Sunday, July 29, 2012

Chicago Streetscene: The Moustache is Watching You.

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Frank Lloyd Wright Hits the Wall

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In 1955, House Beautiful editor Elizabeth Gordon was instrumental in introducing the Taliesen Line of fabrics designed by architect Frank Lloyd Wright that were produced by the company founded by Frederick Schumacher in 1899.
 "Schumacher's Take Pride in Introducing Fabrics and Wallcoverings  Designed by World Famed Frank Lloyd Wright," read the advertisement, showing the architect standing at a table covered with the fabrics, while a roll of the wallpaper, curling up at the bottom, can be seen to his left.  It was the first and only textile line produced by Wright, and it was also accompanied by a palette of 36 paint colors for the Martin-Senour Company.
Samples of the products can be found in such institutions as the Art Institute of Chicago, and London's Victoria and Albert Museum.  Last year, the Price Tower Arts Center, housed in the Frank Lloyd Wright designed skyscraper in Oklahoma City, had designer Lauren Dreiling draw upon the fabrics to create the Mary Lou, a jacket honoring the wife of Price Company founder, H.C. Price. 
Even the catalogue for the wallpapers is now a collector's item, and it's not surprising that one copy is in the hands of Chicago Cultural Historian Tim Samuelson, whose excellent show, Wright's Roots, tracing the early years of Frank Lloyd Wright is now running at the Expo Gallery across the street from the Chicago Cultural Center.

The wallpaper collection draws on many of the fabric patterns . . .
 . . . including patterns with elements on a very large scale.
Many of the samples, however, were of the same geometric composition rendered in different combinations of color, some of which were very much of their time, if even then . . .
 This, more sedately hued version of the pattern . . .
has been recreated on one wall of Wright's Roots.  You can see it in the photo below, as Tim Samuelson tells me about how Wright's change of mind about the windows of the Roloson Houses, is unveiled in Wright's Roots after being hidden for 85 years.  But that's a story for another day.
Wright's Roots runs through September 30th at the Expo Gallery, 72 East Randolph.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

White and Red and Louis all Over: Target opens in Sullivan's Carson Pirie Scott

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Target has come to the Loop.  The New City Target store that has just opened in the former Carson Pirie Scott department store at State and Madison designed by architect Louis Sullivan, is bright, clean and handsome.   But, actually, Target Corp. has come back to the Loop.  Are they redefining what constitutes a downtown department store?

Architectural historian Joseph Siry has written that Marshall Field always denied his palace on State Street ever was a "department store."  He insisted it be considered as a dry goods store, instead, offering discriminating products in a limited number of categories to his elite clientele.

The opposite of this was The Fair Store, a few blocks down on State, which chose to build its fortune on "the immense economic strength of VOLUME."  In contrast to Marshall Field's, The Fair offered its customers an enormous array of products at cheap prices, everything from toys, furniture, and kitchen equipment to groceries and dental work.

In between these two approaches, in both strategy and geography, was the Schlesinger and Mayer Department Store, the upscale equivalent of The Fair.  It was located at what was considered the most valuable piece of real estate in Chicago, the southeast corner of State and Madison, valued at the end of the 19th century at $2 million.  When it came time to build new and larger, Schlesinger and Meyer turned to one of the Chicago's most prominent architects, Louis H. Sullivan.  Working with his former partner Dankmar Adler, who handled mechanical aspects of the building, Sullivan created what has come to be recognized as one of the finest buildings in modern architecture, clean, clear and majestic, saved from minimalism by Sullivan's fecund ornament.

The new store, with its rounded corner and that luxurious cast-iron ornament around the huge shop windows, opened for business October  12, 1903.  Despite such economies as substituting terra cotta for the planned exterior marble, it came in massively over budget - $1,650,000 versus the originally projected $1,250,000.  That, coupled with the lost revenue during the store's construction, was enough to push Schlesinger and Mayer out of business, and within a year, the far more famous Carson Pirie Scott became the hermit crab finding its new home in Sullivan's masterwork.

Carson's became Gimbels to Marshall Field's Macy's, and for decade after decade, both thrived on State Street.  Then people began moving to the suburbs, and the primacy of downtown began its long decline.  In New York, Gimbels closed shop in 1986.  In Chicago, Carson's, after bouncing around among various owners, shut down on State Street in 2006.
Carson Pirie Scott in its final days
On a parallel path, the tobacco company that had come to own Marshall Field's (don't ask - The Fair wound up with Mobil Oil) sold it to Dayton-Hudson  Corporation, which not long after was renamed for its booming division, Target Corporation.  In 2004, Target sold Field's to Macy's, and two years later the Field's name disappeared from everything but the commemorative plaques.

