Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Summer Flew Right By

The Air Force Thunderbirds at the 2011 Air and Water Show (JWB, 2011)

Every summer there seems to be a time when the sands run low on the season, and I think more and more about flipping the whole thing over to watch another season slide by.  In recent years that moment seems to come with the last day of the Air and Water Show.  When they start to dismantle the elaborate set-up that stretched nearly all the way from Oak Street to Fullerton Avenue, it seems as if they are carting away summer along with all the porta-johns and venders’ tents.

Back in another life when I was heading back to the classroom for another year of selling ideas to young people and dragging home a rucksack full of essays every night, the break came in the middle of August. 

At least in retirement I’m able to milk the season for another couple weeks.

This morning I got up before 6:00, and it was still dark outside.  Several hours later I got on my bike and rode down to the Chicago Architecture Foundation to give a tour.  The beaches, filled with folks just a couple of weeks ago, were deserted.  Tomorrow it will be September, and the break with a long and often glorious summer will be complete.

It’s always sad to see the summer slipping into the past.  That’s especially true in a Midwestern city where the contrast between the locust-lined boulevards of July and the stinging spray of a February ice storm seems so pronounced.

There’s a world of difference between a cutie at the North Avenue beach, playing volleyball in a bikini and the same young thing on the 151, wearing a parka and calf-high Huggs.

It was a great summer.  Just look around . . . there’s ample evidence of that.  There was a nearly perfect combination of sun and rain.  It’s hard to remember the last time we got to this point in the season with everything so filled with life.  Stroll through the garden in front of the Lincoln Park Conservatory, and the display around St. Gaudens’s Storks at Play is breath-taking.

Even those crazy palm trees down at the Oak Street beach are still reasonably green.

So we’ll ratchet it back a notch or two and wait for the trees to change and the leaves to fall.  The nights will be cooler, the sun will set earlier, and we will remember the days we spent in the sunlight even as we look forward to watching those volleyball games down at North Avenue again.

We'll be a year older, but the age of those good looking kids down there in the sand never changes. 

Monday, August 29, 2011

Kling Brothers - Clock Tower Lofts

The Kling Brothers Logo (JWB, 2011)

Smack dab in the middle of the triangle formed by Milwaukee, North, and Western Avenue, situated on a quiet, tree-lined block at 2300 West Wabansia, is an old manufacturing building that was converted to loft condominiums in 1996.  Today the building is called Clock Tower Lofts.  But back in 1919 when the plant was finished it was the home for a wholesale clothing business, Kling Brothers.  The initials of the firm are still there, right above the entrance to the building.

The guiding hand behind the venture belonged to Leopold Kling.  Born in the village of Dauendorf in Alsace-Lorraine, he managed to graduate from business college at the age of 14.  In 1895 he came to the Chicago, where he became a United States citizen in 1900.  Two years after he arrived, at the age of 19, he opened a small tailor shop on Halsted Street. 

Clock Tower Lofts at 2300 W. Wabansia
(JWB, 2011)
Within the space of ten years Leopold, along with his brother, Samuel, had built up the business enough to commission one of the most prominent architects of that period, Alfred Alschuler, to design a loft building on the west side of the city at 2300 Wabansia. 

This could not have been an easy to time to get into the garment business.  Labor unrest in the industry reached its peak even as the company was contemplating the new factory on Wabansia.  In September of 1915 the Amalgamated Clothing Workers of America, a faction that had seceded from the United Garment Workers of America, ordered a general strike in Chicago that took 25,000 garment workers out of 400 shops in the city.

The strife continued for months.  On October 26 of that year, Samuel Kapper, a 35-year-old deaf and dumb tailor on picket duty was shot to death near Halsted and Harrison Streets.  By the third week of November the union issued a list of 687 strikers who had been hospitalized as a result of beatings or stabbings.  Unrest continued all the way into the next decade as businesses and unions sparred with one another.

But the Kling Brothers prevailed, eventually acquiring the Edward V. Price Company, another garment manufacturer, and moving their executive offices to West Van Buren Street.  Leopold Kling also served as president of the Maier-Lavaty Uniform Company, which is still in business with its headquarters in Baltimore, Maryland.

Leopold Kling also was heavily involved in the growth of Mt. Sinai Hospital, the second Jewish hospital to be established in the city.  Kling served as Vice-President of the hospital from 1934 to 1946, as President from 1946 to 1949, and as Board Chairman from 1949 to 1952.  During his tenure the hospital’s size grew from about 60 to 425 beds. He donated the money necessary to build a fountain and a 600-seat auditorium, and in 1957 he contributed $150,000 toward a million dollar fund to build a new interns’ residence.

