Quales. 

Wicker Park Lutheran Church (google images)
First, the Wicker Park Evangelical Lutheran Church was formed in 1879 with Dr. Quales acting as a principal guiding force.  Started in an unfinished church building at 2112 West LeMoyne, the congregation worshipped in English.  In 1906 a larger structure, built of stone, was begun.  This church still stands in that location.

In 1896 the doctor led the move to form the Norwegian Old Peoples’ Home Society in an effort to create a residence for elderly Norwegians.  A four-acre site was chosen in Norwood Park, just across from the railroad station.  The old hotel on that site became the Norwood Park Home.  Today the Norwood Park Home is Norwood Crossing, a facility of over 200 residents that is open to all ethnic groups.

Groundbreaking for the Lutheran Deaconess Hospital 
Finally, Dr. Quales was the principal leader in the formation of the Lutheran Deaconess Home and Hospital, built on four lots at Haddon Avenue and Leavitt Street, just south of Division and about five blocks south of the church.  Dedication for the hospital was held on May 24, 1903.  By 1910 a new wing brought the hospital’s capacity to 100 beds.

In the early 1950’s the Lutheran Church, recognizing that the physical plant at the hospital was aging, purchased land in northwest Park Ridge, where today’s Lutheran General Hospital stands.  Both hospitals operated until 1968 when the Chicago site was closed.  Today Advocate Lutheran General Hospital has 645 beds, sees over 1,000 people a week in its emergency rooms, and maintains the only children’s hospital in the north and northwest suburbs.

Dr. Nels T. Quales, veterinarian, Civil War enlistee, doctor, and founder of three institutions that still stand today.  A Chicagoan, through and through.

It’s too bad his former home couldn’t break the chains of that fence and tell the story of the amazing man who made 1951 West Schiller his home.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Photo of the Week: Bird on a Bell

The 1920 Meneely Bell, with bird, on the DuSable bridge (JWB, 2011)

Before the skies darkened and the wind whipped up, we had a couple of lovely days last week.  On one of those I found this sparrow perched atop the bell on the southeast bridge house of the DuSable Bridge.

The bridge, designed by Edward H. Bennett, with Daniel Burnham the author of the Chicago Plan of 1909, was finished in 1920 and turned a little country lane called Pine Street into what has become one of the great merchandising boulevards in the world.

The bridge married the latest in technology with the timeless beauty of the Beaux Arts style.  Bennett believed in Burnham’s philosophy, the philosophy that Thomas Hines in his Burnham of Chicago summarized in this way:  “Burnham sought to bring to American soil much of the power, grandeur, mystery, and monumentality he saw in his Old World travels.  Somehow, he thought, there must be in America the same sense of wonder for Americans who would never be able to travel abroad.”

This modest, little bell falls fully in line with that philosophy.  Although the bell shows its date of manufacture as 1920, it was designed by a company that had been around since 1826,  the Meneely Bell Foundry, located in West Troy, now Watervliet, New York.

The founder of the company, Andrew Meneely,  started his career as an apprentice to one Julius Hanks, who began the first bell foundry in the United States.  Overall the Meneely Foundry produced 65,000 bells before it stopped production in 1952.

Meneely bells can be found at Cornell University and West Point.  They hang in churches from Guatemala (Parish Church of San Andres Xecul, Totonicapan) to Hawaii (Soldiers’ Chapel, Schofield Barracks). 

Bennett and Burnham certainly would have been familiar with Meneely’s work; the company created the 13,000-pound Columbian Liberty Bell, which was displayed at the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago.  That bell mysteriously disappeared, most likely in Russia, during a European tour after the fair closed.

Friday, May 13, 2011

The Episcopal Church of the Atonement, Edgewater

Mary, The Snake and Flowering Crabapples (JWB, 2001)
The Episcopal Church of the Atonement, 5749 North Kenmore

Mary stands glorified beneath the flowering crabapple trees at The Episcopal Church of the Atonement, 5749 North Kenmore.  I came upon the Blessed Virgin as I walked through Edgewater on an 85° day, kissed by the sun and cursed by a tree pollen count that was off the charts.

