Photo: Harrison Smith
By Harrison Smith
Early Wednesday evening, when the first guests start making their way inside the Ben Hecht house on 53rd and Kenwood, Kelly Custer is sitting out on the porch with a friend, asking if “maybe it was too much.” Earlier that morning she had called someone over to her family’s historic ten-bedroom bungalow for a little house cleaning; eight hours later, the job was done, or done as well as could be expected for a short notice cleaning of a four-floor house in transition. The person was paid, but Custer—whose family is selling their home of nearly fifty years—is concerned that things still aren’t clean enough: there are boxes lying around in corners, books and papers piled on desks, and for the next couple of hours a hundred-odd visitors will be walking through it all, taking a look at the house and its history. And, she figures, its mess, which probably should have been cleaned a little better anyway.
Prompted by Op-Shop and Southside Hub of Production organizer Laura Shaeffer, the Custer family had decided to open up their home to the community before saying goodbye for good. Shaeffer, like many others at the “Ben Hecht House Party,” is dressed in full 1920s garb, greeting guests as she walks through the building in flowing white pants and a rustling jewel necklace-piece her friend Victoria, a psychic, found in Chinatown. “The family was so worried” about the mess, she says, “but I said that’s fine, we’re going to clean up the front room, make it really nice and comfortable, and let people roam around and see that this is a space in transition.” Read the rest of this entry »
Rendering of the Dallas park expressway cap via the Woodall Rogers Park Foundation
By Sam Feldman
They say imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, and Chicago’s received its fair share. We pioneered the steel-frame skyscraper, the Ferris wheel, and the electric blues, all worldwide hits. We started studying the idea of turning the abandoned two-point-seven-mile Bloomingdale Line into an elevated park in 1998, a year before the High Line was a gleam in anybody’s eye, though it’s New York’s elevated park that’s gotten all the attention. (To be fair, New York’s park does have the advantage of actually existing.)
But other cities have some good ideas too sometimes, and every so often we should glance around and see what might be worth stealing. We’ve made a good start with the recent announcement of a 300-kiosk bike-sharing system arriving by next summer, an idea we stole from Washington, DC, along with our new transportation chief Gabe Klein. But there’s a lot more we can rip off. There are areas where we haven’t been keeping up, or we’ve been making small plans, or we just haven’t taken the lead. Some of these ideas would cost money, but some of them would make money. Some of them might be immediately popular, while others could take some convincing. Some of them won’t happen—but some of them will. Read the rest of this entry »
The Frank Lloyd Wright Preservation Trust is honoring its namesake’s position in the rich heritage of Chicago’s architectural history with the grand opening of the new Shop Wright gift store on July 21 in the Rookery, one of Chicago’s oldest and most historically significant buildings. Wright remodeled the lobby of the Rookery in 1905 and it was then restored to his designs at the end of the twentieth century. Heidi Farina, director of multi-channel retailing at the Preservation Trust, explains that the Shop Wright opening has always been the next step after the central offices of the Trust were relocated to the Rookery in late 2010. “It allows us to reach a new, different type of audience,” she says, “not only the tourists but the business community of Chicago.” The grand opening, which the public can attend, will feature “champagne and shopping” from 5pm-7pm together with appetizers, three prize giveaways and a ten-percent discount to the public and twenty-percent to members of the Trust. Alongside the boozing and browsing, the Trust is offering rare tours to the Rookery Vault storage, which usually has no public access and features catalogued architectural items from recent renovations, including ornamental ironwork and elevator grilles. Farina says that the gift store will contain many new items that incorporate the Rookery’s design styles with floral, geometric patterns and elements taken from the elevators, as well as bird styles that pay homage to the heritage of the Rookery’s name. These will slot in beside the rich catalogue of Shop Wright’s furniture, books, accessories, jewelry and art inspired by Wright’s design work. Together with the new store, tours of the iconic Rookery are being expanded to five days a week beginning at noon every day, Monday through Friday. (Ben Small)
The Go Wright grand opening is July 21 at the Rookery, 209 South LaSalle, 5pm-7pm. RSVP at gowright.org/rsvp-rookery.html.
It’s an early wake-up call for participants in the “Emerging Chicago” tour—which changes annually and selects breakthrough designs—with the Chicago Architecture Foundation. “Everything we have focused on so far has been on the forefront, on the cutting edge,” Nancy Cook, tour director announces on the way to the first location. “And I’m thrilled to say that we’re on the cutting-edge again.”
This year’s tour focuses on award-winning Chicago architect John Ronan’s work, specifically on two major buildings he has designed and built—Christ the King College Prep and Gary Comer College Prep. Both schools have had a profound impact on the impoverished neighborhoods and communities they were built in: Christ the King in the Austin neighborhood and Gary Comer, named after the late Lands’ End founder, in the Grand Crossing neighborhood.
