Saturday, January 31, 2015

Harold Washington Library and The Old Colony: Great Buildings? Owl Say . . .

Kent Bloomer Owl & The Old Colony (JWB Photo)
One of the owls, just a portion of the 100 tons of aluminum that make up the ornamental acroterion of the Harold Washington Library (Hammond, Beeby and Babka, 1991), looks toward the east façade of the forlorn Old Colony Building (Holabird and Roche, 1894).  The ornament atop the library is described by the fabricator, Kent Bloomer Studio, as “a fantastical environment of swirling seedpods, feathered helixes, and Greek palmettes.  All elements are made from standard plate aluminum, although the standard stock has been cut, rolled, welded and painted to create exuberant and flowing forms that evoke the legacy of Louis Sullivan.”

The Old Colony Building, looking quite the worse for wear in this photo, taken before an exterior cleaning a few years back, is being repurposed as a residential building, serving college students.  CA Ventures plans 111 units in the building, along with a second floor lounge and a rooftop deck, a makeover that is expected to cost in excess of 25 million dollars.

It’s great to see the re-make in this great old building, at the time of its completion the tallest building in Chicago.  Almost 15 years ago the Chief Engineers Association of Chicagoland said of the Old Colony, “A look at any class schedule for any school in the Chicago area will show the abundance of history courses being taught our children.  The Old Colony Building can give our children what book learning cannot – a chance to view history in the here and now.  Chicago is proud to lay claim to a part of history.  Let’s hope the Old Colony is around long enough for our children’s children to experience the beauty and wonder of an era gone by.”  For this excellent article on The Old Colony look here.

It looks as if, when the renovation of the building is complete, our students will not just be learning about history.  They will actually be living in a building where that history was made with a three-minute walk to the largest public library in the country.

Good deal.

Thursday, January 29, 2015

Fort Sheridan and the Oglala Lakota -- January 29, 1891

The Guardhouse at Fort Sheridan . . . Many people assert that Native
Americans were imprisoned here in 1891.  No such record exists.  (JWB Photo)
On December 29,1890 federal troops of the Seventh Cavalry Regiment, led by Colonel James W. Forsyth, rode into an encampment of Lakota Sioux near Wounded Knee Creek in South Dakota.  Accounts of what happened on that morning differ, but by the end of the day 200 men, women, and children of the Sioux nation were dead and another 47 wounded.  Twenty-five United States cavalry troopers also died and 39 were wounded. 

By the end of January various survivors of the encampment were rounded up and transported to Fort Sheridan.  A telegram from General Nelson Miles, commander of United States troops in South Dakota, was received on January 26, 1891, reading as follows:   “I expect to reach Chicago some time tomorrow night with Taming Bear, Short Bull, Two Strike, and others, thirty in all.  I desire that preparations be made to remove them to Fort Sheridan immediately.”

Colonel Henry Clark Corbin in Chicago, who would eventually become a Brigadier General and the Adjutant General of the Army, received General Miles’s telegram and said, “Only a small escort will be needed.  They are all unarmed and one man could take them.  They couldn’t do anything here.”

Even today it is difficult to ferret out exactly what General Miles’s intentions were.  The Tribune speculated, “It is said the intention of Gen. Miles to enlist the Indians in the regular army, subject them to the same discipline as other recruits so as to have them ready for service against hostile Indians in Indian war which may break out in the future . . . The question is whether rigid discipline can be enforced on men who have led such wild lives on the plains.”  [Chicago Tribune, January 27, 1891]

Short Bull
On this date in 1891, January 29, The Tribune printed an article with the headline Are Not Held As Prisoners of War – The Indian Braves at Fort Sheridan Can Do About as They Please.  The piece began, “Short Bull, the Brute, sat in his Sibley tepee at Fort Sheridan yesterday and chopped army plug tobacco into fine-cut.  He was in a strange country, but genuine tobacco pleased him so much more than the red willow bark that he had been forced to smoke when in the Bad Lands that he looked as nearly contented as a savage who imagines he has a grievance can.”  [Chicago Tribune, January 29, 1891]

Sentinels walked off their paces at the encampment in order to keep curiosity seekers at bay.  “Every village boy in Fort Sheridan and about two hundred from Highland Park formed a cordon around the tepees of the Indians, and the sentinel had more trouble in keeping the white man out than in keeping the red man in.” The Tribune reported.

The paper took particular pains to report that the 30 tribal members were not prisoners and that “Every member of the guard that was mounted at Fort Sheridan yesterday morning had strict orders to allow the Indians to do as they chose.” 

“With blanket additions the Brutes and Ogalalas at the fort will be happier than they have been for years, for the simple reason that they are under army control and are assured of good treatment and sixteen ounces to the pound in their rations,” the report continued.

Kicking Bear
The guests at the garrison were still “painted and still [wore] feathers and blankets.”  Chief among them were Kicking Bear and Short Bull.  Both men were followers of the Northern Paiute religious leader, Wovoka, who had a prophetic vision in 1889 that all the Paiute dead would be resurrected and the white man removed if his people would live righteously and undertake a series of five-day ceremonies, known today as the Ghost Dance.  The Ghost Dance would figure prominently in events that were yet to transpire.

