Architecture and Chicago and Churches and Crime and Disaster and Irving Park and Portage Park and Theaters and Why!?!26 Mar 2012 06:58 pm

Attend the public meeting tonight, Monday, March 26, at 7 p.m. at the Portage Theater, 4050 N Milwaukee. More information at 45th Ward alderman John Arena’s website.

Architecture and Art and Chicago and George Grant Elmslie and Hegewisch and History and Louis Sullivan and The Hidden19 Mar 2012 07:06 pm

Hegewisch has the distinction of being Chicago’s southeastern terminus. Once you reach the neighborhood, that’s it. You’ve run out of Chicago.

Words fail when describing Hegewisch itself. It feels like a quintessential Chicago working-class neighborhood, with a hint of small-town America. Then again, it’s neither. Pinning down any sort of local character is refreshingly impossible.

If their site is any indication, the people seem to like living there. Founded in 1883, the area was intended to be a company town (ala the Pullman District) for Mr. Adolph Hegewisch’s United States Rolling Stock Company, builders of railroad cars. Pullman eventually blew Mr. Hegewisch out of the water, and by the 1910s US Rolling Stock Co. became the Western Steel Car & Foundry. In 1889 Chicago annexed the town, and the Hegewischians became Chicagoans.

No offense to the residents, but at first glance Hegewisch doesn’t have much to recommend for the casual visitor. However, it earns points for two things. First, its snazzy signs, which are more visually interesting than the average neighborhood lamppost banner. Secondly, it was once home to a interesting slice of architectural history.

Occasionally, I use the “The Hidden” tag in my posts. I’m not referring to the 80s Kyle Maclachlan scifi/thriller (enjoyable cinematic cheese, by the way). Rather I mean those little bits of history and ornamentation that linger in the city’s blind spots. Few people have probably made the northwestern trek to view the memorial to the Old Treaty Elm, for example. I never would have noticed it if I hadn’t made a wrong turn in Sauganash.

A variation on the Hidden involves the appropriation of ornamentation from demolished buildings for use in others. I wouldn’t call it cannibalism—more like headhunting—though it would be pleasant to imagine a demolition expert with a heart of gold deciding, “You know, that part is just too pretty to bust up. Let’s recycle it instead.” Whether it’s more moral to pry off a piece of ornament and stick it on another building (Pro: it remains on public display; Con: it’s viewed out of context and is subject to everyday wear and tear) versus displaying it on a museum wall (Pro: public display and protection; Con: still out of context, perpetuating the idea that decoration can represent a lost building in its gestalt), I leave to the comments section.

Travel to 13310 Baltimore Ave. in Hegewisch, stand across the street, and look up. You’ll see a familiar hand in the building’s ornamentation. Sullivanesque? Very nearly.

The address is the former location of architect Parker Noble Berry’s Interstate National Bank, and the ornament is all that remains of that edifice. Even if you’ve never heard of Mr. Berry, you likely know his boss. Louis Henri Sullivan hired Berry as a draftsman from 1909 to 1918. While not as seasoned as Sullivan’s former chief draftsman George Grant Elmslie, Berry was a bright, talented young man—one of those individuals presumably destined for greatness.

And such promise he showed. Mr. Berry assisted Sullivan with projects like the Henry C. Adams building in Algona, IA, one of Sullivan’s famed “jewel box” banks. Interestingly, Mr. Berry may have had a greater hand in designing that particular structure, if Berry’s 1915 First State Bank building in Manlius, IL, (still standing and currently being restored by the Manlius Historical Society after being used as a storage space for many years) is any indication. Side note: the First State Bank of Manlius, IL, was built by Berry’s father, a Princeton, IL, contractor.

In 1917, Berry was approached by Lawrence Cox, president of Hegewisch’s Interstate National Bank, and asked to create a new building on Baltimore Ave. Contemporary photos show a smart-looking structure that built on the ideas of the First State Bank and Henry C. Adams building. Shots of the interior show a simple elegance, and all the ways Berry communicated and mused upon his former mentor’s philosophy. Sadly, the bank failed and was torn down in the 30s. For better or worse, the facade’s ornamentation was chipped off and slapped onto the front of the store taking its place.

