Thursday, November 3, 2011

The Reid-Murdoch Building (Part One)


The clock on the 1914 Reid-Murdoch Building between LaSalle and Clark Streets (JWB, 2009)
Note the exquisite Arts and Crafts detail in the brickwork

In the year 1853 just about everything in the United States pointed westward.  In March the Territory of Washington was organized after separating from the Oregon Territory.  That same month Congress authorized the transcontinental railroad survey.  In June the Gadsden Purchase added 29,670 miles to the United States.  In exchange for ten million dollars tMexico ceded parts of what are now southern New Mexico and Arizona to the United States.  San Francisco, on November 17th, moved toward a more orderly and civilized town, authorizing street signs to be placed at intersections.

The promise of a new beginning and wide-open spaces drew thousands westward.  By the time the adventurers reached the Mississippi River, though, they were out of supplies.  Before continuing the long slog over the western plains and mountains, they had to restock.  Recognizing this, two young Scottish immigrants, Simon Reid and Thomas Murdoch, opened a store in Dubuque, Iowa in 1853 to re-provision wagon trains headed for the Oregon Trail.

Those simple beginnings eventually came to have a huge impact on Chicago, and one small part of the legacy of Reid and Murdoch can still be seen today on the river between LaSalle and Clark Streets.  The old Reid-Murdoch building, now the headquarters for Encyclopedia Britannica, Inc., is a stunning Arts and Crafts design by George C. Nimmons.  The building was named to the National Register of Historic Places in 1975.  As impressive as the 97-year-old building is, though, the history of the company that built it is equally impressive, the company that began with the two Scots in Dubuque.

Two related events conspired to draw Reid and Murdoch to Chicago.  In 1848 the I & M Canal was completed, connecting the eastern seaboard to the Gulf of Mexico by way of Chicago.  That same year the first railroad ran out of the city, and by 1855 Chicago was the largest railroad center in the world.  It became clear that the one logical place for a food distribution center was Chicago, and by 1865 Simon Reid and Thomas Murdoch had moved the business to the Windy City.

Chicago's Leading Lady makes it way westward past
the Reid-Murdoch Building (JWB, 2011)
Reid’s and Murdoch’s first business in Chicago was conducted from a four-story building on River Street, a structure that was destroyed in the Great Chicago Fire of 1871.  Someone saved the company’s books on that terrible day and within three weeks the company was back in business.  

The location was convenient to the river, but it also was in the heart of a city that was exploding in size.  There were conflicts that often resulted.

Perhaps one of the most interesting of these conflicts occurred in early November of 1892.  At 6:00 in the evening a one-eyed horse hauling a wagon that belonged to Reid-Murdoch left the alley where it was standing north of the Fair Store, crossed Dearborn Street, stopped in front of the steps leading down into Charles Peutz’s basement saloon, and then plowed down them, dragging the grocers’ wagon behind.

Trying to get through the door, the horse cut its neck open on the glass window, bled profusely, and, in frantic efforts to get free, broke the door down and fell into the saloon, dead.  A comedic scene followed in which men, assisted by the driver who finally arrived on the scene, tried to unhitch the wagon and get the dead horse back up the stairs.  Finally, a ramp was jury-rigged, a working crew of teamsters called, and the horse was dragged into the gutter to await the city collector.

“The saloon looked like a slaughter house,” according to The Tribune of November 4, 1892.  “and the business for the evening was seriously impaired.”

Note the lions on the clock tower -- the symbol for Monarch Foods,
a part of the Reid-Murdoch empire (JWB, 2011)
Four years later an event that was potentially far more serious occurred.  A fire broke out in the coffee roasting room of the Reid-Murdoch warehouse at 100 North Michigan Avenue.  Next door stood a cigar factory which employed between 800 and 1,000 men and young girls.  When a fireman coming up a fire escape was spotted, “there was a succession of shrieks in Polish, and the next minute several girls were clinging to the fireman’s neck and begging to be saved from the flames.”  [Chicago Tribune, July 25, 1896]

Within minutes 200 girls headed down the stairs, despite the fact that the building was not on fire, and piled into the street.  Fortunately, no one stumbled or fell.   The fire was confined to the coffee in the Reid-Murdoch warehouse; it had been extinguished even before the firemen arrived. 

The Loop must have smelled great that morning.