Now, eight years later, Target Corporation has  returned to State Street, in the first two floors of the former Carson Pirie Scott store.  Did I mentioned Marshall Field owned the land under the Carson's store?  Update your scorecard now.

There was a lot of concern expressed about what Target would do to Sullivan's design, but, in truth, most of the damage had been done long ago.   The ornament elevator grills that are now museum pieces were dismantled, the staircases removed, the original Sullivan restaurant and rooms modernized out of existence.

Still, at the start  of the 21st century, the building's latest owner, Joseph Freed, undertook a sensitive and ambitious plan: repairing the terra cotta, restoring Sullivan's cast iron ornament, and recreating Sullivan's long-missing rooftop colonnade.  Now, Target Corporation has created a new store design that has repaired, cleaned, and re-imagined the selling floors in a manner that is not unsympathetic to Sullivan's original design.

One very change major change is along State Street.  While, originally, the upper panes of each large window was filled with Luxfer prismatic glass to bring light deep into the store, the large display windows below did not offer an open view into the selling space.  "The individual bays of display windows," writes Siry, "were conceived as showrooms analogous to the chambers of an art gallery."  Each windowbox was six to eight feet deep, a small room for scene setting.
At Target, those windows have now been opened up.  Where once you had racks of merchandise against the back walls of the display window boxes, there's now a spacious windowside corridor, creating a navigational spine between the store and State Street, visible just outside.
Indeed the new transparency of the display windows could be a continuing realization of Sullivan's plan for an open selling space.    As Siry writes, older stores were often a number of individual buildings cribbed together, with obstructive interior partitions common, if inescapable.  In contrast, unbroken interiors came to be seen as a sign of modernity, as Dry Goods Reporter noted that "partitions make a store seem crowded, cut off the light, and make the arrangement of counters and departments like so many stalls . . ."
In the City Target on State, the previously tan column capitals are no more.   A small description of the renovation in the store says, "Target had the building's historic column capitals meticulously repaired or replaced and repainted white . . . When the building opened at the turn of the last century, Sullivan designed all elements to be in harmony - white marble floors blending with white painted plaster columns, capitals and ceiling."
While much of the Target installation includes high shelving, threatening to turn the space into a series of warrens, the 20-foot columns and completely open space above still imparts the sense of continuity and openness.
This is not your standard big box store, but an example of a new concept.  At 124,000 square feet and 89,000 square feet of selling space, State Street is the largest "City Target" to date, but it's still substantially smaller than a suburban superstore, which can clock in at 180,000 or more.  According to a Reuter's story, even the trucks supplying the store with its merchandise are six inches shorter than the norm, to fit under the tracks of the Loop L.
It's a new experiment in extending the retailer's reach to the inner cities they've traditionally ignored.  It's a risk, because it's a lot more expensive to rehab a century-old building than constructing a standardized warehouse store on a tabula rasa lot.

It's also different in layout.  A typical big box retailer usually consists of a massive rectangular floor plan converging on an endless bank of checkout lanes at the front of the store.

You can't walk into Target on State and get the lay of the land by just looking ahead of you.  The layout seems almost a throwback to an old-fashioned hardware store that expanded over time.  It offers up a succession of nooks and crannies that you don't realize are there until you stumble upon them.  I can't say whether the impact on sales will be good or bad, but to me the irregularity is one of the new store's charms.
This effect becomes even more pronounced as you make your way up to the second floor.  You may head up the escalator wondering if you had missed a department you had been looking for downstairs, but once you're at the top and start walking, it's soon revealed to you that there's about three times more space on the second floor than on the first, and it stretches all the way  back to Wabash . .  .
. . . where the restored and repainted cast iron columns of an older building look fresh and handsome.
It may not be the grand food hall former Mayor Richard M. Daley long envisioned for State Street, but the Wabash segment of the second floor offers the widest selection of food in the Loop, including vegetables and fruit.

The curved entrance foyer at the corner of State and Madison endures, handsomely, although a new chandelier looks a bit like a fluorescent bug zapper.
Spanning the two floors of shop windows are a series of tall Target-red panels.

As Target describes it . . . 
Sullivan's cast-iron ornamentation was revolutionary for its time.  Today, his remarkable designs are echoed in two-story, perforated metal screens.  Patterns of spiraling ornament - generated from photos of the rotunda ironwork - are combined with subtle Bullseyes to celebrate the union of Sullivan and Target.

