Friday, April 29, 2011

Wicker Park Gem at 2138 West Pierce

So . . . you’re walking south on Leavitt in Wicker Park, admiring lovely late nineteenth-century homes of sandstone, maybe thinking about the first- or second-generation Germans who found fortune in the fastest growing city in the world when you make a left onto Pierce, walk a dozen paces or so and come upon 2138 West Pierce, a home unlike anything you have ever seen before.

2138 West Pierce (JWB, 2011)
You have to see it to believe it . . . and you won’t regret making the trip.

The firm of Fromann and Jebsen designed the house for Hans D. Runge, and it was finished in 1884.  Emil Henry Fromann and Ernst Jebsen designed homes all over the city in a variety of styles (See “The Case of the Mysterious Wine Merchant” in the April 4, 2011 Connecting the Windy City blog).  The firm’s claim to fame is the Humboldt Park Refectory, finished in 1895.  If you’re up on Belmont and Southport, Schuba’s is another Fromann and Jebsen design, one of the 27 “tied-houses” that the firm designed for Edward Uihlein and the Schlitz Brewing Company.

Mr. Runge was the treasurer of a large wood milling firm, and his choice of architectural style featured over-the-top wood embellishment -- from the massive turned table leg supports of the veranda roof to the finely wrought Masonic symbolism beneath the eaves.

Eastlake detail in porch support
(JWB, 2011)
The house is a classic example of the Eastlake style of design, a name that comes from an Englishman, Charles Eastlake, whose 1872 Hints on Household Taste in Furniture, Upholstery and Other Details attracted a wide following.

Eastlake designs feature porch posts, railings and balustrades that appear massive.  They were turned on a lathe, giving them the shape of heavy legged furniture popular during the latter part of the nineteenth century. 

Large brackets are placed at every corner.  Beneath the roof of the house on Pierce you see such brackets beneath the overhanging roof.  Looking closely the bracket on the left contains the Masonic pyramidal symbol we are accustomed to seeing on the back of the one-dollar bill.  On the right are the square and compass most commonly associated with Freemasonry.

Note Masonic symbolism in left and right brackets (JWB, 2011)


In the late Victorian period the Eastlake style saw a much greater use of color.  2138 West doesn’t show this to a great extent, only in the rear supporting posts beneath the roof on the upstairs deck, a deck that features the row of spindles common to this architectural style.  You can see these supports in the photo to the left.

But the real story of the house is the story of the second owner—Samuel F. Smulski, who served as a city alderman for two terms, State Treasurer and Chairman of the West Park Board.  He practiced law in the firm of David, Smulski & McGaffey and was the President of the Pulaski Lumber Company. In 1906 Smulski founded the Northwestern Trust and Savings Bank and also served on the Board of Directors for eight other banks in the city.

Samuel Smulski (Left) &
Ignacy Padereski (Chicago Daily
News Archives)
As important as his endeavors in Chicago financial affairs were, his efforts on behalf of Poland won him international acclaim.  He served as Chairman of the National Polish Committee during World War I, a committee of which the great Polish composer Ignacy Paderewski was also a member.  This began a friendship that lasted the rest of Smulski’s lifetime.

After the war, as Poland struggled to survive as an independent state, Smulski helped to negotiate loans from the United State to stabilize Poland’s economy.  During this crucial time Paderewski was Poland’s Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs, so it’s easy to assume that the two men further strengthened their friendship during the trials of 1919.

There are two myths concerning Smulski and the house on Pierce, one of which I can disprove, the other of which must remain an interesting tale without verification.

The first story involves Smulski’s suicide, which occurred on March 18, 1928.  There are two parts to the story as it is most commonly told.  First, is that the banker took his life as a result of the stock market collapse.  Clearly, this is false since that event took place nearly 20 months later.

The second part of the story has it that Smulski took his life inside the house on Pierce Street.  But The Chicago Tribune on March 19, 1928 reported (beneath the front page banner headline “Smulski Ends Life”) that “. . . Mr. Smulski entered a bathroom on the sixteenth floor of the Seneca hotel and shot himself.”

In any event, the coroner concluded that Smulski, who had suffered through three operations in the previous year for sigmoiditis, had taken his life “in temporary insanity induced by despondency over ill health.”  This contradicts the statement of Smulski’s doctor who had examined him the week before and found “He was in splendid condition . . . The sigmoiditis was a long and protracted affair, but he had practically recovered from it . . .” [Chicago Tribune, March 19, 1928]

Front Entrance to 2138 W. Pierce (JWB, 2011)
The other myth surrounding the house on Pierce Street is that the Polish composer, piano virtuoso and patriot Ignacy Paderewski gave a concert on the veranda of the home.  No account of such an event is given in the newspapers of the time.  

Paderewski gave concerts at Chicago’s Symphony Hall in 1928 in the dead of winter.  It’s unlikely he would have played piano on a front porch during that trip.  He also played a concert at Symphony Hall on April 1, 1932.  Again, not the warmest weather in the world . . . and his friend, John Smulski, would have been dead for over four years.

Still, there is nothing I’ve found to prove that he DIDN’T entertain a crowd on the Smulski porch, either.  Certainly, his friendship with Mr. Smulski may very well have brought him to the Pierce Street home.  And the fact that Smulski was married to Harriet Mikitynski, an accomplished operatic singer in her own right, might have us envision informal gatherings around the piano in the Smulski parlor.

