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 Lulu.com. 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 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 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!

Chicago and Crime and History and Mayfair09 Aug 2011 06:22 pm

Presumably, the original conception drawing of the Mayfair Water Pumping Station.

Every raindrop promises life or death. Somewhere in-between rests inconvenience.

Here, lately, water is a petulant creature, severely perturbed by years of abuse. When it snows, it smothers us, and when it rains, it pelts, torrents, and creeps in, destroying basement furniture and carpeting like a bad houseguest. In the blasting heat of summer, our beaches threaten to become festering petri dishes of bowel-blasting bacteria. A city built on a swamp, despite Ellis S. Chesbrough’s best efforts to raise us from the muck, it feels like the water won’t leave Chicago alone. Constantly seeking its own level, it sometimes chooses to drag us down with it.

If things run smoothly, you won’t hear about it in the news. The bleeding leads, and the few times the Mayfair Pumping Station pops up in the Trib for the next seven decades usually involves violence, semi-biblical snafus, and moments where blood flowed like water and vice versa.

Jumping ahead to the 1960s, on January 5, the fire department arrived to douse a fire at the station. Ignited by welding equipment, a shower of sparks set ablaze a inconvenient pile of paper. While the station and its equipment weren’t damaged too badly, four firefighters were transported to Northwest and Swedish Covenant hospitals and treated for smoke inhalation. Two years later, in an exceedingly brief article, we learn that city worker William Dugan, 57, fell off a ladder July 10, while fixing the station’s roof. His fellow workers, reportedly, “were unable to explain the accident.” Mr. Dugan doesn’t turn up in the obituaries later on that week, so perhaps we can assume the best.

Then we have James and Nina Gardiner.

James, age 28, had, in a matter of speaking, been unfaithful. Not necessarily to his wife, Nina (23), but to water. If that sounds daft, that’s because it is, but allow me a momentary Fortean flight of fancy.

It was January 17, 1930, and Nina and James (two years married), were fighting—presumably again—in their rooms at the Grandeur Apartment Hotel (now Grandeur Apartments at 1055 E. Granville). James worked as an sanitary district engineer at the Mayfair Pumping Station; while Nina, to her great shame, was a secretary to Criminal Court Clerk John H. Passmore (seen here standing beside legendary conman Yellow Kid Weil). “To her shame,” because Nina was forced to take a job rather than keep a house,  James having failed to bring home the bacon. James showed his, let’s call it “hydro-infidelity” by both avoiding work at the pumping station and running into the arms of the local saloons. According to the two available photos of her, Nina was a pretty young thing with devil-may-care eyes and a winning smile. James, perhaps unpossessed of a flapper’s allure, remains faceless to us.

Returning the the apartment—oh, let’s imagine it with a rusty sink, Murphy bed, and grim breakfast nook equipped with a hot plate and dingy side toaster—James had been absent for two days, returning without explanation and with hootch on his breath. Nina asked where the hell he’d been. James replied with his fists before turning in to bed.

Nina wasn’t having it. She opened a drawer, grabbed a revolver, carried it to where James lay, and began pistol-whipping the engineer. Unappreciative of her failure to ventilate his head, James slapped Nina around a little more then entered the bathroom—let’s picture it with a rustier sink and a single bulb dangling from the ceiling—to clean his wound. Washing the gore from his hair and face, dripping a far-too-late blood sacrifice into the sink, he told her more beatings were in the offing.

Nina replied with a butcher knife, stabbing upwards and slicing through his neck. The blade stuck out of his mouth like a metal tongue. Someone called the cops, and while James was taken to the Lake View Hospital, Nina was transported to the Summerdale police station at 1940 W. Foster. The Trib’s back page shows her cheerfully perched on a cop’s desk—Velma Kelly in furs—under photogenic interrogation by “Policeman William Garney.”

The Gardiners were absent from the papers for a few months. Until March 5, when the couple traveled down the Memphis-Bristol Highway on a reconciliation vacation. The facts are hazy about why the two kissed and made up, or even how far the case got in the courts. Maybe it was a different time, when a little light attempted homicide could be waved off by a romantic old fool of a judge. The couple barreled down Tennessee State Route 1 on a dark Wednesday night—then the rest of the tale played out like a Tom Waits song. The steering wheel broke, sending the car soaring over the embankment before planting it grill-first in a ditch. Buried deep in the mud, the water seeped in and reclaimed James and Nina. Shortly after, Mr. William A. Williamson of Mason, TN, saw the car’s taillights gleaming in the night and reported the accident. Nina and James were draped over the car doors, more than likely having tried to escape the car before the crash. And just like that, the engineer and stenographer were gone.



