Monday, September 29, 2008

Saint John Bosco Catholic Church

I'm a sucker for a good Midcentury Modern church, especially if it's really over-the-top. So when I learned that the guy who did the St. Joseph Hospital chapel (Edo J. Belli) had done a church on the west side, I knew I had to pay a visit.

Saint John Bosco Church

Repetition carries the day in this boxy building, as concrete piers with exposed aggregate march along, rounded at the bottom to emphasize the lightness of the wall, and infilled with faceted glass windows.

Saint John Bosco Church - side door

The most inviting entry is on the side, surmounted by a stained glass Christ and finished with tiny golden-bronze polished tile. Its massive round shape calls to mind "portal" more than "door". Within, a massive statue greets arriving worshipers.

Saint John Bosco Church - main foyer

Of course, the view back toward the door is impressive as well.

Saint John Bosco Church - side door

Within, the sanctuary is utterly plain, the only ornament being the stained glass itself, its sunset hues and marching rhythm. I did not get long to explore; the service started just moments after I arrived (though people kept coming. I never saw so many people show up late for church. Seriously, five minutes after the service had begun, they were still streaming in the doors.)

Saint John Bosco Church - sanctuary

Saint John Bosco Church - side aisle

I'm sad I couldn't spend more time in the sanctuary, but it was still well worth the trip!

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Berwyn National Bank

After a while, you know the look -- the ancient boards, the removal of the surrounding plants, the fence. You look at a building, and you know... it's coming down. That was my impression upon seeing the old Berwyn National Bank this afternoon, out west on Cermak.

Berwyn National Bank

It didn't help that the rest of the block (known locally as "Superblock" for some reason) was vacant and covered with gravel, the mark of recent clearance.

Berwyn National Bank

And... gah! Look at that Coming Soon poster! Where's the old building? Are they planning to tear it down? How can they tear this down?! This is an outrage! I demand justice! I demand accountability! Have they no sense of history? No appreciation of fine art?! No interest in developing the sense of place that defines ---

....But where's the old building?!?

---oh, they're not tearing it down? Huh.

Sure enough, renovation plans are in the works for this monumental old bank building. Huzzah! It's a show stopper, and it'd be a terrible shame to lose it.

Berwyn National Bank

Security - Strength - Stability indeed. Long may they endure!

- Superblock Redevelopment Agreement Approved by Berwyn City Council
- Gaper's Block - Berwyn's Bank Building Battle

Third time's a mystery

It's already been explained to me that the gleaming while terra cotta buildings are former Jewel Grocers from the 1930s.

Devon Avenue - Kamdar Plaza groceries

But what could these have been?
3rd cousin
W. Belmont Avenue

Bryn Mawr
W. Bryn Mawr Avenue

Devon Avenue
Devon Avenue

They're all variations on the same theme. A chain? An architect recycling a good idea? Or something else?

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Central and Belmont

I love setting out on long, aimless bike rides with my camera. The thrill of discovery awaits, particularly as I venture further and further from the familiar areas around Rogers Park.

I went on such a ride this afternoon, voyaging miles westward along Foster, then eventually veering south on Central, where I found a bevy of my beloved geometric glass block.

The sun was almost down, and I had accepted that the trip was nearly over... but something kept pulling me southward along Central Avenue -- perhaps the promise of "just one more". And so it was that I made my prize discovery of the day: the intersection of Central and Belmont.

Belmont at Central

The light was poor, and I was too impatient to set up really good shots, but I have to share it anyway. What an amazing intersection! It is anchored by excellent buildings on all four corners.

On the northeast, the Korbakes Building:
Korbakes Building

Northwest, the spectacular Belmont-Central Building, which unfortunately looks like it has lost some of its roofline:
Belmont Central Building

Southwest, the Boolookas Building. Boolookas! I think my parents used to threaten to smack me on the boolookas if I misbehaved as a child.
Boolookas Building

And on the southeast corner, the prize jewel, a nameless Art Deco building:
Deco Building

Art Deco building

The intersection is the heart of (no surprise) the Belmont Central neighborhood. Both streets are densely developed in both directions for many blocks, and the area's Polish heritage remains visible today.

Central Avenue

I am looking forward to going back when the sun is above the horizon.