In any event, when he died the President of the United States sent a letter of condolence to Mrs. Smulski and United States Vice-President Dawes said, “He was a man of irreproachable character and of a great public spirit.  In all positions of public trust, of which he occupied many, his career was one of the strictest honesty and high usefulness.”

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Photo of the Week: Sheridan's Rainy Day


General Phillip Sheridan and Winchester on a Rainy Day (JWB, 2011)

Rest of Today
Rain in the morning...then a chance of rain in the afternoon. Highs in the upper 50s. Northwest winds around 10 mph in the morning becoming light and variable in the late morning and early afternoon...then becoming north around 10 mph late in the afternoon. Chance of precipitation 100 percent.

Tonight
Cloudy. Showers likely in the evening...then a chance of showers after midnight. Lows in the upper 30s...except in the lower 40s downtown. West winds 10 to 15 mph. Chance of precipitation 60 percent.

Thursday
Showers likely. Cold. Highs in the upper 40s. West winds 10 to 20 mph. Chance of precipitation 60 percent.

Thursday Night
Mostly cloudy. Cold. Lows in the upper 30s. Northwest winds 10 to 15 mph.

Day after rainy day . . . a soul could grow weary, were it not for the promise of spring brought by the landscapers at work in the city’s gardens.

In the above photo Gutzon Borglum’s statue of General Phillip Sheridan mounted on his favorite horse, Winchester, emerge from the clouds at the intersection of Belmont and Sheridan.  (Connecting the Windy City Blog of May 6, 2010.)

Just the horse, the general and me – standin’ in the rain, talking to myself.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

1431 North Astor Street


1431 North Astor Street (on left) (JWB, 2011)
A rare find is the home located at 1431 North Astor Street . . . an 8,900 square foot manse that has had just four owners in 117 years.  Finished in 1894 and designed by the firm of Holabird & Roche, an undisclosed owner purchased the three-story Federal-style residence several years back and has given it a makeover, returning it to its former glory.

The home’s first owner was attorney George W. Meeker, who was born in the late 1850’s, the son of a coal and iron dealer.  George W. was the older brother of Arthur Meeker, who grew up to become the general manager of Philip Armour’s meatpacking and feed grain empire and who in 1919 moved his family into the Charles Platt-designed mansion at 3030 North Lake Shore Drive (April 13, 2010 Connecting Chicago Blog).

The Meeker’s sold the Astor Street home in 1919 to Edward and Nora Ryerson.  Edward was the grandsson of Joseph T. Ryerson, who arrived in Chicago in the early 1840’s from Pennsylvania and leased a shop by the Chicago River from which he sold iron products such as buggy springs, axles, nails and wrought iron spikes.

Ground Floor detail (JWB, 2011)
Ryerson was a huge beneficiary of railroad expansion and skyscraper construction at the end of the 19th and early part of the 20th centuries.  The company was one of the first steel companies to produce stainless steel in large quantities in 1926 and in 1935 merged with Inland Steel,  operating as a wholly owned subsidiary with plants in Detroit, Cleveland, Buffalo, Cincinnati, Boston, New York and Philadelphia.  At the time of the merger the two companies had combined assets of close to $120 million dollars.

The Ryersons  extended the house by adding 65 feet to the east.  Burton and Elaine Gordon bought the home in 1965 and lived there for 40 years.  Mr. Burton received an MBA from the University of Chicago in 1948 and between 1972 and 1996 acted as Chairman of the Board and C.E.O. of the Franklin Park Bank (1967-69), the Mid Town Bank and Trust Company (1972-77) and the Columbia National Bank of Chicago (1964-1996), which he founded.

Cornice detail at 1431 N. Astor (JWB, 2011)
The new owners have restored the home to  its Federal-style roots.  Freed from a skin of steel-grey paint, he details are striking – the texture created by the shades of color in the brick’s Flemish Bond, the Ionic columns that frame the front entrance and the white stone trim with decorative keystones that frame the windows.  Especially impressive is the cornice with its combination of dentils, egg-and-dart ornamentation, and a lower band of balls that looks like a house-sized abacus wrapping around the circular fa├žade.

On a street of beautiful and distinctively different homes, this beauty ranks right up there with the best of them.

Before (www.chicagomag.com) and after (JWB, 2011)

Monday, April 25, 2011

John Root's 32 East Bellevue Place


John Root's 1887 home for Lot P. Smith
at 32 E. Bellevue (JWB, 2011)

I got this place on Bellevue in my head, and I have been trying for the past three days to make my peace with it.  The story of the men and women who brought it to life are as important to me as the architecture is, and I have been trying to figure out who this Lot P. Smith was.

I didn’t get very far.  The United States census of 1880 shows that he was born in Illinois in 1846, and that at the time was living in Harvard.  His profession was listed as a “purchasing agent for railroad construction.”

Well, he must have done pretty darned well working on the railroad because by 1890 he had been voting in Chicago for seven years and had contracted with Burnham and Root to build a home right down next to the lake on Bellevue, the address listed as 27 Bellevue Place.  Chicago changed its numbering system in the first decade of the last century, so the address is now 32 East Bellevue Place.

And it is magnificent – John Wellborn Root at the height of his powers . . . probably designed somewhere between the Rookery and the Monadnock.