Bonus: Photos from the groundbreaking and opening of the Mayfair Water Pumping Station from the Chicago Daily news photographic archives.

Alderman Ellis Geiger digging at Mayfair Pumping Station while other officials watch.
[DN-0064323, Chicago Daily News negatives collection, Chicago History Museum]

Mayor Harrison and city officials standing in the Mayfair Water Pumping station
[DN-0064324, Chicago Daily News negatives collection, Chicago History Museum]

Joseph Kostner, Mayor Harrison and city officials, wearing rain coats and hats, standing on the street at the Mayfair Water Pumping Station
[DN-0064322, Chicago Daily News negatives collection, Chicago History Museum]

Architecture and Chicago and Churches and History and Irving Park19 Jun 2011 09:13 pm

[I wrote this last year on my personal blog, but I thought it was worth, chuckle, resurrecting here.]


Last week’s house walk was a success. I worked at St. John’s Church as a docent and gofer Saturday morning and afternoon, switching between explaining the Christian symbology topping the lancets on the Advent Window, and setting up canopies, tables, and chairs for the beans and brats feast the church laid out for all visitors. I truly enjoyed myself—it’s rare that I have a live audience, and rarer still when they actually want to hear what I have to say.

After weeks (well, days) worth of study and practice, I was ready to show every interesting item between the narthex and sacristy. As it turned out, I was put in charge of showing off just the sanctuary and chancel—stage three of the tour as I explained to the house walkers.

Sorry, permit me to provide a quick glossary. The narthex is the entrance; the sacristy is the back-stage area where the priests and servers prepare for the service; the sanctuary is at the front of the church, while the chancel is the area surrounding the altar. At least that’s what I was told. I always heard the sanctuary comprised the interior of the church, and while I’d never encountered the word chancel before, I’d heard of the apse—the recessed area occupied by the altar, the tabernacle, the reredos, and other furnishings. (Didn’t understand a single word in the previous paragraph? I completely understand. For me it all comes from a Catholic boyhood and a little Wikipedia skimming. I won’t commit the sin of pride though—the sanctuary and chancel were more than enough, and I had the pleasure of describing three of the church’s prize possessions.

St. John’s is a small church. The congregation numbers at, I think, around 120 or so parishioners, and the building is the size of a large house. While not as sprawlingly awesome and ostentatious as the Catholic Holy Name Cathedral or St. James’, Chicago’s Episcopalian cathedral, St. John’s seems large even in its smallness. It reminds me of a nautilus shell, compact and curving into itself.

Just missing the Gothic Revival, but no doubt heavily influenced by it, St. John’s was erected in 1888. For chronological perspective, that’s the same year Arthur Conan Doyle dreamed up Sherlock Holmes and Jack the Ripper was murdering prostitutes in Whitechapel. Chicago’s Irving park—the northwest neighborhood St. John’s is situated in—was somewhat calmer back then. If memory serves, the area was originally called Grayland, because Sheriff John Gray (the first Republican sheriff elected in Chicago) owed much of the farmland there. Gray announced that the tract of land located at Byron and Kostner was available to anyone who promised to build a church. The Episcopalians—who were currently meeting in  masonic halls and a room above a local pharmacy—took the challenge and constructed the current church.

Records state that the church was built by the Cookingham Co. My research turned up no such firm, though I did encounter another one named Cookingham and Clarke in a Trib article from 1886. Cookingham and Clarke announced that they were constructing “Chinese dwellings” (i.e., pagoda-inspired homes) in Ravenswood, another Chicago neighborhood. I haven’t looked into this yet, but I’m hoping that the “Chinese dwellings” were constructed and can be located (I doubt it).

Here’s where things get interesting, yet murky, so we must use a bit of conjecture. Cookingham of Cookingham and Clarke was a fellow named Peter. He had a brother named Theron who lived in Irving Park and worked as a contractor. The very helpful Mr. Tim Samuelson, Chicago’s redoubtable cultural historian, found a family photo of the Cookingham’s and posited (but admitted that this is not a certainty) that Theron very likely was the contractor, and Peter likely could have been St. John’s architect. My research turns up ads announcing applications for builder’s permits by a W.H Cookingham as well, leading me to think this was a family operation. Tim suggested the Britishness of their surname lends some credence to the Cookinghams being Episcopalians. Sounds like an excellent starting point for further research.