Previously printed in The Prairie School Review

Sullivan, already struggling during his final decade, couldn’t pay Berry enough, and so the young architect supplemented his income with jobs in Manlius and his hometown of Princeton, IL. Years before, Sullivan had sacked another former employee, Frank Lloyd Wright, for designing homes on the side, but he apparently looked the other way on Berry’s commissions. At least until Berry built the Adeline Prouty Old Ladies Home (yes, that was the name; it was a more politically incorrect time) in 1917. According to Berry’s brother Roger, that was the last straw. Sullivan let Berry go. Despite various health problems, Berry probably would have done well enough afterward, and perhaps might have made a name for himself. He’d gotten married and was courted by the architectural firm of Purcell and Elmslie for years—though he’d turned them down for the opportunity to learn from Sullivan and advance in the trade. Opening an office down in Hyde Park, he began work on commissions for another bank and a hospital.

But Parker Noble Berry wasn’t long for this world. Already sickly, in December 1918, he traveled from Chicago to Princeton to attend his father-in-law’s funeral. Contracting what he imagined was just a bad cold, he refused medical attention. Soon after, Parker Berry became another young victim of the 1918 flu pandemic (aka: “Spanish Flu”). He suffered for eight days before succumbing on December 16, all of 30 years old.

—Dan Kelly

[Writer’s Note: I am currently at work on a long-form essay about Parker Berry. If any relatives of his (or anyone with information to share about him) read this, please contact me at dan [at] mrdankelly [dot] com!]

Architecture and Chicago and Churches and History and The Hidden27 Feb 2012 04:35 pm

Way back in the ‘oughts, I wrote a series of articles for the Chicago Journal that were, for lack of a better term, “church reviews.” I’d visit Chicago places of worship during services and evaluate them according to entertainment value, sanctity, and whatever else occurred to me. At the same time I’d do a little research on the faith du jour, respectfully exploring their histories, building architecture, and whatnot. I’m still quite proud of my stint as a church reviewer. I wrote some fine, funny stuff, if I do say so myself. And I do. I should be careful. Pride is what did Satan in.

Be that as it may, I compiled all my church reviews, along with a few religious writings I did for other zines and magazines (tongue usually lodged firmly in cheek) into a book called Hilaretic (many thanks to my talented friend and fellow Steppes of Chicago contributor Kathy for doing the layout and cover). Hilaretic is now available for purchase on Stop by my author profile page to buy a copy!

—Dan Kelly

Architecture and Chicago and Fraternal Orders and History and Irving Park and The Hidden20 Jan 2012 07:50 pm

It seems to me that Chicago’s historical Scandinavian population hasn’t received the notice and PBS documentaries due them. It’s a fine history, you know? One stretching back to the mid-1800s, when Danes, Norwegians, and Swedes established their presence on the Near North Side (aka: Swede Town), Douglas and Armour Square, North Lawndale, and near the intersection of Randolph and LaSalle (per the Encyclopedia of Chicago), and Clark St. According to one source, the latter was called Snusgatan, or Snuff Street (that’s snuff as in chewing/snorting tobacco), owing to the number of saloons in the area. I’m not sure of the veracity of that factoid, but it’s interesting nonetheless.

Eventually, Milwaukee Ave. became the main thoroughfare for a northwestward migration of Scandinavians. Similarities in language and culture encouraged them to stick together, though parts of town show, and still show, more prominent influence by one group or another. The Danes occupied the area surrounding North Ave., from Damen to Pulaski, for example, while Logan Square and Humboldt Park became Swedish and Norwegian enclaves. As evidence, note the 110-year-old statue of Leif Erikson guarding Humboldt Park, and the charmingly old world Minnekirken/Norwegian Lutheran Memorial Church—the only Norwegian language church left in Chicago—resting in Logan Square’s western elbow). Look closely in other north and northwest side neighborhoods as well and you’re bound to find evidence of immigrants from the land of ice and snow, and the midnight sun where the hot springs flow.

One little-noticed monument is located at 4146 N. Elston Ave. Built in 1922, the building is currently occupied by the Chicago Latvian Association. A recent bit of remodeling, however, tipped me off that it wasn’t always so. The entryway has long been topped by a sign for the community center, but a few weeks ago it was temporarily removed, in preparation for a new sign, revealing the original inscription.

Ivar Temple? IOV?