Glass block hunt

Some fine results this afternoon from a lengthy ramble out Foster and Bryn Mawr, then south along Central Avenue:

Bohemian National Cemetery

4453 N. Central Avenue

N. Central Avenue at Bryn Mawr

Somewhere way out west on Belmont

Still no progress on finding out who manufactured these things, and how they wound up being so prolific throughout 1960s Chicago.

Friday, September 26, 2008

1325 N. Dearborn

When you have a ten mile commute across solid city, there's a lot of ways you can go. Daily I discover different routes, new places I've never seen before or always wanted to find again.

One such trip home this week turned up the Old Town stretch of Dearborn Street. Together with its Rivernorth stretch, Dearborn is a cornucopia of Richardsonian Romanesque, which I intend to cover as soon as I can get the right photos. Meanwhile, here's this little gem, on the leafy 1300 block.

1325 N. Dearborn

The handy-dandy AIA Guide identifies it as the Lucius B. Mantonya Flats, from 1887, by Curd H. Gottig. Lucius! Curd!

1325 N. Dearborn

Moorish arches, with the little bit of return curve at the bottom, give it an exotic flair. Stained glass and leaded glass adorn the many windows.

1325 N. Dearborn

It's a diamond among rubies in this tony and historic section of town.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

The long view

Oh, Chicago! It'd take a lifetime to know you through'n'through. Details and delights continue to unfold around me on a daily basis. Unnoticed ornament, secret pathsways, hidden spaces... the city's wonders, charms and quirks are endless.


Today I noticed this terra cotta boss on the building at 203 N. Wabash Avenue. With the sun falling just so, he appears to be rolling his eyes in exasperation. He sits on a wall with profuse ornament, floral and geometric designs that make the first three stories of the building a sheer joy to pass by. How many of the city's rushing workers and scrambling tourists have seen him before me, and how many never took the time to look? Such long contemplation is the luxury of living and working in the core of a great city -- the time to absorb the breadth and depth of all its treasures.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Rambling thoughts from a rambling ride

Junkyard dog

At the end of an afternoon of wandering across the city's south side with bike and camera, I made my way east on 47th Street, seeking the Red Line as the sun dropped behind me. Suddenly I heard a strange clonking noise from my left. I look, and there's this fellah, galloping after me on his metal rooftop. For a second I'm worried, but then I realize that the drop and a barbwire fence are keeping us safely separated. I stopped to photograph a colored glass block building across the street, and he soon lost interest in me.

...until I moved again to get a better shot. Then he came galloping right back. He never made a sound, never barked once, but the sound of him on that metal roof would ensure that anyone trying to cross the fence would know about him, and know they were being watched with great interest.

The area he's guarding is part of a huge swath of industrial land, a square mile or more where the street grid vanishes between 47th and Pershing, Ashland and Halsted. Scanning my tattered old street map on the train trip home, I was amazed by the volume of railroad tracks running through this area. Railroads carve up the city's street grid to an amazing degree, putting the lie to the notion of easy travel through the city. I was very amused by a map at the 47th Street Red Line station showing the city streets as if they were a solid, unbroken grid. Ha!


Thursday, September 4, 2008

Robie House to close for renovation

Frank Lloyd Wright's landmark Robie House is slated to close for extensive interior renovations starting in November, as announced publicly in a neighborhood newspaper today.

New Era for Robie House

"And so this is the view that Mr. Goodman wound up with."

The house is currently open daily for volunteer-led tours. Renovation at the house has been ongoing for several years; visitors to the house witness the construction in progress, and at times various rooms have been closed off and unavailable. The Frank Lloyd Wright Preservation Trust, which operates the house, recently secured a $5 million dollar loan, allowing renovations to speed up. However, the expanded construction schedule means that the house will be completely closed off for the first time since tours began nearly ten years ago.

Much remains unknown about the operational changes that are planned when the house re-opens; the article from the Hyde Park Herald speaks of not re-hiring the current guest services staff, and mentions the possibility of "all-day events" and renting the house out. How this will affect public access to the house (which, after preservation and restoration, is the Trust's primary mission), and how it will affect the Trust's goal of operating the house as a museum, remains to be seen.

It appears the house may be closed for well over a year, based on a 2010 re-opening date mentioned in the article.