December 26, 2004 – The architecture critic of the Chicago Tribune, Blair Kamin, writes a glowing appraisal of 40-year-old architect Jeanne Gang and her firm, Studo/Gang, which employs a dozen people. He writes, “Gang designs in a modernist idiom, but unlike the abstract steel-and-glass boxes of Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, her work usually has some recognizable feature that invites non-architects to explore it.” [Chicago Tribune, December 26, 2004] He cites as an example the Kam Liu Building in Chicago’s Chinatown, noting that it “flaunts a skin of titanium shingles that resemble the scales of a dragon.” Gang and her husband and co-principal, Mark Schendel, are about to embark upon what might be, for some, an intimidating transition as the firm has been tapped to design residential towers in the Lakeshore East development, rising on what was once a freight yard for the Illinois Central Railroad and, more recently, a nine-hole Par 3 golf course on the lakefront just south of the Chicago River. Five years after Kamin’s article runs, Gang’s Aqua, an 82-story mixed-use tower, opens with James Loewenberg of Loewenberg and Associates as the Architect of Record. These days the Vista Tower is nearing completion. The 101-story hotel and residential building, consists of three sections and, according to Kamin in a September, 2019 article, “Vista’s snaking curves stand out in a city where the right angle has long been king. So does its sleekness which contrasts with the muscular X-bracing of the former John Hancock Center and other high-rises that boldly express the hidden heavy lifting.” [Chicago Tribune, September 3, 2019] In the same article the editor of the journal of Chicago-based Council on Tall Buildings and Urban Habitat, Daniel Safarik, says of Vista, “For lack of a better word, luxury is communicated by smoothness or sleekness as opposed to musculature.” Gang stands in front of Aqua in the above photo.
December 26, 1998 – The Sky Pavilion, the $30 million addition to the Adler Planetarium and Astronomy Museum, opens and Chicago Tribune architecture critic Blair Kamin calls it “the most daring building in years along a shoreline dotted by gleaming white museums based on the temples of antiquity.” [Chicago Tribune, December 30, 1998] The new addition, dubbed “the bra” for the way its C-shaped expanse wraps around the 1930 building, will add a new theater, additional exhibit spaces and a 200-seat restaurant, throwing exceptional views of the city’s skyline into the experience. Kamin makes the point that the new pavilion teaches a lesson – “The present doesn’t have to parrot the past to respect it … [the pavilion] is both a sensitive expansion and a spectacular addition to the lakefront – every bit as much an expression of its era as its distinguished predecessor. Designed by Dirk Lohan and Al Novickas of Lohan Associates, the addition adds a stunning new space while it subtracts alterations that have taken “some of the luster off this diminutive gem.” Kamin makes the point that the engineering that developed the addition would not have been possible without a computer that could calculate the complex angles in the new structure, a structure he calls “one of the finest meldings of space and structure in Chicago since Jahn’s masterful United Terminal at O’Hare International Airport was completed in 1988.”
December 26, 1911 – As the machinists’ strike on the Illinois Central Railroad continues, five dangerous incidents of vandalism take place between the Parkside and Grand Crossing stations of the railroad. At 3:10 p.m. the Blue Island Express runs through an open switch at Grand Crossing, and the engine is thrown off the tracks. At 7:00 p.m. a south bound freight train is broken in two near Grand Crossing with two freight cars derailed. An hour later a five-coach South Chicago local train hits an obstruction near Seventy-First Street, and the engine and the first trucks of the following coach are derailed. Ten minutes after that a south bound passenger train derails just fifty feet west of the South Chicago train. At 8:30 p.m. two men are seen tampering with a switch at Seventh-Fifth Street, near the South Shore station, but they make their escape before police can be informed. Reached at his home, F. S. Gibbons, the Vice-President and general manager of the railroad, says, “I don’t believe the strikers would deliberately plan to wreck trains. I believe an investigation will disclose something else as the cause.” [Chicago Daily Tribune, December 27, 1911] Despite his assertion, Chicago police place an officer at every switch between Seventy-First and Ninety-First Streets. The strike, which began in June of 1911, was not fully resolved until the middle of 1915.
December 26, 1951 – The holidays are stressful times, and motorists on Michigan Avenue on the day after Christmas back in 1951 have ample reason to be stressed as a result of a standoff between representatives of two city agencies. Traffic policeman Phil Tolan arrests a CTA bus driver, William Wilson, at Michigan Avenue and Ontario Street in the height of the evening rush hour. It starts innocently enough when Wilson, with a green light, moves his bus into the intersection of Michigan and Ohio. You see this all the time today -- traffic is backed up and the bus blocks the intersection. Officer Tolan approaches the window on the driver’s side of the bus and tells the driver he should have waited, and Wilson closes the window in the copper’s face. “Well, I couldn’t let him sass me like that so I told him he was under arrest and ordered him to open the door and get out and show me his license,” Tolan says. [Chicago Daily Tribune, December 27, 1951] He orders the bus driver off the bus, but Wilson won’t open the door until Tolan threatens to break it. A paddy wagon is called, Wilson is taken to the East Chicago Avenue station, and the CTA is left with the task of transferring passengers to another bus and getting the stranded bus out of the intersection, a process that takes close to 45 minutes. The humor probably would have been lost on all of the motorists jammed up on Michigan Avenue that evening, but before he was a cop, Tolan drove a bus for the CTA. The photo above was taken about a half-mile south of Ontario, but you get the idea of what a 45-minute blockade of a key intersection might have been like.