On enters St. John’s through the narthex on the west side, passing through two red doors. According to tradition, the doors are painted red to symbolize entering the church under the protection of the blood of Christ. Sounds like it’s more of an Episcopalian tradition, and an image search for “red doors Episcopalian church” seems to bear this out. Ascending the stairs and entering the nave—the area containing the pews and aisle—the visitor can note two gothic revival elements.

1. Take a broad view of the scene and you’ll notice that the aisle is eventually bisected by a horizontal stretch of area between the pews and the sanctuary, forming a cross—not by accident.

2. The hammerbeam roof, composed of several large pieces of timber that take the weight and thrust of the roof and transfer it to the church’s stone walls. The problem is that St. John’s doesn’t have stone walls, and 20 years ago they noticed the walls were pulling away from the sides under the roof’s weight. A photograph from the archives shows the beams were about 2 1/4″ out of plumb. Not good. Tie rods and support bars were installed and painted well enough to blend in with the wood. I sure do like that hammerbeam roof—gives the place a mead hall feel. Christ the Viking.

Most of the stained glass windows at St. John’s were installed during the 60s and 70s and have pretty but bland Renaissance-inspired appearances. With the exception of the 1988 window, which takes full advantage of that era’s love of jagged abstraction. The sanctuary, however, features Irving Park’s oldest, intact stained glass window known as the Advent Window. The Advent Widow is the gift of the Children League of the Holy Child, a group formed before the church existed by a Mrs. Florance (the church’s Tennessee marble baptismal font is dedicated to her). After reading the Apostles Creed together every Saturday, Mrs. Florance and the children would sew squares to be sewn in turn into quilts and sold. From 1888 to 1924, the Advent Window occupied the west wall, while the church entrance was set in the northwest corner. In 1924 they dug a basement, and the church was shifted two feet northwards. The narthex was constructed, and the Advent Window was reset in the sanctuary’s northeast wall.

Directly across from the Advent Window you’ll find the church’s 110-year-old Kimball pipe organ. The W. W. Kimball Company was mostly known for piano manufacturing and sales, but from 1890 to 1942 they also built pipe organs. St. John’s organ was dedicated in 1900 by local organist/fin de siecle rock star Harrison Wild—a gentleman of great talent and tremendous mustache. The organ was once operated by a bellows, operated by wee boys who sat behind the organ and pumped it during the service. Later on a pipe was run into the church and the organ was water-powered before eventually being converted to electric. Wild wasn’t the only individual who tickled the ivories at St. John’s. Herbert E. Hyde, a child prodigy, played it from age 13 to 16. Hyde later went on to play for the Chicago Symphony Orchestra and St. Luke’s Episcopal Church up in Evanston. Hyde spread out into the theater as well, writing music for children’s musicals and plays, including one written by Lord Dunsany, proto-scifi/fantasy writer and figure of great inspiration to H.P. Lovecraft.

The final object of pride is the reredos against the chancel’s rear wall. Installed in 1944, the reredos features four paintings by painter and parishioner Theon Betts. Mr. Betts came from an artistic family, and I mean that in the strictest sense since every one of them, from Daddy on down was a brush-slinger. Theon’s brother Louis was likely the star of the family, though not a household name (he did, however, render an impressive portrait of lumber magnate Martin Ryerson, currently residing at the Art Institute of Chicago). Theon was no slacker, however, and turned out four subdued, dreamy paintings of St. Francis, Mary, St. John, and St. Thomas Aquinas.

The tour passed through the sacristy, which once held a small chapel with a fancy, but now MIA, altar. The fun part came at the tour’s end in the back rooms. Once a much larger room, it was divided by drywall into several classrooms in the 1980s. Unfortunately, this covered up a sweeping ceiling and all traces of the former gymnasium—save for the very loud bell attached to the east wall, which once marked the rounds during the boxing matches they once held up there. OLD-FASHIONED EPISCOPALIAN BOXING MATCHES. Awesome.

I don’t have any especially whacky house walk stories. The crowd was attentive and well-behaved. The only true eccentric was a guy in a trenchcoat, who first asked me if I was “the reverend” and then curiously advised me that our kitchen fire extinguishers weren’t of the correct grade (he recommended K grade extinguishers). My fellow guides, especially Angela, the church historian, were all lovely people. One of them, Olive, was good enough to snap a picture of me. Behold, Mr. Dan Kelly: DOCENT.