Earlier that year the company’s main operations had moved from Michigan Avenue to Lake and Market Street (Market Street eventually became South Wacker Drive; 191 North Wacker now stands at this location).  This had been the site of the Wigwam Assembly Hall until 1867, an unbelievable joint that could seat between 10,000 and 12,000 people, the same hall in which Abraham Lincoln was nominated to run for the Presidency in 1860.

The top floor of the building at Lake and Market was given over to packing preserves and jellies, making pickles, and the like.  Things moved along quickly.  Facilities were built in Hammond  and Pierceton, Indiana, followed by processing plants in Rochester, Minnesota; Ellsworth, Michigan; Salem, Oregon; West Chicago and South Whitely, Indiana.  The activities of the company expanded from mere distribution to the canning and processing of food under the Monarch label.

The founder of the company, Thomas Murdoch, died in 1899 at the Metropole Hotel at the age of 81.  He had controlled the company since Simon Reid’s death in 1892.  He also served as director of the State Bank of Chicago and had been a member of the Art Institute since its founding.  Murdoch left an estate in excess of four million dollars, including 500 shares of Chicago Title and Trust stock, 1,800 shares in the Illinois Central, and 2,200 shares of Commonwealth Edison, along with at least another dozen companies.

Note the River Walk that runs the full length of the building -- the
design coming just five years after the Chicago Plan of 1909 (JWB, 2011)
Things hummed along as one century turned into another,  The city that Reid-Murdoch had chosen as its home had grown from about 170,000 to over two million people.  In 1909, under the auspices of the Commercial Club of Chicago, Daniel Burnham and Edward H. Bennett produced the Chicago Plan of 1909.  And that ground breaking document set the scene for the next stage of the Reid-Murdoch story.  With the City Beautiful movement that the Chicago Plan of 1909 embodied as background, the company announced plans in 1912 to purchase the Western Warehousing Company’s property on the north side of the river at LaSalle Street with the intent to build a building that would cover the entire river frontage from LaSalle to Clark Streets.

In the next blog we’ll continue our story with the creation of the George Nimmons building that stands on the river today. 

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

The Doctor, The Dame and The Commodore


I woke up this morning (always a B-I-G relief) to find that it was the first day of November.  Wow, a whole month has gone by since the last time I dropped a blog feature onto this site.  I’ve been remiss.

But October is the month I set aside to raise my barbaric yawp as a protest against aging.  So a few weeks ago I drove out to Starved Rock with a few of my buddies and went camping in the rain.  The next weekend we drove to Cedar Point in Sandusky, Ohio and spent the weekend screaming our lungs out on the coasters, the Top Thrill Dragster, the Millennium Force, and the Magnum XL200.

Then it was off to Washington, D.C. with Jill and a couple of old college friends, Mark and Andreatte, where we spent three days seeing the glorious sights of that great city in the rain as I battled the cold of the century.

I also managed to lead a couple dozen tours for the Chicago Architecture Foundation, the most memorable of which netted me a nasty yellow jacket sting between the index and middle fingers of my right hand while I was pointing at 360 North Michigan Avenue.  I have to tell you . . . when that little sucker stung me I thought I had been electrocuted.

Here we are, though . . . in November.  And the holidays are on the way.

The former Lessing Apartments, Ruby Dean's home in 1917 (JWB, 2011)
I promised over a month ago to finish the story of the Commodore Apartments, formerly The Lessing, on Broadway and Surf.  Still magnificent today, The Commodore is a great Edmund Krause design created for the heirs of Johann Ernst Lehmann, the merchant who started Chicago’s Fair Store.

It was on Friday, September 17, 1917 that The Chicago Tribune broke the story.  The banner headline that day screamed about a huge battle off Ireland in which two dozen Allied merchantmen battled seven U-boats with four of the steamers going to the bottom of the sea.

Lower down Page One came the story with the headline “Shoots When She Learns He Is Married: Dr. Louis Quitman Wounded by Cabaret Singer; May Die.”

It’s an old story . . . the facts of the matter could be part of any one of hundreds of stories and films over the years.  Miss Ruby Dean, a cabaret singer, learned from a lady friend that her special fella, the veterinarian Dr. Louis H. Quitman, was married.  When he called on her at the Lessing Apartments on the night of September 16, 1917, he learned that a woman scorned was capable of putting a bullet in his belly.