Leopold Kling died in 1962 at the age of 84.  His brother, Samuel, who lived to be 91, died five years later.

Arts and Crafts Influences (JWB, 2011)
Alfred Alschuler, the designer of the 1919 factory on Wabansia, was one of the most prolific architects of his time, designing everything from synagogues to factory buildings.  His London Guarantee and Accident Building, now 360 North Michigan, is one of the most recognized buildings on the Chicago River.

Alschuler was among the first generation of architects to move through the architecture program that resulted from the 1893 agreement between the School of the Art Institute and the Armour Institute of Technology.  Studying with him were men such as George Eich (later to become a significant contributor in the office of Howard Van Doren Shaw), George Willis (who would move on to be the chief draftsman in Frank Lloyd Wright’s Oak Park studio), and Charles Tobin (Wright’s brother-in-law and Walter Burley Griffin’s replacement in Wright’s Oak Park studio in 1906).  

William K. Fellows, who got his degree at Columbia, was one of the faculty members.  He would move on to a partnership with Charles C. Nimmons and by 1911 with Dwight H. Perkins.  [Van Zanten.  Sullivan’s City.  W. W. Norton & Company, 2000.]  

Alschuler, himself, began his practice in the office of Dankmar Adler in 1899.  Within a year Adler died, and the young architect went to work for Samuel Treat.  By 1904 he had become a partner in the firm.  He worked at Treat & Alschuler for three years before establishing his own practice in 1907. To appreciate how many structures he designed in the city during his career, check out the map here.

Terra Cotta detail at Entrance (JWB, 2011)
The factory on Wabansia was just one of scores of buildings that Alschuler designed during his career.  In 1996 a remarkably sympathetic renovation orchestrated by Hartshorne Plunkard divided the former garment factory into 113 condominium units.  The building's Arts and Crafts ornamentation, straightforward presentation, and horizontal emphasis is in keeping with the Prairie Style designs of such notable architects as Dwight Perkins, Charles C. Nimmons, and Walter Burley Griffin.

Situated in a quiet neighborhood in Wicker Park, Wabansia is a lovely tree-lined street that is just a block or two away from some of the great old homes that Chicago’s German and Polish settlers built with the wealth they had gained from their hard work in the rapidly growing city.

The namesake of Clock Tower Lofts (JWB, 2011)
If you want a great walk on a sunny day, start at the Clock Tower Lofts and walk east to Leavitt.  Turn south on Damen and check out the homes on Pierce, LeMoyne and Evergreen.  It is one of the most eclectic neighborhoods in the city; every home with its own distinctive style.  And the old Kling Brothers factory, now Clock Tower Lofts, fits right in.

Friday, August 26, 2011

The Reliance Building (Part Two)

The Reliance -- Root at the base, Atwood on the tower,
a Burnham triumph (JWB, 2008)

In the last blog I ran through the reasons why The Reliance building, now the Burnham Hotel, was one of the great triumphs of the first generation of skyscrapers in Chicago.  Today I want to mention the story of its rescue and ensuing transformation into a contemporary triumph of adaptive reuse.

On the corner of Washington and State Street, across the street from the gaping wound that was Block 37, the Reliance Building waited for its rebirth.  The city bought the property in 1992 for 1.2 million dollars and appropriated another 6.4 million dollars toward the restoration of the property’s exterior, in the hope that this would make the building more attractive to a developer.  Somewhere in there probably was the goal of avoiding a large chunk of century-old terra cotta falling on a passerby’s head.

The National Trust for Historic Preservation provides the full scope of the two phases of the restoration effort.

14,300 piece of terra cotta make up the facade of The Reliance
(JWB, 2008)
That first phase involved replacing more than 2,000 pieces of terra cotta with exact matches.  Another thousand pieces were removed from the building, cleaned and reinstalled.  That sounds complicated enough, but there are 140 different decorative motifs out of the 14,300 pieces of terra cotta that make up the building’s skin.  New molds had to be made for 130 of them.

Because the original windows and their frames were shot, everything had to be replaced.  Care was taken to make sure that the new glass came as close as possible to the appearance of the original polished plate glass.  The new aluminum window frames were planned so as to be as unobtrusive as possible.

Also in this phase the original cornice that had been removed in the 1940’s was recreated in aluminum.  The use of historic drawings and photographs for the design ensured that the new cornice is true to the original.  The bottoms of the second floor bays had also been removed in the early 1940’s.  These were also reconstructed.