—Dan Kelly

Architecture and Chicago and History and Oliver Typewriter Co.19 Jun 2011 08:28 pm

At 159 North Dearborn the facade of the Oliver Typewriter Building sits very quietly. Its dark green cast iron front is covered with the dirt and grime of inattention, but the intricate beaux-artsy detail was obviously very important to someone, once upon a time.

The company was founded in 1894 by Methodist minister Reverend Thomas Oliver. in 1892 he applied for a patent on his unique design for a “down-strike” typewriter. This allowed the typist to see the line he or she was typing, as opposed to the more widely used “front-strike” typewriters at the time.

The original corporate office was established at the corner of Clark and Randolph Streets in 1895, but in 1907 moved to 159 North Dearborn, where it remained until 1926. The five-floor building was designed by the legendary Holabird & Roche, and two floors were added to it in 1920.

The building was designated a landmark in 1984, but in 1997 the city exercised its right of eminent domain to hand over the building to developers for expansion of the backstage area of the Oriental Theater next door (now called the Ford Center for the Performing Arts).

Now all that remains of the Oliver Typewriter  Company is the facade. The street level windows serve as advertising space for the theater district, and the upper windows are uniformly blank. I wish someone would give the building a good power-washing and let its beauty shine.

– Kathy Moseley

Architecture and Charles W. Kallal and Chicago and History and Mayfair17 Jun 2011 02:46 am

During his stint as Chicago’s city architect, Charles W. Kallal designed, or at least oversaw the construction of multiple municipal buildings across town. Mr. Kallal—identified as “City Architect” on a plaque near the pumping station’s front door—is a bit of a cipher. Finding his grave was easy; locating a photo of the man was near-impossible (Dominican University has one in their files; I’ll soon stop by to pick up a scan, so stay tuned). Born of Bohemian-American stock on July 8, 1873, Charles William was originally baptized Karel Vilem (at least per one genealogy site). I suspect he Americanized his name to ease assimilation. Little turns up about the man’s life until 1897 when he collaborated with architect Joseph Molitor on the former St. Vitus Church (1814 S. Paulina) in Pilsen. We know he married Miss Barbara Birnbaum at some point, and the two raised a flock of kids—five daughters and a son (the latter of whom went MIA in 1945 while serving in the southwest Pacific before being declared dead a year later).

Professionally, Kallal became city architect during Mayor Fred Busse’s administration. It was a civil service gig, and he served under several mayors, including Carter Harrison, Jr., and William Hale “Big Bill” Thompson. Per the 1912 Chicago City Manual, Kallal and his department, the Bureau of Architecture oversaw:

“…the preparation of plans and specifications on which contracts are based for…construction, repair and alteration of all buildings other than schools and the City Hall, supervises the work of construction, etc. Architectural services are rendered to the Police, Fire and Health Departments, the Bureaus of Engineering and Streets and the House of Correction.”

What remains unclear is how much Kallal actually designed himself versus contracting outside architects. Were there enough hours in the day for one man to create a city?

Whether bureaucrat or Herculean city-builder, Kallal’s name frequently pops up in trade rags of the day—mostly periodicals with stultifying names like Electrical World, The Heating and Ventilating Magazine, The Metal Worker, and Water and Sewage Works—connecting his name with several existing, demolished, and perhaps never-erected buildings. Obviously, he kept busy, either drawing up and/or submitting plans for numerous Chicago police, fire, pumping, and power  stations, bath houses, building additions, and, by one account, the city’s first outdoor natatorium (oddly referred to as an  “artificial swimming hole,” what we would call a pool). While neither particularly ingenious or innovative, Kallal’s buildings have a wonderfully nostalgic air, recollecting the age of sleeve garters and handlebar mustaches. They are old-fashioned and unpretentious, possessing an amiable civility and admirable lack of cynicism.