The plasticity of sandstone in the hands of a genius . . . note the pattern
of circle (which is repeated in the dormer)  (JWB, 2011
I struck out on old Lot Smith.  At the time Chicago had a host of publications profiling the personalities that brought the city to greatness.  Smith isn’t mentioned in any of them.

BUT . . . I hit an unexpected turn and ended up with something that I never would have predicted when I began the process.  That’s the fun of digging into the past.

It seems that Sidney Root, John’s father and a resident of Georgia, undertook a series of foreign travels when the Civil War began, seeking to convince foreign governments of the justness of the Confederate cause.  In 1864 John sailed to England with his father on a blockade runner and ended up at a school in Claremont, just outside of Liverpool.  Young John stayed there for three years, and he actually passed the exams that admitted him to Oxford.  But in 1867 he returned home to attend New York University.

Note decorative treatment of dormer at 32 East Bellevue and top of Oriel
Chambers in Liverpool (Oriel Chambers photo from www.e-architect.co.uk)
So . . . it does not seem far-fetched to speculate that a teen-aged John Root, who already had a predisposition toward art and music, saw and never forgot the brand new Oriel Chambers in Liverpool, which architect Peter Ellis designed and which is, at five stories, the first metal-framed building with a glass curtain wall in the world.

If you look closely at the way Ellis finished off his structure, one that was so widely ridiculed that he designed only one more building in Liverpool, and then look at Root’s work at 32 East Bellevue Place, especially at what the AIA Guide to Chicago calls the “decorative detail in the unusual dormer,” you see how much of an impression Ellis’s building left.

Dormer detail at Lot P. Smith House (JWB, 2011)
Nearly a quarter-century after first glimpsing the Oriel Chambers building, Root was still drawing upon it for inspiration.  Finished in 1887, Lot P. Smith’s home is one of the few Root-designed residential buildings we have left and was probably one of the last of his career.  He would die of pneumonia on January 15 of 1891, just 42-years-old.

On that cold night in January Nellie Mitchell, Root’s aunt, broke the news of the young architect’s death to his partner, Daniel Burnham, who had been staying at Root’s Astor Street home most of the week.  “His snatches of soliloquy through that night of despair, before he emerged to new dreams, took the form of wrath,” Mitchell reported, “and he shook his fist and cursed the murderous fates as he paced back and forth between intervals of comfortless sleep on the living room couch.”

Burnham moaned, “I have worked. I have schemed and dreamed to make us the greatest architects in the world.  I have made him see it and kept him at it – and now he dies – Damn! Damn! Damn!” [Hines, Thomas S. Burnham of Chicago. New York: Oxford University Press, 1974]

JWB, 2011
Who knows, given another 20 years of productive work, what glories John Wellborn Root would have built upon his already impressive achievements?  Burnham, when he shook his fist at the heavens, must have felt as much the heavy tragedy of all those works that never would take form as much as he felt the loss of his friend and genius-partner.

Friday, April 22, 2011

The Louis Nettelhorst School


Here’s a question for you . . . What Chicago elementary school has been in the same building since 1892, has piloted the Chicago Public School Healthy Eating Program, and in the last decade has been featured on CBS, PBS, NPR, 60 Minutes and in The New York Times?

JWB, 2011
It’s the Louis Nettelhorst School at 3252 North Broadway, a Chicago Public Schools Magnet Cluster School and one of the first C.P.S. community schools in Chicago.  The school educates 525 students from a cross section of the city.  Its population is about 18% African-American, 10% Hispanic, 55% White, with the remaining 10% mostly Asian.

The school is named after Louis Nettelhorst, who was the President of the Board of Education when the school was built.  The first reference to Nettelhorst is found in The Chicago Tribune on September 19, 1889 when as a member of the Board of Education he offered an opinion as to whether or not the County Board should provide a grant for poor children so that they could be given the “clothing, hats, and shoes . . . necessary to enable them to attend school.”

“It is as much the duty of the county board to provide clothing for the children as it is to give relief – coal, flour, and so on – to the indigent . . . If it is not done by the county board it will have to be done by the people,” Nettelhorst said.

JWB, 2011
In July of 1890 Nettelhorst, the only German member of the Board of Education, was elected as its President.  In a notoriously political body Nettelhorst held onto his position despite the fact that in 1891 he was one of only three Democrats on the Board. 

Perhaps his single most important achievement as a member of the Board was his guidance of the committee that oversaw the addition of over a hundred schools when in 1889 Chicago annexed 125 square miles of outlying townships and added a population of nearly a quarter-million people.

Nettelhorst was born in Bremen, Germany on February 4, 1851 and came to Chicago in 1870.  He acquired a position with the Bismarck Bund and Teutonia Insurance Company and went to New York as an agent, returning to permanent residency in Chicago in 1875. 

JWB, 2011
In Chicago Nettelhorst found employment as a bookkeeper with Charles Emmerich & Co., one of the largest feather dealers in the country.  Within a few years he was made a partner in the firm. [Chicago Tribune, March 15, 1893] 

In his early years he was a member of the Republican Party but became a Democrat in 1886, the same year the Mayor Carter H. Harrison appointed him to the Board of Education, the only political office that Nettelhorst held although he ran unsuccessfully for City Treasurer in 1891 on Carter Harrison’s ticket.

