Chicago Architecture Blog for Curious People

Chicago Board of Trade Sculptures Mystery…Sort Of

April 24, 2014 by

Ever hear of the curious disappearing act of two five-ton Greek goddess sculptures from the Chicago Board of Trade? These ladies adorned the entrance of the CBOT building that was demolished before the current art deco skyscraper was built. During demolition, the statues went missing and were rumored to have been destroyed. Then, almost fifty years later, they were found in the Forest Preserve District of Dupage County, and now they stand in a little plaza next to the current Chicago Board of Trade. A plaque next to them says they were “thought lost forever.” How did they travel across town? Why did they go missing? And how did they end up back ? I decided to do some digging.

cbot sculptures plaza jackson street chicagoDuring the 1920s, many buildings in downtown Chicago had become archaic and thus met the wrecking ball. When this craggy building, designed by architect William W. Boyington of the Chicago Water Tower, was to be erased from the Chicago skyline, the newspaper media showed more interest in the continuation of business as usual than any nostalgia of the past. A temporary facility for the Chicago Board of Trade was ready in an already-built structure before the wrecking ball struck, to help make a seamless transition from demolition to the grand, new art deco skyscraper, designed by architects Holabird and Root. On the last day of the old Board of Trade, traders ended work promptly at 2pm to immediately march to the new location with a marching band playing the sad tune of “Taps,” aka “Day is Done.” With everyone so eager to keep business moving, who would stop to salvage any wreckage from the past? In fact most of the articles I found use that very word, “wrecked,” to describe the rubble of the 1885 building.

goddess sculpture cbot history

While the Greek goddesses didn’t receive any attention in the newspaper articles I consulted, one relic was indeed of great interest to be saved from the destruction. The workers tearing down the building made great care to save the cornerstone. Rumors said that the cornerstone of the Chicago Board of Trade contained gold. Workers scrambled through the rubble to be the first to uncover the potentially valuable container. One worker eventually found it, cracked open its strong box, only to find some old newspapers. The most valuable part was the copper used to bind the box to the cornerstone. No gold, and no mention of our Greek goddess sculptures among the reports of demolition.

Chicago Board of Trade sculpture jackson streetBut I found a clue in a Chicago Tribune article published in 1928, a year before the demolition. The article details that a man named Arthur W. Cutten had an affinity for some of the architectural relics from Boyington’s 1885 Board of Trade building. Cutten was an incredibly wealthy grain operator known as the “Corn King.” He reigned as one of the few men “associated with tremendous deals in grain” during the Chicago Board of Trade’s first forty years. The article reports that the original Board of Trade had stained glass windows which were salvaged and sold to our Corn King. He considered them for “not only their artistic value, but also as mementos of the old board.” It was here that the article mentioned in one sentence that “Mr. Cutten has also asked for the two large statues, representing Labor and Commerce, which stood above the Jackson Boulevard entrance.” Cutten got the statues and supposedly had them transported via wagon to adorn the land of his “Sunny Acres Farm” in Glen Ellyn.

So why does the plaque say the Greek sculptures were “lost forever” when there is documentation that Cutten got his hands on them?

chicago board of trade history plaque plazaTime passed. While under indictment for tax evasion, Cutten died. Though the federal government tried to get their money, Sunny Acres was the property of his widow. She was left with just about nothing, so she sold it to another big swindler in Chicago history –  William “Bill” Johnson. Johnson’s mother lived on the estate, while Johnson managed around 40 gambling halls in the city. He too got caught for tax evasion in the amount of $2,000,000, but got away with paying $250,000. The land changed hands again, until finally the Dupage Forest Preserve bought the land in 1978. By that time, decades had past since Cutten’s day and the statues had been long forgotten. They were discovered hidden behind some white pines, and partially buried in dirt.

After the discovery, the statues were moved to Danada Forest Preserve in Wheaton where they took center stage in a 1991 sculpture exhibit held and stood until 2005. It was in the early 2000s that the Chicago Board of Trade board members got wind of their existence from a Forest Preserve newsletter. They then suggested the return of the sculptures. It was perfect timing for the renovations of the plaza next to the Chicago Board of Trade  building on Jackson Street.

So the real mystery here is not the mystery of how the statues ended up in Glen Ellyn. The mystery of these sculptures is why their historic marker says they were ever a mystery at all!

