Monday, October 31, 2011

A Biker's Guide to Riding Metra


I've spent much of 2011 taking my bike on Metra trains daily, so I feel qualified to offer up some tips for anyone considering taking a bicycle on Metra:

1) Check the schedule! Before you leave the house, make sure you're heading for a train that allows bikes (basically, everything except morning rush hour heading into town, and evening rush hour heading out of town.)

In particular, make sure it's not a blackout date - Metra is terrible about publicizing bike blackout dates. If you don't do your homework, your only warning will be when the conductor barks "NO BIKES!" at you on the platform, leaving you with only seconds to either lock your bike on the platform and leave without it, or skip the train entirely.


2) Bikes are last on, and last off. Wait till everyone else is on the train before boarding. Wait till everyone else is out of the passenger compartment before rolling out. It's the rules, and it's just plain polite. You're likely to whack someone with a pedal or handlebar if you're in the middle of a crowd of people getting on or off. Don't worry - the train will not leave without you.

3) Have a bungee cord with you. They're incredibly cheap at Target or Walmart. The rules require you to strap your bike to the bottom rails. I see bikers routinely using U-locks, chains, or cloth straps for the same purpose, but it's incredibly awkward and time consuming - particularly annoying when someone else needs to put their bike on top of yours.

4) Unless you're going to the end of the line, stay with your bike. Or at least pay attention to it. People with bikes are constantly getting on and off, all up and down the line. If you reach your stop and haven't been paying attention, you may find another bike on top of yours. Likewise, your bike might end up blocking someone else's.

5) Take 3 seats only - park all the way back. The handicapped/bike/luggage area contains 5 fold-down seats. A bike can easily fit on top of only three of them, if you push it all the way against the compartment wall (toward the door.) It's rude and thoughtless to take up 4 or even 5 seats when three will do the trick - but I see it happen all the time.

Also, tuck your bike tight against the seats. The pedal that's against the car wall should go under the rail so the bike is upright and fully against the wall.

6) Don't block the aisle. For better or worse, a lot of people choose to move around and between cars right before reaching a stop. Bikers who have just unstrapped their bike often stand in the middle of the aisle waiting for the train to stop, oblivious to people in the aisle behind them.

7) Listen to the conductor's instructions. On the trains, they are God, and what they say goes. Yes, sometimes some of them are assholes, and that sucks. But arguing with them won't help. Seriously - I've seen it tried.


And while I'm at it, a couple of tips for non-biker passengers:

1) Move for the bikers. If you're in the folding seats, the biker has the right to boot you out. Don't complain, don't grumble, don't be an ass about it - in fact, you shouldn't even have to be asked. There's dozens of seats on every car, but only one place where bikes can go. If you see a bike coming on board, be gracious and move to another seat. Is it fair? I don't know, but that's the chance you took when you sat on the folding seats. There's a sign right there announcing it.

2) Don't hang out in the vestibule. The vestibule is for people getting on and off the train, and you're in the way - especially for people trying to haul a bike out the door.

Metra 102

Monday, October 17, 2011

Purple Hotel on the Wane

The unmistakable, can't-miss-it building at the corner of Touhy and Lincoln has housed a number of different hotel chains over the decades, but it has long been known by its most obvious description: The Purple Hotel.

Purple Hotel
March 2006

Planned as the Hyatt-Lincolnwood, the Hyatt House-Chicago broke ground in January 1961, on the site of the Allgauers Fireside restaurant at Lincoln and Touhy, destroyed by fire in 1958. One year later, on January 17, 1962, the Hyatt House opened with a ballroom, conference spaces, an outdoor pool, and a million dollar Ray Foley restaurant. Architects for the hotel were Hausner and Mascal, with Freidman, Alschuler and Sincere designing the restaurant.

April 2008

The place did fine into the 80s, when it was sold by the Hyatt and began a series of name changes. The Purple Hotel monicker was finally made official in 2004 by an independent operator.