Wailing her confession later that night at the Sheffield Avenue station, Miss Dean said that Quitman had presented himself to her as a single man despite the fact that he had a wife and child.

The Commodore's Surf Street Entrance
(JWB, 2011)
“I was wild about him,” she said.  “I love him still.  He told me he wasn’t married and that he was going to marry me.  He was always welcome to my apartment and he came often there.  He came there tonight.  But a friend of mine told me he was married.  I asked him about it and we quarreled.”

It took nearly six months for the full story to come out.  But all of the lurid details were reported in The Tribune’s May 1, 1918 edition as it covered the trial of Ruby Dean in Judge John J. Sullivan’s courtroom.

The paper reported, “It was the story of the infatuation of a man of more mature years and a girl of the cabaret; of the man’s double dealing both with the girl and his wife; of the girl’s willingness to love him still, and of her willingness to “run away with him to Texas.”

Miss Dean testified that Dr. Quitman had for months posed as Dr. Joseph Springer, a coroner’s physician, a discovery that had come to light through a private detective agency.

The singer spoke during the trial as though she were a part of a Frank Capra movie, telling how she sat by the lake with the doctor early one morning after her cabaret act and told her what she had discovered.

“’Doc,’ I said to him when we were seated, ‘Doc, don’t you think it’s time you quit this little farce and be on the square with me?’  (On the square – THAT’S a phrase we ought to try hard to bring back.)

“’I don’t know what you mean,’ he said.

“’O, yes,’ I said, ‘you know what I mean,’ and then I told him I had found out who he was and he admitted it all.”

“He told me that night he wouldn’t tell me any more lies and he would use his own name after that.  He told me he would go to a hotel when he left me and register under his own name and I called up to see if he had kept his word and he had.”

The relationship – the cabaret singer and the veterinarian she thought was a physician in the coroner’s office – went so far that the two traveled to a courthouse in Crown Point to be married.  But the doc apparently had gone as far as he could, and at the courthouse he confessed that he was married to another woman and if he married Miss Dean, he would have to go to jail.  He asked her to wait a short while, assuring her that he had a case already in court to divorce his wife.

He was always welcome to my apartment and he came often there.
(JWB, 2011)
On the return ride to Chicago Miss Dean discovered the initials “L.H.Q.” on Dr. Springer’s belt. He told her the initials stood for his wife’s name, Lillian Hammer Springer.  Back on the job she covinced a man seated at a cabaret table to give her a gun.  She even had the doctor oil it for her so “it would work.”

What’s a potboiler without irony?

Well, the gun eventually got used.  Immediately after the shooting Dr. Quitman accused his hysterical paramour of the deed.  In the end, it seems, the two-timer was able to summon his last strength in a final chivalrous act.  As he lay dying, he retracted his original statement and insisted that the shooting accidentally occurred as the two lovers struggled over the gun.

It was on May 13 of 1918 that the jury in Miss Dean’s trial went into deliberation.  The jurors were gone for just an hour, returning with a “Not Guilty” verdict.

Miss Dean gave a “quick, low laugh, that was half a sob.”

All those backlit windows . . . all those
stories (JWB, 2011)
“O, I’m so glad,” she smiled through her tears.  “I will hardly be able to believe when I wake up tomorrow that I am free.  After eight months.”

Hard to believe that when you walk past the Commodore today just down from the Great Frame-Up (I’m not kidding.) and Johnny Sprocket’s bike shop, that this all unfolded nearly a century ago.

Ruby Dean was a single gal in a big, big city.  In 1880 there were 3,800 women like her trying to make their way in Chicago.  By the time Ruby and the doctor had their tryst there were 31,500 single women working in the Chicago – three times the national average. [Abbott, Karen.  Sin in the Second City.] 

Miss Ruby’s story is an old story.  When the sun goes down and you look out at this vast and glimmering city, you have to wonder how many stories like hers are unfolding.  The hundreds of thousands of backlit windows hide the details.  But you know they are there.

Monday, September 26, 2011

The Rainbow Connection


One season ends . . . a new season begins (JWB, 2011)

A few days into autumn, and it sure didn’t take long for summer to surrender.  Cold winds and off-and-on again rains have made the past four or five days less than comfortable. 

This morning, just before 9:00, in an almost apologetic gesture, the climate provided us with a stunning rainbow, stretching from the southwest side all the way to the north side of the city.