– Jenn Harrman and Amanda Scotese

Posted in Architecture, Chicago history, Chicago Loop, History | Leave a comment
end of post

The Musical Chicago Story of the Mecca Flats

April 23, 2014 by

The loss of historic architecture, such as Chicago’s Mecca Flats, is not unusual in an ever-changing city. Some the great architecture of Chicago stands on sites of buildings that we would be sad to know are now gone – if we had indeed ever been familiar with their architectural spaces. After guiding one of our Loop Interior Architecture Walking tours, I checked out the special exhibit at the Chicago Cultural Center right now that pays homage to the incredible history of the now-gone Mecca Flats. This building in Chicago’s Bronzeville neighborhood was on the site of Mies van der Rohe’s S.R. Crown Hall. The exhibit, curated by Chicago Cultural Historian Tim Samuelson, uses photographs, music, ephemera and artifacts to share the story of this fascinating building over its 60-year history.

This story begins with its building in 1891 on State Street at 34th Street. Lesser-known architects Willoughby J. Edbrooke and Franklin Pierce Burnham (no relation to famous architect Daniel Burnham) designed this luxurious hotel for visitors of the upcoming 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition. While it may not be considered a masterpiece of Chicago architecture, the building had an interesting design. Skylights capped the two wings of the U-shaped hotel to create brightly lit open corridors with public space for mingling. After the World’s Fair, the the Mecca Flats became an apartment building, and home to the African Americans coming to Chicago in search of a new life during the Great Migration.

mecca flats chicago jazz blues

1945, Paul Eduard Miller and Richard M. Jones. State street on 1920s map of Chicago jazz spots. Photo Credit: Jenn Harrman

With this movement of blacks from the South to Chicago also came the arrival of jazz and blues, and the Bronzeville neighborhood was the heart of the Chicago blues and jazz scene. Nightclubs lined State Street, between 31st and 35th Street, which was also known as “The Stroll.” We share some great background on this area on our “Jazz, Blues and Beyond Bus Tour,” which we offer once a year to the public during Blues Fest weekend in June. And many musicians lived in the Mecca Flats, and they had jam sessions in the light courts and the social spaces that were originally designed for the hotel.

A blues favorite titled the “Mecca Flat Blues” tells to the hardships and woes of living in the flats.

Mecca flats Crown hall chicago cultural center exhibit

Mecca Flat Blues exhibit at the Chicago Cultural Center. Photo Credit: Jenn Harrman

After World War II, the newly formed Illinois Institute of Technology, previously known as the Armour Institute, was growing and was located right next to the Mecca Flats. The school had hired Ludwig Mies van der Rohe (I’m a big fan) to run the architecture program at the institution and also design an entirely new campus. The school bought up the surrounding land along State Street, including the Mecca Flats.

I was lucky to attend a special lecture at the Cultural Center led by author Thomas Dyja entitled, “The Battle for the Mecca.” In the 1940s the Mecca Flats was overcrowded with blacks who were not welcome to live in many areas of the city. With IIT’s desire to tear down the Mecca Flats, this became a site of political and social divides, and Dyja expands upon this conflict in his award-winning book The Third Coast: When Chicago Built the American Dream.  Dyja explained in his talk how many saw the Mecca Flats as an overcrowded slum, but others saw it as home. The destruction of the Mecca Flats and the building of S.R. Crown Hall represents the post-World War II push into modernity. But with the loss of the Mecca Flats, we lost an important site of Chicago jazz and blues history.

mecca flats chicago cultural center architecture

Mecca Flat Blues exhibit at the Chicago Cultural Center. Photo Credit: Jenn Harrman

The exhibit at the Chicago Cultural Center runs through May 25th. You can see the incredible architectural differences of these two buildings. One cool part of the exhibit is this salvaged railing from the flats in front of a perspective shot of the light court. You can try to imagine what it would have been like to be there in the past.

–Jenn Harrman, Marketing Manager and Tour Guide

Posted in Architecture, Chicago history, Chicago Neighborhoods, History, Neighborhoods | Leave a comment
end of post

Weekly Events In Chicago Architecture and History

April 22, 2014 by

We pick our favorite weekly events in Chicago architecture and history to share with you as you plan your social calendar. This week we feature a dinner series with a lecture about the Mexican immigrant community on Chicago’s South Side, an exclusive tour of a 1920s Neo-Gothic skyscraper church, and a public open house to a Frank Lloyd Wright home in Chicago’s Rogers Park.