Then, suddenly in 1893 he died. The Tribune speculated that “Mr. Nettelhorst’s death . . . was caused primarily by an unusually severe attack of the grip two years ago.”

His funeral services gave testimony to the fact that Nettelhorst was one of the most popular German-American citizens of Chicago.  Thousands entered Turner Hall on the north side where Nettelhorst’s remains lay in state from noon until 2:00.  Six men from the Turner society, dressed in dark blue uniforms and bearing swords wrapped in black crape, did sentinel duty at the catafalque and kept the throng moving,” The Tribune reported on March 18.

JWB, 2011
In the 2:00 service which followed John McClaren, the President of the Board of Education eulogized Nettelhorst, saying, “Honest himself to the core he always expected honesty from his associates.  Any mean thing at once aroused his contempt.  There was never any doubt as to where he stood on any question.  Good common sense and practical ideas made him a wise counselor in educational matters, while his splendid business knowledge and habits were of the highest benefit in the management of the affairs of the board.”  [Chicago Tribune, March 18, 1893]

In the huge procession from Turner Hall at Clark and Oak Streets to Graceland Cemetery, four Chicago mayors acted as honorary pall bearers --  John Roche, DeWitt Cregier, Hempstead Washburne, and Carter Harrison.

Main entrance ornamentation (JWB, 2011)
So there’s mortality for you . . . a guy who was so beloved that thousands paid their respects during his final trip to Graceland, a procession led by four Chicago mayors.  Today, you have to dig pretty deep to find any reference to the fact that he ever existed.

But his name still lives on at the Nettelhorst School on Broadway, a school in which the educators are doing their best to live up to the ideals that Nettelhorst held dear.  For more on the impressive efforts going on there, look up the school’s website here

One of the more impressive aspects of the school is long tradition of embracing the arts.  There are two W.P.A. murals inside the building, Rudolph Weisenborn’s Contemporary Chicago and Ethel Spears’s Horses from Children’s Literature.

Michael Bonfiglio's Dotted Doors (south entrance); Mosaic
by Nettelhorst teacher Phyllis Dunbar (JWB, 2011)
Additionally, current faculty members and community members have decorated the school with works that proclaim the building as a center of joy rather than a torturous grind through rote learning and testing.  Nettelhorst’s exterior is decorated in a lively display that brings the century-old structure alive, even on the gloomiest day.

The architect who designed the original Nettelhorst back in the 1890’s was John J. Flanders, who was the architect for the Board of Education at the time.  Born on June 30, 1848, he was a second-generation Chicagoan whose father had come to the city in 1834.  He began his career as an architect in 1866, working for three firms before starting his own practice in 1874. 

John J. Flanders' 2,475 seat Haymarket Theater
(Chicago.urban-history.org)
Flanders designed the Maller’s Building on Quincy and LaSalle Streets, the first office building in the city to reach twelve stories.  He began work for the Board of Education in 1884, but perhaps his best known design was for the Haymarket Theater of 1887, which was demolished in 1950 to make room for what is now the Kennedy Expressway.

The Haymarket started out as a legitimate theater, but over the years its playbill spiraled down the hierarchy of entertainment – to a vaudeville theater from 1896 to 1916, then to a burlesque house from that time until it became a movie house in 1932.  Jazz Age Chicago has a great treatment of the theater here

The name of Flanders, like Nettelhorst, has disappeared from view.  For both men, though, the legacy lives on at the Nettlhorst School on Broadway where for a century boys and girls have started their long journeys toward adulthood.  That’s a good enough legacy for me. 

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Windy City


I ended the afternoon yesterday by the lake, watching thunderous waves produced by a full-fetch gale out of the north, getting soaked in the process.

Waves just north of Diversey Harbor inlet, 4/19/2011 (JWB, 2011)
Earlier in the day, for the first time in my four years as a docent for the Chicago Architecture Foundation I ended a tour by running the last three blocks.  A great group of young men and women from Loyola Academy accompanied me on a tour of the city’s historic skyscrapers in some of the worst springtime weather I have seen. 

As we left the Roosevelt University in the beautifully restored Auditorium Building on Michigan Avenue, The Hawk was howling out of the north at 30 miles an hour and the rain was a fin away from being hail. After 86 minutes of stoically facing the weather, Maggie, the brave little girl in the Gore-Tex shell, started to run for her life.  And the group followed.  Stout-hearted and gimpy-kneed, I paced the group, as it stopped only for the traffic light at VanBuren.

Yesterday Chicago lived up to its nickname . . . it WAS the Windy City.

Waves between Fullerton and Belmont 4/19.2011.  Compare to size
of cars on Lake Shore Drive (JWB, 2011)
Interesting what a little research will do . . . for years now I’ve been telling tourists the popular myth (as it turns out) that Chicago’s nickname came from a piece that Charles Dana wrote in The New York Sun during Chicago’s lobbying effort to get the 1893 fair.  It makes for a good story . . . Chicago boosters full of wind, yakety, yakety yakking, about the merits of their city.

As Barry Popik points out in his excellent article on the subjectthe Dana story just ain’t so.  Popik's research indicates that the term “Windy City” was used as early as 1856 to describe Green Bay, Wisconsin and as early as 1858 to describe Chicago.