Underneath it sat Wrigley Field, empty now, as the Cubbies have skedaddled to San Diego to end the season.  And once again, as has been the case for over a century, another major league team will find the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow.

There are 30 major league teams.  The Cubs spent more money on salaries than all but four other teams, averaging a tad over five million bucks per player.  For that money the team ended up 24th in earned run average, 26th in quality starts, 20th in on-base percentage, 18th in runs, and 11th in batting average.

I have been a Cubs fan for most of my life, but I must admit I watched the team less than I have at any point in the past 45 years.  This was the first summer that I can remember in which I never once set foot into Wrigley Field although I did see the team play twice in Milwaukee and once on the south side.

Somewhere over the rainbow . . . one day . . . all of us dreamers will awake and find that the dream we have dreamed has become the dream that has come true.  It won’t be this year.  But it might be the next.  Or the next.  Probably not.  But maybe . . . just maybe . . . one day we'll find it.

Who said that every wish would be heard
And answered when wished on the morning star?
Somebody thought of that and someone believed it.
Look what it’s done so far.
What’s so amazing that keeps us star gazing
And what do we think we might see?
Someday we’ll find it, the rainbow connection.
The (Cubbies), the dreamers and ME.

Friday, September 23, 2011

The Commodore Apartments (550-568 West Surf)


The Fair Store at State and Adams

German immigrant Ernst Johann Lehmann began his career in Chicago by opening a small jewelry store on Clark Street.  By 1875 he had been so successful that he had moved his business, right along with the big boys, to the prestigious corner of State and Adams.  He called the new store “The Fair,” a name that assured customers that they would be treated fairly.

By 1882 The Fair occupied every building along the north side of Adams between State and Dearborn Streets where The Citadel Center stands today.  But such amazing success did not come without some difficulty, and Lehmann’s story does not end happily.

The year of 1890 was not a good one for the great merchant.  On April 7 at 2:00 in the afternoon Lehmann was driving a “pair of spirited horses attached to a phaeton,” according to The Chicago Tribune of that date.  South of Grand Crossing on the south side, he got stuck in the mud.  As he urged the team to pull the carriage out of the mire, one of the horses flipped out, broke loose and headed off into the marsh. Mr. Lehmann was dragged from the carriage but was able to chase after the horse.  Neither the merchant nor the horse reappeared in a reasonable time, and there was some concern for his safety.

A little over a month later it was announced that the entire south half of the block bounded by Dearborn, State, Monroe and Adams streets had been leased to The Fair in a deal amounting to a little over three million dollars.  On the site a great emporium would be constructed, twelve stories high, costing two million bucks.  The building would be the largest in the city and, in fact, the largest in the world devoted to merchandising.

Commodore Apartments Oculus
(JWB, 2011)
By May 23 a Probate Court jury agreed to the following writ, “We, the undersigned jurors in the case of Ernst J. Lehmann, alleged to be distracted, having heard of the evidence in the case, find from such evidence that Ernst J. Lehmann is distracted and is incapable of managing and controlling his estate; that he is a resident of Cook County, and is aged about 41 years, and has been in such condition for the period of about three months prior to this date.” [Chicago Tribune, May 23, 1890]

The three witnesses at the hearing agreed that Mr. Lehmann’s “special mania” seemed to involve spending money.  “While walking along the street he would stop and purchase a horse which happened to catch his eye, or drop into a jeweler’s and buy valuable diamonds, and he would carry the jewels around loose in his trousers pockets.”

Mrs. Augusta Lehmann was appointed as the conservator of her husband’s estate, and he was carted off to the Bloomingdale Asylum for the Insane in White Plains, New York.  Ernst Lehmann died of heart failure ten years later at the asylum.

The Commodore Apartments (formerly The Lessing)
at Surf and Broadway (JWB, 2011)
With an estate of ten million dollars at their disposal, the Lehmann clan had become interested in real estate even before poor old Ernst passed on to his greater reward. It was in 1897 that the uber-swank Lessing Apartment building was finished on Surf and Evanston Street, now Broadway.  Seven years later the Lessing Annex was finished just to the south.  The Lessing is now the Commodore; the Lessing Annex is called the Green Briar today.