1. Navigating the Steel Barrio: the Making of Mexican South Chicago - Chicago History Museum, 1601 N. Clark St.

DINNER AND LECTURE – Thursday, April 24, 5:45pm

$25 - Reservations required

As part of the Chicago History Museum’s “Urban History Seminars” series, Michael Innis-Jiménez of the University of Alabama-Tuscaloosa will present on his historical research. He specializes in the history of labor and community among Mexican immigrants on Chicago’s South Side during the first half of the 20th century. The program includes free parking, an opening reception, dinner at 6:15pm, and the seminar at 7:00pm. There’s a cash bar, too!

Chicago-architecture-tour-exclusive-tour

2. Exclusive Temple Tour with Views and a Toast - Chicago Temple, 77 W. Washington St.

TOUR - Friday, April 25th, 5:45pm-8:00pm

$36 - Reservations required

Held by yours truly, Chicago Detours, this special tour of the historic Chicago Temple Building includes a prosecco toast from the pastor’s private balcony overlooking downtown Chicago. It may be the last time we offer this special experience because the pastor is retiring. Come on this tour and you will experience the stained glass windows and architecture of this 1920s skyscraper, and you will explore the “Chapel in the Sky” on the 26th floor. Guests will hear the stories behind the Neo-Gothic skyscraper church, the history of the “kitsch Jesus,” and the radical events that led to the integration of the church in the ’60s. The $36 ticket includes tour guide commentary, presentation of shared images on iPads, entrance to the Sky Chapel, exclusive access to the senior pastor’s private balcony and penthouse, and prosecco toast with small bites. 

3. Visit Frank Lloyd Wright’s Emil Bach House - 7415 N. Sheridan Rd.

NEIGHBORHOOD OPEN HOUSE - Sunday, April 27, 11:00am-3:00pm

FREE 

Frank Lloyd Wright’s Emil Bach House in the Rogers Park neighborhood on the north side of Chicago will be open for free tours this Sunday. You can grab a complimentary tasty beverage as you get to enter prior to the official opening to the public in May. After that, the Frank Lloyd Wright Trust will offer its seasonal tours of the simple architecture of this Frank Lloyd Wright house. 

Posted in Architecture, Chicago Neighborhoods, Neighborhoods, Uncategorized, Weekly Architecture and History Events | 1 Comment
end of post

Historic Songs About Chicago

April 21, 2014 by

Similar to our mantra to use the architecture of our cityscape to tell Chicago history, I decided to search for historic songs about Chicago that could tell the story of Chicago history. Like Chicago architecture, popular culture and its music can be our history books.

It would be easy to list countless songs with Chicago in their title or mere references to this great city, like “Sweet Home Chicago,” which is the first that comes to mind for many. These songs about Chicago contain very little of Chicago history in them however. Any basic search for the lyrics of Chicago songs will deliver more about the band than the history of the city. So I headed to the Special Collections of my alma mater of the University of Illinois at Chicago to see what songs about Chicago I could find. In their Chicago sheet music file, I uncovered dozens of songs, mostly marches inspired by the world fairs and other instrumental two-steps and fox trots.

Then I came across not one but two pieces of mayoral propaganda for William Hale Thompson. My favorite of the two is called “Big Bill the Builder” from 1928. The song lyrics champion Thompson, our last Republican mayor, for being Chicago’s favorite son. His work on the Chicago Waterway and his stance against the draft are cited along with other national claims. The song puts Thompson’s name alongside the likes of George Washington, pointing to Thompson’s hope for a presidential candidate nomination from the Republican Convention that same year.

Of course in this song about Chicago there is no mention of the Race Riot of 1919 or the St. Valentine’s Day Massacre, both of which happened during Big Bill’s terms. It’s a rosy picture compared to his “moronic buffoonery, barbaric crime, triumphant hoodlumism, unchecked graft, and a dejected citizenship,” according to the Chicago Tribune. Luckily, this song is just about as remembered as the embarrassing ode to Chicago by Umphrey McGee from just a couple years ago.

On a more popular note, songs about Chicago can come in all forms. Let’s take, for example, “There’ll Be a Hot Time in Old Town Tonight,” written in 1896.

This ragtime song from the late 1800s, written by Joe Heyden, was not originally a song about Chicago. It has been reworded into a song about Chicago, however, to include the following lyrics:

“Late one night, when we were all in bed.

