Chicago Architecture Blog for Curious People

Summer Answers!

August 23, 2011

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The curious people who come on our interactive, guided tours of history, culture and architecture sometimes have questions. Since Chicago Detours guides don’t make up answers for our architectural tours, we mark them down and then research the answers for them. (Although what do you think of a one-off tour in which we just make up everything?)

If you’ve come on a tour – whether a regularly schedule tour or a private tour – and you had a question that we haven’t answered yet, please let us know! If I’m about to say something and don’t have the time to write it down, it’s very likely that it vanished from my brain. My guess is same goes for guides Jenny, Nick and Neil, too.

How does the Percentage for Public Art Program work?

Super '80s art installation in Logan Square

This ordinance applies only to municipal buildings. 1.33% of the budget for constructing or renovating a government funded building must go toward public art. Chicago implemented this in 1978, and was one of the first in the country to do so. The weirdest one I’ve seen is in the police station in my neighborhood (Logan Square). It’s all neon, and out-of-order – I’ve asked the cops about it and they say the bulbs are burnt out.

Were all El lines that are downtown on land from Yerkes?

Charles Tyson Yerkes was a businessman with an aspiration to monopolize the streetcar lines throughout Chicago, and this eventually turned into monopolizing the development of the new elevated system. He used whatever means necessary, mostly bribery, to meet this goal. He began his time in Chicago by buying the North Chicago City Railway and leasing the rights to his own holding company for 999 years. He would go as far as to bribe councilmen for franchises and would hire “professional vamps” – people who would blackmail those who were against him.

While he did have all downtown streetcar lines at a certain point, stockholders were distributed among staff and relatives so that his monopoly was not completely obvious. While he did have all the lines downtown, he did not have all elevated lines. The Metropolitan West Side Elevated and the Lake Street Elevated Railroad were not under his control.

Why no benches in Chicago?

You’re right to think that there aren’t a lot of public street benches in the urban design of downtown Chicago, but they definitely do exist. When you see them though, you’ll notice that they are either tiny, one person seats or longer benches with dividers every two feet or so. We didn’t find any particular campaigns to remove benches, but that is a common practice in ensuring that “street people” don’t hang out on the street, especially in touristed areas. Though benches are uncommon, public square seating is not – try right to the west of the old Water Tower, Daley Plaza, or Chase Tower for people-watching perches.

Where were the pieces for the Picasso fabricated?

The untitled Picasso work, called simply “The Picasso,” was facilitated by the architectural firm of Skidmore, Owings, & Merrill, and completed in 1966. American Bridge Company, a division of the US Steel Corporation, fabricated it in Gary, Indiana using COR-TEN steel, a metal which actually becomes stronger as it rusts. We talk about this on our indoor “Inside the Loop” walking tour.

Dark green circles are Connemara marble

Where does that green marble in the stairs of the library side of the Chicago Cultural Center come from?

With this beloved Chicago super-star of old-school architecture, I know that in addition to the Italian Carrara marble facing the stairs, walls, and ceiling, other portions of the building used granite from the South. These green spheres, however, are a kind of stone called Connemara marble, which comes from West Ireland. It’s often used for jewelry.

Why does the Chicago Temple entrance on Clark St. say “First Methodist Episcopal Church?

In 1922, a new building, the one that currently stands, started construction, and was to be known as “The First Methodist Episcopal Church-‘City Temple’.” During the two years it took the skyscraper to be completed, the Pastor changed the name “City Temple” to “The Chicago Temple.” In 1939 the Methodist Episcopal Church merged with other branches of Methodism, becoming the regular ole’ “Methodist Church.” 1968 marked even further unification, thus “United Methodist Church.”

– Amanda Scotese

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2 Responses to “Summer Answers!”

  1. carolyn says:

    So enjoyed everything about the Green Chicago Tour. The views from Daley and Legacy were extra special and the information very interesting. Thanks for all your prep to make time so worthwhile and enjoyable.

    • Amanda says:

      A much delayed response. So glad you enjoyed the Green Tour of Chicago. We plan to offer it again in the spring for the general public. Best wishes to you and your group!

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