The Lessing was marketed to an upscale clientele and had 86 apartments, some of them with as many as eight rooms. Architect Edmund R. Krause broke the huge six story complex into a series of projecting units with deep, but narrow, courts between them to provide light and ventilation.  The Roman brick fa├žade is organized into the classic three part design of the Chicago School and is minimally decorated although there is a nifty oculus centered at the top of each projecting bay.

Light Court at The Commodore (JWB, 2011)
When The Lessing was completed, it boasted 86 apartments, some of which had eight rooms.  The apartment building was marketed to an exclusive clientele, folks who had moved to the north side of the city, having discovered the peaceful quality of life in Lakeview, along with its proximity to the city and to the lake.

Even an upscale apartment building is not without its troubles, and trouble came five years after the building was finished when on January 26, 1902 a fire started in the basement and moved quickly from there to the second floor by means of an air shaft.  Smoke filled the building as residents fled in their nightclothes, finding safety in the frigid darkness of the street.

The quiet of the apartment building was disturbed once again in 1915 when a lurid tale of deceit and betrayal led to a murder that reads like an Erle Stanley Gardner story.  The story of the Commodore, the physician, and the cabaret singer in the next blog.

Monday, September 12, 2011

The LaSalle Street Cable Car and the Bigamist


Chaos at the Rush Street Bridge (JWB collection)

You get stuck in traffic on a Friday at 5:00 in the afternoon, and you would swear that things couldn’t get any worse.  But the truth is that things could be a whole lot worse, and in the early days they were.  There was virtually no way across the river to the north except the Wells Street Bridge or the Rush Street Bridge, and surface transportation consisted of cable cars that were prone to frequent breakdowns and crossed the river by means of narrow tunnels at LaSalle and Washington Streets.

I was doing some research the other day on an artist’s colony that sprang up on Burton Place in the late 1920’s.  The street was originally named Carl Street, and it was populated as early as the Chicago Fire of 1871.  I ran up against the name of an early resident of Carl Street, an unfortunate soul by the name of Henry S. Holden, who resided at No. 9 Carl Street.  Mr. Holden and Chicago’s primitive cable car system met on the morning of Monday, February 19, 1894, a deadly encounter for Holden.  

Conductor John Bambor presented the facts at the Coroner’s inquest on Thursday, February 22, 1894.  As the cable car came down Wells Street, headed south, the gripman, William J. Linch yelled to him that the brake chain on the car had broken.  A repair wagon was summoned, and the car met the wagon at Ohio Street.  The cable car was pulled around to LaSalle and Illnois where the grip was raised so that the car could be pulled west on Illinois to Wells Street. 

The original power house for the LaSalle Street Cable Cars, formerly
Michael Jordon's, now The LaSalle Power Co. at 500 N. LaSalle
The horses were unhitched, and the car was allowed to go on under its own momentum until it reached the switch at LaSalle Street.  The car had not yet come to a full stop when Linch tried to stop it with the track brake.  Either the forward progress was too fast or the brake failed completely, and the car began to roll toward the LaSalle Street tunnel.  The speed increased as the car got closer to the tunnel, and the passengers left on board began to panic.

According to the Chicago Tribune’s account of the accident, “The passengers inside the car saw that something was wrong and with visions of a tunnel horror in their minds they made for the door with all possible speed.”   Bambor tried to block the door, but the surging mob was too much.

Two women jumped off the car as it neared the entrance to the tunnel.  A third, Mrs.  C. D. Coddle, jumped just as the car reached the entrance to the tunnel and was thrown violently against the lamp post just outside the tunnel entrance, receiving “injuries about the hips.”

At that point poor old Henry Holden lost his nerve.

Here’s how The Trib described what happened next, “As the car started down the steep incline it gathered speed with each foot of ground and dashed into the cavern at a rapid rate.  Holden seemed to lose his presence of mind as the train leaped along.  He sprang upon the rail of the platform, poised there a moment to get his balance, and as the car reached the place where partition divides the two car tracks he leaped into the air.  At this point the track makes a slight turn.  As the man jumped the car swerved, his head struck on the stone wall with terrific force, and his body fell back across the track.”

It would be bad enough if the whole thing had ended there, but there was more to come.  As the story continues it’s interesting to note the difference in reporting style between 1894 and today . . . “The train, propelled by the momentum down the north incline, ran several hundred feet up the south incline and started back again with sufficient force to carry it past the spot where Mr. Holden lay, crushing him into a shapeless mass.  Both of his arms were broken, the top of his head was cut off, and small pieces of clothing and flesh littered the track for a number of feet.”