The restoration of the exterior was orchestrated by Baldwin Development Co. and the McClier Corporation, an architectural firm that was also responsible for the restoration of the Rookery Building at 209 South LaSalle Street.  T. Gunny Harboe led McClier’s restoration plans.  Atunovich Associates was the architectural firm of record.

The second phase of the building’s restoration was just as ambitious and required far more architectural detective work.  There were a few fragments of the original storefront’s granite and bronze trim, and these were used to create the base of the building as it originally looked when John Root’s plan was brought to life.

The elevator lobby required the identification and matching of the six different kinds of marble that were used for the ceiling and walls.  Once again historic photographs, drawings, and a small piece of the original mosaic floor led to an exact reconstruction of the original lobby.

Faithful recreation of the mosaics and hallways -- one
of the impressive aspects of the project
(Photo Courtesy of Hotel Burnham)
The corridors of the upper floors were restored to their original appearance.  The marble, mahogany, and glass office and corridor walls were restored, along with the ornamental staircase and the terrazzo floors.  The original metal elevator grilles had been buried in the wall of the elevator shaft.  These were reinstalled in front of a new shaft wall.

The 122 hotel rooms in the new boutique hotel were a real challenge.  No two corridors were exactly the same, so the challenge was to keep the original door locations in the position they occupied in the original plan.  Finally, where Carson, Pirie, Scott & Co. occupied the ground floor back in the 1890’s, a new restaurant was created, the Atwood CafĂ©, the namesake of the man who planned the bulk of the project.

In 1999 the restored Reliance Building was reborn as the Hotel Burnham, the third Chicago hotel managed by the Kimpton Hotel & Restaurant Group, Inc., a San Francisco company specializing in boutique hotels.  Kimpton also manages the Allegro Hotel on Randolph Street, the Hotel Monaco on Wacker Drive, and the Hotel Palomar on North State Street.
The Reliance as it appeared originally

Walt Whitman once said that to have great poets you need a great audience.  The same, I think, is true of buildings.  To have them, more importantly, to keep them, requires a people willing to understand their worth, despite all of the practical concerns that unite to see those buildings torn down.  The Reliance was lucky . . . it was brought to life in a great town, filled with many people who rejoiced at its rebirth, a great Windy City audience deserving of this magnificent terra cotta poem.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

The Reliance Building (Part One)

The Reliance Building, finished between 1891 and 1895 (JWB, 2008)

So much has been written about the exquisite Reliance Building at the southwest corner of Washington and State Streets that I hope to add little to the conversation.

But I love this building, and I started this blog as a way of talking about subjects for which I care, so I’m going to suck it up, knowing that far more knowledgeable writers have discussed the innovative and aesthetic qualities of this collaboration between two of the early Chicago greats – John Root and Charles Atwood, both working for the great Daniel Burnham.

Today it’s almost impossible to see the impact this building must have had when it was finished in 1895.  In a smoky city that was swarming with people, horse-drawn drays, trolleys cars, elevated trains and the noise and smells that came with it all, the shimmering white terra-cotta of The Reliance must have seemed like a dream.

We get some idea of what the reaction was by examining the press reviews at the time, the most notable of which came in a March 16, 1895 article in The Chicago Tribune

The Reliance was built on the site of one of the only two buildings in the central part of the city to survive the Chicago Fire of 1871 – the First National Bank Building.  It was in 1890 that William E. Hale proposed a building of 14 floors on the site at Washington and State. Hale had made a fortune as, first, the President of the Toledo (Ohio) Traction Company and then as the creator of the “Hale Water-Balance Elevator,” of 1870, a faster elevator than any that had preceded it.

Charles Atwood's building rise from a base designed
by John Root (JWB, 2008)
There was only one problem with Hale's plan for the new building.  There was a four-story building on the site already, and only the bottom floor had been left free by the expiration of the leases.  This was a time when almost every lease in the city expired at the beginning of May, and the leases for the upper three floors continued all the way to May 1 of 1894.

Wait another four years . . . not in Mr. Hale’s plans.  According to The Tribune, “Plans were prepared by the well-known architects, Messrs. Burnham & Root, and, without disturbing in the least the tenants of the upper floors, the old foundations, basement, and first floor were replaced by the substructure of the new building.  This was accomplished by supporting the three upper floors on jack screws.”

So, while you were sitting in a dentist’s chair on the third floor back in 1890, having that aching molar pulled without anaesthetic, workmen were busy replacing the ground floor and basement of the building while it was supported by jack-screws.