The Bureau of Architecture didn’t just build fire stations, beach houses, and artificial swimming holes, however. Per the 1913 Chicago City Manual, Kallal was charged by Commissioner of Public Works Lawrence E. McGann, with a prestige project: restoring the Chicago Water Tower, which had, in the previous 42 years, gone to seed. Mayor Harrison lived nearby, and had long wanted to see the tower and its accompanying pump house brought up to snuff. The City Manual reports that Kallal and his workers repaired the structure’s ground facings and replaced much of the broken glass. The Manual also provides amazing descriptions of how much work Kallal and his men had cut out for them. The Chicago Fire’s most famous survivor did not resemble the shiny castellated phallus standing at Chicago and Michigan Avenues today:

“The lighter stones and stone ornaments of the tower were torn off and hurled a distance by the superheated wild air; the heavier white stones were blackened and stained; the foundations were involved and so weakened that the tower leaned, giving to Chicago for a time the second marvel of the kind in this world of marvels.”

While he didn’t build it, Kallal served as custodian of Chicago’s City Hall, a Classic Revival Structure designed by Holabird and Roche in 1911. Kallal kept things tidy, overseeing the chief janitor, the building’s chief operating engineer, and the entire maintenance staff, including, interestingly, all of City Hall’s carpenters and cabinet-makers. Non-Chicagoans may recognize it as the building where the Bluesmobile finally broke down.


In December 1913, Kallal and Health Commissioner George B. Young visited the eastern US on a fact-finding mission. Hardly a glamorous junket, the two toured contagious disease hospitals in Cincinnati; Washington, DC; and unspecified other cities to generate ideas for a similar hospital in Chicago. In a Trib interview, Young did all the talking, stating that the the two men had “gathered valuable suggestions” and promising they would “plan a hospital which will be pretty nearly ideal when we finish our investigation.”

This was no doubt the same “hospital with glass rooms” promised in an article in the 1913 issue of Heating and Ventilating Magazine. Kallal’s plans for the new $300,000 “isolation hospital” promised creepy “…glass hospital rooms, equipped with telephones, permitting persons recovering from contagious diseases [Writer’s note: mostly tuberculosis] to be visited by relatives and friends.” The hospital would be located at 31st Street and Marshall Boulevard—land currently occupied by Cook County Jail–but ended up instead at 3026 S. California Blvd as the Municipal Contagious Diseases Hospital. As of April 25, 1915, Kallal’s office was at work on the plans, but Young raised Cain about the location. The City Council Committee wanted it built near the old hospital in Lawndale. Young nixed that, saying it was a waste of money and good buildings.

On January 4, 1914, Kallal got a raise, along with Health Commissioner Young and Deputy Building Commissioner Robert Knight. Building Commissioner Henry Ericsson (who shares several commemorative plaques with Kallal) did not. Not to worry—Ericsson felt little pain, already making $6,000 and requesting $10,000. Kallal, however, got a $1,000 bump to $5,500, while Knight went from $4,000 to $5,000. All this took place during Mayor Carter Harrison, Jr.’s stint as mayor from 1911 to 1915.

By 1915 the administration changed, and the impressively corrupt (even among Chicago mayors) Mayor “Big Bill” Thompson was in charge. Moreover, April 28, 1915, the Trib reported that Charles’ hospital had a flaw. The first ward buildings of the new hospital had settled by 14 inches. Reported the Trib:

“It is said caissons would have been provided and that insufficient borings were made.”

Costs to fix the problem were calculated at $37,000, and rumors flew that Kallal might get the pink slip. It appears he didn’t, however—or at least there was no follow-up story. Kallal’s obituary shows he was affiliated in some way with the firm of Cram and Ferguson, historically, builders of college and religious buildings. The very nice folks at Cram and Ferguson told me they have no records of Kallal’s years with the firm, but I’d hazard to guess that he worked for them in the 1890s (as suggested by his work with Joseph Molitor) rather than moving on to them after his stint as city architect.

Besides the Mayfair Pumping Station, Kallal’s most readily recognized structure is likely Chicago Firehouse #78 (1052 West Waveland). Standing in the shadow of Wrigley Field, it was built in 1915. The book A Chicago Firehouse states that even though Kallal’s name appears on the plaque out front, he probably didn’t draw up the plans for the fire station himself. Regardless, Mayfair Pumping Station, the firehouse, and the Department of Gas & Electricity Southwest Substation (mentioned below) reveal elements suggesting a shared hand. The brickwork is set to form alternating patterns, culminating in checks, pinwheels, and other shapes. The ornamental shields, medallions, and, in the case of the pumping station, the stylized beastie (possibly a lion, possibly a dragon, perhaps a sea serpent) over the front door, bespeak a common source for ornamentation. But that’s just a personal observation.