Henry Holden was a wealthy dealer in gas-fixtures and a stockholder in the Northwestern Tile Company.  He had been in business since before the Chicago Fire.  He left a widow and a five-month-old child.  His brother-in-law took charge of his body.  Although the conductor and gripman were arrested, the Coroner’s inquest found them innocent of any negligence in the unfortunate accident.

And that should have been the end of it.

But there was more to come.

It seems that a week before the accident one Michael Kenna, a saloonkeeper, began suit against Holden for bigamy, claiming that Holden had married a woman in New York in 1867 and then had come to Chicago and married the second woman, the widow on Carl Street.  Holden was arrested and posted a bond of five thousand bucks. 

The accident happened on Monday.  On Tuesday Mrs. Katherine Holden, the New York wife of unfortunate Henry, authorized an Undertaker Sigmund to inter the body.  Another north side undertaker showed up at the morgue with authorization to remove the body to the No. 9 Carl Street address.  Since the New York relative identified what was left of Henry, the Coroner released the body to her.

At the Coroner’s inquest a Mrs. Hannah Barrett testified that Mr. Holden was her father, was born in England, and was about 59-years-old.  “I last saw him alive thirteen years ago in New York City.  He had not lived with my mother for thirteen years,” she said.

Then the New York widow was called.  She testified, “We were married in New York in 1857, and ten children were born to us.  Seven of them are now alive.  Mr. Holden deserted me seventeen years ago in New York, and three months afterward my last child was born.  I have been blind for twenty-seven years—since the riot in New York.  Two years after my husband left he began to write monthly letters to me.  Each month he sent me $20 until four years ago, when he began to send me $25, which he continued until last month.”

At this point an administrator was appointed for Mr. Holden’s estate, which was estimated to be worth in excess of $10,000.

But . . . can you believe it?  It doesn’t end there!

What Carl Street looks like today as
Burton Place (JWB, 2011)
Over two years later, The Trib reported on January 10, 1896 that a J. H. Holden, the proprietor of the Chicago Silver torpedo works, residing at No. 9 Carl Street, the heir to the inheritance left by his dear old decapitated dad, believed that he was the victim of a conspiracy formed between Mrs. Holden No. 3 (!), and one Pat Colbert.

The night before Mr. Colbert’s wife had informed J. H. that her husband was gunning for him.  While Holden was at the Bell Restaurant at No. 122 West Madison Street, Colbert entered and headed for the young man.  Holden hot-footed it out the rear door and went to the Central Police Station.  Finding no one there he knew, he returned to the restaurant where Mrs. Bell, the proprietor, informed him that Colbert had indeed brought a revolver with him and would have shot Holden except that a customer came between the two of them.

Holden headed out to the DesPlaines Street Station “under great excitement” where he explained that he had left his wife in tears at the home of a Mrs. Kenney, who “he claims is a sister of ‘Hinky Dink,’” (That would be Michael “Hinky Dink” Kenna, the 5’ 1” First Ward Alderman who had begun his career selling newspapers at the age of ten and grew up to control the saloons, the gamblers, the pimps and the whores of the most notorious ward in the city.)

Can the story that began with a broken-down cable car get much stranger?

Holden told the police that he had come to Chicago from New York two years earlier, leaving his mother and sister behind, discovering upon his arrival in the Windy City that his father had married a third wife.  It was Holden who had sworn out the warrant back in 1894 and had his father arrested for bigamy. 

"Hinky Dink" Kenna
After the cable car accident, the elder Holden’s fortune, which by 1896 amounted to $80,000, went to the son and the New York wife, evidently Wife No. 2.  Wife No. 3, according to J. H., had “made many overtures to obtain a portion of the estate.”  When her efforts proved fruitless, according to the heir of the Holden fortune “she made threats to obtain a portion of the estate at any rise.”

And that was the end of it.  There is not another report in The Chicago Tribune of the family or the inheritance.  Just a guess, but I have to think that with his name plastered all over the paper, Hinky Dink Kenna quickly made the whole affair “go away.”