And there she was, Mary, suffering in silence . . . seemingly covered from head to toe in a shower of pollen. I knew how she felt; I was suffering right along with her.

Hand-hewn red sandstone at the entrance to the church (JWB, 2011)
The cornerstone for The Episcopal Church of the Atonement was laid in November of 1889 at its present site.  Henry Ives Cobb designed the church. Cobb, of course, also designed the Newberry Library, the old Chicago Historical Society on Dearborn Street, the Chicago City Hall and Courthouse that was demolished to make way for the present-day Federal Center, and the original campus plan for the University of Chicago.

In 1919 the church was expanded after the congregation grew from 120 to over 500 members after 1908.  The architect for the expansion was John Edmund Oldaker Pridmore, who was a member of the congregation and lived just a block away in a house he designed for himself on Winthrop.  He maintained the English Gothic character of the original church in his plan.

The English Gothic character of the church
as seen in its south elevation (JWB, 2011)
The Episcopal Church of the Atonement shows that both Cobb and Pridmore found inspiration in the philosophy of John Ruskin who wrote, “When we build, let us think that we build forever.  Let it be not for present delight, nor for present use alone; let it be such work as our descendants will thank us for.”

Ruskin’s 1849 Seven Lamps of Architecture asserted that buildings should reflect the work of human beings, such as masons and stone carvers and wood workers, that they should also reflect the culture from which they developed, and there should be no originality for its own sake, but rather a respect for traditional styles and methods of construction.

Look at most churches of this era in the city and you’ll them wearing a coat of gray Bedford limestone.  Not so the church in Edgewater, shaped red sandstone, pointed and arched windows and doorways, and meticulously crafted doors create that timeless appearance and respect for tradition.

By the way, notice the snake that seemingly is chomping at the hem of the Mary’s dress. I wondered about that.  Apparently, it’s the result of a mistranslation. 

In the Septuagint, the Greek translation of the Hebrew Bible, there is a line to the effect that “he will crush your head.”  But in the Vulgate translation, the Latin Bible used in the middle ages, that became, “she will crush your head.”  Still, it works nicely with the idea of Mary, the most virtuous of all women, crushing all of the powers of evil by her virtue alone. []

Now if she could only find a way to deal with that pollen . . .

Just a couple blocks away from the lakefront
highrises, The Church of the Atonment
keeps the faith (JWB, 2011)

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Chicago Old and New

Chicago Old and New: A View toward the River from State Street (JWB, 2009)

Aside from the architecture, the great thing about living in this city is the space one finds to appreciate its world-class buildings.  This is especially true as one approaches the river, where the narrow channel provides just enough elbow room to admire the view.

Pay attention . . . look up once in awhile . . . and you often come across a setting such as the one in the above photo.  The old and the new – a clash of styles, philosophies and cultures as Frederick Dinkelberg’s 1926 Jewelers’ Building faces off against Adrian Smith’s Trump Tower.

The classically influenced Beaux Arts style was nearly over in Chicago when Dinkelberg designed what is now 35 East Wacker.  But Dinkelberg had worked for the Burnham firm for his entire career, and Beaux Art was the style that made Burnham and his crew the greatest, most prolific architects in the world.

So it was that style that Dinkelberg, working on his own in the 1920’s, chose for the building that was to consolidate all of the Wabash Avenue jewelers in one grand location.

It was an innovative building with interior parking for hundreds of cars around its core.  But tenants were slow to make the switch, and the Depression dimmed the building’s prospects even further.

Detail from Dinkelberg's Flatiron Building (JWB, 2010)
Poor old Frederick Dinkelberg, designer of this great building that drew the curtain on an era of grand, classically inspired design in Chicago, who drew the plans for the Railway Exchange Building and the Heyworth Building, whose reach went as far as Lower Manhattan where his Flatiron Building still stands. 

