Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Southport Halloween

JWB, 2012
JWB, 2012

Spent an awesome late October day last Sunday at the Southport Halloween Stroll, sponsored by the Lakeview Chamber of Commerce.  The weather was cool, but not so cool that the little folks had to hide their motley under coats and scarves.  Held from 1:00 to 4:00, the day was a riot of color of costumes and changing leaves.  Even the dogs were dressed up . . . the first one we saw as we walked east toward Southport was a little mixed breed dressed up like a turkey, another example of remarkable canine tolerance.

I have a special place in my heart for this event.  Nine years ago my daughter and I ran in a Halloween race at Montrose Harbor.  After the run we headed out toward Southport, close to where she was living at the time.  Jill and I had already begun to talk about moving to the city when we retired, but walking along Southport on that day made up my mind for good.

JWB, 2012
There were so many families out with their kids on that day in October of 2003.  I felt the energy, and the great optimism and vitality that comes from holding a little one’s hand as it sticks out of a dinosaur costume.

JWB, 2012
Sunday Jill and I joined our daughter and son-in-law, now living not far from Southport, as our 15-month-old Lady Bug toddled down Southport, waving at every dressed-up dog that she passed.  It has been nine years since the last time I visited Southport at Halloween time.  The magic is still there.

JWB, 2012

JWB, 2012

Friday, October 26, 2012

The Miami Herald and the Chicago Sun TImes: A Tale of Two Buildings

The Miami Herald headquarters, Miami of 1963 (Wikipedia Photo)

A few days back the online Architectural Record contained a piece by Miami Herald writer Andres Viglucci which detailed the 6-4 vote by Miami’s historic preservation board to consider the Miami Herald’s 50-year-old bay-front headquarters for historic designation.  This sets the stage, according to Mr. Viglucci, for a pitched battle, not all that different from the current battle in Chicago over the fate of Prentice Hospital.

In the case of the old Miami Herald building a Malaysian casino outfit, Gerling, bought the building last year for $236 million and would like to develop the 10-acre site as a resort complex.

The article described the design of the newspaper’s headquarters as “twentieth century tropical-modern architecture,” which is a label that you don’t see kicked around too much.

So I was curious to see what the building looked like.  I wasn’t familiar with the structure, and I searched for a passable picture of it even before I finished the article.

As soon as I found the photo, I had a sense that I had travelled a long distance and discovered an old friend.  In fact, I thought, “They can call this a twentieth-century tropical modern building or anything else if they want to, but whatever they call it, it’s a Chicago building.”

The Sun Times headquarters of 1958 (Google Images)
Then I went back and finished Viglucci’s article, in which four paragraphs from the end the writer paraphrased the sentiments of a member of the Miami historic preservation board, David Freedman, “’It’s not a MiMo work of art,’ he [Freedman] said,  “dismissing the Herald building as a ‘duplication’ of the old Chicago Sun Times building done by the same architect, Sigurd Naess, though in a markedly different, stripped-down architectural approach known as the International style.”

The Sigurd Naess to whom Mr. Freedman refers was the planning expert who along with Charles F. Murphy and Alfred Shaw, were locked out of the offices of Graham, Anderson, Probst and White the day after Ernest Graham died in November of 1936.  The three men, Shaw, Naess and Murhpy, went on to form their own firm.

Naess & Murphy's Prudential Building in Chicago - 1955 (JWB, 2008)
Mr. Shaw left that firm in 1947, and Naess and Murphy soldiered on, designing the very first tall buildings in Chicago in nearly a quarter of a century, including the Prudential Building of 1955.  Sigurd Naess, who had come to the United States from Norway at the age of 17, retired from the Naess-Murphy partnership in 1958 at which point Charles Murphy scooped up some of the finest young architects that the Illinois Institute of Technology was turning out. 

So I’m guessing that Mr. Freedman didn’t exactly have his facts right and simply went for the first name of the firm when he made his remarks.  The planning for the Chicago Sun Times building, which began in the mid-1950’s, may have involved Sigurd Naess in the early stages, but the Miami Herald headquarters, finished in 1963, certainly did not involve Naess.

In 1967 Helmut Jahn joined Murphy’s firm, and by 1973 was Director of Planning and Design.  Mr. Jahn took control from the aging Murphy in 1981, and the firm was renamed Murphy/Jahn, the name it carries today.  Charles Murphy, who, with no architectural experience to speak of, started his career as Earnest Graham’s executive assistant, died in 1985. 

