Chicago Architecture Blog for Curious People

Theater’s Architectural Relic Discovered on State Street

May 3, 2016 by

Architectural Relic at Demolition Site

I found a pretty cool architectural relic yesterday. Clinging to the walls of the former Amalgamated Bank building on State Street are plaster details that looked distinctly like they were once in a theater. My guess was that over time the details on the bottom levels of this former theater had been scraped away for new retail space.

I found it fascinating how they are picking apart the structure of the former bank building. The project had totally demolished the building next to it, formerly a Men’s Warehouse store at 112 S. State St. And I’m always nosy when it comes to looking at buildings. By going back around to the alley, I was able to look into the site and discover this architectural relic. That’s when my hunt for the relic’s origins began.

architectural relic state street

Photo Credit: Amanda Scotese

The Orpheum Theatre

I posted my photo on the Facebook page for Forgotten Chicago last night to see what other people might think. Ends up the former Men’s Warehouse was originally the Orpheum Theatre, a vaudeville theater built in 1907.

orpheum theater state street architectural

Photo Courtesy CinemaTreasures.org

The Orpheum Theatre was one of few theaters designed by Holabird and Roche, more known for their early skyscrapers. Vaudeville was a form of variety show with anything from contortionists to burlesque comedy to dancing collie dogs. It’s incredible to imagine the laughs that once bounced off the walls of these crumbling plaster architectural relics.

From the looks of the architecture from State Street, one would have never imagined that it had once been full of hooting and hollering audiences. Well, actually the Orpheum Theatre was a little more high class than most, charging a dime instead of a nickel for entrance back in its early days. Perhaps it was a little more tame.

orpheum theatre state street

Photo Courtesy CinemaTreasures.org

It’s difficult to spot similarities between the plaster columns in the interior photo above and the current architectural relics. The columns in this historic photo do seem to have some detail underneath the capitals. Perhaps those are the garlands in the architectural relics that still survive (or at least they were surviving an hour ago when I checked!)

orpheum theatre architectural relics

Cropped Image Courtesy CTA

Vaudeville declined in popularity in the 1930s. This CTA postcard drawing from 1941 shows that the building already had been erased of its theatrical past. All the upper floors were covered with a modern white facade. Even then, it was starting to look like its last incarnation of the building, which was Men’s Warehouse.

It’s difficult to find people who wanted to capture the facade of Men’s Warehouse, so the only photos I can find other than Google Street View are protected on this website about the plans for development.

The next phase in the history of 112 S. State will be an expansion of the former Amalgamated Bank building at 100 S. State. The bank has moved to Lasalle Street. The two adjacent buildings will offer a massive retail space on a stretch of State Street that was previously interrupted by the bank. In an effort to bring State Street back to its “Great Street” glory, bigger realtors are following Target and Old Navy’s lead and moving in. But we won’t expect to see a resurgence in Vaudeville any time soon.

—Amanda Scotese, Chicago Detours Executive Director

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Who Knew There is a Pullman Porter Museum?

April 28, 2016 by

The A. Phillip Randolph Pullman Porter Museum could be one of Chicago’s most under-appreciated institutions. Frankly, I had no idea it even existed until just recently. While looking into a visit to the Pullman National Monument, I stumbled across the Pullman Porter Museum’s website. The museum was founded in 1995 to memorialize the famous Pullman porters. and their key role in the Black labor movement. Since the museum’s very existence took me by surprise, I figured it was worth looking into the both the porters and the museum itself.

Pullman porter advertisement 1910

An advertisement from the 1910’s featuring a Pullman porter.

Working as a Pullman Porter

First, let’s get into some background on the Pullman Palace Car Company, a railcar manufacturer. Beginning in the 1860’s, Pullman specialized in construction high-end passenger cars for the railways that were starting to spread like wildfire across the American landscape. Pullman decorated its passenger and sleeper cars in a luxurious style that made passengers feel like members of the Gilded Age’s elite, whether they were or not.

Now let’s define “Pullman Porter.” These were the uniformed men who serviced the passengers in the railcars. As Pullman started the company in the years immediately following the Civil War, he made a point of hiring former slaves as porters. These railcar assistants helped passengers in every imaginable way and at all hours. To name just some of their duties, porters helped passengers board the trains, handled their luggage, set up the sleeping cars, shined shoes, and served meals. Their services contributed to the image of luxury associated with Pullman.

Hiring former slaves to work as servants was not exactly politically progressive. That era was still rife with virulent and outspoken racism. One of the most common ways this racism showed up was with the calling of all Pullman porters “George.” Slaves had traditionally been named after their masters and the founder of the Pullman Company was named George. We see it today as a form of verbalized racial control for Whites, no matter their class, to call one of these porters “George.” Eventually, a joking group named the “Society for the Prevention of Calling Sleeping Car Porters ‘George'” was formed. Even then, they only spoke for white men named George who did not like being associated with Black workers.