The Purple Hotel

Through it all, the Purple Hotel has acquired a rather legendary history in the annals of sleepy Lincolnwood. It was a swinging hot spot in its early days, hosing a variety of performers. In 1983, it was the site of the gangland execution of a mobster. Just a few years ago, convictions were handed down regarding sex parties held at the hotel. And most recently, its rampant building code violations forced the hotel to close in 2007, and have since made it the subject of considerable legal wrangling, as the city of Lincolnwood moves to have it demolished.


April 2008

August 2010

In the meantime, the Purple Hotel has gone downhill, fast. The pool courtyard is choked by weeds growing six feet tall. Windows are broken. Doors are kicked open. Carpets are torn out. The interior partitions are rotting, and mold is reportedly all over the place.



The hotel does have some architectural value, as Lee Bay recently pointed out. The exposed structure gives it a nice rhythm, and those massive windows on the guest rooms just don't get done anymore. A few elements here and there give it some added 60s funk, not least of which are the titular glazed purple bricks themselves.



To make it work as a hotel, an operator would have to think way beyond the norm. This building, hanging out in the middle of nowhere in terms of public transit, amenities and attractions, is a non-starter as a standard hotel. The only hope, marketing-wise, would be to capitalize on the building's funky style and swinging history, and go all-out with a completely crazed renovation. Either total Mid Century classic 1960s style - maybe even a 1950s streamline mode - or else a completely contemporary treatment rendered in shades of purple. Purple neon, purple understair lighting, purple translucent backlit panels, curving purple reception desk, an internally glowing purple bar with bottles lining purple-backlit glass shelves.

Is Lincolnwood ready for an over-the-top celebration of its own history? Somehow I doubt it.


  • Purple Hotel at American UrbEx blog

  • Purple Razed? - Lee Bay

  • The Eyesore That Is the Purple Hotel -

  • The Purple Hotel - Global Traveler Blog

  • Decrepit Purple Hotel Outstays Its Welcome - Sun-Times
  • Friday, October 14, 2011

    Open House Chicago - this weekend!

    Over a hundred buildings are open to the public this weekend as part of Open House Chicago, a city-wide architectural tour. It's free and runs Saturday and Sunday. Don't miss out!

    Monday, October 10, 2011

    Two little theaters

    Two of Chicago's earliest surviving movie theaters - the Park Manor Theater and the New Devon Theater - were built in a similar material palette, a common scheme of white glazed brick with dark green glazed brick trim. It's an often-seen style from the years just before World War I. I will cover it more expansively in a later post; however, in the process of researching these two, I came across so much info that it seemed fair to give them their own separate writeup.

    Both were relatively small houses, running what the Tribune referred to as "photo plays". They were built at the declining end of the nickelodeon era, when features were short, admission was five cents, and "talkies" were still over a decade away. These smaller theaters often could not compete against the much larger movie palaces which began appearing only a few years later, though some stayed in business into the 1950s or later.


    In Rogers Park, the short-lived New Devon Theater, 1618 W. Devon Avenue, was built in 1912 (previously covered in this post.) Among its earliest listings were the photoplay The Diamond from the Sky, a drama hyped with a full-page ad in the Tribune. The New Devon only lasted a few years as a theater, and housed a series of businesses in the following decades. The first was a Ford auto dealership in the 1920s, the Hughey Motor Company.

    The former theater included a residence during the Depression (one tenant died in 1940; another was busted in 1948 for operating gambling equipment in Northbrook), and served as a meeting hall for the 50th Ward Republican Party (where a 1939 speaker histrionically declared that the "New Deal-communist alignment [has] made the Democratic party the party of dept, depression, disorder, and destruction. For many years the democrats have been destroying the country.")


    In 1941 it housed the Rogers Park chapter of America First, an anti-war group which had trouble finding lodgings in the area due to landlords' fear of being seen as pro-peace while war raged in Europe. The group had been summarily kicked out of another meeting space after only a few weeks of occupancy, no reasons given.