Such technology was relatively common because in Chicago the moving of buidlings had been tested over decades. It was in this business that George Pullman, for one, began his career.  And it was in 1890, the same year that William Hale proposed the new building on State Street, that the seven-story Ashland Block of 1872 was moved over a mile from Clark and Randolph to the corner of Twelfth Street and Michigan Avenue, where it stood until 1973.  In that same year of 1890 1,710 permits were issued for such moves, and 6.4 miles of building frontage changed location.  [Duis.  Challenging Chicago
, p. 91]

In May of 1894 the leases of the three upper floors of the building on Washington and State expired, and Mr. Hale was set to begin construction on the office tower.  But nothing is ever that easy.  Carson, Pirie, Scott & Co. had taken possession of the new first floor and basement, and the construction had to take place without disturbing that business.  So heavy timbers were erected over the sidewalks, and a temporary roof was placed over the first floor while the upper three floors were taken down.

Once demolition finished, the building rose with unprecedented speed.  Each floor’s steel was erected in two days.  It must have been an amazing sight.  The leases for the upper three floors expired on May 1 of 1894.  By July 16 the steel had risen to the seventh floor.  By July 28 workers had begun the roof.

Edward C. Shankland, who in 1894 was made a partner in the Burnham firm along with Charles Atwood and Ernest Graham, supervised the work. Shankland’s genius at engineering was seen clearly in the great trusses that he designed for the George B. Post’s 44-acre Manufacturers’ Building at the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition. 

The beauty of the Northwestern Terra Cotta
Company's unprecedented effort (JWB, 2008)
At the time the Reliance Building was completed, there was no other building in the world that used terra cotta as abundantly as Atwood’s building.  Terra cotta had been used for years in the city to protect a structure’s steel from fire.  But the elegance of the enameled terra cotta on the Reliance was something new.

As The Tribune reported, “It was long thought impossible to obtain the enameled material of such perfection and in such quantities, although for years it has been the desire of architects and owners to procure a surface easily cleaned as well as pleasing in color and perfectly fireproof, and a material imperishable and unaffected by the weather.”

Atwood, working with the Northwestern Terra Cotta Company, located at Clybourn and Wrightwood, turned the impossible into a stunning success in what The Tribune called “an experiment on a large scale.” In this section of the smoky city where the majority of buildings were either of brick or dark stone, the Reliance’s gleaming terra cotta, its surface washed clean with every rainstorm, must have been a revelation.

The Orr & Lockett Hardware Company produced all of the hardware for the Reliance.  The company had been in business since the Chicago Fire of 1871, and their work is seen throughout the Rookery Building.  The firm’s next major project would be Holabird & Roche’s Marquette Building, finished the same year as the Reliance.

The Tribune article takes note of the telephone system within the Reliance Building, pointing out that “On the first floor there is located a telephone exchange connected with all the offices.  At this exchange one may ascertain in a moment if the party they desire to see is in, can leave a message, or converse with him – all without going above the street level.”

Note the wide-eyed tone of the summary . . . it shows to some extent how new the technology was.  Imagine . . . to be able to see whether your doctor was available all the way up on the fourteenth floor without ever leaving the lobby of the building!

Exquisite detail throughout The Reliance, painstakingly restored in
the renovation of the 1990's (JWB, 2008)
When the building opened in 1895, Carson, Pirie, Scott & Company kept its store on the first floor.  The retail operation would remain in that location for almost a decade until it moved just down State Street to the 1899 building that Louis Sullivan designed for Schlesinger & Mayer.

The second floor was also set aside for retail business.  The second through the sixth floors were occupied by a variety of sales and show rooms for tailors, dressmakers, jewelers and the like while all the floors above the sixth floor were given over to physicians and dentists.

Particularly novel were the ninth and fourteenth floors, which were designed especially for physicians who only needed space for a few hours each day.  On these two floors a large reception room was connected by telephone to consultation rooms, each of them with its own exit, these consultation rooms spaced around the reception area.  Patients could visit their physician without having to pass back through the reception area.

Physicians could rent their space for as little as an hour each day.  So for ten bucks a month a doctor could get the services of the attendants in the reception area, the use of the room and its equipment, light, heat and power – all in the heart of the city.