The Pullman Porter Union and the Black Middle Class

A. Phillip Randolph Pullman porter civil rights black labor movement

A. Phillip Randolph was a leader of both the Black labor and Civil Rights movements.

By the 1920’s, the labor force of many industries across the United States were unionizing. Unfortunately, the era’s blatant racism plagued the labor movement as well. Pullman porters were barred from joining the Order of Sleeping Car Conductors, which only organized white male workers. In response, a civil rights and labor leader named A. Phillip Randolph organized the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters. It was the first labor union for African-Americans.

Pullman porters were widely respected in the African-American community. Even without a union, their visibility and pay had made them a key part of the emerging Black middle class. Because of that position, many porters and members of the community were opposed to the unionization drive. They feared the potential repercussions of overreaching. Honestly, considering the constant legal and physical harassment that African-Americans faced in this era, I understand the concerns. It’s extraordinarily tough to stick your neck out when you’re part of a persecuted minority.

The new union went to work combatting the poor working conditions and racism that Pullman porters endured. The most immediate area of concern was poor pay for the average Pullman porter. Despite working up to 20 hours a day and doing a huge variety of tasks, porters got most of their income from tips. These tips were often enough for porters to support themselves and their families, but it was hardly a guaranteed income. Black porters were also barred from being promoted to positions like conductor, which was reserved for whites. The Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters fought the Pullman company, other unions, and government regulations before winning an agreement for its members in 1935.

A. Phillip Randolph, the union’s leader and the museum’s namesake, was instrumental in both the labor and civil rights movements. Under his leadership, the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters successfully pushed for desegregation of the defense industries and military. It was also associated with the successful Montgomery Bus Boycott. Randolph was even the planner and organizer of the famous March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom in 1963. He spoke both before and after Martin Luther King’s immortal “I Have a Dream” speech.

Visit the A. Phillip Randolph Pullman Porter Museum

While I haven’t had the chance to visit the museum yet, its exhibits and activities make it seem like a key part of the new Pullman National Monument. They opened for the season on April 1st and can be toured Thursdays to Saturdays from 11am to 4pm. The main exhibits at the museum focus on the history of A. Phillip Randolph and the black labor rights movements. You’ll also find exhibits that tell stories from the Great Migration and the Civil Rights Movement.

The museum has also launched a historic registry for Pullman porters and other African-American railroad employees. The registry is collecting information about former porters and dining car waiters. With thousands of oral histories collected, the museum hopes to use the registry as a tool for enshrining and promoting the vast legacy of the Pullman porters on African-American history.

So in addition to touring the incredible historic architecture of the Pullman District, you can make sure to pop into the museum. It doesn’t have the visibility of heavyweights like the Field Museum or Art Institute, but its an important element of Chicago’s cultural institutions.

– Alex Bean, Office Manager and Tour Guide

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A Helping of Famous Chicago Food History

April 26, 2016 by

Let’s talk about famous Chicago food history to welcome the James Beard Awards to Chicago for the second year in a row on May 2nd. Considered the “Oscars of Food,” these awards will go to the best American restaurants, chefs, and bakers. Since I don’t regularly dine at Alinea, a very high-class Chicago institution, it seemed more appropriate to write up some of the working class dishes that make up so much of famous Chicago food history.

famous Chicago food history Maxwell Street Polish

Jim’s Original is no longer at Maxwell and Halsted, but it is the stand that created the Maxwell Street Polish.

Maxwell Street Polish

The Maxwell Street Polish is a beef and pork Polish sausage topped with grilled onions and yellow mustard. This bit of famous Chicago food history can be grilled or fried, which sets it apart from the tradtional Chicago Hot Dog. It originated at Jim’s Original, a food stand located at Halsted and Maxwell (duh), in the heart of the old Maxwell Street Market.

Curiously, that original Jim who is credited with inventing the Maxwell Street Polish was Macedonian. Perhaps that explains why Pawel, our resident Polish staffer, has never loved the Maxwell Street Polish. He says it’s good eating, but not authentically Polish. I guess I’ll have to take his word on that, since I am Scottish, Irish, Dutch, and German.

famous Chicago food history deep-dish pizza

Deep-dish pizza is likely the single most famous Chicago food.

Chicago Deep-Dish Pizza

I’d bet anyone a Coke that deep-dish pizza is the single most famous Chicago food. Beloved by many, hated by fools, the Chicago-style deep-dish pizza is a deliciously monstrous creation. The size and scope of these pizzas are what set them apart from standard fare. Deep-dish pizzas are made with crusts that rise 2 to 3 inches above the plate. That huge crust is filled in with a bevy of toppings and a small mountain of cheese and tomato sauce. The even-crazier stuffed pizza adds another layer of dough atop all of that, which only serves to add the structure upon which more toppings can be piled.