At a cost, maybe, of a couple ducats to the First Ward Ball in consideration of his efforts.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Burton Place


The alley between 155 and 161 Burton Place -- notice the eclectic collection
of brick, stone and tile that make up the space (JWB, 2011)

One of the joys of walking around any big city comes when you leave the level sidewalks and the glassy buildings and bump up against a place or two that resists the tug of the present day, a place that shouts its uniqueness over the roar of the city.

One such place in Chicago is just off LaSalle Street, opposite Sandburg village.  It’s a tiny little street, cut off from Wells to the west by a cul-de-sac.  Originally called Carl Street, it is Burton Place, a street with a dozen or so houses on it, a street that leads you away from the noise of LaSalle and into another time, a time when eccentricity was tolerated, the gin was bootlegged, and the good times seemed as if they would go on forever.

Plaque outside the entrance to 155 Burton (JWB, 2011)
Carl Street had been around since at least the time of the Chicago Fire in 1871, but our story begins in August of 1927 when the Chicago Tribune reported that Sol Kogen bought a three-story residence at 155 Carl Street from Mrs. Antonia Radieske.  Mr. Kogen’s intention was to turn the home, which sat on a 64 x 127 foot lot, into a “studio building” and on its completion to “take up residence in it.”

Kogen teamed up with Edgar Miller, a friend he had met at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago in 1917, and they began the work of turning the street into an eclectic collection of artists and creative types.  Miller was a natural choice . . . he was an artist of some repute, especially noted for his batik creations.  A series of Miller paintings, “Love Through the Ages,” still hangs in the Tavern Club at the top of 333 North Michigan Avenue.

Together, with no outside help, the two men began to change 155 Carl Street into nine duplex studios.  They decorated the space with hand carved oak, hand painted windows, and individualized parquet floors.  Their approach was simple – finish an apartment, rent it, and use the rent money to begin work on the next one.

151 West Burton Place, just off busy
LaSalle Street (JWB, 2011)
The idea caught on.  In the mid-1930’s the Giulani’s took over an old rooming house at 151 West Carl.   William Giulani had been an opera singer at the Metropolitan, and the couple, with advice from Kogen, used glass from the Swift Bridge at the Century of Progress World’s Fair to cerate huge, curving windows that lend an art deco feel to the building.   The Guiulani’s also used broken bits of tile collected from what was left of the fair to cobble together tile floors for the stairways and halls in their apartments as they renovated and leased them, one by one.

By the end of the 1930’s five more buildings had been purchased and remodeled.  On the north side of the street seven families formed a collective that purchased five houses and began rehabbing them.  Among those involved was Clive Rickabaugh, a talented set designer, and Carl Peter Koch, an actor.

Other artist-types involved in the transformation of Burton Place were Eddie Millman, a muralist, noted for a number of W.P.A murals, including a $29,000 commission for the St. Louis Post Office; Jesus Torres, a specialist in metalcraft and an interior decorator for the Pullman Company; Taylor Poore, President of the Chicago Art Center; and Russian-born Boris Anisfeld, an artist and set designer who taught at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago from 1929 to 1957.

Windows, old and new, are a part of
160 West Burton (JWB, 2011)
You can still see the original window locations at 160 West Burton, a house that was built in 1887.  This residence sports several sculptural plaques by Edgar Miller, just as 155 West Burton does across the street.  The AIA Guide to Chicago indicates that Kogen duplicated the original plaques without Miller’s permission and installed them on several Burton Place homes.

In its 1942 article on the colony on Carl Street, the Tribune observed, “Between the 15 property owners in the block exists a unity which is rare . . . Three hundred residents of the block celebrate Halloween, New Year’s eve, and Christmas together.  Ever since the first studios were built, it’s been the custom to have an outdoors barbecue on Christmas Eve.  Every one from the block joins the fun . . . Some years a pig is roasted.  Other years it’s a lamb.  Sometimes both revolve on the glowing spit.  Sweet potato pies, salad and coffee are set on a long wooden table deep in the shadows under the protecting roof of an archway.”

An Edgar Miller piece from the first days of the
Artist's Colony on Burton Place (JWB, 2011)
Leave LaSalle Street, walk halfway down Burton Place, and peek through an open gate or through a conveniently placed hole in a wall . . . try and imagine what those days must have been like.  Days filled with laughter and the smells of roasting pork and sweet potato pie, all of it held together with the comfort that must have come from knowing that all your neighbors were your best friends.