It’s interesting how a simple change can cause one to reassess an entire building. I’d suspected a Scandinavian background before, owing to the medallion near the top of the southeast wall. it features a Viking long-ship with a oversized dragon figurehead that looks like it might sink the ship prow-first. A little research revealed that IOV stands for the Independent Order of Vikings. Per Alex Axelrod’s book The International Encyclopedia of Secret Societies and Fraternal Orders, the IOV was founded in Chicago “as an ethnic fraternal insurance benefit association.” Between the 1880s and 1920s there were an awful lot of those—fraternal, quasi-masonic, and service organizations that promised health insurance while you were alive, and a decent burial and survivor care when you died. IOV membership was restricted to the community of Swedes, Swedish-Americans, and those married to either group.

Eleven Swedish immigrant men established the organization on June 2, 1890, at 86 Sedgwick Street (no longer existent), in what was described in the club’s history as a “bachelor room.” Swelling with ethnic pride, and perhaps feeling a bit butch, they dubbed themselves the Vikingarne—Swedish for Vikings. By June of 1891, the organization was doing well, with more than 234 members. It cost $2 to join, with a quarter a month for dues. In return you earned $3 for sickness and $50 for funeral expenses.

On December 12, 1891, the Vikingarne switched to their current name, the Independent Order of Vikings, possibly to compete with other, pricier fraternal orders cropping up at the time. Meetings took place around the city, usually in public halls, Odd Fellow and masonic temples, and the Phoenix Hall at Division and Sedgwick. Eventually they saved enough pennies to erect the North Side Viking Temple at the corner of School and Sheffield. Reportedly the first lodge building constructed by a Swedish organization in Chicago, its architect was (Swedish) gentleman named Andrew E. Norman. Norman was an interesting person, turning up in the Tribune as a craftsman, artist, architect, carpenter, contractor, and generally talented fellow. He also rocked the mustache/rimless spex look.

As for Irving Park’s Ivar Temple, as yet I have no information on who built it, or why the men of Ivar Lodge were flush enough to afford their own lodge hall. Funnily, information is plentiful, but it’s also in Swedish (see the history of the order, Runristningar: Independent Order of Vikings). According to the date on the building it was erected in 1922, and per a helpful e-mail from Mr. Ray Knutson of the Executive Committee for the Grand Lodge IOV, Ivar was “instituted” as Lodge #27 on Sept. 7 1906.  Beyond that, little info exists—at least in English—though Mr. Knutson says he’ll let me know if he finds anything else.

It appears that the Latvian Community Center has been there since at least the 60s. Before and during that time, the temple hosted not only the Swedes of the IOV and the Independent Order of Svithiod (another fraternal order that brings Scandinavians from the US, Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway, and Sweden under its aegis.) but also the American Legion and VFW. According to the Tribune’s social pages, it was a quite popular location for celebrating the golden wedding anniversaries of some rather doughy and dour looking old folks. Labor and socialism fans may be interested to hear that socialist Norman Thomas spoke at the temple on a tour through Chicago and Oak Park back in 1932.

And now, for lack of a more solid conclusion… VALKYRIES!


Architecture and Chicago and Mayfair and Signs11 Jan 2012 06:17 pm

Building names always seem a bit gloomy for me—particularly when they’re etched in stone. Undoubtedly intended to display the affluence and influence a wooden sign could never convey, most only cement (no pun intended) their original owners’ anonymity, inspiring the modern passerby to look up and comment, “Who the hell is that?”

In Mayfair, one such mysterious appellation is chiseled into the limestone-faced storefront at 4407 N. Elston Ave. Calmly regal, whoever designed the building back in 1899-1900 knew what he was doing, especially in the creation of the sign on top, which strikingly states “TRYON & DAVIS.”

But who were Tryon and Davis? I wish I could say. Beyond discovering that Tryon is a British name and Davis a Welsh one, information is spotty about the two (assumed) men. A review of historical newspapers and Google Books suggests that T&D was a real estate agency, and probably a developer as well, owing to occasional references on real estate sites to a “Tryon & Davis subdivision” located near Lawrence and Pulaski.

Obviously, T&D were successful enough to construct their own office building, but otherwise they made little impact on Chicago history. All I’ve turned up are two meager references to plumbing work being done for several single-story dwellings near 2345 W. Roosevelt Road (apparently demolished) in 1921, and the management of a property at 118 N. LaSalle St. (also gone, but now occupied by Murphy/Jahn’s 120 N. LaSalle building—the one with the whacky Daedalus and Icarus mosaic).