Tim Samuelson, Chicago’s official cultural historian, could find no consensus about who actually invented the deep-dish pizza. It was almost certainly first created at what’s now Pizzeria Uno. The thick crust likely originates from Sicilian-style pizza. The actual genius who first made this particular pie? A bevy of contenders are considered, but none can be conclusively proven.

The Chicago Hot Dog in Famous Chicago Food History

The Chicago hot dog is such a huge part of famous Chicago food history that we could write a whole article about it. Oh, wait, we have done exactly that.

Breaded Steak Sandwich

Never heard of this one? It’s fame is just starting to spread outside of Chicago’s South Side. As you can guess, the key component here is a juicy and tender breaded and fried steak. That gets slathered with sweet tomato sauce, gooey melted mozzarella, and a heap of spicy giardiniera. Supposedly a hero bun keep this whole thing together, but I have my doubts.

Last year, USA Today named the breaded steak sandwich at Ricobene’s in Bridgeport the single best sandwich in the world. Some locals disagree, but the hype is enough that Anthony Bourdain visited Ricobene’s to taste it for an upcoming episode of his CNN series Parts Unknown. Don’t be stunned if that rockets it into every diner and independent fast food joint in Chicagoland.

famous Chicago food history Mother-in-law sandwich

The Mother-in-law sandwich is a South Side speciality and an increasingly famous Chicago food. (Image credit: Southern Foodways Alliance)

Mother-In-Law Sandwich

The mother-in-law sandwich, much like the breaded steak, is a meal that hovers right on the edge of famous Chicago food history. The mother-in-law is a Chicago-style beef tamale served in a hot dog bun and covered in chili. I got to eat one on Chicago Detours’ Big Shoulders Historic Bar and Food Bus Tour, which is normally just offered for private groups. My mother-in-law sandwich from Johnny O’s was also topped with the tomato, pickle, and onions one would expect from a Chicago dog. As you can imagine, that’s a heavy-duty sandwich. In fact, it made me feel about ten pounds heavier, in a most enjoyable way. Supposedly, that’s where the name comes from – it’s the same sinking feeling in your gut that mothers-in-law are associated with.

The mother-in-law sandwich is a South Side speciality that’s been crawling into the limelight. A Smithsonian article writes about its rarity and Bourdain, again, sought it out for his TV show. He called it “the evil stepbrother of the hot dog,” and “disturbing in design, yet strangely compelling.” Sounds like an endorsement to me!

It’s unlikely that any of these dishes will be up for James Beard Awards anytime soon, but they exemplify what makes Chicago such a famous foodie hotspot.

– Alex Bean, Office Manager and Tour Guide

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Four Ideas for Corporate Team Building in Chicago

April 21, 2016 by

Team building events can be a great time or a chore, depending on what your group decides to do. As someone who has worked for both a massive company and a small local business, I can tell you that getting to know my co-workers outside of the office is always worthwhile. Heading to the closest bar to grab a drink can be fun, but I’ve found that an experience can make team building a lot more fun (and lasting) than a run of the mill open tab. Here are four unique ideas for corporate team building in Chicago.

1. Clue-based Games

Several Chicago companies offer clue-based team games, either as escape rooms or scavenger hunts. The escape scenario has been quite popular recently. Trapped in a Room with a Zombie is, well, just what it sounds like. Fox in a Box offers a similar set-up, but with smaller group sizes and more available scenarios. Being a history nerd, I am particularly intrigued by their “Bunker” scenario.

Waxwing Puzzle Company has a different angle. They unleashing teams into sprawling venues as they try to solve puzzles rather than merely survive. Any of the three are unique ideas for corporate team building in Chicago, since they create fun, high-pressure situations that encourage camaraderie.

unique ideas team building in Chicago whirlyball

A game of Whirlyball is one of suggestions for corporate team building events in Chicago. (Photo Credit: theaudettes – Flickr)

2. Games with Drinks

Of course, you may be looking for unique ideas for team building that falls between action-packed and sedate. Fortunately, Chicago has a bunch of establishments that mix fun games with drinks.

Looking for games of skill? Then a round of Whirlyball might be in order. Whirlyball is a hilariously difficult sport which “combines lacrosse, hockey and basketball with bumper cars.” The sport defies traditional athletic skill sets, which should make for an even (and terribly fun) playing field. And there’s a bar for drinks!

Of course, you can always opt for an arcade night as well. Spots like HQ Beercade, which mixed old-school arcade games with a sizable bar menu, have been popping up in the past few years. Organizing a massive tournament with games like NBA Jam or Pac-Man will thrill any child of the 80’s or 90’s. Or Logan Arcade is another fave, especially for a team pinball tournament!

3. Take a Class

Taking a group class can be a blast. Check out Dabble, which lists dozens of classes across the region. I came across topics that ranged from physical, like dance and yoga, to crafty, like woodworking and welding.