My favorite reference in Popik’s comprehensive study is the 1879 entry from The Cincinnati Enquirer:

There was a young man from Chicago,
It was strange how he did make his jaw go,
One nice day he did to his pa go,
Saying, “Really, father, does ma know
If for crime and deceit
Any city can beat
This windy old town of Chicago?

Wherever the nickname came from, it applied yesterday.

"Windy City Man" on the Harold Washington Library
State Street faccade between VanBuren & Congress (JWB, 2008
I stood along the lakefront between Fullerton and Belmont late yesterday afternoon with my back to the wind and waves and looked toward the tall buildings that make up this great, windy city, buildings standing grey and impassive against the roaring assault from the north.  It was a moment, as the spray from yet another wave slamming against the breakwater drenched me, that made me appreciate the genius involved in designing the tall structures that have defined this city.

There are so many ways that the wind can affect a building.  The most obvious is the sheer lateral force of the wind against the side of a building.  For the past 36 hours we’ve listened to it as our 43-story condo building creaks and groans.

But even that obvious force is complicated.  The wind is not a constant and continuous force, for one thing.  Once it slams into a building it goes nuts.  It oscillates, it tries to sneak around the corners, it goes up, it goes down.  As a result, it assaults different sections of the building at different heights in different ways and at different speeds.

Imagine shaking up a bottle of champagne and then popping the cork at the corner of your refrigerator with the bubbly spraying in all directions, including right back in your face.  The wind is a continuous series of popped champagne bottles, some unshaken, some shaken vigorously, some with a lowly pulled cork, others with the cork exploding.

2520 Lincoln Park (JWB, 2011)
Now that’s no problem for the half-completed 2520 Lincoln Park, which as yet has few windows and through which the wind can blow without much deflection.  But button a building up with windows and you’ve got a massive spire of concrete and steel that the wind can’t blow through and so must blow against and around.

That produces problems for structural engineers.  But it also poses problems for pedestrians.  Just ask our elderly neighbor who broke her nose last year when she was blown over in the middle of Commonwealth, a short street that runs between the 43-story 2800 Lake Shore building and Mies van der Rohe’s 28-story twin towers to the west. 

There’s that, too.  A high density of tall buildings in a given area means that each building is impacted by the way the buildings around it handle the wind loads. Nearby buildings deflect, divert and re-direct the wind and do it differently from hour to hour.

So buildings have to be stiff enough to resist the variety of forces placed against them.  But they also have to flex with the loads placed upon them.

That’s what Haemon was trying to get Creon to understand in AntigoneSeest thou beside the wintry torrent’s course, how the trees that yield to it save every twig, while the stiff-necked perish root and branch?  And even thus he who keeps the sheet of the sail taut, and never alckens it, upsets his boat and finishes his voyage with keel uppermost. 

Finishing a voyage with the keel uppermost would be really bad publicity for an architectural firm.

Looking south at Diversey Harbor Inlet
4/19/2011 (JWB, 2011)
As our neighbor discovered last year and as we groundlings saw yesterday, when the wind smacks into a building, it has to go somewhere and when it goes down the resultant wind shear can make it really difficult for folks on the ground. Yesterday morning on Michigan Avenue Maggie ran, I’m convinced, because she knew that if she didn’t, she would be blown backwards until perhaps a doorman at the Hilton saved her.

All of this is an oversimplification, I admit, the product of a liberal arts education and a little bit of knowledge. But yesterday afternoon, watching those massive waves slam against the brand new breakwater at Fullerton, it was enough to make me appreciate anew the men and women who designed and built this Windy City.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Photo of the Week: April Snow


The city awakes on April 18, 2011 (JWB, 2011)

Well, this was a heck of a way to wake up yesterday morning, three weeks into what they told us would be spring.  The temperature in the mid-30’s and the ground covered with snow.

Just a little over a week ago, I stood in shorts and a shirt-sleeve shirt in a parking lot at Miller Field in Milwaukee with the temperature in the 80’s.

Now here we are . . . a snowfall record for this date – even though only .6 of an inch fell out at O’Hare.

Where is the essential fairness of it all?  St. Louis had temperatures in the 70’s yesterday.  Washington, D. C. basked in 74° weather.  The forsythia are all in bloom.  The locusts are green.  Tulips stand resolutely against the onslaught.

The sandals tucked in the back of the closet are asking, “When do we get OUR turn?”

Not today.  The forecast?  Rain in the morning . . . then rain and isolated thunderstorms in the afternoon.  Some thunderstorms may produce gusty winds and small hail in the afternoon.  Blustery.  Highs in the lower 40’s.  Northeast winds 15 to 25 mph with gusts up to 35 mpy at times.  Chance of percepitation 90 percent.

Blustery.  There's a word I could do without.

Temperatures in the 40’s for the next two days.  Rain on Friday and Saturday. A good week for blowing out an umbrella.

Michael “Hinky Dink” Kenna, the Lord of the Levee, who never lost an election in 40 years as alderman from the first ward once said, “Chicago ain’t no sissy town.”

This week we’re proving it.

By the way, the photo looks toward the rapidly rising Lincoln Park 2520, a  Lucien LaGrange-designed project that will include a 39-story tower, flanked by a 22-story north tower and a 16-story south tower as well as private gardens and three levels of underground parking.

The joint is so posh that a dog exercise area and paw wash will be part of the one-acre private gardens.