Despite what the paper wrote on this day in 1891 the Native Americans that were transported to Fort Sheridan were certainly not free to walk to the train station and head for the bars on Clark Street.  But they weren’t exactly prisoners, either.  And this is just the beginning of what would become a strange saga that spanned two continents and several years.

I'll be reporting on those developments in the coming months.

Monday, January 26, 2015

Arti Institute of Chicago Modern Wing and Friend

AIC & Aon (JWB Photo)
White verticality and clear blue sky. 

The Modern Wing of the Art Institute of Chicago, open a half-dozen years, faces off against the Aon Building three blocks up  the street on Randolph.  The mullions of Renzo Piano’s Modern Wing design complement the inverse corners and piers of Edward Durell Stone’s 1973 building, originally constructed for the Standard Oil Company of Indiana.  Aside from this aesthetic connection the two building share, the image shows another one of the many ways that commerce and culture stand side-by-side in Chicago.

One more thing to note – something I really love – notice the mullions of the Modern Wing and how they just give way so that glass and air and bright blue sky merge into one urban composition.

Good, clean, sleek design in two very different buildings. 

Good.  Clean.  Sleek. 


Sunday, January 25, 2015

Chicago River: Lines and Curves

Lines and Curves (JWB Photo)
Lines and Curves.  Present and future.  The old and the new.  However you want to categorize it, Chicago blends them all together about as well as any big city in the world.  Take, for example, the above view, looking west along the river at Michigan Avenue.  Check it out . . .

Beaux Arts (360 North Michigan Avenue, 1923, Alfred Alschuler, architect);

Art Deco (333 North Michigan Avenue, 1928, Holabird & Root, architects; and

Mid-Century Modern, more or less (Marina City Towers, 1967, Bertrand Goldberg, architect); the Hyatt Hotel west tower (111 East Wacker, 1970, Mies van der Rohe, architect); and 401 North Wabash/AMA Plaza (1971, Mies van der Rohe, architect).

Want to know a little about contest in a big city.  Look at how the windown course for each story of the Hyatt west tower on the left side of the photo match up with their counterparts on each story of 333 North Michigan just beyond it.  And notice how the same relationship exists between Mies van der Rohe’s last design project on the right edge of the photo and the towers of his former protégé just to the west.

And stick an American flag up there, blowing in the Windy City breeze, for a little pop of color.

Look around this big new city, and you will find pleasant surprises like this one almost anywhere you look.  It’s a working city that puts its self together pretty well.

Saturday, January 24, 2015

Ralph Waldo Emerson in Chicago -- January 24, 1867

On this date, January 24, back in 1867 Ralph Waldo Emerson delivered a talk at the Unity Church just off Washington Square Park, the structure that gave way after the fire of 1871 to the Scottish Rite Cathedral that stands at the corner of Walton and North Dearborn today.  Dr. Robert Collyer, the pastor of Unity Church, introduced the eminent man of letters. 

Dr. Robert Collyer
Collyer must have been an avid listener to Emerson’s message that night; he was no stranger to persecution and hardship.  Born in England, he had, before he was 26-years-old, served as a blacksmith’s apprentice, become a minister in the Methodist church, and lost his wife and infant daughter.  Coming to the United States in 1850 he worked as a hammer maker in Pennsylvania during the week, preaching on Sundays.  His anti-slavery messages, though, meant the end of his Methodist pastoral duties and the church stripped him of his license.  He joined the Unitarian Church and in 1860 came to Chicago as a missionary.  By 1865 he had served the dead and the dying in the Civil War and had overseen the construction of the Unity Church, one of the grandest churches in the city.

In describing Emerson’s address that evening, The Chicago Tribune wrote, “The peculiarly concise and metaphysical style of this eminent man, and the abstruse ideas which he conveys in a close chain make it impossible to do justice to the lecture in a brief and disjointed report . . . But some of the pearls of thought that were scattered though the house may be set in type so as to afford ample food for the reflective mind.  Each of them constitutes a sermon in itself.”  [Chicago Tribune, January 25, 1867]

Emerson entitled his lecture “The Man of the World.”  Toward the end of his address that evening, just two years after the end of the great war that saw an estimated 620,000 men die in the line of duty, he said,

Would that we could feel that this country is the last great charity of the war, the end of all struggles to establish morality as the object of government.  Intellect and not property should be represented, or at least not property without intellect.  The work of America is to make the advance of ideas possible – to prove the principle that everything that is immoral is inhuman.  In the condition of America at this hour, prayer has become right.  It is relieved of its moral curse, it has no foreign complications; it proposes to do right to all classes of people, and to make it possible that the American citizen shall be a true man of the world.
Ralph Waldo Emerson
One wonders how this address went over in a wide-open town, choking in coal smoke and manure, running at maximum boiler pressure toward the acquisition of wealth.  Four years later Unity Church would burn to the ground in the Great Fire.  A dozen years later Robert Collyer, a national figure by that time, would leave for the Community Church of New York City, where he would become Pastor Emeritus in the same year that Chicago hosted the World’s Columbian Exposition.

Emerson spoke for over an hour that evening.  A hundred years later I would read his essay on self-reliance and decide that I would spend my life in the high school English classroom.  I find it very cool to consider the fact that this great thinker, an intellect that helped to shape American thought in the mid-nineteenth century, spoke these words just a little more than two miles from where Jill and I live today