The firm later listed an address in the 1915 edition of Polk’s Real Estate Register and Directory of the United States and Canada at 4601 N. Crawford (now Pulaski Rd.), which is currently occupied by a Citgo gas station. Did T&D move there from their Elston digs? Did they expand? Without a day’s visit to the history museum or library, I can’t say. I’ve sent an inquiry letter to the building’s current resident, a lawyer, and I’ll provide an update if I find out anything else.

Architecture and Film and History and Uptown22 Nov 2011 04:46 pm

Later note: I was unaware that the Chicago History Museum has a Chaplin in Chicago exhibit taking place right now. Check out this blog post!

The Essanay Film Manufacturing Company building is part of Chicago’s faraway past as a film capital. Established first on Wells Street, in 1908 the company moved to 1333-45 W. Argyle Street in the neighborhood of Uptown. The main building, now a part of St. Augustine College, isn’t particularly striking, save for the entryway, a gaudy little structure in white, topped by two relatively politically correct Native American heads and the company name (which was formed by the last initials of founders George K. Spoor and Gilbert M. “Broncho Billy” Anderson.

Yippee Ki Yay. Broncho Billy in full regalia.

Essanay produced multiple films of varying quality, many of which are lost, and were noted for producing silent films, early cartoons like the forgotten and weird Dreamy Dud (seen here psychologically scarring the children of 1915 into not smoking), and introducing the first real cowboy star (Mr. Anderson, in case you couldn’t figure that out through his nickname). The studio also gave performers like cross-eyed vaudevillian Ben Turpin and Chicago girl Gloria Swanson their big breaks, though Turpin had to serve as both an actor and the studio’s janitor at the time. See him here in the Essanay short Mr. Flip humorously molesting sundry women with unusual hairstyles.

Ben Turpin will see you in your nightmares tonight.

Essanay was most famous for employing up-and-coming genius Charlie Chaplin as an actor, writer, and director, starting with the comedic short His New Job, filmed with Ben Turpin as second banana.

Chaplin didn’t stay long, owing to financial and creative differences with the management (they failed to pay him a promised $10,000 bonus and frequently chopped up his films to make them more marketable). Nevertheless, it was an opportunity for him to expand on his skills, learning the tricks of this business called show which he’d use to better effect in future films. Eventually, according to this article, he finally left the Windy City. The weather was too changeable to suit Chaplin’s perfectionism. Furthermore, it was, in the Little Tramp’s words, “too damn cold.”

Ben Turpin with two of Mack Sennett’s “bathing beauties.”

Architecture and Art and George Grant Elmslie and Irving Park and Louis Sullivan08 Nov 2011 05:04 pm

Last Friday, I took my kids out to visit the park, a church off Western where my great uncle served as assistant pastor, and two buildings connected with Louis Sullivan’s former chief draftsman, George Grant Elmslie. As a father I am slightly unusual, I know.

Mr. Elmslie stuck with Mr. Sullivan through the Lieber Meister’s exceedingly lean final years. Sadly, Sullivan was unable to afford to keep him on staff and had to let him go. Elmslie landed on his feet by partnering with William Purcell, forming the firm of Purcell & Elmslie in 1909. After turning out several lovely Prairie School style buildings across the Midwest  together, personal problems, including his wife’s tragic death at age 31, took their toll on Elmslie. Despite being a full partner, he chose to move back to Chicago to live with his sisters, while Purcell ran the firm from Minneapolis. Steeped in misery, Elmslie nonetheless pressed on, producing several more works—including his masterpiece, the Woodbury County Courthouse in Sioux City, IA—before financial matters eventually caused the firm to dissolve.

If his work seems “Sullivanesque,” it’s because Elmslie is responsible for much of Sullivan’s fancier ornamentation. He’s probably best known for  his designs on such large scale structures as the Carson Pirie Scott facade and the National Farmer’s Bank of Owatonna, MN. Luckily for the city, Elmslie created smaller structures as well, lending a bit of Sullivanesque charm to our neighborhoods. My favorite would have to be the Peoples Gas Irving Park Neighborhood Store at 4839 W. Irving Park Road. Peoples Gas Stores were actual stores selling only products employing the full benefits of that exciting new energy source, natural gas. Check out the 1920s ads below.