Mrs. O’Leary lit a lantern in her shed.

Her cow kicked it over,

Then winked her eye and said,

‘There’ll be a hot time in the old town tonight!’ ”

The change is an easy one, not to mention catchy.  The song is sung this way at Chicago Fire soccer games as well as played by college marching bands around Illinois as a sort of unofficial fight song. This adoption of Mrs. O’Leary’s story into the song shows the prevalence of the Great Chicago Fire throughout our city’s history and how fun it can be to tell history through a song.

- Elizabeth Tieri, Chicago Detours Tour Guide

Posted in Chicago history | Leave a comment
end of post

Chicago Temple Architecture Tour with Prosecco on Skyscraper Terrace

April 17, 2014 by

On Friday, April 25th, 5:45pm, we are very happy to offer again a rare chance for the public to experience the Chicago Temple Building’s skyscraper terrace and a “Chapel in the Sky” on a one-off architecture tour entitled “Exclusive Temple Tour with Views and a Toast.”

This is our third time offering this special event architecture tour to the public, and it might be our last. Because the senior pastor is retiring, we do not know when the next resident of the three-story penthouse overlooking downtown Chicago will be filled. Nor do we know if the person will enjoy having random people hang out on their terrace, rightfully so!

downtown chicago architecture skyscraper neo-gothic

Looking up at the turrets from the private roof terrace.

For this architectural and historical tour, I will share some unexpected stories of the history of this downtown building, which houses the First United Methodist Church, offices for various businesses, and the pastor’s private residence. On this special tour, I will take a limited group of 24 guests to experience the building’s beautiful Neo-gothic architecture as well some surprises hidden in the ornate and colorful stained glass windows of the church’s sanctuary.

The scope of the tour extends beyond church history. Guests will hear the fascinating and radical story that surrounds a sculpture that incorporates an actual KKK cross, and they will walk down the marble hallway that leads to Clarence Darrow’s former office, the famous lawyer for the Leopold and Loeb murder trial.

chicago architecture tour temple building skyscraper

Chatting with Phil on his skyscraper terrace on a previous tour.

Then we will head up to the top of this 1920s skyscraper. On the 26th floor we will enter the magnificent Chapel in the Sky with its carved walnut beams and stained glass windows. The tour will conclude with a prosecco toast on the pastor’s private roof terrace with fantastic views of downtown Chicago.

It’s prosecco instead of champagne because from all my travels in Italy as a tour guide with Rick Steves, I have acquired a taste for this dry sparkling white wine from the Veneto region.

As with all of Chicago Detours’ walking tours, guests will share iPads with historic images and video clips while the tour guide gives commentary.

Tickets for the Chicago Temple Tour are $36 for the 2 hour, 15-minute long tour, which includes guide commentary, shared use of iPads, sparkling wine, cheese and other light snacks, entrance to the Chapel in the Sky, access to the private terrace, and the gift of a historic print of the building. Additionally, guests get a peek inside the mid-century modern interior of the pastor’s three-story penthouse. For this special event, I will give half of guide gratuities to a church initiative that gives specially designed backpacks to the homeless.

Reservations are required via www.chicagodetours.com. Group size is limited and only a few tickets are left! Like I said, it may be the last time we offer this, especially as we expand to offer more one-off Detours in Chicago neighborhoods.

- Amanda Scotese, Chicago Detours Executive Director 

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment
end of post

Chicago Events This Week In Architecture And History

April 15, 2014 by

 

This week’s top picks in Chicago events in architecture and history include a discussion on the fascinating restoration work of the Auditorium Building, a lecture pitting Chicago and New York against each other in the development of the skyscraper, and the re-opening of a local Chicago landmark.

Auditorium Theater stage chicago architecture john reilly

Photo Credit: John Reilly Photography

 

1. Tracking the Lost Treasures of the Auditorium - Auditorium Building, 430 S. Michigan Ave., 10th floor

LECTURE – Thursday, April 17th, 12:15pm-1:00pm

FREE

The Auditorium Building has undergone many changes over the past 125 years and in that time lost some of its historic fabric such as windows, furniture and beautiful mosaics. Luckily, some of these lost items have not been lost forever and artifacts from the Auditorium Building have turned up in strange places. Historian Bart Swindall will tell some of these unusual tales including both the successes and failures of restoring the Auditorium.