Ahead of its time?  85 percent of the exterior of
The Reliance is glass.  (JWB, 2008)
There was no need to worry about the riff-raff finding a way into the building, either.  “The building will be operated on strictly ethical principles, and no tenants will be admitted who are not entitled to position with the most particular classes,” The Tribune reported.  The paper speculated that “since all appointments are of the best” that there “will be enough tenants of the best class to always keep it full.”

Not exactly.  By 1992 the building had fallen into disuse and was coming apart. In the next blog . . . The Renaissance of The Reliance.  With help from the city, this grand old building is a shining example of intelligent restoration.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Milton Horn's Chicago Rising from the Lake

Milton' Horn's Chicago Rising from the Lake on the Columbus Drive Bridge (JWB, 2011)

Next time you’re down by the river, take a few minutes to look at the sculpture on the northwest side of the Columbus Drive bridge.  You’ll find a woman in braids holding, in her r-e-a-l-l-y big left hand, a sheaf of grain while wrapping her right arm around a bull.

The sculpture is a 1954 piece by Russian-born Milton Horn, entitled Chicago Rising from the Lake.

A title equally appropriate for the three-and-a-half ton sculpture might be Chicago Rising from the Back Lot of the Municipal Bridge Repair Shop.  Because somehow for close to 15 years the sculpture went missing until it was finally re-discovered at Thirty-First and Sacramento, overrun with weeds, a home for art-loving raccoons.

The model for the sculpture was the artistr's wife, Estelle (JWB, 2011)
Its creator, Milton Horn, came to the United States from Kiev as a nine-year-old in 1915.  The family settled in Taunton, Massachusetts and although the young Milton never graduated from high school, he studied at the Copley Society in Boston and at the Beaux Arts Institute of Design in New York.

He set about building a reputation in architectural sculpture in New York, cataloging Egyptian antiquities at the Brooklyn Museum.  While still a teenager, he met Estelle Oxenhorn in the winter of 1925, and they were married in the summer of 1928.

Estelle immediately became the center of Milton Horn’s life.  “She was his muse, his publicist.  They acted as one . . . The whole story is all right there in his work.  You can feel him looking at her and her at him,” said Paula Ellis in a 2001 Chicago Tribune article by Robert L. Kaiser.  Ellis serves as the executor of the Milton and Estelle Horn Fine Arts Trust, and she and her husband, Peter, struck up a friendship with Horn that continued until his death.

JWB, 2011
It was Estelle, Horn’s “muse,” who served as the model for Chicago Rising from the Lake.

The commission for the great sculpture came just four years after Horn left his position as a professor at Olivet College in Michigan and moved to Chicago with Estelle.  Mayor Daley, filled with visions for a renewal of the city, asked Horn for a great piece that would show Chicago’s important place in the country and the world.

Five thousand bucks was a lot of money for a sculpture back in the early 50’s, especially one that would eventually hang on the north-facing wall of a parking garage under construction at 11 West Wacker.

Horn, preferring to work on a vertical scale, got down to work, building a massive scaffold and framework that could accommodate the weight of the clay as he sculpted the great symbolic piece.  Estelle, his model, worked right along with him, working clay, mixing plaster, writing to the architects, the contractor, the foundry that would cast the great bronze that Horn called Large Relief for Parking Facility No. 1.
A three-and-a-half ton statue dwarfed on the exterior of the
Shaw, Metz & Dolio designed parking garage at 11 W. Wacker

According to Kaiser in his 2001 article, the sculpture hung on the north wall of the garage, a Shaw, Metz & Dolio design, for 30 years until the building was torn down in 1983.  Horn was hospitalized with a bleeding ulcer when the sculpture was taken down and carted off to the bridge-repair shops iron-working facility at Thirty-First and Sacramento.  First, it was housed in a warehouse and then transferred to the yard behind the shops.

It would sit there for another 14 years – as the sculptor’s beloved wife, Estelle, died, and then, finally, as Horn, himself, passed away in 1995.

After all that time – exposed to the severity of Chicago winters, baking in the heat of the summer – it was quite a process to restore the sculpture to a condition that would allow it to be displayed.  Ultimately, the restoration cost over ten times more than Horn received for it back in 1954.

It’s quite a story, a story that doesn’t get told with a quick glance down on the river at Columbus Street.  Horn saw this city as his sculpture depicts it, a city that rose out of its natural setting to be one of the great industrial cities in the world.

There’s that imposing female figure in the center of the piece, the age-old symbol of fertility and abundance, hip-deep in the waters of Lake Michigan. 

In her left hand she holds a sheaf of wheat . . . appropriate since it was the shipping of agricultural products to Chicago that got the great grain elevators built and hastened the construction of the Illinois and Michigan Canal . . . those two forces helping the city to grow from under 30,000 people in 1850 to over two million 50 years later.