If you ever drive or walk by the building (which appears to be a church or similar religious institution now) be sure to look up, otherwise you’ll miss its delightful decorations and windows. Wish I could have had either a clearer day for taking photographs or direct sunlight. I’ll go back and try again some day.

Looks like one of the ads features the addresses of every store in Chicago. There’s a field trip for you!

Architecture and Chicago and Churches and Crime and History and Southwest Suburbs/Chicago and William W. Boyington18 Oct 2011 06:55 pm

[Later note: Oops. Ran St. James twice. The pictures were small! There are so many buttons! Kudos to my wife for catching it.]

Most small Illinois towns were big at one time. Whether as important stops along the railway lines or the I & M Canal, they had their day, enjoying boomlets of prosperity before quieting down.

Lemont, IL, was one such town, doing quite well as a producer of limestone (along with its neighbor down the canal Joliet, IL), quarrying and selling it under the brand name of “Athens Marble” (Athens being the town’s original name—side note: Joliet was formerly called Juliet). Both towns enjoyed the largess of the last few Ice Ages, when, over 400 million years ago, Illinois still rested underwater. Uncountable plant and animal shells floated to the bottom over the eons, creating large deposits of what came to be called Sugar Run Dolomite. This “limestone” was a popular building material of the time, but transportation costs made it difficult to sell outside the immediate area. Then the I&M Canal was built, and limestone could be easily shipped upstream to Chicago—the city’s own underground stores of limestone being of poor building quality. Historically, Juliet/Joliet had the idea first—selling their own “Joliet Limestone”—but more deposits were discovered in the Lemont area during the digging of the canal in 1846, kicking off the town’s own quarry industry.

Naturally Lemont, Joliet, Lockport, and other surrounding towns used limestone in their own building projects. My original purpose for visiting Lemont was to track down some dead pioneer relatives at St. Patrick’s Church’s Catholic Cemetery outside of town (“Right behind the Hindu temple!” as the nice folks at the church explained to me). Performing research on the Ray and Hennebry side of the family led me to discover the town’s own history, and impressive architectural legacy. Lemont, for example, boasts 38 limestone-faced buildings in their downtown area, including several churches and city hall.

St. Patrick’s Catholic Church

St. Matthew’s Evangelical Lutheran Church

The Old Stone Church
(Former Union Army recruiting station during the Civil War, and current Lemont Historical Society building)

More famously, Joliet Correctional Center (former residence of Leopold and Loeb and other famous felons), created by architect William W. Boyington (who also designed the front gate at Rosehill Cemetery and another famous structure to be mentioned below)  was similarly constructed of the stuff.

As for the Chicago connection, residents and visitors may recognize a few of the following structures, raised and faced with Lemont’s famous limestone.

Chicago Water Tower (Built by William W. Boyington)

Holy Name Cathedral

St. James Cathedral

Courthouse Place (Not so coincidentally the location of Leopold and Loeb’s trial)

More information on Joliet and Lemont Limstone here!

Architecture and Irving Park and Mayfair and The Hidden and Theaters13 Sep 2011 07:44 pm

The former Rivoli Theater, now the Muslim Community Center, at 4380 N. Elston Avenue, showed a little bit more  of its original facade recently. Check out the roaring beast-man(?) on top!

Architecture and Charles W. Kallal and Chicago and Churches05 Aug 2011 05:24 am

Many thanks to Steven Szegedi, archivist and special collections librarian at Dominican University, who tracked down this photo showing camera-shy Chicago City Architect Charles W. Kallal at the …”blessing of Mother Emily Power Hall, Rosary College, 1 October, 1922.” Archbishop George Mundelein can be seen at the center, while Kallal stands—with impressively good posture—at far right. Click the photo to get a closer look at the man. It wasn’t until I sized it up a tad that I noticed that Kallal wore glasses. Incidentally, Steven asks that if anyone out there can identify the other men in this picture, please let him know (or just post it in the comments).

“Photograph 113402, Buildings and Grounds, Dominican University Archives and Special Collections”

 Added bonus: Kallal’s bathhouse at 4501 N. Clarendon Avenue. It doesn’t look this awesome anymore, by the way.

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