You can also track down some of the larger companies that offer one specific type of class. For example, Femme du Coupe is well-known for its cocktail-making classes. One business that caught my eye, and must certainly be among the most unique ideas for corporate events in Chicago, is a group trapeze class from Trapeze School New York (which is in Chicago).

unique ideas team building in Chicago segway tour

Segway tours may be hokey, but that makes them one of our unique ideas for corporate events in Chicago. (Photo Credit: Marcus Tacker – Flickr)

4. Take a Private Group Tour

Everyone has taken a tour, so it behooves you to find something unexpected for this sort of team building in Chicago. Try getting out of downtown with Spice of Life Tours. They offer neighborhood tours that focus on the culinary and cultural traditions in outlying neighborhoods like Chinatown and Little India.

Of course, you can always run in the opposite direction and be as touristy as possible with a Segway Tour. Absolutely Segway offers tours based on a variety of themes and locations, like Gangsters or the Museum Campus. Segway tours may sound a little hokey, but teambuilding events are hokey, right?

And of course I must mention that Chicago Detours offers private group tours by foot and by bus. Your private tour with us could take you to see sparkling mosaic ceilings, drink beers in Chicago’s oldest pub, or learn how to play blues harmonica with a live musician on a moving bus!

Any of these could make for a great team building in Chicago outing. Truth be told, half the reason I worked on this list was so that the Chicago Detours staff would have a template for our future fun, as we like to go out as a team ourselves. Maybe we’ll see you on your own adventure around town!

– Alex Bean, Office Manager and Tour Guide

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Exploring the Chicago French Market

April 19, 2016 by

A few weeks back the Chicago Detours staff had a night out at the Chicago French Market. Located near the Ogilve Transit Center in the West Loop, it’s billed as a European-inspired market. We were invited as part of a VIP event to celebrate the unveiling of new restaurants and some new additions to its decor.

Chicago French Marker produce food

Fresh produce and delectable food fill up the Chicago French Market. Photo Credit: Amanda Scotese

What’s a European-inspired Market?

Before walking into the Chicago French Market I had little idea what to expect. I didn’t think there was an equivalent to London’s sprawling and chaotic Portobello Road Market hiding in the West Loop. I knew that Elizabeth, one of my fellow tour guides, had spent years in France and speaks French. She said her understanding was that the French Market was designed to resemble the old fresh food markets like Les Halles in Paris. She also did a survey to find people who speak French at the French Market – and there are a few!

Upon arriving, I discovered that the Chicago French Market is a rather lovely space underneath the Metra tracks (with all the attendant rumbling that implies) that’s filled with locally-owned restaurants and produce sellers. For this unveiling event, we roamed around, sampled the variety of foods, and enjoyed the ambience. We dove into the food and drink with gusto, of course, while trying to suss out some more about the Chicago French Market’s history and inspiration.

Chicago French Market new

New decor and a lively atmosphere made for a fun night at the Chicago French Market. Photo Credit: Amanda Scotese

Why a French Market in Chicago?

Our Executive Director, Amanda, was able to track down Sebastien Bensidoun, the French owner of the Chicago French Market, during our visit. I’m glad that she did, because I was too busy doing “culinary research,” aka “eating.” His family has historically managed markets in France, and so Amanda asked Mr. Bensidoun, “Why Chicago?” He responded that ever since he first visited the city when he was four years old, that he has found Chicago to be incredible.

The Bensoudin family operates the largest chain of markets like these back in France and another 15 of them in New York and the greater Chicago area. The rest of the markets in the Chicago area are suburban, open-air, and seasonal – more like a farmer’s market. So the downtown Chicago French Market is a unique operation.

What’s New at the Chicago French Market?

The Chicago French Market was unveiling their recent facelift during our visit. A huge new hand-drawn mural depicts the Paris cityscape. It’s flanked with an original photograph of Buckingham Fountain and Chicago’s skyline. The imagery is an homage to Paris’s status as one of Chicago’s 28 sister cities.

The mural fits into the market’s Parisian street scene aesthetic, which is complete with authentic address plates from Paris and a historic storefront façade. New lighting and seating also give the 2009 market a fresh update. The overall effect made the space feel very relaxed and welcoming when we visited.

The Chicago Detours team had a great time at the Chicago French Market for our team outing. The highlight for Pawel may have been meeting a fellow who is the spitting image of Rick Steves. The food, of course, was superb (try the vinegar place!) and ranges from home-style meatballs made by Polpetti or sushi bowls from Aloha Poke or vegan soul food from Vegan Now. It’s definitely worth a visit if you work in the West Loop or find yourself on the West end of downtown and looking for an interesting place to grab a bite or dream of a Parisian trip.