2. The First American Skyscrapers: Chicago & New York - Driehaus Museum, 40 E. Erie St.

LECTURE – Thursday, April 17th, 6:00pm

$15 Public/$5 Members - reservations required

Architectural Historian, Barry Lewis, will contrast early skyscraper development in New York versus Chicago first defined in the 19th century. He will discuss significant architects from both cities including Richard Morris Hunt and Cass Guilbert in New York and Louis Sullivan and Burnham and Root in Chicago.

3. Elks National Memorial Re-Opens – 2750 N. Lakeview Ave.

RE-OPENING – Starting Monday, April 14th, 12:00pm-4:00pm

FREE

A Chicago landmark, Elks National Memorial, re-opens to the public this week. The classically inspired monument was built in 1926 to honor Americans who made profound sacrifices for the nation. The building is intricately ornamented with a massive dome, heroic sculptures and detailed friezes. The building will be open Mondays through Saturdays from noon to 4pm.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment
end of post

Things To Do In Chicago This Week

April 9, 2014 by

With so many things to do in Chicago each week, we help you sift through them and bring you our top picks in Chicago architecture and history. This week we highlight a new experience at a Frank Lloyd Wright home, a Chicago blues performance in historic Bronzeville, and a discussion on the restoration of a Louis Comfort Tiffany masterpiece.

1. After Hours - Robie House, 5757 S. Woodlawn Ave.

MUSIC AND COCKTAILS – Friday, April 11th, 5:00pm-8:00pm

$30 Members/$35 Non-members – reservations required

This month, Frank Lloyd Wright’s Robie House will open every Friday after hours for an evening of light music, appetizers, drinks and exploration in the atmosphere of the Wright masterpiece. With the recent opening of the Robie House balcony, this is a unique opportunity to see the house in a new perspective… as a party guest.

 

Kinship Project Archive Parkway ballroom chicago blues

Photo Credit: Kinship Project Archive

 

2. Stompin’ at the Parkway Ballroom - 4455 S. King Dr.

CONCERT – Saturday, April 12th, 7:00pm-11:00pm (dance lesson 7pm-8pm)

$10 – reservations required

A super cool overlooked place for a night of Chicago blues music and dancing is the Parkway Ballroom, once a hotspot for music during the 1940′s, 50′s and 60′s. The ballroom was the stage for jazz and Chicago blues favorites including Count Basie and Nat King Cole during its heyday and this event hopes to bring back some of that spirit. Hosted by local artist Samantha Hill, music will be performed by “LB’s Blues Machine” featuring Lorna Boston. Ticket also includes a free blues dance lesson among other fun things to do.

3. Rescuing the Flamingos – Driehaus Museum, 40 E. Erie St.

LECTURE – Sunday, April 13th, 2:00pm

$10 Members/$18 Public – reservations required

The restoration of Louis Comfort Tiffany’s “Feeding the Flamingos,” designed for the Chicago World’s Columbian Exposition of 1893 here, is the topic of this lecture. After the fair, this stained glass window was incorporated into Tiffany’s own home, Laurelton Hall, but the colorful masterpiece was heavily damaged when the home caught fire in 1957. It’s now a part of the Charles Hosmer Morse Museum of Art in Winter Park, Florida, and Venturella Studio of New York City recently restored it. At the Driehaus Museum, Mr. Venturella will discuss the restoration process and the correction of previously executed repairs to one of Tiffany’s most important artistic works in the decorative arts of the 19th century.

Posted in Chicago Art, Chicago Neighborhoods, Weekly Architecture and History Events | Leave a comment
end of post

Events This Week In Chicago Architecture and History

April 1, 2014 by

We bring you our top picks for events this week in Chicago architecture and history. This week we highlight a talk on urban revitalization in a South-side community, a workshop to make your vintage home energy efficient, and a book launch and discussion exploring Chicago as a catalyst for architectural speculation.

 

Dorchester Artist Housing Collaborative Chicago Landon Bone Baker

Photo Credit: Rendering by Landon Bone Baker Architects

 

1. Transforming Abandoned CHA Property: Dorchester Artist Housing Collaborative - Chicago Architecture Foundation, 224 S. Michigan Ave., Lecture Hall

TALK – Wednesday, April 2nd, 12:15pm-1:00pm

FREE

Few of Chicago’s large-scale public housing projects have survived the wrecking ball. Luckily, one Chicago Housing Authority property on the South-Side is being revitalized by the Dorchester Artist Housing Collaborative with the help of Brinshore Development, the Rebuild Foundation and Landon Bone Baker Architects. The LunchTalk @ CAF this week will dig into the work to rehabilitate the abandoned Dante Harper housing project and discuss its development into a thriving hub of arts and culture for a community lacking in both.