Ronan meets the group at both institutions and offers his input, explaining his inspiration. At Christ the King, the building is concentrated on the Jesuit belief Corus Personalis, or care of the whole person. “The building is conceived like a body—the vital organs being the chapel, library, gym and cafeteria,” Ronan says. At Gary Comer, which works in conjunction with the youth center that shares its namesake adjoining the school, Ronan chose an almost-neon-greenish color for the exterior to reflect youth and optimism. “The school is very much about transparency and accountability both on the students and the staff,” Ronan explains. “And I put glass walls within each classroom to get the effect, to bring the natural light from two directions into each classroom.” Read the rest of this entry »
The Chicago Architecture Foundation (architecture.org) has added three new entries to its list of more than eighty-five architecture tours in celebration of the fortieth anniversary of Landmarks Illinois, the statewide voice for historic preservation. Ellen Shubart, co-chair of the Chicago Architecture Foundation’s tour committee, says these three distinct walking tours, called “Preservation and Pubs,” will explore the various issues surrounding historic preservation within the Loop. “These are one-of-a-kind tours for this special anniversary and will not be on the schedule on a regular basis,” Shubart says. “We will be looking at various buildings that have been preserved and discuss the issues involved for buildings to become a landmark and why people want to preserve these buildings.” Each tour will end at an historic pub—the Sky-Ride Lounge, Kasey’s and Cardozo’s Pub—and a representative from Landmarks Illinois will be on hand to discuss the history and nature of each location. The first tour, April 29, heads west, followed by the southbound May 13 and the June 17 finale, which will head north. (Nancy Wolens)
Photo: Kristine Sherred
Standing just inside the Dearborn Street entrance of Chase Tower, Amanda Scotese welcomes her Friday Chicago Detours group to “Explore the Loop without Freezing.” This morning brings only four curious people together, but Scotese caps the number of tickets at twenty anyway, creating what she characterizes as a unique, personal and immersive urban experience. The attendees give their names and hometowns before Scotese pulls out the multimedia component, an iPad, starting with a nineteenth-century clip of a Chicago intersection and a Studs Terkel snippet.
“It’s not just facts. This is about stories and a theme that binds them together,” says Scotese.
Her digital collection of archival footage, ephemera and images “you can’t piece together on the Internet” complement her mental reserve of “forgotten stories,” as she calls the fascinating history she shares at each stop. She encourages questions and conversation, fostering a collaborative educational environment unlike the talking head on run-of-the-mill tours.
“People love to learn!” she exclaims. “I don’t pretend to know everything, and I’m not into making up answers.” Anything she doesn’t know, she researches and posts answers to on the Chicago Detours blog. Read the rest of this entry »
By Dina Elenbogen
I am floating in the underbelly of the city, the same way the summer my son was an infant, walking along the lake with him strapped to my body at dawn, I’d feel as if I were moving through the underbelly of the day. On this boat I take to work, floating under bridges and taking in new angles and facades of buildings, this city feels unfamiliar. It’s like looking into a face you’ve known for a long time and seeing an entirely new quality of beauty.
I used to envy friends who were able to walk only steps from the train to their buildings but now I realize that I am the lucky one. After a thirty-minute train ride on which I review for the writing class I’ll teach later in the morning, I arrive in the city, walk a few steps, and my boat is usually waiting for me. I step off the pier at Wacker and down a few steps into the yellow boat. I usually sit uncovered on a bench in the back. Some mornings I’ll commune with the red steel bridges that we pass between Madison (1922), and the Michigan Avenue Bridge (1920). Other times it will be the glass facades of the newer buildings next to the old stone and turrets of the Crain Communications Building and the Wrigley Building. If the boat didn’t hit the cement at Michigan Avenue to disembark, I’d probably drift away with my thoughts all morning. Read the rest of this entry »
By Jason Foumberg
Chicago needs this. A grouping of four huge old buildings on the Near South Side will become, hopefully, a new Creative Industries District. This district isn’t simply an art gallery stroll, nor is it merely a rehabbed warehouse for artist studios. The proposed redevelopment plan is so big and ambitious—perhaps bigger than any current mixed-use art space in Chicago, 800,000 square feet in total—that galleries and studios will be just a small fraction of the big picture, if at all.
You don’t need to see it to believe it—because there’s not much to look at yet—but the future will spurt from this dust-caked shell of salvage, a sun-baked hulk of hundred-year-old bricks and broken windows. A picturesque ruin, perhaps. This is what condominium developments look like before the granite countertops and cast-iron balconies roll in, but no dream condos will be constructed here, and anyway, the kitchen-table art economy hasn’t gotten us much further than the front room. We won’t be art-gallery squatting in the near future. The near future has a budget, a committee, actually several committees, licensing forms and tax forms and applications, and a dada poem of acronyms—ULI, NEA, LISC, DCA, TIF, CMAP—that sounds like government bureaucracy BS, the type that we like to knee-jerk kick in the nostrils, but this time we’re going to sit on the shoulders of Big Brother. This time he’s got our back. Read the rest of this entry »
Northwestern's Prentice Women's Hospital
By Ella Christoph
If archaeologists wanted to excavate Chicago to discover its history, they would quickly realize digging down is far less productive than just opening your eyes and looking at the panorama of a city block. The sediment of Chicago reaches left and right, not down, and it’s by noticing one building next to another that Chicago’s turbulent history jumps out at us. The city is a jumble of homes, storefronts and skyscrapers that bring us back to before the Great Chicago Fire, back to the golden age of railroads, back to the time when internationally acclaimed architects fled Europe for the safety and capitalist progressivism of the Second City.
For archaeologists in Pompeii, the volcano was a gold mine, freezing the city in time. But imagine a different kind of destructive force, with the accuracy of a pencil eraser, deleting just one moment of a city’s past at a time. A bulldozer, tearing down what we believe future generations won’t miss—the now-ubiquitous square glass boxes of Mies van der Rohe’s protégés, the harsh concrete of Brutalism, the strange contraptions of architects excited by new materials that became ordinary almost instantaneously. This isn’t a new eraser; its sights are just set on a new comma in the paragraph of our city’s history. Read the rest of this entry »