Trump Tower, SOM - 2009 (JWB, 2012)
But all of that is water under the Chicago bridges.  It was old C. F. Murphy’s firm that came up with the plans for the Miami Herald building, completed in 1963 and for the Chicago Sun Times building, completed five years earlier, as well.

At least they are talking about a stay of execution for the building in Miami.  The Sun Times building has been gone for eight years now, demolished to make room for the second tallest building in Chicago, Trump Tower.

Interestingly, it was today, October 26, back in 1958 that the old Sun Times building opened for business.

And, in another coincidence, Helmut Jahn announced today (October 26) that he is naming Francisco Gonzalez-Pulido as president of the firm, which will from now on will be known simply as Jahn.  

Mr. Jahn will retain the title of Chief Executive Officer at the firm.  Mr. Gonzalez-Pudlio, the new president joined the firm in 1999 after completing his master's degree at the Harvard Design School.  According to Crain's Chicago Business Mr. Jahn, in a press release said of Mr. Gonzalez-Pulido, "His original design approach, first-hand experience with the physical construction of buildings, and his collaborative style of mentoring young architects, will be represented in how we push the limits in future work."

So it's quite a trek . . . from Miami to Chicago.  And in Chicago from old Daniel Burnham, to Earnest Graham, to Shaw, Naess and Murphy, to Naess and Murphy, to C. F. Murphy, to Murphy/Jahn to, finally, simply Jahn.  Six generations descended directly from Daniel Burnham . . . seven generations that produced some of the greatest architecture in the city, perhaps the world.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

First Lady Cruise Hosts the River Docent Prom

The Leading Lady approaches the LaSalle Street bridge (JWB, 2011)

Tonight is the River Docent Prom, hosted by Bob and Holly Agra and the guys and gals of the First Lady fleet, the premier architecture river cruise line in Chicago.  If you have taken a River Cruise and experienced the attention that these folks lavish on their guests, you know what I mean.

I’m a relative neophyte when it comes to the river . . . this is just the third summer that I have been doing the tours.  I love everything about this newfound avocation . . . there is no better way for an old, retired school teacher to spend the warm weather months.

I generally ride my bicycle down to the dock.  It’s about a five-mile ride on the bike path that runs along the lakeshore.  It’s a nice way to get some exercise while enjoying the ever-changing lake-front   It is, by far, the prettiest ride to work I have ever had.  I especially enjoy the trip this time of year.  The crowds are gone, the trail isn’t crowded, and the changing colors and the barren sand reminds me of my favorite Nelson Algren quote, one that I use often, “Chicago is an October city even in the spring.”

Captain George gets ready for
another tour (JWB, 2011)
It was a hot summer, and as it ran its course I enjoyed a set of experiences that could only come from a pastime such as this docent thing.  I participated in the filming of a television show I have never heard of, saw parts of two films being shot, came with 20 yards of the Chancellor of Germany, had a tussle with the Adams Street bridge, and waved at five different bridal parties having their wedding day photos taken up on the Kinzie Street bridge.

The gentlemen who pilot the four boats that make up the First Lady fleet are remarkable.  On a summer weekend the river is filled with pleasure boaters, kamikaze kayakers, fishermen in bass boats, rental boats with novices at the wheel, and the tour boats of all  the First Lady competitors.  The First Lady captains always find a way to get the job done while remaining personable and more helpful than this guy has a right to expect.  George, Jason, Ben, Jovan, Stafford, Tom, and Rich . . . if there is a better group of guys making it happen on the river, I’d like to find them.

They are backed up by an unselfish, safety-conscious group of mates that ensure satisfaction for those who take the tours and who also make it as easy as they possible can for those of us holding the microphone.  It can’t be easy to spend seven months of the year, four or five times a day, listening to us docents rattling off a tour that covers the same half-dozen miles of river.  But somehow they always seem to smile at you like it is the very first time they have ever heard anything at all about the river.

Each time I watch a river docent come off a boat or greet one who is taking the tour after mine I am humbled by how good these folks are.  They all have mastered incredibly detailed information about over 130 buildings that line the river, along with the history of the city, its notable citizens, and its key events.  

Newly certified river docent Bob Joynt extols the old
Montgomery Ward warehouse at 600 North Chicago
as the boat prepares to head south (JWB, 2012)
More than that, these folks have put in scores of hours apart from the memorization, fleshing out the tour, creating transitions, building themes, and finding a way to convince our visitors that Chicago is a place to which they must return again and again and again.  Tom Carmichael, the head of the group, has committed himself to training the best tour givers anywhere on the planet, and all the work that he has put into it shows itself every single day.