    By 1952, it appears to have been home to Devon-Clark Radio, which changed to Devon-Clark Television by 1954, an electronics store selling Westinghouse electronics, air conditioners ("Sleep in an ice cube on hot muggy nights", only $2.66 a week!) and other goods - though some ads list the address as 1612 Devon, a different building entirely. Want to give them a call to check? The number is Ambassador 2-3081.


    The former New Devon Theatre has been the Assyrian American Association since 1963. The one-time competitor that put it out of business, the Ellantee Theater, is visible just down the street and today houses Clark-Devon Hardware.

  • New Devon Theater at Cinema Treasures

  • On the south side, the old Park Manor Theater, 321 E. 69th Street, opened in early 1914 and lasted till 1950 as a theater.
    321 E. 69th Street
    Its early screenings in 1914 included serials such as The Adventures of Kathlyn (also showing at the New Devon). A Tribune listing notes the theater among contributors to relief funds in the wake of the Eastland disaster on the Chicago River in 1915; the theater commonly ran the Selig-Tribune newsreel ("The World's Greatest News-Film", according to their ads; again, also showing at the New Devon). A 1970 column and response letter sees old residents of the neighborhood reminiscing about their childhoods, with the Park Manor's nickel-a-show serials and Punch and Judy shows figuring prominently.

    In 1937, it was involved in a discrimination suit for refusing to sell tickets to a black couple. In November 1950, the theater was listed for sale and described thus:
    378 seats, fully equipped, including $800 popcorn machine; lobby and front need painting, a few seats need repair, otherwise in first class condition. Oil heat, washed air heating and cooling system, double Western Electric sound, new projector head, new strong low intensity arc lamps, rectifiers and Martin converter, new $150 per month...a real opportunity for the right party.

    Alas, the $800 popcorn machine would not see service here again; the building was home to the Philadelpha Church by 1961, followed by the Grace Eden Church - both African-American congregations, ironically (or perhaps fittingly) enough. At some point during this era, it gained a low-budget but funky Midcentury colored window across its entrance.

    In 1961 it served as a back-up site for a "mixed revival" - a racially integrated prayer rally - which was disrupted by mob violence and broken up by police at its original location at the Ogden Theater, ostensibly on grounds of the building being unsafe. Threatened by demolition in 1967, it nonetheless has survived to the present, currently housing the First Born General Assembly Church.

  • Park Manor Theater at Cinema Treasures
  • Monday, October 3, 2011

    St. Priscilla Catholic Church


    It's nothing mind-blowing from the outside, but if you know how to read your MidCentury vocabulary, you can tell there's going to be great things inside. St. Priscilla Church (6949 W. Addison, 1957) does not disappoint.

    Chapel hallway

    The entry hall is a long, narrow rectangular space, which extends beyond the main body of the building to form the baptistry, demarcated only by gates. This thin structure has walls of stained glass on both sides, with bold, flowing abstract designs that alternate large areas of clear glass with color.

    Stained glass detail

    The sanctuary is a large space, with high flat ceilings and walls adorned only by flecks of light (an approach used in St. Louis at St. Catherine of Sienna church, among others.)


    Side wall

    Below, the stained glass windows continue the same sweeping wave-like forms seen in the chapel.


    And the motif culminates in the rear window, where Saint Priscilla herself presides over the sanctuary.


    Behind the altar, a massive metal screen rises up to a round skylight.



    The sanctuary can be a rather moody place, depending on the time of day and how many lights are left on. But it is always beautiful.


    The siting of the church lends it additional presence - it sits at the head of the T-shaped intersection of Addison and Sayre.

    From the north

    A school and newly completed convent already stood on the site in 1956, when Rev. Aloysius Hinterberger led the drive for a new building. Fund raising for the church building began based on a budget of $750,000 (later upped to $900,000). The new building was constructed by Charles B. Johnson & Sons, the general contractor. The new structure was dedicated on Christmas Eve, 1957. Among it better known congregants was builder Albert Schorsch, who developed large swaths of northwestern Chicago.

    Today St. Priscilla Catholic Church provides Mass in both English and Polish.

  • St. Priscilla Church site