2. Greening Your Vintage Home – Chicago Center for Green Technology, 445 N. Sacramento Blvd.

WORKSHOP – Thursday, April 3rd, 6:00pm-7:30pm

FREE – requires reservations

Learn practical and affordable ways to make your vintage home more energy efficient. Hosted by the Neighborhood Housing Services of Chicago, the workshop will include how greening your home improves indoor air quality, conserves resources, and enhances the comfort and performance of an older home without sacrificing materials and architectural details that make a vintage home unique.

3. Chicagoisms: The City as Catalyst for Architectural Speculation – Graham Foundation, 4 W. Burton Pl.

PANEL DISCUSSION – Saturday, April 5th, 2:00pm

FREE – reservations required

Chicagoisms: The City as Catalyst for Architectural Speculation is a publication about the history of instigating and communicating radical architectural and urban visions in Chicago and shares how Chicago has been a mediator of ideas as well as an initiator of speculation in architecture. To launch the new book, the editors and some contributors will introduce and discuss the book’s theme. The launch is held in conjunction with the opening of the “Chicagoisms” exhibit at the Art Institute of Chicago.

Posted in Uncategorized, Weekly Architecture and History Events | Leave a comment
end of post

A Hidden Chicago Museum: Pritzker Military Library

March 27, 2014 by

Chicago is known for some incredible museums often flooded by tourists on a daily basis, and Chicago has so many museums to offer beyond the Museum Campus. Last month, with the Chicago Tour-Guide Professionals Association, I got to take a guided tour of a lesser-known Chicago museum, the Pritzker Military Museum and Library. I was pleasantly surprised.

My initial bias was that a military museum and tour would be a stuffy talk of war heroes and pro-military propaganda, so I had prepared to hide my yawns. Instead the museum tour was filled with fascinating and contemporary history shown through displays of art and artifacts that could be appreciated by anyone – not just people who geek out about our armed forces. Long time member of the museum staff and our tour guide, Paul Grasmehr, explained that the museum’s focus was on the “citizen soldier,” otherwise known as an average soldier, which helps make the museum so approachable.

The first stop on the tour was an exhibit entitled, “American Icons of the Great War.” Colonel James Pritzker, who founded this Chicago museum and library in 2003, acquired an extensive collection of military artifacts from family generations past that includes original propaganda posters from WWI, some of which are on display in this exhibit. Each poster depicts one of many iconic American commercial symbols, such as the Doughboy, Columbia, or the Christy Girl. The history behind each symbol is explained in the exhibit and our guide shared additional and unexpected stories. My favorite was about Uncle Sam. The image of Uncle Sam has been recreated numerous times and most famously by James Montgomery Flagg for his posters from WWI. What I found so interesting was that Mr. Flagg also used himself as the model for Uncle Sam which immortalized him as this great symbol of American patriotism. 

pritzker military museum and library chicago history

Photo Credit: Jenn Harrman

 

On my guided tour, I also enjoyed listening to our guide Paul share personal stories of individual soldiers that helped connect you with the lives of these everyday heros. There was a soldier who was shot in battle and continued to fight for six hours in below-freezing temperatures, shoeless! This Chicago museum’s collection and exhibition of these military stories is quite impressive. The Pritzker Military Museum and Library has a state-of-the-art auditorium and sound booth, which I also got to see on the tour. Here the museum records interviews with veterans as well as medal of honor ceremonies, which are special events open to the public.

Despite the name, this Chicago museum displays far more than just oil paintings and dusty books. Other cool stuff I encountered on my visit to the Priztker Military Museum and Library were old military-inspired comic books and Walt Disney cartoons. You can even check-out and play military-themed board games right there in the museum. You can also browse the Pritzker’s collection of military propaganda posters for sale as a souvenier. My favorite military poster was this one that promotes “Eat More Cottage Cheese.”

pritzker military library chicago museum war poster

Photo Credit: Jenn Harrman

 

And then to top it off, the building that houses the museum and library has some great Chicago history and architecture. Known as the Monroe Building, it was completed in 1912 by Holabird and Roche and the penthouse was once home to Frank Lloyd Wright’s studio. Colonel Pritzker has lovingly restored the entire building including the opulent lobby space with terra cotta tiles from the first female-owned manufacturing company, Rookwood Pottery. A free exhibit in the lobby shares the story of the recent architectural restoration and the lobby’s terra cotta tiles.

