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. 

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