It’s a miserable week for dogs.  And Chicagoans, too. 

Monday, April 18, 2011

The Brewster Apartments


My lovely bride and I have favorite restaurants all over Chicago, but a spot to which we are particularly partial is Forno Diablo on Diversey, just west of Sheridan.  It’s a mood-filled interior . . . you walk through black velvet curtains to enter a place where I have never had a bad meal.  As you nurse a glass of Malbec and wait for dinner, there are several flat screen televisions above the bar that play old Charlie Chaplain movies.

The Brewster Apartments
2800 N. Pine Grove (JWB, 2011)
And that’s appropriate because just up the street is The Brewster Apartments, the former Lincoln Park Palace, where Charlie Chaplain occupied the penthouse in 1915 and 1916 when he was filming movies at the Essanay Film Manufacturing Company over on 1333-45 Argyle.

The Bewster Apartments, now a condominium building, started its life as the Lincoln Park Palace when it was finished in 1896.  It must have soared over this section of the city at the time; few buildings on the north side would have rivaled its height. 

The Palace stood among the first generation of tall Chicago buildings – one year after the Marquette Building on Dearborn and contemporaneous with the Fisher Building at Dearborn and VanBuren.  It was steel-framed and filled with light, the result of a skylight or rotunda across the roof of the building that streamed sunlight into the hollow core of the structure, a core in which bridges of glass blocks led residents to their apartments.

The Chicago Tribune on January 22, 1893 announced that “E. Hill Turnock is preparing plans for the Lincoln Park Palace apartment building for B. Edwards, proprietor of the American Contractor.  The article went on to disclose that the structure would be 100 feet high, “ornamented with twelve larges bays.”  Two entrances were planned, one on Diversey and “the ladies’ entrance,” facing Lake Michigan to the east on Park Street, what is now Pine Grove.  Each of the building’s nine floors was planned for six apartments of six, seven or eight rooms.

The southeast oriel of pink Jasper granite
(JWB, 2011)
The optimism faded quickly.  On July 31, 1895 the developer, Bjourne Edwards, died when he stepped on a piece of loose scaffolding and fell from the roof of the partly finished structure.  The next day The Trib reported, “The unfinished building rears its somber, majestic proportions above its surroundings, to be completed by some one else, but it is a monument to the struggles and trials and the pride of the man who conceived its plans.”

Edwards was a Norwegian immigrant who did manual labor until he had enough money to enter school.  He spent several years in seminaries in Illinois and Iowa.  Then he became a book agent.  In 1886 he began The American Contractor.  Seven years later he was rich enough to build one of the great apartment buildings on the north side of the city.

The neighbors in the “fashionable residence district” had been against the building from the beginning.  They must have smugly nodded when Edwards hit the pavement.  Trouble followed.  The two great entrances were spanned by arches composed of a single piece of polished Jasper stone from Minnesota.  But as the building settled, the arches broke into pieces.

Despite what the neighbors thought, the Lincoln Park Palace was luxurious, every inch of it deserving the “Palace” that was a part of its name.  The Chicago Tribune of 1896 raved about the “richness, beauty, and everlasting qualities” of the rusticated pink Jasper granite from which it was built.  Telephones connected each apartment with the building’s office.  Electric and gas lights were used throughout the building.

Sullivan-esque tracery in the cornice with lion's heads just above that
(JSB, 2011)
And it was successful.  In October of 1897, following its completion in 1896, the Palace, according to The Tirb had all but one or two of its 60 apartments rented.

For whatever reason, though, the Palace did not provide a fair return on the original investment, and in November of 1900 a minor investor, General Henry Strong, the President of the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railroad, was awarded the building as the winner of a suit he had brought against the widow of poor old Bjourne Edwards.

The structure was estimated to have cost about a quarter of a million dollars to build.  Strong nabbed it for about $146,000 in the judicial sale.  Mrs. Edwards “. . . purchased the residence adjoining the Lincoln Park Palace on the west and moved into it,” according to the November 25, 1900 Chicago Tribune article.

One of the great rusticated bays (JWB, 2011)
The architect of what is now The Brewster Apartments, Enoch Hill Turnock, was a fascinating guy in his own right.  Born in the mid-1850’s in England, he moved to Elkhart, Indiana with his family in the early 1870’s.  Ten years later he moved from Indiana to Chciago where he worked until 1890 in William LeBaron Jenney’s office, the same office that started the careers of Louis Sullivan, Daniel Burnham, William Holabird and Martin Roche.

Hill began his own practice in 1890, so the Lincoln Park Palace must have been one of his first commissions.  In the index to the database of Chicago building permits from 1898 to 1912, he is listed as the sole architect of 37 buildings, dating from 1896 to 1907. [www.in.gov/history/ markers/497.htm]

Then in 1907 he left the big city and returned to Elkhart, Indiana, where he continued to design buildings in Elkhart, Goshen and Nappanee.  In fact, five buildings that Hill designed in Elkhart and Nappanee are listed in the National Register of Historic Places.  The architect died in 1926 and is buried in the Lindenwood Cemetery in Fort Wayne.

