July 2011

Art and Murals12 Jul 2011 02:41 am

Every morning on my way to work, I pass a series of large, faded paintings on the Metra train embankment that runs along Hubbard Street. One panel proclaims it “The Chicago Gallery 1973.” The paintings are mostly of animals, and so weathered and vine-covered that they seem more like the ruins of a lost civilization that something that’s only been around since I was six years old.

The original murals were a project of Ricardo Alonzo, an Art Institute of Chicago graduate. Over an eight-year period, Alonzo and volunteers from the West Town Community Art Center painted murals along a mile-long stretch of Hubbard Street, from Des Plaines to Ogden, until their funding ran out in 1979.

In 2000, the Union Pacific Railroad did some rehab and repair work on a segment of the embankment, so a new group of volunteers came together (with support from the Illinois Arts Council and the Chicago Department of Cultural Affairs, among others) to create new murals on Hubbard between Carpenter and Ogden. Again, wildlife images dominate, but there are also some panels that reference Chicago-related themes, like the blues, Pullman porters, and the Imagists art movement.

It’s such a shame that these beautiful paintings exist in a place where hardly anyone will ever see them. There’s very little foot traffic in the area. Unless you have a specfic reason for going over there (dinner at Mart Anthony’s, a beer at Aberdeen Tap, or if you happen to live in one of the newly-built townhouses), you’re never going to just run across them by accident. And there’s no sidewalk on the side of the road where the murals are, so you either have to view them from the sidewalk across the street, or pick your way through the trees and shrubs in front of the murals to get a closer look.

But they’re worth a walk out of your way, in my opinion. The new ones for the bright color and sense of whimsy that many of them have, and the old ones for their sad, faded beauty.

You can find more photos of the murals at my Flickr page.

-Kathy Moseley

Architecture and Bucktown and Chicago and Louis Sullivan11 Jul 2011 06:03 pm

I made an interesting trip back in February to Richard Nickel’s house, a former bakery and later repository of architectural ornamentation. With the thaw I felt an itch to search for interesting buildings. Then I remembered that I had yet to see Nickel’s home—though he never actually lived here, having died not so long after buying it. In 2009 it was on the endangered buildings list, but the city put it on the demolition hold list. I’m not sure about its current status.

The back gate was open, and I was severely tempted to go round back to see where he stored all the stone and terracotta fripperies he liberated from fallen Sullivans, et al. I chickened out. Anyway, it was a nice way to intiate a fruitful year of visiting buildings. I hope to see a lot of midwestern Prairie School architecture and get a few more Sullivan banks under my belt, hopefully with my son Nate in tow. He’s been asking to see “beautiful buildings” again, God love him.

—Dan Kelly