The river docents for the Chicago Architecture Foundation make up a varied lot that includes lawyers, architects, accountants, executives and an occasional teacher.  Totally dedicated, totally personable, and totally generous.  It’s a good group of folks to hang out with.

Most of all, though, there is the river.  Small enough to allow those who travel it to nestle right up to the great buildings that line its banks, big enough to allow those same people to see how it led to the growth of this amazing city.  When the sun is shining, and the sky is blue, I can’t imagine anywhere in the world I would rather be.  Here is a small sample of what I get to look at all summer long . . 

401 North Michigan, the Gleacher Center, and NBC Tower (JWB, 2012)
The Adams Street Bridge with the Boeing Building just behind it (JWB, 2012)
The Wrigley Building from Columbus Drive (JWB, 2012)
View from Chicago lock (JWB, 2012)
3 classics -- 330 North Wabash, Trump Tower, and the Wrigley Building (JWB, 2012)
The Wells Street bridge is raised (JWB, 2012)

Monday, October 22, 2012

Standing Lincoln Has a Birthday

JWB, 2010
On this day, October 22, in 1887 Standing Lincoln, Augustus Saint-Gaudens’ sculpture of the Great Emancipator, was dedicated at the entrance to Lincoln Park.  On the day after the dedication The Chicago Tribune described the scene, “Since the night of the great fire Lincoln Park has never contained within the same area so many human beings as thronged its plains, clustered under its trees, and in every variety of vehicle crowded its roadways yesterday afternoon.”

The statue, one of two sculptures in the city (The other is Storks at Play in front of the Lincoln Park Conservatory) provided for in the will of lumberman Eli Bates, was dedicated on a gray afternoon.  Chicago Mayor E. A. Roche headed the dignitaries on the dais, and Abraham Lincoln II, the 15-year-old grandson of the late president, released the flag covering the statue as upwards of 10,000 people watched.

JWB, 2010
The Tribune described the work of Saint-Gaudens in this way . . .

There is the old-fashioned carelessly rolled collar falling in reversed furrow over the thick silk cravat.  There is the old-fashioned shirt-front, with the two wide plats on either side of the middle one with its honest buttons and buttonholes exactly in the middle.  There is the medium low wrinkled vest, none too well fitted, and the long round old-style black corded watchguard passing about the neck and carrying the watch to the left pocket of the vest.  There is the old frock coat, its slightly shirred sleeve tops, its loose, bagging sleeves, its buttons none too tight in their places . . . There are the loose trousers, ill-fitting at the ankles, and the Western square-toed boots.  Thus attired, almost lank, grave, careworn, Yankeeish, and homely, Abraham Lincoln, by the grace of God working in his soul and into his aspect, stands before men, proving under the hand of genius that classic drapery is not indispensable to artistic effect in sculpture nor theatrical accessories necessary to make the human form seem somewhat divine.  The bronze chair of state relieves the austerity of the figure and appropriately symbolizes the exalted function of the office it suggests.

The ceremony was disrupted just as the martyr’s grandson was pulling away the flag that covered the statue.  As the First Regiment Band began to play Hail Columbia and the men of Battery D began to fire a 38-gun salute, a horse drawing a two-person cart was spooked by the sudden noise and plunged through the crowd before attempting to jump a fence and entangling itself in the wires.

Mrs. C. L. Dunning was thrown over the horse’s head, and Miss Ora Cody jumped out of the cart.  Neither woman was seriously injured, but the members of the constabulary cut the 38-gun volley short.

JWB, 2010
Mr. Thomas F. Withrow, who rode the Eighth Judicial Circuit with Lincoln for 11 years, offered these remarks during the dedication ceremony, “We see him in this beautiful image of bronze above us which the sculptor has wrought and recall his real presence.  What we know of the future is, that in all time hereafter, wherever the slave shall groan under the lash, or the poor shall sigh for something better than they have known, there his name will be honored and his example imitated.”

JWB, 2010
Mr. T. F. Withrow, head of the Monument Fund of the Eli Bates estate, said as he presented the statue to the Lincoln Park Commissioners, “As long as the flowers shall bloom among these trees and the waves of Lake Michigan break on the shore this figure will preserve the memory of the patriot and martyr whose firm adherence to his convictions has made every man a free man and preserved the union of these States.”

The statue is a good place to seek out in the next few weeks.  Stand before the likeness of a politician who rose above the fray, made the hard choices, and ultimately paid for it with his life.  It gives one something to think about as we head toward November.