The Ladies' Entrance on Pine Grove (JWB, 2011)
His greatest commission in Chicago still stands at the corner of Diversey and Pine Grove.  Affixed to the pink granite in the southeast corner is the plaque that designates the Brewster Apartments as a Chicago Landmark.  It reads, “The principles of skeleton-frame construction that made possible tall commercial buildings were used her for an early highrise apartment building, originally known as the Lincoln Park Palace.  Behind its heavy masonry walls is an exceptionally innovative interior, a light and airy construction of cast-iron stairs, elevator cages, and bridges, paved with glass blocks, and topped by a skylight.”

Turnock used the same design techniques that distinguished the first generation of great skyscrapers in the Loop on a building that took at least one life to build.  It's worth a look, and while you're there stop in at Forno Diablo.  You won't be sorry on either account.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Terra Cotta Parade


I love terra cotta.  And the stuff is plastered all over Chicago, “a great, glazed city,” according to sculptor Walter S. Arnold.

The largest producer of terra cotta in the city and for many years in the entire country was the Northwestern Terra Cotta Company, which had its headquarters in the Railway Exchange Building at Michigan and Jackson as the twentieth century began.  That building, now known as the Santa Fe building, is a shining example of the beauty and versatility of glazed terra cotta.

According to the Encyclopedia of Chicago Northwestern Terra Cotta was started in 1878 and by the early 1890’s employed close to 500 men.  The Beaux Arts style with its extensive decoration and the first generation of Chicago-inspired buildings with their many references to nature and iconographic symbolism brought about rapid growth and by 1910 the Northwestern plant at Clybourn and Wrightwood employed about 1,000 workers. 

Business was so good that the company opened plants in St. Louis and Denver.  Then, after World War I design styles changed over a decade.  Extensive ornamentation was out and the streamlined, sleek look of what we now call Art Deco was in.  The company’s last plant in Denver closed in 1965.  The transparency of the mid-century modern style left no room for fancy gee-gaws made out of baked clay.

Anyway, here are a few of my favorite pieces.  I’ll be adding more as the months go by.  I’ve got plenty.  Like I said . . . I love the stuff.

Krause Music Store – 4611 North Lincoln Avenue

JWB, 2007
Louis Sullivan’s final hurrah.  The terra cotta “K” stands for William Krause who hired architect William Presto to design a music store with living quarters above it.  The building was finished in 1922; two years later Sullivan was dead.

The Fisher Building – 343 South Dearborn

JWB, 2008
Some sort of crawling, serpent-dragon hybrid from Charles Atwood’s Fisher Building.  Atwood, working for Daniel Burnham, designed the building for Lucius P. Fisher, a Chicago paper magnate.  Atwood’s original building is awash with terra cotta ornamentation making reference to the developer’s last name. The building, finished in 1896, is the tallest of the original group of Chicago skyscrapers that is still standing. 

680 North Lake Shore Drive

JWB, 2008
An eagle from the former American Furniture Mart, designed by Nimmons & Co.  When the second section, including the tower, was competed in 1926, this was the largest building in the world.  Lohan & Associates led the re-design of the building to condominiums and office space between 1979 and 1984.

350 North Clark Street

JWB, 2008
A great 1912 building designed by Alfred Alschuler.  The “T” is the first initial of John R. Thompson’s last name.  Thompson started out his career running a small grocery in rural Illinois and went on to oversee a national chain of groceries and 109 restaurants – 49 in Chicago and 11 in New York City.

Victor Falkenau House (Demolished) – 3400 South Wabash
Displayed in the Art Institue of Chicago

JWB, 2009
An angel from the third-story stringcourse of the Victor Falkenau House at 3420 South Wabash Avenue, designed by Louis Sullivan and the firm of Adler and Sullivan.  Built between 1888 and 1889. Leveled in 1958.  The fragment is displayed in the Art Institute of Chicago.  Falkenau was a contractor and head of the Building Contractors’ Council in the city.

Friday, April 15, 2011

G. V. Black, the Father of Modern Dentistry


G. V. Black's monument by Frederick C. Hibbard (JWB, 2011)

Walk the length of Chicago’s stately Astor Street, and your jaw just drops, which is appropriate because staring down at you at the end of Astor is the likeness of Greene Vardiman Black, who is seated imperiously on the other side of North Avenue.

You, with your jaw hanging open, are looking at the “Father of Modern Dentistry.”

He was born on a farm near Winchester, Illinois on August 3, 1836 and had less than 20 months of formal schooling.   At the age of 17 he was apprenticed to his brother, Dr. Thomas G. Black, who had a medical degree.  In the space of six months he learned from Thomas and Dr. J. C. Speer all that there was to know about the primitive practice of dentistry.

JWB, 2011
After the Civil War, in which he served briefly as a Union scout, he settled in Jacksonville, Illinois, and it is there that he went about the business of making dentistry something more than the human equivalent of being re-shod at a blacksmith’s.

My father told the story of his mother, who was born in 1868, walking to the dentist when she was in her fifties and without any anesthetic having all of her upper teeth pulled in a single visit, then walking home again.  I have no reason to believe he was making the story up. She lived in a small country village in upstate New York, and the most commonly used dental implement at the time was a pair of pliers.

G. V. Black changed all that.  Most importantly, Black changed the focus of dentistry from repairing broken and decayed teeth to preventing the breakdown of teeth in the first place.