Mayfair Pumping Station

Chicago Firehouse #78

Kallal was also integral to the creation of a sizable, snazzy bath house at 4501 N. Clarendon Avenue in 1916, at the immensely popular Clarendon Avenue Beach (see these sites for views of the building and Turn of the Century Chicagoans frolicking in the surf and sandy turf). Later expansion of Lincoln Park’s beachfront cut into Clarendon’s, and the area became the traditional park it is today. Regrettably, the bath house was deprived of its towers and tile roof during a 1972 renovation, and converted into a community center, giving no indication of its former glory.

Much further south, all the way down in Washington Heights, we find a kid brother to the Mayfair Pumping Station in the Department of Gas & Electricity Southwest Substation (10227 S. Halsted). The familiarly checked brick building shows that even though you’re municipal and utilitarian, that doesn’t mean you can’t be cute. I haven’t trekked down to the substation yet, but Flickr photographer/bicyclist Eliezer Appleton graciously gave permission to link to his snapshots of the place.


A quiet man, archivally speaking, Kallal left behind few words (though Dominican University in River Forest, IL, holds several letters from Kallal dating from the time he acted as Rosary College’s architectural advisor—he was, apparently, a devout Catholic. Evidence suggests he only published one article on architecture, “The Standard Handball Court,” which appeared in Architecture and Architect Magazine and discusses the construction of such courts for fire stations (Googlebooks provides limited access to this journal; I’d be much appreciative if anyone out there with a copy could send me a scan). In the Tribune, I turned up a single quote in the Dec 31,1918 article “Ask City $35,000 Rental for Old Herald Building.” Addressing the council finance committee by letter regarding the purchase and use of the old, OLD Daily Herald building as a police station, Kallal left behind the immortal words, “the minimum requirements for operation [of the Herald Building were] $35,362, exclusive of heat.” He co-wrote the letter though, so we can’t even be sure those were his words.

Sadly, Kallal never made it out of middle age. He died March 7, 1926, at the age of 52 from an ear infection, and currently rests in St. Adalbert’s Cemetery in Niles, IL. Interestingly, his family’s plot rests beside the crypt of George “Papa Bear” Halas,  long-time coach and owner of the Chicago Bears.

While he may not have been an aesthete and philosopher like Louis Sullivan or Frank Lloyd Wright, or a sculptor of cities like Daniel Burnham, Charles W. Kallal did design useful buildings not unpossessed of charm. They may not be symphonies in stone, but they’re certainly catchy little ditties in brick and glass.

Later note: At the suggestion of Mr. Appleton, I checked the Chicago Landmarks site for other buildings connected with Mr. Kallal. Two more fire stations are located at 2179 N. Stave St. and 330 W. 104th St., while the Lincoln Public Bath House hides at 1019 N. Wolcott Ave. I might take a Father’s Day journey around town to collect photos of every Kallal I can find.

—Dan Kelly


Next, Floods, Fish, and Other Mayhem at, Around, and Connected with Mayfair Pumping Station

Architecture and Chicago and History and Mayfair10 Jun 2011 05:19 pm


Little-known, but hardly nondescript, the northwest neighborhood of Mayfair is an architecturally simple place. While it has much to recommend for it as the buckle—or, more accurately, a large stud—on Chicago’s Bungalow Belt, the local buildings are mostly pleasant emissaries of their respective eras. Not historically important or particularly stunning, but pretty or impressive in their own way.

Such is the case with the Mayfair Pumping Station (4850 W. Wilson Avenue). What might have been a bland stack of utilitarian bricks and glass was instead transformed into a pleasant, visually stimulating interplay of quadrangles. I don’t know what you call this style of architecture, but it manages to seem both old world and bold young Chicago at the same time. A building with the simple function of pumping water to its surrounding community, its history and the man who presumably designed it, are somewhat more interesting and complex.


The northwest side was powerful thirsty, but Mayfair and the surrounding villages were a good stretch away from Lake Michigan’s shores. The Lakeview pumping station three miles south kept the water flowing, but water pressure was pathetic—likely a worse situation in those pre-deodorant days. A letter from Mrs. Q.D. Peake to the September 3, 1913 Chicago Daily Tribune’s “The Friend of the People” column bespoke a parched population.

“For the last three days… the water in the bathroom just trickles from the faucets, and the toilet bowl cannot be flushed at all, necessitating the carrying of water up from the first floor…We must have water! What will the water department do about it?”