-Alex Bean, Office Manager and Tour Guide

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Five Kids Activities in the Loop for Spring Break

April 14, 2016 by

Spring Break is finally upon us! It’s an exciting time to be a kid this week. However, Chicago’s public school parents might be stressed about figuring out what to do with all this free time. So we came up with a list of the five great kids activities in the Loop.

Maggie Daley Park Play Zone Kids Activities in the Loop

The Play Zone at Maggie Daley Park is among the most popular kids activities in the Loop.

#1: Playing at Maggie Daley Park

Maggie Daley Park, which opened back in 2014, has quickly become one of the premier kids activities in the Loop. The highlight for any kids will be the Play Zone, which covers a whopping three acres. The Play Zone is broken into six different areas. Each area caters to a different age group and they encourage diverse types of play. I walked through Maggie Daley Park last summer and couldn’t help but note that the Play Zone looks awesome. It’s been quite a long time since I ran around on a playground, but seeing those jungle gyms made me a wee bit jealous.

Plenty of other kids activities can be found in Maggie Daley Park as well. A rock-climbing wall, tennis courts, picnic lawns, and a winding walking path offer plenty of diversions. Maggie Daley Park also connects to the next entry on our list.

Crown Fountain Millennium Park Kids Activities in the Loop

Crown Fountain in Millennium Park is a delight for kids of all ages.

#2: Visiting Millennium Park

Millennium Park has been drawing crowds of kids and adults for over a decade now. Its highlight is Cloud Gate, the sculpture more popularly known as “the Bean.” (Hey, that’s my name too!) One of the great kids activities in the Loop is wandering around the Bean watching your reflection change and warp. Just a few yards away, Crown Fountain is another perpetual delight. The “spitting” faces and shallow pool make for a piece of public art for all ages. Depending on how warm it is this week, your kids may get in their first splash of the season.

Willis Tower Skydeck The Ledge Kids Activities in the Loop

Stepping onto The Ledge is a rite of passage for kids in Chicago.

#3: Stepping onto The Ledge at Willis Tower’s Skydeck

Here’s a spot for all the daredevil kids. Back in 2009, the Willis Tower’s Skydeck added a series of reinforced glass boxes. Called The Ledge, they each jut 4.3 feet out from the tower’s 103rd floor. It’s a knee-buckling experience, even as an adult. My wife still makes fun of me for being a nervous wreck when I visited The Ledge a few years back. What can I say? I’m rather scared of heights. Make sure to swallow your pride if you’re afraid of heights. Children’s’ tickets are discounted for those up to 11 years-old. The “For Kids” section of the Skydeck’s website helps nail this down as one of the essential kids activities in the Loop.

Naxy Pier Kids Activities in the Loop

Navy Pier offers a full day of kids activities.

#4: Exploring Navy Pier

Navy Pier is another mainstay for kids activities in the Loop, since its chockfull of kid-friendly attractions and distractions. Its signature ferris wheel is currently being replaced by a newer and bigger model. Look for more details about this new attraction in a future post. Despite that, there’s still plenty to do and see out on the Pier. The Chicago Children’s Museum is full of educational play experiences. If you want to an eye-popping experience with your family, then the IMAX theater is worth the higher ticket price. Of course, you can always just march your kids out to the end of the pier. The view is magnificent and the walk might wear them out.

#5: Going on the Loop Interior Architecture Walking Tour

Not to toot our own horn, but Chicago Detour’s Loop Interior Architecture Walking Tour makes for a great kids activity in the Loop. We only walk a half-mile, so little ones won’t get worn down. During that walk, we weave through the inside of famous and obscure buildings, as well as the Pedway system of underground tunnels. We’ll introduce your kids to some of the core concepts of Chicago history. They’ll also get to experience some marvelous architecture and take in historic photos and videos on an iPad. I can tell you from experience that the kids who’ve come along have had a great time.

-Alex Bean, Office Manager and Tour Guide

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The “Madhouse” Architecture of Chicago Stadium

April 12, 2016 by

The old Chicago Stadium stood on the Near West Side for nearly 60 years until it was demolished with the opening of the new United Center. In its time, the Chicago Stadium was the regular home of the Blackhawks and Bulls, hosted multiple national political conventions, and even an NFL playoff game. I was intrigued to write about Chicago Stadium because it was affectionately known as the “Madhouse on Madison.” Its architectural design, rollicking crowds, and particularly deafening acoustics made it infamous. As the NHL and NBA playoffs are about to begin, let’s explore how the architecture of Chicago Stadoum made the old venue so raucous.

architecture of Chicago Stadium interior 1930

The architecture of Chicago Stadium emphasized the vast uninterrupted interior space.

The Chaotic Architecture of Chicago Stadium

Chicago Stadium was the largest indoor arena on Earth when it opened in 1929. Its steel trusses spanned 266 feet without supports in order to provide all the fans with unobstructed views. I once watched a baseball game from behind a steel beam at the old Tiger Stadium in Detroit, so I can appreciate a design that doesn’t give an unobstructed view.