Monday, September 5, 2011

Bethany Evangelical Lutheran Church


Simple design, often with references to nature . . . typical of Arts and Crafts design . . . found at
Bethany Evangelical Lutheran Church (JWB, 2011)

In 1535 Martin Luther published A Simple Way to Pray.  The book was dedicated to Luther’s barber, Peter Beskendorf, who had asked for a few hot tips on how to improve his prayer life.  The book was 35 pages long, and in it the great theologian kepts coming back to the idea that prayer was most effective when it was brief.

“Brief prayers . . . pregnant with the Spirit, strongly fortified by faith,” he wrote.  “. . . the fewer the words, the better the prayer.  The more the words, the worse the prayer.  Few words and much meaning is Christian.  Many words and little meaning is pagan.”

Bethany Evangelical Lutheran Church at
1244 W. Thorndale (JWB, 2011)
It is up to individuals, preached Luther, to find meaning in a relationship with God and convey that meaning simply and powerfully through prayer, prayer that is not churned out through a theological foundry, but, rather, prayer that is individual, specific to its speaker, and honest in its design.

Over three hundred years later the same logic came to be part of the Arts and Crafts movement, which began in England in the mid-nineteenth century as a protest against the decreasing importance of the individual craftsman in a mechanical age in which the only things that mattered were efficiency and profit.

These two ideas come together in a one-hundred-year-old church, Bethany Evangelical Lutheran, at 1244 West Thorndale Avenue.  The AIA Guide to Chicago describes the church as being “. . . designed in the informal, domestically scaled, simply but beautifully detailed Craftsman Style.”

The church on West Thorndale was founded in 1905, with the first service conducted on June 11 of that year in Kelly’s Hall, at Clark and Ridge.  A half-year later the church was organized under the present name with its first pastor, the Reverend Karl G. Schlerf, whose previous congregation had been in Hillsdale, Michigan, called to serve.

For nine months after that the congregation met in Kelly’s Hall.  Following that the meetinghouse was where 5540 Broadway is today.  In the years following two lots were purchased at Thorndale and Magnolia for $3,500, and the church building was constructed on the corner with space to the north of the church given for a parish house and parsonage.  The church was dedicated on February 22,1914, and the parsonage was completed in 1921.

Simple forms, uncluttered by excessive --
the Arts and Crafts style (JWB, 2011)
The style of the church – Arts and Crafts – takes its name from the Arts and Crafts Society that was founded in London in 1888.  Although most of the society’s members recognized that there was a place for the machine, the ideal remained in the beauty that came from individual artists and craftsmen.

Chicago was one of the most important centers in the United States for the new movement.  The Chicago Arts and Crafts Society was founded on October 22, 1897 at Jane Adams’s Hull House.  Charter members included Myron Hunt, Dwight Perkins, Robert Spencer, Frank Lloyd Wright, and the Pond brothers, Allen and Irving. In fact, the first buildings at Hull House were designed by the Pond brothers.

The principal characteristics of an Arts and Crafts structure included an emphasis on simplicity and a lack of ornamentation.  Also important was the designer’s intent to blend the building with its surroundings, often by using materials that were native to the area.   It’s not a coincidence that all of the original members of the Chicago Arts and Crafts Society became associated with the Prairie School in one form or another, a design style that also emphasized simplicity and an honest reconciliation of a building and its location.

The architect who designed Bethany Evangelical Church was Grant Clark Miller who was born in 1870 in Rockford, Illinois.  He attended Cornell Academy and College in Mount Vernon, Iowa, later studying architecture at the University of Illinois, earning his Master of Arts in Architecture in 1895.  Three years later he added a degree in Civil Engineering. 

(JWB, 2011)
Miller joined the firm of Patton and Fisher after Patton was appointed architect for the Chicago Board of Education.  Fisher moved to the east coast in 1901, and the firm became Patton and Miller.  During the eleven years that this firm existed, the architects designed more than 300 buildings. [Schnell, Karen E. National Register of Historic Places Multiple Property Documentation Form. 1994]

Grant Miller’s Bethany Evangelical Lutheran Church still stands today on the quiet, shaded corner of Thorndale and Magnolia, living up to Martin Luther’s words in the 1535 A Simple Way to Pray . . . “pregnant with the spirit, strongly fortified by faith.” 

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.