Poor old Frederick Dinkelberg . . . he made a fortune working for the greatest architectural firm in the world and invested all of it in utilities stocks that were worthless after October of 1929.  As Alice Sparberg Alexiou points out in The Flatiron, Frederick and his wife, Emily, were forced to sell their spacious Evanston home and move to a small apartment on Kendall Street in Chicago.  The great architect died in his sleep after the two had shared a coffee cake that Emily had prepared to celebrate their fiftieth wedding anniversary.  With no money to bury him, Emily turned to the American Association of Architects, the members of which chipped in to pay for the burial.

Trump Tower looks to the future (JWB,  2009)
Across the river it’s a far different story, for there stands the tallest reinforced concrete residential building in the world, gleaming in the sun, ushering in a new era of super-tall buildings.  Its architect, Adrian Smith, working for the Chicago firm of Skidmore, Owings and Merrill, has gone on to design the tallest building in the world, the Burge Khalifa in Dubai.  And the rumor mill has it that he has plans for a mile-high building on the drawing board.

No utilities stocks for Mr. Smith or for the building’s developer, Mr. Trump, either.  It’s into the future, straight up.

Walking down State Street or standing on the DuSable Bridge, you can see these two great buildings facing each other.  One, the dream of a Chicagoan who designed one of the great buildings in New York City and went broke.  The other the creation of a New Yorker developer who asked a Chicagoan to build one of the great towers in the Windy City and is pretty well-fixed for the time being.

Chicago.  Old and New.  Together. 

Monday, May 9, 2011

Tops on the Chicago RIver

Writing under the direction of the Commercial Club of Chicago, Daniel Burnham and Edward H. Bennett provided a far-reaching plan for the entire Chicago area in their Chicago Plan of 1909.  One can argue about the magnitude of the plan and its effect on the city’s growth, but there is no arguing about this statement, “Michigan Avenue is probably destined to carry the heaviest movement of any street in the world.  Any boulevard connection in Michigan Avenue which fails to recognize the basic importance of the avenue will be a waste of money and energy.  Any impairment of the capacity of this street at any point along its entire front, any weakening of this foundation, is an error of the first magnitude.”

The swing bridge at Wells Street
with Northwestern Depot beyond
Chicago, in confronting the weight of these words, had a problem with Michigan Avenue – the Chicago River.  Michigan Avenue already ran from the river all the way south to the city limits by the year of the Great Fire in 1871.  But, heading north, there was no dependable way to cross the river.  Bridging the river came in the form of swing bridges, the most important one being at Wells Street, a structure that led to the Northwestern Railroad’s terminal at Wells and Kinzie.

But the swing bridges were cumbersome and subject to frequent breakdowns. As long as they were the principal means of crossing the river, Michigan Avenue would not be extended north, and the wealthy residents of the city would continue to build their mansions south of downtown in what is now the Prairie Avenue Historic District.

Various schemes were hatched to solve the problem, including a plan to build a tunnel under the river at Michigan Avenue.  Then on May 31, 1903 The Chicago Tribune ran an editorial stating that the only way to create a unified Michigan Avenue was to condemn the land on the north side of the river and build a bridge sufficiently large enough to carry both passenger and freight traffic.

“The scheme is practicable,” the editorial declared. “With energy and determination it can be carried out.  It may seem expensive, but the cost will be a trifle as compared with hundred of street improvement which are going on in London and Paris at the present time.”

Pont Alexandre III detail (JWB, 2010)
Finally, 17 years after the editorial and over a decade after the Chicago Plan was published, Chicago got its bridge.  Edward H. Bennett, who wrote the Chicago Plan with Daniel Burnham designed the bridge, taking inspiration from the Pont Alexandre III in Paris.  Pine Street, a narrow street on the north side of the river leading to the pumping station and waterworks, became the northern extension of Michigan Avenue, and the city was transformed.

Within ten years at least a half-dozen great skyscrapers were erected near the bridge before the construction stopped as a result of the worldwide Depression.  These were great buildings, meant to showcase the power of the firms they housed, but more than that, meant to prove to the world that Chicago could hold its own with any city on the planet.  They were designed with magnificence in mind, majestic to the eye and built with the latest innovations in engineering.