The steel trusses of the Chicago had a big impact on the acoustics and atmosphere. They lent the stadium a vast uninterrupted space that was often described as barn-like. The architecture of Chicago Stadium, which was unique for its time, meant that the crowd’s cheering could bounce off the walls and ceilings. A massive 3,663-pipe organ sound enhanced the noise. Played continuously throughout the games, the organ’s drone combined with the cheering to create a deafening cacophony. A yacht’s foghorn under the scoreboard blared in celebration when the Blackhawks scored a goal. Just thinking about the crowd, organ, and horn going at once makes my ears ring.

Noise wasn’t the only form of intimidation provided by the architecture of Chicago Stadium. The arrangement of the stands added a dizzying and overwhelming sight for visiting teams. The stadium had a triple-layer bowl design. It was uniquely large for its time, but is pretty typical in stadiums today. Beyond the sheer size, the steepness of the stands was impressive. The second and third tiers were built almost directly above the bottom bowl. This meant that the upper decks felt directly overhead from the floor. This image from a political convention at the stadium gives a sense of just how vertiginous those stands were. I found accounts from fans who said climbing that the nose-bleed seats were so high and steep that the stairs felt more like a ladder. Fans up there were infamously drunken and rowdy to boot. The brawling was such a spectacle that games were frequently stopped so that the players could watch the audience!

architecture of Chicagio Stadium exterior

The exterior architecture of Chicago Stadium should look familiar to those who have visited the United Center.

Other elements of Chicago Stadium lent it an air of barely-contained chaos. It was the first stadium to use air conditioning, but the system barely worked. Late-season games were stifling and often saw fog form above the ice. The stadium also used a confusing analog clock hanging from the ceiling. Each of the four-sides of the clock had four clock faces, which showed, respectively, the hour, time left in a period, and time left in a penalty. I cannot begin to imagine how confusing it must have been to see all four clocks running at once.

Of course, Chicago Stadium no longer exists. It was town down in 1995 after the Bulls and Blackhawks moved into the newly constructed United Center. Some of the art deco styling was carried over to the exterior architecture of the new arena. But the United Center is a modern stadium, built with corporate suites and spectator safety as paramount concerns. And it has a little more sensitivity to the acoustics! It’s a nice-enough venue, but it lacks the crazy magic of the original Madhouse on Madison.

– Alex Bean, Office Manager and Tour Guide

 

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The Story Behind Chicago’s Downtown Office Space

April 7, 2016 by

We are currently in the market for Chicago downtown office space because we must leave Chicago Detours’ home for the past 5 years. We’ve been in the historic Bennett Brothers Building at Adams and Wabash. I’ve always like this cool retro ceiling in the lobby.

downtown office space 30 E Adams

Retro ceiling in 30 E. Adams (Bennett Building) Photo Credit: Amanda Scotese

 

We have to move because of the changing real estate market in downtown Chicago. The Bennett family has sold their building – one of the last family-owned high-rises in the Loop – to a developer called CEDARst Companies. They plan to convert the 12-story building into luxury apartments for millennials, particularly college students. Now that people are willing to live in downtown Chicago again, apartment buildings are the great new way for developers to profit from downtown space.

It’s sad to go, but there are greener pastures! I’ve been shopping around for a new downtown office space and have found it fascinating. The work environment worlds differ so much between the the skyscrapers of the Loop that I’ve stepped into.

It’s been fun to enter some interesting buildings I hadn’t gone into before! Have you ever noticed the Singer Building at 120 S. State Street? Designed by Mundie and Jensen in the 1920’s, this skinny little skyscraper was built for the headquarters of Singer Corporation, the makers of sewing machines. Today it is full of lawyers clustered in cubicles. The office has lovely high ceilings and exposed brick walls, but it looks out on a dark alley. That might be tough after getting to look down at the ‘L’ for five years.

The bonus is that the lawyer who showed me around had a super gruff voice and a “horseshoe mustache,” aka the ’80s biker ‘stache. (This isn’t a picture of him here, but I shared it so you know what I’m talking about.) There’s a giant book about Harleys on his desk. I suspect he’s got a lawyer-in-a-suit-by-day and motorcycle-dude-by-night lifestyle! Lawyers never really surprise me, though. The lawyer that shares our office rollerblades from Pilsen to downtown just about everyday. Rain, snow, you name it, he sticks to his rollerblading commute. I’m not making this up!

chicago architecture skyline view

A fire escape view of downtown skyscrapers Photo credit: Amanda Scotese

I looked at a quiet floor on skyscraper mostly used by psychotherapists. It’s right on Michigan Avenue, close to where most of our public architecture tours start. Unfortunately the office had those drop ceilings that were all the rage for, well, decades. I’d rather have the ducts exposed with more space to breathe. At that building, I snuck out on a fire escape to take this shot.

