Great Chicago Churches

June 11, 2010 Chicago Buildings Comments (0) 2263

Twenty years ago when I worked at Landmarks Illinois, we did a survey and planning study of historic houses of worship in Chicago. This was one of many preservation responses to a crisis in church preservation spurred on by the 1987 closing of two huge Catholic churches that were imposing neighborhood landmarks, Holy Family Church (1857) on Roosevelt Road, and St. Mary of the Angels Church (1920) in Bucktown. Continue Reading

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Put Down the Torches!

November 13, 2006 Chicago Buildings Comments (0) 1064

How many buildings do we have to set on fire before the idiots put down the blowtorches? Now another building – on tony Lake Shore Drive in the Gold Coast – catches on fire thanks to another joker with a blowtorch in the basement! This fire was under control, but plenty of smoke and excitement, and a kid and an adult in hospital.

What do we need to do to get rid of idiocy? Another Chicago Fire?

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Children With Matches

November 6, 2006 Chicago Buildings Comments Off on Children With Matches 1125

We don’t let children play with matches. Why do we let idiots play with blowtorches?

Idiocy is a long and storied element of the human condition, and we could hardly have a society without it, so anything that I might say about idiots and idiotic acts should be tempered by my strong belief that idiocy is a vital actor in, and indispensable element of human history. Merken sie sich z.B. unsere Regierung.

For many years I too, suffered fools gladly, but this constant burning down of Louis Sullivan buildings this year has savaged my natural tolerance, especially when both Pilgrim Baptist Church and The Wirt Dexter Building were felled by idiots with torches.

The latest fire – the Harvey House in Lakeview – does not have an official cause yet, so torches can’t be ruled out. It burned really fast and shot flames 50 feet into the air. Torches definitely can’t be ruled out.

Jim Peters of Landmarks Illinois notes that the first two Sullivan buildings burned because someone was using open flames – unnecessary in both cases – inside buildings chock full of really dry timber. Roofers at Pilgrim Baptist and salvagers at Wirt Dexter. In both cases the idiot contractors phoned it in but it was already too late. You can set a hell of a fire with a blowtorch. Continue Reading

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Another Sullivan Burns

October 24, 2006 Chicago Buildings Comments (0) 1310

October 24, 2006 – Louis Sullivan’s 150th birthday celebrations have been marred again. In January, one of his greatest buildings, Pilgrim Baptist Church, burned down to the walls and its rebuilding is a very open question. A year ago his own home in Biloxi was destroyed by the hurricane (Katrina) that everyone but the federal government saw coming. Now I am watching one of his early highrises, the Wirt Dexter Building on Wabash south of the Loop, burn. The fire started an hour and a half ago and there is still smoke billowing out at 5:00 creating columnar cumulus skyscrapers. It is really disheartening.

It is too early to say what will be left of this simple but elegant early highrise – its back wall marked by long vertical perforated sheets of steel that stiffened its spine. This was during the days of the development of the skeletal steel frame that made skyscrapers possible. Wirt Dexter was an attorney and developer who worked with Sullivan on several projects. Continue Reading

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Sullivan’s Travails

October 5, 2006 Chicago Buildings, Economics Comments Off on Sullivan’s Travails 1363

Last night we had a panel on restoring Louis Sullivan buildings over at the Chicago Architecture Foundation, also sponsored by the Chicago History Museum and Graham Foundation. I was the moderator and our featured speakers were architects Gunny Harboe, who directed the restoration of the Carson, Pirie Scott & Co. cornice, and Mary Brush, who directed facade restoration at the Gage Building. Then to make everything wonderful, Tim Samuelson agreed to join us.

Tim is often said to know everything about Chicago and everything about Louis Sullivan. It would be impossible to disprove this.

We learned a lot about Sullivan’s ornament – how he played with figure and ground to eliminate those signifiers and make ornament one with the building. We learned about the challenges of replicating the incredibly detailed elements of the Carson’s cornice from a few bad photographs and a lot of comparable. We saw how his highrise ornament was designed to be seen from below (something the designers of the Parthenon’s Panathenaic procession knew, but has oft since been forgot) and we heard how Sullivan could think in three dimensions. I reminded everyone of how much of Sullivan’s architecture was lost over the last 40 years, which is really tragic. Continue Reading

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Sullivan at 150

July 11, 2006 Chicago Buildings Comments (0) 1483

Louis Henri Sullivan, the architect who transformed the modern world with his prescient designs and philosophy of the skyscraper, who made Chicago the first city of American architecture and inspired the Chicago preservation movement, was born 150 years ago. How are we celebrating this most important of native sons?

By tearing down one of his few remaining houses, on Stratford Place on the North Side. For reasons inexplicable, the Commission on Chicago Landmarks is not moving to designate the house, nor even to act on Marty Tangora’s very reasonable approach that would allow a builder to erect something on part of the lot in order to save the house. Even the Alderman, Helen Shiller, not known as a preservationist, is interested in saving it. Why would the Commission on Chicago Landmarks be the last one out of the gate? Continue Reading

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