recently written about the now beautifully restored White Castle #16 building at 43 E. Cermak, including a couple of handsome nighttime photo's. The Landmarks Commission's 40 page report, however, not only covers the history of the building, and of the White Castle chain, but of the history of working class dining and buildings that served them. We learn, for example, that while today's entrepreneurs battle both city bureaucracy and bricks-and-mortar restaurants to get food trucks back on Chicago's streets, horse-drawn lunch wagons were a Chicago mainstay in the 19th century and beyond. The report covers the trend setting Fred Harvey Restaurants, and includes the 1907 cartoon you see here, warning of the dangers of diner food, which could easily be repurposed as a commentary on how our own fast food culture is leading us to obesity and disease.
click images for larger viewThe report on the Riviera Motor Sales Company Building at 5948-60 North Broadway not only chronicles the handsome building and its spectacular showrooms, but provides a history of how cars have been sold throughout Chicago's history, and provides a richly illustrated account of a time when they were displayed, not in garishly lit car lots, but in surroundings that mirrored the richness of the movie palaces of the era.
Sometime in the new century, Shipman's original castellated roofline was removed and three additional stories added. Postcards often offer an idealized version of the buildings they depict, but this postcard would seem to indicate that the addition, at the time it was added, worked to integrate with the older building beneath.
It's a key contributor to making the west side medical center, dominated by the boarded up hulk of old County Hospital, a decrepit and forlorn presence. The new Northwestern Medical Campus is little better. Why do medical institutions feel so comfortable in slumming up the city? It's a good thing that the desperately ill are brought to hospitals lying face up, looking at the ceiling of the ambulance. If they actually caught sight of the architectural pallor all around them, they'd probably die of depression before they even had a chance to be treated.
The carelessness of the hack job rehab of Shipman's Presbyterian Hospital is truly astonishing. It's like a giant Rahmian middle finger held up to everyone who has to look at this building on a daily basis. Not only are the windows bricked up, making it look like a prison, there was no effort to clean the brick or make the slightest effort to match the appearance of the new to that of the old. The new brick where old windows were ripped out looks like it was jammed in almost at random, in some places leaving the string course alone, in other cases dismembering them into fragments. It reads as a series of ugly blotches set in the dirty brick of the original facades.
Fortunately, I think we've come a long way since then. Just a few blocks from the Presbyterian, a new, spectacular, billion dollar (including $75 million of your tax money in TIF subsidies) Rush Presbyterian, designed by Perkins + Will, is nearing completion. My bet would be is that not long after it opens, all those sad, once grand buildings to the west will disappear into the placeholders of surface parking lots and temporary lawns. For the moment, however, if you look closely, you can still see remnant elements of what once made buildings like the Presbyterian Hospital the pride of the city.