JWB, 2011
Her right arms disappears behind a great bull.  The great Union Stockyards, which officially opened in 1865, sprawled between Pershing Road, Halsted Street, 47th Street, and Ashland Avenue.  A half-million gallons of fresh water were pumped daily from the Chicago River into the yards, and by 1900 they encompassed 475 acres, contained fifty miles of road, and had 130 miles of railroad track close by.  This was the scene that prompted Carl Sandburg to call Chicago “the hog butcher to the world.”

There are details – the eagle and the organic elements – that reference the great debt the city owes to its natural setting and the freedom enjoyed in a country where such miraculous growth could occur.

"Self-Portrait" Milton Horn
The one element in the statue that had to be totally replaced was composed of the curved bars that wind around the figures from the upper right to lower left as you look at it.  The originals were never found and had to be replaced.  In Horn’s original vision, the three bronze bars represented the railroads, industry and commerce, additionally connoting a kind of globe with Chicago at the center.

So there it hangs today, resurrected and reborn, a monument to the city as much as it is to the artist who created it in the image of the woman that, in the end, he could not live without. 

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Photo of the Week: Baseball and the Babe

Jack Brickhouse holds steady while "Forever Marilyn" teases the crowds at Pioneer Court (JWB, 2011)

“I’ve often stood silent at a party for hours listening to my movie idols turn into dull and little people,” Marilyn Monroe once said.

There is nothing dull and little about the 26-foot statue of the actress, “Forever Marilyn,” that stands close to Michigan Avenue at Pioneer Court.  Sculptor Seward Johnson created the work, and The Sculpture Foundation and Zeller Realty Group, owners of Pioneer Court, commissioned the installation of the sculpture, an attraction that will remain through the spring of 2012.

Paul Zeller, the CEO of Zeller Realty Group, said of the sculpture, “With Marilyn we hope to rekindle an attitude and optimism from an era that this iconic figure represents—a time when we, as a nation and a people, were proud, productive, optimistic and self-assure, if a bit mischievous.  We seek to return to American Exceptionalism, and trust Marilyn will propel our attitudes in this direction.” [The Sculpture Foundation Press Release; July 15, 2011]

I’m not sure that the new sculpture is the best example of American Exceptionalism that one could find . . . whatever American Exceptionalism is.

But the blonde beauty is sure drawing them in.

It’s amusing that just north of Marilyn, the one-time baseball babe, sits Jack Brickhouse at the microphone, oblivious to the sight of Ms. Monroe’s lacy undergear aimed at the lucky tenants of 401 North Michigan.

Holding a scorecard, Brickhouse, as depicted by sculptor Jerry McKenna, most probably is watching his beloved Cubbies once again fail to score a run with men on second and third and no outs.  Brickhouse is a Media Wing Hall-of-Famer who was born in Peoria in 1917, just nine years after the Cubs won their last World Series.  At the age of 18 he became the youngest sports announcer in the country and by 1979 had racked up 5,000 broadcasts for WGN radio and television.

So there he sits, just upwind of the Hollywood beauty, maybe describing a backdoor slider that left another batter caught looking.  Or another moon shot that a Cub hit on the sweet spot.  Perhaps it was a called shot, launched after the guy on the mound pitched him high and tight.

It’s appropriate that the great broadcaster hunkers down to business while just to the south the wind, blowing out on a perfect day for baseball, lifts Marilyn Monroe’s dress to the world. 

Back. Back. Back.  Hey, Hey!

Thursday, August 11, 2011

The Montgomery Ward Warehouse at 600 West Chicago (Part II)

1,323, 000 square feet of exquisite space that hugs the river at 600 W. Chicago (JWB, 2010)

Aaron Montgomery Ward was born in February of 1843 in Chatham, New Jersey to Sylvester and Julia Ward.  When he was eight-years-old, the family moved to Niles, Michigan where he went to public school until he reached the age of 14.  At that point he went to work in a barrel factory for 25 cents a day before moving on to work in a brickyard.  Several years later he moved to St. Joseph, Michigan where he worked in a general merchandise store for five bucks a month plus his board. Within three years he was put in charge of the establishment and his paycheck had increased 20 times over – to 100 dollars a month.

Ward moved to Chicago in 1865 with this merchandising experience to recommend him.  He entered the employ of Field, Palmer & Leiter, where he remained for two years.  With the experience he gained from working with three men who would become giants in Chicago merchandising and industry, he left, first to work in a wholesale dry goods business and then to serve as a traveling salesman for Walter M. Smith & Co., a St. Louis firm.