Nowhere do they declare this combination of beauty, power, and innovation more emphatically than in their crowns.  To look at the tops of these buildings was to realize that Chicago was more than just a stacker of wheat and player with railroads.  This was a city on the move.

Here’s what I mean . . .

The Wrigley Building Clock Tower (JWB, 2010)
The Wrigley Building was begun in 1921 and finished in 1924.  Charles Beersman, working for the great firm of Graham, Anderson, Probst and White modeled the tower of the south building after the Jeralda Tower in Seville Spain, choosing French Renaissance detailing for this study in shimmering white terra cotta.

The 360 N. Michigan Belevedere (JWB, 2010)
The London Guarantee and Accident Building, now 360 North Michigan, was finished in 1923.  Alfred Alschuler, a prolific designer who created buildings ranging from the Brach Candy Factory to the K.A.M. Isaiah Israel synagogue in Hyde Park, created a building that spoke at once of power and timelessness.  The belvedere atop the building is said to reference the Choragic Monument of Lysicrates in Athens.

Tribune Tower complete with flying buttresses (JWB, 2010)
Two New York architects, John Mead Howells and Raymond Hood, split a fifty thousand dollar first place prize for their winning design for the Chicago Tribune’s headquarters, which was finished in 1925.  Hood was designing radiator covers for the American Radiator Company when his design was chosen from 258 entries sent in from 23 countries.  The unadorned shaft of the building reflects the art deco style of the 1920’s, but the flying buttresses and neo-Gothic mass at the top of the building clearly proclaimed a publisher who saw himself as doing important work with universal implications.
Dinkelberg's fantastic dome atop 35 E. Wacker (JWB, 2010)
Frederick Dinkelberg and Joachim Javer designed the Jewelers’ Building across the river and just up Wacker Drive from Alschuler’s London Guarantee Building. Dinkelberg had worked his entire career for Daniel Burnham, even designing the Flatiron Builidng just off Madison Square Park in New York City.  The Jewelers' Building, now 35 East Wacker, was long on engineering – it was the first large building in the city with indoor parking – and long on classical design, forty stories of it.  Hard to believe that Dinkelberg’s widow had to take a collection among Chicago architects to scrape together enough money to bury her husband when he died in 1935.

The Burnham Brothers' Triumph (JWB, 2010)
Finally, the building that looks great in the sunshine, the art deco headquarters for the Carbide and Carbon Corporation, now the Hard Rock Hotel, just south of the bridge on Michigan Avenue.  Designed by the sons of the great Daniel Burnham, Daniel and Hubert, the study in black granite, green terra cotta and gold leaf was finished in 1929. That’s real gold up there on the top of the building, a summing up of all the excess that was the 1920’s, excess that turned into a mocking symbol as the country and the world slipped into the hard times of the 1930’s.

Chicago got its long-awaited bridge in 1920.  In the ten years that followed the city got far more than an easy way to cross the river.     

Friday, May 6, 2011

Astor Tower

Astor Tower, 1300 North Astor Street (JWB, 2011)

To walk down Astor Street on a sunny day is to return to the end of the nineteenth century when Chicago was in the midst of growth unparalleled in the history of mankind.  It’s a street where the movers and shakers involved in that growth – those who led it and those who profited from it – came to stay.

Omit the cars and add a soundtrack of horse’s hooves on cobblestone streets, and you're back in a time when Chicagoans saw the industrial machine that was their home chugging and wheezing and lurching forward on its way to producing the greatest city in history.

The fantasy comes to an end, though, as you approach the corner of Astor and Goethe.  Walking south past John Root’s townhouse, you’ll come upon two art deco towers designed by Philip Maher and a coquettish condominium building on the northwest corner that raises its glass skirts five floors to show the concrete core that supports it.

This building is Bertrand Goldberg’s Astor Tower, which started life off as a boutique hotel, catering to celebrities, before becoming a condominium building in the 1970’s.