JWB, 2011
His research and careful study led to astounding strides in the science of dentistry.  He invented a dental drill that was powered by a foot pedal; finally, cavities could be filled, rather than the tooth removed.  He created a silver amalgam for fillings with just the right chemical balance.  Instead of cashing in on the amalgam, he charged a fee for teaching manufacturers how to use the product and then left it up to them to market and sell it. [The New York Times, April 15, 2008]

He created over one hundred cutting instruments for the dentist’s office.  His Operative Dentistry text was published in two volumes in 1908 with a third published in 1915, the year he died and is still a valued reference today.  His classification of the various types of decay, “Black’s Classification of Caries Lesions,” is still used as well.

Most importantly, he put forth the use of nitrous oxide as a way to extract teeth without pain.  For that alone, someone should be placing flowers on Black’s statue every single day.

Frderick C. Hibbard's "Garden Girl"
(JWB, 2011)
His work led to well-deserved recognition.  For 15 years he served as Professor of Oral Pathology at the Missouri Dental College.  Moving to Chicago in the early 1890’s, he became a Professor of Pathology at the Chicago College of Dental Surgery, which later became the Loyola University School of Dentistry.  He received a medical degree from the Chicago Medical School and in 1891 moved to the Northwestern University Dental School, where he became Dean in 1897.

The creator of the Black monument is Frederick C. Hibbard, who was born in 1881 in Missouri.  Beginning his career as an electrical engineer, he traveled to Chicago and in 1901 began study at the Art Institute of Chicago under Lorado Taft, establishing a studio in Chicago in 1904. [www.battleofraymond.org]  Hibbard is most noted for his series of sculptures related to the Civil War.  However, if you walked north from the Black sculpture to the Lincoln Park Conservatory, his lovely Garden Girl will greet you at the pool just inside the front entrance.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

The McConnell House at 546 Hawthorne


I strolled down one of the most serene streets in Chicago the other day – Hawthorne Place in East Lakeview.  In the days before Lake Shore Drive the street ended at the lake, and as you walk past the wooded, over-sized lots, you can imagine what it must have been like to escape the city for the country lifestyle of Lake View township back at the end of the nineteenth century.

546 Hawthorne Place (JWB, 2011)
Right across from the Chicago City Day School on the far east end of Hawthorne stands the John McConnell house at 546 West Hawthorne.  For a tour of the McConnell house, courtesy of Open House Chicago, click here.

For me the interesting thing about these beautiful homes is the story of the folks who lived in them.  And Mr. McConnell’s story is a particularly interesting one, a story that actually begins with his father’s attempt to sink roots in the muck of early Chicago.

The east side of the John McConnell house
(JWB, 2011)
John McConnell was born on December 8, 1847 to an Irish father, Edward, and a Scottish mother, Charlotte (McGlashan).  Edward left Ireland in 1821, sailing to Montreal where he spent the winter, moving on to Rochester, New York where he worked as a clerk in a lumberyard.  Finally, in 1830 Edward left New York “with several equally inclined partners in an open Macinaw boat with Chicago as their destination.” [Curey, Josiah Seymour.  Chicago, Its History and Its Builders, A Century of Marvelous Growth, Volume 4.  The S. J. Clarke Publishing Company, Chicago:  1912.]

The boat was wrecked off Long Point on Lake Erie, and Edward and his partners walked back to Buffalo, where he spent the winter, sailing for Chicago once again in the spring of 1831.  When he got to the swamp that was Chicago, virtually all of its residents were suffering with fever.  Old Man McConnell, high-tailed it to Springfield, where he started a wholesale grocery business and made the acquaintance of a country lawyer, Abraham Lincoln, who represented him in several land cases.

Edward enlisted to fight in the Black Hawk wars and got to the field “just about the time peace was declared.” [Curry]  Finally, in late 1837 he invested everything he had in Chicago land, losing most of it in the panic of 1838.  Timing apparently wasn’t one of Edward’s strengths.

He hung in there, though, marrying in 1848 and building the first brick house in the city at the corner of Clark and Madison.  He also bought farm property at 22nd Street and Halsted.  Buying and selling land gave him a comfortable lifestyle, and he and Charlotte raised four sons. 

John McConnell's lakeside place in the country (JWB, 2011)
John, the third son, grew up on the Halsted property and attended the original University of Chicago.  He tried his hand at picture-framing until 1884 when he began buying and subdividing property in the township of Lake View.  It must have been a lucrative business; from 1870 to 1887 the township grew from 2,000 to 45,000 and became a part of Chicago in 1889.

John was elected as a Lake View supervisor and president of the Board of Trustees the same year he began dealing in real estate within the township.  Just a guess – the position probably didn’t hurt the business.  When Lake View township became a part of Chicago, John became a city alderman.

In 1885 Mr. McConnell built his home at 546 Hawthorne Place, just steps away from Lake Michigan.  He was a member of the Chicago Real Estate Board, the Chicago Athletic Association, the Chicago Yacht Club and the Edgewater Golf Club. [Curry]  In short, he was doin’ alright.

Take away the cars and Hawthorne Place looks much like it must have
looked back in 1885 when John McConnell built his home (JWB, 2011)
And that’s another Chicago story from the middle of the nineteenth century.  The son of an Irishman who came to the country with nothing ends up in the big brick house on the lake. 

The house is still there, and it is just as impressive as it must have been back there in 1885 . . . if you ignore the traffic whizzing by on Lake Shore Drive.