A year after the Chicago fire of 1871, Ward’s life changed.  He married Elizabeth Cobb of Kalamazoo, Michigan and he started the first big mail order business in the world in a loft over a livery stable on Kinzie Street between Rush and State.  Forming a partnership with his brother-in-law, George R. Thorne, Ward began working on his goal of eliminating the middleman and selling directly to the thousands of rural customers flooding the rapidly expanding western United States, people who were at the time being charged exorbitant rates for goods of inferior quality.  The firm began with one clerk.
Schmidt, Garden & Martin designed the sprawling complex on the
river at Chicago Avenue with no apologies for the unadorned way
that it mirrored the function of the business inside (JWB, 2011)

By the time of his death on December 7 of 1913, the little one-clerk operation above the livery stable on Kinzie Street had become a business that generated 40 million dollars a year.  The company had branches in Kansas City, New York, Portland and Fort Worth and employed 6,000 workers.

Perhaps even more important than his unrivalled success as a merchant was the legacy he left to Chicago, his one-man crusade to save the city’s lakefront. But that’s a story for another time . . . perhaps when we work our way down to  6 North Michigan Avenue, an 1898 tower that Montgomery Ward built from a design by Richard Schmidt and Hugh Garden, the same partners who, along with Edgar Martin, would design the sprawling warehouse for Ward on the edge of the river.

And how about that warehouse?  Finished in 1908, it was the largest reinforced concrete building in the entire universe, the largest floor space under one roof in the United States with 30.5 acres of room.  Influenced heavily by the Prairie Style with which Hugh Garden was so familiar after his association with the young architects in the Steinway Building, the warehouse sprawled along the river, such a large structure that workers in the building wore roller skates while filling orders.

When it was completed, this was the largest reinforced concrete
building in the world (JWB, 2010)
Just after it was finished The Architectural Record wrote of the new warehouse, “. . . there is evidence of a definite attempt . .  . to express the function of the different buildings and more particularly there is a sincerity in the use of materials in expressing the structural facts that is a step toward the fulfillment of the hope just expressed.”

A definite attempt to express the function of the buildings?  A sincerity in the use of materials in expressing the structural facts?

Sound familiar?

That’s right . . . “It is the pervading law of all things organic, and inorganic, of all things, physical and metaphysical, of all things human and all things superhuman, of all true manifestations of the head, of the heart, of the soul, that the life is recognizable in its expression, that form ever follows function.  This is the law.”

Schmidt, Garden & Martin followed THE LAW.  It was the law Louis Sullivan brought down from his tower on Congress and handed to the young men and women who worked together on the top floors of the Steinway Building just around the corner.

And that law was applied to Montgomery Ward’s massive warehouse on an unparalleled scale.  The floor area measured 1,323,000 square feet.  The building was 731 feet long, 275 feet deep at its widest point, tapering to 153 feet on Chicago Avenue.  Nine stories high, The Architectural Record called It “a repetition of a monotony truly appalling.”

That last statement was not meant to be nearly as damning as it sounds today.  The journal in which it appeared made the point that this was a new kind of building . . .  “It will be noticed that these qualifications are functional, structural and economical, uninfluenced by any consideration for architectural display or effect.  Indeed, beyond a natural desire for an effect of stability and order, one might say that in this building architectural expression was not wanted.”

Notice the clear division between office space
on the first three levels and utilitarian
space above (JWB, 2011)
The obvious division of the building further advances our understanding of how it functioned when it opened.  The first three floors of the structure, for example, feature larger windows than the floors above and these lower floors are grouped together with piers that run through all three stories.  Here is where we find what little ornament there is on the building . . . the terra cotta details that top the piers on the third level and the terra cotta spandrels between the windows on the second and third levels.

These floors were given up to the executive and working departments of Ward’s vast enterprise and their treatment distinguished them from the storage floors of the six floors of warehouse space above them. 

Again The Architectural Record recognizes that this is a new kind of design, “It states the facts with perfect candor; of repetition and order it makes rhythm; from monotony it draws repose, and always in its form it is plastic.”

Rhythm, repose and plasticity . . . you can see those three attributes in this great building to this day.  It is, over a hundred years after is was built, as vital as it was back in 1908. 

Back In February of this year the building sold for big bucks, not surprising since the immense space inside 600 West Chicago is almost fully leased. In 2003 the city invested $28 million in Tax Increment Financing funding to redevelop the building, and the plan took hold. 