Back there in 1963 when Astor Tower was finished, Marina City was just getting off the drawing board.  In light of that, Astor Towers is an interesting project because it uses the same engineering principles as Goldberg’s circular towers down on the river. 

The entrance and exposed core of Astor Tower, the same system
used in the round towers of Marina City (JWB, 2011)
Just like Marina City, Astor Tower is built around a central core, which contained the elevators, fire stairs and utility conduits.  This core, poured in place over three weeks, resisted 90% of the wind stress on the tower and carried the bulk of the weight of the building.  The 24 floors of the building hung off the core, supported on their exterior edges by thin concrete columns. []

Goldberg began the living spaces of the building at the fifth floor, exposing the all-important core of Astor Tower.  The protective canopy that hangs over the glassy entrance lobby is cantilevered off that massive core just as are the living spaces above.  At the top of the structure the core peeks out again, exposing itself and the engineering triumph of the tower for all to see.

Bertrand Goldberg's residence at 1518 North Astor (JWB, 2011)
The squared tower stands in contrast to Goldberg’s greatest residential projects, the serpentine River City and the round twin towers of Marina City.  In this respect, the architect showed his respect for the venerable Astor Street neighborhood.  It was a neighborhood into which he would move, a couple blocks north at 1518 North Astor.

The plan shows Goldberg’s emphasis on creating buildings that considered first and foremost the people who would live in and around them.  In this he differed from his mentor, Mies van der Rohe.  Goldberg commented on this difference, saying, “Mies was seeking a modular uniformity that could do many things, but not necessarily adapt itself to the humanism that is required in our period.  He rather imposed, and he said to me, ‘I will teach people to live in my buildings.’  I say I will seek the buildings that permit people to live.”

Perhaps the most striking feature of the original hotel related to the exterior louvers behind which the windows were placed.  When they were new, these operable louvers provided shade and privacy.  The one-eighth inch glass panes behind the louvers were set in aluminum frames and were removable from the inside so that they could be easily washed.

That worked fine when the place operated as a hotel.  Employees experienced in the window system kept the windows cleaned on a schedule, substituting clean windows for the ones that needed washing. 

DeStefano facade re-design of 1994 (JWB, 2011)
But when the building changed to condominiums, the windows became the responsibility of the owners.  Many ignored the arduous process of lifting, cleaning and replacing the windows altogether.  The ones that tried it were not trained in or adept at the process, and the result was that none of the windows were seated correctly or properly sealed.  Many of the window gaskets had failed as well.  So when it rained outside, it also rained inside.

It was decided in 1993, therefore, to do away with the original system altogether, and DeStefano + Partners designed a new system of fenestration that did away with the louvers and created a sleek, glassy surface for the building.  The new window system was installed outside the original windows, and then the old windows were removed, resulting in a minimal amount of disruption for unit owners. [Hunter, Carl. “The Dilemma of Renovation Design,” Realty and Building, September 24, 1994.]

Astor Tower, when it was a hotel, saw its share of big names.  It was popular, in part, because of the relative isolation it enjoyed on Astor Street.  It also had four two-room suites per floor on the lower floors and on tthe upper floors breathtaking views of the skyline and the lake could be seen from three-room suites.

Sammy Davis, Jr., The Monkees, Bette Davis, Natalie Wood and many others all came through the hotel.  But the most famous visit came at 2:00 p.m. on Friday, August 12 of 1966 when The Beatles came through Chicago on what would be their last tour of the United States.

In a suite on the 27th floor John Lennon was forced to defend himself in the flap over remarks about Christianity that he had made six months earlier. “I wasn’t knocking it or putting it down,” Lennon said. “I was just saying it as a fact . . . I’m not saying that we’re better, or greater or comparing us with Jesus Christ as a person or God as a thing or whatever it is, you know.  I just said what I said and it was wrong, or was taken wrong.  And now it’s all this.”

Astor Tower was three-years-old. 

For a good look at the 1966 Astor Tower and the press conference that followed, check this out . . .