I went into the CNA Building for another downtown office space. Signature Offices has smaller spaces divided, and they have killer views over Grant Park and Lake Michigan. We are a small business though, and can’t really splurge on such a luxury. But wow, could you imagine how serene the world would be looking out at that everyday?

On the more historic side of downtown office space, the Mallers Building on S. Wabash has a lovely patina to its interiors. You may know it for its “Jeweler’s Center” sign. I was happy to hear that it is a family-owned building. Constructed in 1912, the 21-story building houses the largest collection of jewelry in the Midwest. You can peak in on jewelers within the natural habitat of their workshops while walking down the glass-paneled hallways. Some of these small businesses have been here for generations, others are new immigrants from India, Africa or China. The office spaces range from sparkly bright and new, and others are time-capsule-style, with awesome mid-century furniture or cherry wood walls of the ’80s. The office I looked at even has the set-up for working with chemicals and metals.

jewelery history chicago office

A jewelry-making set-up. Photo credit: Amanda Scotese

Last and certainly not least is a building that I really hope still exists two years from now. (I say this because it will likely be torn down.) Hidden behind the Board of Trade, this 2-story dinosaur has bypassed downtown development, especially since it’s next door to the Federal Prison. The owner of the old-school Boni Vino’s, making pasta and pizza since ’67, owns the building. I walked into to a stairwell of wood paneling a la ’70s, and the faint, stale smell of cigars. I could only imagine some of the few guys left here from the days of the trading floors might be stashing a flask in their desks.

This office is really one of the most livable I’ve seen. The high ceilings and big windows on a corner are great. Check out the bars over the windows though! It’s on the second floor and it’s got this kind of security. It’s like the rough downtown Chicago of the ’80s. Well, and it is next door to the Federal Prison, let’s not forget. This corner here is one of my favorites. Preservation Chicago has put this block, aka “Little Cheyenne,” on its “Endangered List” of historic architecture that needs to be preserved.

chicago downtown office space by board of trade

Old-time office space Photo Credit: Amanda Scotese

Do you know of any office space downtown? We are a creative business. We are up for shared spaces, too! Please let us know at info@chicagodetours.com. We have to make a decision by May 31 at the very latest.

Chicago is a city that works! And its downtown office space, both the spectacular and less spectacular, shares a fascinating dimension of the Chicago’s people, industries and architecture.

— Amanda Scotese, Executive Director

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Personal Stories from “A Century at Wrigley Field”

April 4, 2016 by

a century at wrigley Cubs 100

Cubs 100: A Century at Wrigley Field by Dan Campana & Rob Carroll. Published by The History Press.

This year the Chicago Cubs are celebrating 100 years at Wrigley Field. In honor of the centenary, I’ve reviewed a new book titled Cubs 100: A Century at Wrigley. It’s a collection of personal stories and anecdotes from the millions who have watched the Cubbies play at the Friendly Confines. Three stories struck me as particularly resonant examples of why the Cubs’ century at Wrigley Field meant so much to so many.

“It Wasn’t Work for Jack”

Millions of Americans fell in love with baseball because of broadcast media. There was a magic in listening to the crack of the bat on the radio or watching the speck of a baseball fly out of the park on a grainy TV. For Cubs fans of a certain age, that magical feeling is synonymous with Jack Brickhouse. He was the play-by-play announcer for Cubs games on WGN-TV from 1948 until his retirement in 1981. His call of “Hey! Hey!” for home runs became so iconic that it adorns the foul poles at Wrigley. You might also know the memorial bust near the Tribune Tower on Michigan Avenue.

His widow, Pat, writes in Cubs 100: A Century at Wrigley that her late husband was a fan above all. Calling every play of every game for over 30 years seems like pretty trying labor to this football fan. But Brickhouse lived for it. Pat quotes him as saying “I love this job, and maybe I’ll have to go to work for a living one of these days.”

“Working at the Cathedral”

I found the perspective of the workers of Wrigley Field to be particularly interesting. Their experience is so much more routine than that of a fan. Despite the routine, the stadium and the games remained a remarkable experience for many of them. One account in Cubs 100: A Century at Wrigley comes from Tom Daly, who worked as an usher. He writes, “The fun part about it was there were people coming from all over…they were coming to Wrigley like it was a cathedral.”

Whether they were Cubs fans or not, Daly recounts that people would treat the old ballpark at Clark and Addison like hallowed ground. That really stood out, since I know even die-hard Reds and Tigers fans who treat Wrigley with reverence.

a century at Wrigley Cubs 100 crowd 1945

The crowd outside Wrigley Field during the 1945 World Series. Image from “Cubs 100: A Century at Wrigley” provided by The History Press.