Over a century later . . . still an imposing presence
in the city that grew up around it (JBW, 2011)
The building today houses a variety of businesses – ranging from the upscale Asian restaurant, Japonais, to the unbelievably successful Groupon, which began in just a couple of offices at 600 West Chicago in November of 2008 and as what Forbes Magazine called “the fastest growing company ever” attracted 13 million subscribers while expanding its operation to 85 North American markets and 29 countries, hiring more than 1,200 people in the process.

In 2010 Eric Lefkofsky, one of Groupon’s founders, said, “600 West is a triumphant example of the entrepreneurial spirit of our city.”  It is today just as it was back in 1908.

The law hasn’t changed.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Montgomery Ward Warehouse at 600 West Chicago (Part One)

The Montgomery  Ward Warehouse on the Chicago River at 600 West Chicago (JWB, 2011)

In his Kindergarten Chats Louis Sullivan, the great architect and thinker, wrote:  “it is the pervading law of all things organic, and inorganic, of all things, physical and metaphysical, of all things human and all things superhuman, of all true manifestations of the head, of the heart, of the soul, that the life is recognizable in its expression, that form ever follows function.  This is the law.”

At the beginning of the twentieth century this may have been the law to Sullivan.  But the law didn’t apply to everyone.  Architecture during this period, a period that followed the first generation of great buildings in Chicago, by the collision of two forces.

On one side Sullivan and his crew argued for an architecture that spoke of its time and place  . . . and its purpose.  On the other side were the keepers of tradition, who argued for design that ennobled the place where it was built, a style that created a “city beautiful.”

Schmidt, Garden & Martin's design for the largest reinforced
concrete building in the world when it was finished in 1908 (JWB, 2011)
Of course, this oversimplifies the case, and the temptation is to praise one or damn the other, depending on how one’s tastes run.  The bottom line is that the first ten or fifteen years of the twentieth century were an amazingly eclectic and vital time in Chicago.

This vitality and eclecticism can be seen in a remarkable series of designs by a firm that came together in 1906 – Schmidt, Garden & Martin.  And none of the designs that the partnership produced is more impressive than the Montgomery Ward warehouse at 600 West Chicago.

Richard Ernest Schmidt was born in Bavaria in 1865 and came to Chicago with his family after the Civil War.  He studied architecture at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, the first architectural program in the country, a course of study patterned after the curriculum at the Ecole des Beaux Arts.  He worked for a number of firms, including that of Charles Summer Frost, before starting his own practice in 1887.  It was Schmidt who brought the business knowledge to Schmidt, Garden & Martin that led to its great success.

Hugh Mackie Gorden Garden was born in Toronto in 1873.  At the age of 14 he moved with his family to Minneapolis, where his father died, necessitating the young man’s employment as a draftsman to support the family.  The family moved to Chicago in the 1880’s where the building boom promised better opportunities.  Garden worked in the offices of some of the greats – Sheply, Routan and Coolidge, Howard Van Doren Shaw, Henry Ives Cobb, and Frank Lloyd Wright.  His association with the Chicago Architectural Club and the young designers at Steinway Hall with their “Prairie Style” preferences influenced his career immeasurably. (FInd more about the Steinway Hall designers here.) As the talented designer, Garden complemented the business sense of  Richard Schmidt perfectly, and they combined their talents in 1895.

Modest terra cotta ornament, echoing the organic designs of
Louis Sullivan and the Prairie Style designers (JWB, 2011)
Eleven years later Schmidt and Garden added a partner, Edgar Martin.  The new partner was a skilled structural engineer, a man well-versed in the problems of designing and building large industrial buildings with state-of-the-art (in 1906) materials.

These were the three men to whom Montgomery Ward, immersed in a decade-long struggle to save Grant Park from those who would have it filled with great public buildings that adhered to the classical tradition, turned.  He must have made the decision consciously, perhaps thinking . . . I’m asking for a warehouse here, a huge warehouse, the biggest warehouse in the world.  I don’t want a monument . . . I want something that will do the work for which it is suited, an honest building that will say we’re moving forward as a company and not looking back at a time when praetors and consuls turned the lions loose on the gladiators.

It was a great business decision, and it produced a great structure about which Carl Condit, the architectural historian, has said, “This building stands by itself as one of the most powerful works of utilitarian architecture that our building art has produced.”

In the next blog . . . a look at Montgomery Ward and his grand building at 600 North Chicago.