Pritzker military library chicago museum monroe building

Photo Credit: Jenn Harrman

 

With so much to see here and only $5 for admission to the museum, I am certainly inspired to visit again and explore more Chicago museums that are off the beaten path.

Jenn Harrman, Tour Guide

Posted in Architecture, Chicago Loop, History | Tagged , , | Leave a comment
end of post

Chicago at Night and History of the Planetarium

March 20, 2014 by

In Chicago at night, reference to the sky is most often for the architecture of the skyline and the lights. I must confess, the skyline of Chicago at night is one of my favorite sights in all the world. Chicago’s skyline, however, overshadows the sky itself. So let’s set the buildings aside a moment to explore Chicago’s night sky. Looking up in Chicago at night today, we see very few stars. I must admit, this is one of my least favorite things about Chicago.

So I took myself on a trip to the Adler Planetarium during one of its free days. At America’s first planetarium, people often flock to one of its theaters for a show, either from the historic Zeiss projector or the more modern options. I preferred, however, to explore the museum, where I experienced the difficulty of a moon jump and played as an ancient astronomer with telescopes and other early observation tools. It was here I stumbled upon the Atwood Sphere, a metal sphere that demonstrates the sky of Chicago at night, circa 1913. That is, Chicago’s night sky… back when it had stars!

chicago at night adler planetarium

Photo Credit: Elizabeth S. Tieri

Though the guided tour of the Atwood Sphere is an additional ticket, it is well worth the mere $6. You get to experience the charm and wonder of astronomy over 100 years ago. When you step into this metal sphere, it closes around you so that you are essentially sitting inside a metal ball. The Atwood Sphere is precisely perforated to allow the light of the museum to shine through in the otherwise dark interior. These light dots represent exactly the celestial bodies that were once visible from Chicago–692 to be exact. The sphere turns around you to display an entire year’s rotation. Our guide pointed out different constellations and planets as they circled over our faux sky.

After the creaking contraption opens up and you hop back into present-day technology, just past the sphere is an exhibit on light pollution. Light pollution in Chicago means that Chicago at night has lost a vast majority of the stars. This whole experience was so cool, I was hooked and it’s what inspired me to dig a little deeper into the history of the sphere and the planetarium.

The Adler Planetarium is housed in a twelve-sided building with a large dome for the Zeiss projector’s show. This style of dome has become synonymous with planetariums nowadays, but it was a new concept in the early 20th century. More often, people over history have learned about stars on maps and globes They had to view the heavens from an outer perspective of two dimensions. Projections on a dome allowed viewers to see the sky as we see it from Earth–that is, from below. This approach is what made the Atwood Sphere such an approachable tool in learning astronomy as well.

Early accounts of the experience in 1913 brag about the ability to study the stars without concern for weather or time, “turning the sky about at will, or causing the stars to stand still in their tracks.” By the ’30s, the Atwood Sphere had lost its luster in Chicago. Though the U.S. Navy used it for teaching navigation in the ’40s, the Chicago Daily News featured the Atwood Sphere in its 1956 White Elephant Festival.

chicago neo-classical lincoln park Laflin Memorial Building

Photo Credit: Elizabeth S. Tieri

The Atwood Sphere was originally housed in Chicago’s first natural history museum, the Laflin Memorial Building. Today it is part of the Lincoln Park Zoo. Matthew Laflin was an early settler of Chicago who had lived in Fort Dearborn and made a good deal of money off real estate holdings. In 1893 he donated to the Chicago Academy of Sciences to build Chicago’s first natural history museum. Laflin insisted the museum should be free to allow equal access for everyone to its natural history collections. Looking at the building’s architecture, we see columns and a pediment, which are classical features. This architectural style was very prominent during and after the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition.

Though the Atwood Sphere has been altered and moved about over history, today it is restored to its original glory at the Adler Planetarium. The ride into the Atwood Sphere will not only let you marvel at the stars but also–I hope–motivate you to turn off a light or two in combat of the changes to the stars we see in Chicago at night.

– Elizabeth Tieri, Chicago Detours Tour Guide

Posted in Architecture, History | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment
end of post
wordpress conversion by 314media