City Engineer John Ericson assured Mrs. Peake that three new engines had been recently installed at the Lakeview station, bringing some oomph to the pressure. More importantly, Mayfair would get its own station in the next few years. Patience was necessary though, since they’d only just started digging an eight-mile-long connecting tunnel to the Wilson Avenue intake crib, located three miles offshore in Lake Michigan. The actual pumping station wouldn’t be completed for a few more years.

Built on the former farmland of Elsie Budlong, Chicago pickle factory owner, the station’s construction was an imposing task. Per the January/June 1915 issue of the professional journal The Iron Age, Chicago City Architect Charles Kallal submitted plans for the station’s engine and boiler room. Shortly thereafter—according to the December 31, 1915 Annual Report from the Department of Public Works—56,000 yards of earth needed to be removed from the site by good old-fashioned steam shovels. (Note the below photos, taken from John Thomas Lucas’ civil engineering thesis, “Construction of Substructure of Mayfair Pumping Station, City of Chicago (1917)”.

Naturally, this was Chicago. The station faced the usual construction delays, graft, and false starts:

  • On November 22, 1915, the Trib reported the suspension of three city inspectors over delivery of inferior short leaf, “lob lolly” pine to be used in the station’s construction. More than 700,000 feet of lumber had already been delivered.
  • In a June 1916 article topped with the headline “Waste on Northwest Side Threatens Water Famine” (why “famine” rather than “drought,” I’m not sure), Commissioner of Public Works W.R. Moorhouse admonished Mayfairians to stop leaving their faucets and lawn sprinklers running. They were sapping the folks in westerly Austin,IL, and the rest of the northwest side of water pressure.
  • Two years later, on February 21, 1918, “The Friend of the People” ran a letter from “J.L.”, asking when pressure would improve. John Ericson spoke up again, telling J.L. to, as it were, hold his or her water. Strikes and a minor thing called World War I had slowed down construction.
  • In a staggering example of how different the times were from our own, the Journal of the American Medical Association (Vol. 17, 1918) reported that the opening of the Wilson Avenue tunnel and pumping station were once more delayed when it was discovered a worker had typhoid. This may be what delayed opening day July 1, 1918, as reported by the Trib. I suspect they were assiduously avoiding any mention of the deadly disease.
  • A week later, the Trib promised a delay of only four or five more days, but as of July 14, the station had yet to open. This time “M.K.” wrote to “The Friend of the People,” asking when the police station being constructed at Chicago and Racine (long since demolished, likely during the building of the Dan Ryan Expressway) would be completed. Not until the pumping station in Mayfair was finished, was the Trib‘s reply, and only after city officials determined “…if adequate water pressure can be secured.”
  • Come August 7, the station finally opened its pipes and fired up its engines (a group of horses standing at the ready to keep the pumps moving if the engines failed). But it was an inglorious debut. Flushing out the Wilson tunnel and Mayfair pumps brought only muddy, nonpotable water to the folks in Mayfair, North Austin, Irving Park, Jefferson Park, and West Ravenswood.

At last (and according to the cool, clear, somewhat pure Lake Michigan water issuing from my home’s faucets), the station was completed by 1919. Thus far, I lack any period photographs to be sure, but it appears relatively intact. Surely, there are elements of modernization, but, as a friend pointed out, the large front windows and nifty globe lamps out front appear unmolested.

The fact that the building is protected by the government, with attendant signage outside declaring same, have probably kept it unmarred by taggers and salvagers despite its relatively out-of-sight location (it sits beside the Union Pacific/Northwest rail line, and is best reached by driving through the Wilson Avenue tunnel at Cicero). The smokestack, if I’m reading right, is not original, nor in use, since, I’m guessing, the machinery is no longer coal-powered. The previous stack was dismantled in 1958, essentially turned inside out as the workers started at the top, dislodging and heaving bricks into the stack for collection below. It’s unclear when the current smokestack was erected, or if the old one was restored.


Next, Chicago City Architect Charles W. Kallal, Floods, Attempted Murder… and Fish!

Architecture and Disaster and History and Louis Sullivan24 May 2011 03:14 am

While shuffling through my old photos, I came across this bit of heartbreak—the Dexter Building at 630 S. Wabash, which was designed by Adler and Sullivan and, at the time, the oldest example of Sullivan’s work. I took these pictures May 21, 2004. Less than two years later the building burned down. I haven’t bothered to stop by the site. I don’t care to see what they might have replaced it with. I’m sorry I never walked around to the other side to shoot the awesome exposed girders in back.

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