A Century at Wrigley Means Millions of Fans

The book has a bevy of stories from fans from all over recounting big moments for the Cubs or themselves. Of course, the mainstay for both Wrigley Field and the Cubs are the devoted locals. The one that appealed to me the most was by Debra Ann Simon, who grew up within a few blocks of Wrigley Field. She writes that as a child “…we would go to the gate and the Andy Frain ushers would look the other way because we were kids who got out of school…[w]e’d just walk in and take an empty seat to watch the end of the game.” That sort of thing is probably impossible these days, but it’s hard to imagine a better way to create generations of devotees.

Cubs 100: A Century at Wrigley, published by Arcadia Pressis full of dozens of personalized stories like these. It provides a compelling overview of why a team with no championships since 1908 can still mean so much to so many.

– Alex Bean, Office Manager and Tour Guide

All quotations reprinted with permission from Cubs 100: A Century at Wrigley Field, by Dan Campan & Rob Carroll. 

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Four of the Oldest Buildings in the Loop

March 30, 2016 by

The oldest buildings in the Loop can be hard to find. Downtown Chicago is justly famous for its wealth of modern skyscrapers. Behemoths like the Willis Tower dominate the skyline and our attention. It always makes me feel like everything in the Loop sprang up in the middle of the 20th century. However, there are a surprising number of buildings from the 1800’s scattered around downtown Chicago. Here are four of our favorites.

Pickwick Stable Asado Coffee Chicago oldest buildings in the loop

The Pickwick Stable was rumored to be the oldest building in the Loop, but it probably isn’t. Photo Credit: Alex Bean

#1. The Pickwick Stable

According to a blog post by the Chicago Architecture Foundation, this little structure near S. Wabash and E. Jackson was once a horse stable and may have been built as early as 1857. However, more recent research has uncovered that it dates back to 1892.

If you’d like to know even more about it, the Pickwick Stable is a stop on our new 1893 World’s Fair Tour.

Since its construction a succession of much larger buildings have been built around it. They have boxed the three-story brick building into a small alley. These days its occupied by the excellent Asado Coffee Company.

#2. The Berghoff Buildings

The three distinct buildings that now house The Berghoff restaurant were constructed in 1872. That’s only a year after the Great Chicago Fire destroyed most of the Loop. These buildings are an example of the Italianate architecture that can be seen in many of the oldest buildings in the Loop. The rows of adjacent arched windows and decorative cornices are meant to evoke the architecture of the Italian Renaissance. I find it fascinating that one section of the building has a cast iron facade. It was cheaper and easier than constructing it in brick.

The Berghoff moved into one of the buildings in the early 1900s, and then their business grew to other levels and buildings. These days, the Berghoff Buildings look like munchkins next to their towering neighbors. They give us a glimmer of what the landscape of downtown Chicago looked like in the 1870s. It’s tough to imagine, but little buildings like this were once occupied much of Loop.

Berghoff Restaurant oldest buildings in the Loop

The Berghoff Restaurant is composed of three distinct buildings from the 1870’s. Photo Credit: Pawel Skrabacz

#3. The Haskell, Barker, and Atwater Buildings

This trio of buildings were constructed between 1875 and 1877. They sit on Jewelers Row along Wabash Avenue. Just like the Berghoff Buildings, they demonstrate the heavy masonry and Italiante architecture that is so common among the oldest buildings in the Loop. The three buildings are most notable for their association with famed Chicago architect Louis Sullivan. He redesigned the lower two levels of the Barker Building in 1896. His signature cast iron ornamentation on the facade is visible from clear across the street.

Amazingly, one of those designs was covered over with metal sheeting in the 1920’s and was only rediscovered in 2008 when Harboe Architects was restoring the buildings. I am a huge fan of Sullivan’s work, so it’s a treat to see his work here and connect it with his more famous work on the Sullivan Center facade a block away on State Street,

Dearborn Building Chicago oldest buildings in the Loop

The Delaware Building, at Lake and Dearborn, was built immediately after the Great Chicago Fire. Photo Credit: Alex Bean

#4. The Delaware Building

The Delaware Building might be the most heavily-used of the oldest buildings in the Loop. It was completed in 1872, during the frenzied reconstruction of the Loop. For anyone who has been on our Loop Interior Architecture Walking Tour, the Delaware was once a neighbor to the now-demolished McCarthy Building on Block 37.

I found that the biggest difference between the Delaware’s architecture and the other Italianate post-fire buildings written about here is its construction material. Unlike its contemporaries, the facade here is made of pre-cast concrete. That’s one of the most common materials in construction today, but was ahead of its time in 1872. The Delaware Building sits on prime real estate at Randolph and Dearborn. It’s in the midst of the Loop Theater District and is kiddy-corner from Daley Plaza. You may recognize it as the old-looking building with a shiny bright McDonald’s.

Many other 1800’s buildings dot downtown. These four stand out as easily located and notable landmarks. You can use them as a starting point on your own quest for the oldest buildings in the Loop.

-Alex Bean, Office Manager and Tour Guide (more…)

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