Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Fall comes to the North Shore

Fall leaves from Sheridan Road and elsewhere along Lake Michigan's northern shore.

The North Shore, from Evanston on up to Winnetka, is an unbelievable assemblage of wealth. Mansion after mansion lines Sheridan Road as it winds its way up the lake. Compared to the urban hustle of Chicago just a few miles south, the area is unbelievably sylvan and tranquil.

The houses are pretty unbelievable, and there's quite a few of architectural interest, but for now, let's just enjoy the pretty colors, shall we?

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Unable to get its way, Chicago smashes all its toys and goes home

The Gropius in Chicago Coalition reports that Chicago has finally acknowledged Walter Gropius's role in designing the Michael Reese campus, and has therefore decided to save... one building.


I still don't get it. Did all those fancy words during the Olympic bid about Chicago's great cultural heritage mean nothing?

Sunday, October 18, 2009

3550 Lake Shore Drive

If you drive down LSD enough at night, you've seen this striking MidCentury lobby.

3550 Lake Shore Drive

It joins two massive 1962 apartment towers at 3550 Lake Shore Drive. Though the folded plate roof is modestly interesting, it wouldn't be enough to make the lobby a real show stopper. What does the trick is the abstract sculpture running the length of the lobby.

3550 Lake Shore Drive

Clearly visible from the rushing highway, the work is by prolific sculptor Abbott Pattison. Its abstract shapes transform what would otherwise be a plain glass and stone lobby into a quintessentially 1960s mode of expression, and a highlight to be watched for as one flies down LSD.

3550 Lake Shore Drive

3550 Lake Shore Drive

Wednesday, October 14, 2009


Dragon parade!

Chicago's Chinatown is an awkwardly formed place. It can be difficult to find, for one thing. And once there, it's easy to visit and come away thinking that the whole of it is contained on its main street, Wentworth Avenue. Certainly, it has most of the showstopper/predictably Chinese-styled architecture:

Chi-town meets Chinatown

Wentworth Avenue

Chinatown perspective

Chinatown detail

There's a lot more to the area geographically, though. West of Wentworth, a fairly typical older Chicago neighborhood is all that's left of the original streets of the area, severely hacked away by several surrounding freeways. Architecturally, it's of little note, but pleasant enough.

Chinatown's business district spills out along Cermak as well, though the street's large size and busy traffic make it intimidating to cross and essentially make these blocks isolated and inert compared to bustling Wentworth.

Cermak Road, Chinatown

North of Cermak, a strangely underdeveloped triangle of land framed by Archer, Wentworth and Cermak is even more isolated, despite being a necessary bridge between Wentworth and the nearby Chinatown Square mall.

Chinatown Square Mall

The mall is a recent development, dating back to the 1980s. It thrives despite a somewhat fortress-like attitude toward its neighborhood. It seems to offer virtually no connection to the adjacent streets, but a large central plaza -- maybe too large -- invites visitors to cross Archer and come explore. And once you're in, it's a small city of its own, filled with bustling restaurants and shops of every stripe.

Chinatown mall

NO!  Panhandlah, PLEASE.

Chinatown Square Mall storefront

Empty land... for now

An entire new neighborhood has risen north of Archer in recent years, on former railroad territory. Of course, it wouldn't be Chicago if it didn't involve marching ranks of nigh-identical buildings, but there are some interesting and pleasant spaces among them, and the decorative tastes of the owners leaves no doubt as to what part of town you're in.

Chinatown backyard detail

Chinatown courtyard

Chinatown backyard

And finally, there's the lovely Ping Tom Memorial Park along the river. Surrounded by active and busy railroads on three sides (including one that regularly cuts off the only route in and out of the park), it's not exactly a perfect oasis, but it has lovely views of the South Branch and the downtown skyline in the distance, and its winding paths are almost long enough to get away from it all.

Ping Tom Memorial Park

Ping Tom Memorial Park

Ping Tom Memorial Park

These photos and more can be seen large at my Flickr space.

Monday, October 12, 2009

St. Gertrude Church

St. Gertrude (9613 Schiller Boulevard, Franklin Park, west side) isn't all that striking from the outside. It has bold massing and a strange hipped A-frame structure that makes it resemble a giant tent, but everything on the outside essentially exists to service the spaces inside.

St. Gertrude Church

And what spaces they are!



With its Flagrantly Fifties styling and decor, St. Gertrude has become one of my favorite local churches.

It's not just decorative flash, either. The architects pull a pretty slick little trick with the side aisles. Though the walls are a solid mass descending from the ceiling, they suddenly stop about ten feet from the floor, leaving only slender tapered columns to hold up the towering height above. The openings allow the floor space to expand outward, where a solid wall of stained glass creates a beautiful space.

Side wall stained glass

Because so much visual and actual weight is crushing down on those columns, you kind of expect something similar to be happening with the side aisles. I stared at that stained glass side wall for a very long time, trying to figure out what held up the roof. Turns out the thicker window mullions are structural -- there's nothing above the ceiling, and no other columns anywhere.

As if that wasn't enough, the balcony floats freely across the sanctuary, a bridge supported only at its ends, as seen in the sanctuary view at top.

Rear wall stained glass

The lovely stained glass was designed by Peter Recker for Conrad Schmit Studio. A cavalcade of Judgement Day images cascades down the rear wall of the sanctuary (and you can tell Recker is fighting against that grid of window mullions -- look how Jesus's head is located just off-center), but it's the sidewalls that I love best, where light is filtered through a dazzling array of abstract color patterns.

Side wall stained glass

Recker also did the Stations of the Cross.


Double trumpet lamps

The curved wall behind the crucifix bears a startling resemblance to the focal point in the chapel of St. Joseph Hospital, and sure enough, it's by the same architecture firm, Belli & Belli, who were responsible for a lot of the most awesomely crazy Modernist buildings in Chicago and its suburbs.

Plenty of spaces beyond the sanctuary offer interest as well. The protruding wings contain foyer space and stairwells to the balcony. The stairs are floating masses of terrazzo, with stylized railings, rising alongside a wall flecked with a grid of small window openings. Elaborately worked iron gates stand nearby as well.

Balcony stair

The east wing contains the only real aberration in the building; a bathroom has been rather clumsily and awkwardly shoehorned into the end of the wing, complete with a false ceiling that one can look down on from the stairs. On the balance, it's a minor complaint, though.

I love a lot of church buildings, but this is one of the few that keeps me going back again just to absorb its spaces and soak in its architectural glory.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Empty Midcentury on Broadway

Piser Weinstein Menorah Chapel, 5206 N. Broadway, aka Furth Chapels

Midcentury funeral home

It's not a dazzling building, but its jumble of massing is intriguing. Each function of the building seems to have its own articulation, even its own facade material. And it's hard to fully judge a Modernist building when the windows are boarded over.

The funeral home appears to have operated into 2002, before moving to a new location in Skokie. Since then it's been vacant and boarded up, with a developer planning ot turn the land into new residential development.

Midcentury funeral home

Given its former use, the odds of this little Midcentury piece surviving are pretty slim. As detailed in an article in Chicago Real Estate Daily, the economic slowdown is the only reason the building is still standing.

Broadway at Foster

Doomed along with it is this vacant turn of the century apartment house with retail in the base.

I'm sure the would-be developers imagined a massive apartment/condo blockbuster building, similar to others that have gone up along other sections of Broadway in recent years. But with the scent of the money trail gone cold, couldn't some thought be given to finding a new use for this little slice of 1960s style? Much of the lot is empty land. A small outbuilding is the only structure on the northern half of this large city lot -- plenty of room for new and old to co-exist.