When I was discussing the new Target with Chicago Cultural Historian Tim Samuelson, he suggested that those metal screens have a relation to the lace-like carvings of the red mahoganny panels that were found in the restaurant and elsewhere in the original store.
 You can't go home again.  Once the great department stores like Field's or Filenes or Hudsons were one of the most distinctive ways that a city defined its individual character.  Every city had at least one, with a rich history of tradition tied to local entrepreneurs.  Now those once-cherished names have all but disappeared, subsumed into a handful of surviving national chains.   In business and in culture, the triumph of the Supply Chain marches on.
Except . . . .   What is Target, but The Fair Store of today, a general store for the mass market?  The Target on State raises the possibility of a new hybrid, a leavening of the formless banality of the big box warehouse store through the tradition of classic urban architecture.  The eye-popping color and the wall-sized graphics of the Target on State are not subtle, but are they anything other than a continuation of the movement towards ever-increasing simplicity that was a hallmark of Louis Sulivan's original design?

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Chicago Streetscene: Angry Birds

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Monday, July 23, 2012

Would you walk a mile for a Camel? Art Deco facade newly uncovered, quickly replaced.

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We recently came across a great post on the Chiboulevards blog and we had to check it out for ourselves.
For years, the Logan Square building at the corner of the Milwaukee and Spaulding was characterized by a crude corrugated metal facade, which you can see in the photo by Eric Allix Rogers here.  Then last fall, that facade was removed to reveal, beneath the superimposed metal framing, the battered but still handsome Art Deco facade of original structure, designed by architects Leichenko and Esser, which can be seen here.  The building was completed in 1931, on a former used car lot next to 1925 3,000 seat Harding Theatre, one of the lesser remembered of Chicago's great movie palaces, which was demolished less than four decades later, in 1963.
The 1931 building was commissioned by Sol Goldberg, inventor of the modern bobby pin, who in  1915 had torn down the Samuel Allerton mansion on Prairie Avenue, and commissioned Alfred Alshuler to design what would be the first factory on what had once been Chicago's millionaire row.  In 1930, Goldberg's Hump Hair Pin Company also commissioned Leichenko and Esser to design the flatiron tower at Diversey and Milwaukee that has been recently been restored as the Hairpin Lofts, also remembered as the former Morris B Sachs store.
The same camel spandrel ornament you'll find at the Lofts . . .
. . . can also be found at Spaulding Avenue . . .
The selling point of Goldberg's bobby pin was that it was the "hair pin with the hump."  Hence the affinity for the humped camel as a kind of corporate mascot, with a promotional good luck token promising "Prosperity.  Health. Happiness", as well as the diecut tin sign seen below.
After a long discussion, Logan Square Preservation reluctantly conceded that nothing could really be done to save the original limestone facade, which would be very expensive to restore, so now we're getting this:
Notice that the decorative panels are shown to be incorporated into the new brick facade for what is called the 2700 Apartments, which is as achingly generic as the original was playfully distinctive.  If you're in the neighborhood, walk by to check it out one last time.  It won't be there much longer.

Dimming the Sharpness of Vision: Fereshteh Toosi Tuesday evening at Access Living

Archeworks is sponsoring what looks to be a fascinating lecture by Montreal's Fereshteh Toosi, Dimming the Sharpness of Vision, 6:00 p.m. Tuesday, July 24th at Access Living, 115 West Chicago, 4th floor community room.  RSVP here.
What has inspired architects, artists, and designers to integrate odor, touch, sound, and flavor in their work? Grounding her inquiry in an understanding of ocularcentricity in Western thought, Fereshteh will present a basic overview of sensory studies -- an interdisciplinary field that begins with an anthropology of the senses as it intersects with aesthetics and phenomenology. The audience will learn about Fereshteh's projects and other productions that emphasize multisensory experience: surround sound, "smell-o-vision", immersive 3D, floating isolation tanks, the Tactile Dome at the Exploratorium in San Francisco, "flavor tripping" parties, Snoezelen sensory therapy for autism, and business workshops that take place in total darkness.
Puts me in mind of Ron Krueck's idea for a Sensescape museum for Northerly Island.

There's so much more to how architecture affects us than what we perceive through the single sense of sight.  End Ocular Oppression!  (I'm thinking of having T-shirts made.)

Two Gated Communities: Will the Lathrop Homes be drowned in a River of Gentrification?

Gated Community  One.  "Take a stroll through Picardy Place and feel the essence of San Francisco.  This West Lakeview townhome community features near luxury homes wrapped in a variety of pastels – blue, grey, and peach stucco – nestled along brick paver streets." The gates protect it from the rabble on Diversey Avenue.
Gated Community Two, only blocks away from Picardy Place, the Julia C. Lathrop Homes.  The gates make sure no one actually lives there.  The Chicago Housing Authority gets the same HUD subsidy - reportedly over $11,000 per unit - whether the units are occupied or not, so it has no real incentive to find tenants, although it has a waiting list of 40,000 people.

Architect Robert S. De Golyer made his reputation building housing for Chicago's affluent in the teens and 1920's, including luxury highrises at 1120, 1242, 3500 and 3750 North Lake Shore Drive, the Powhatan Apartments on the South Side, and, next to the Museum of Contemporary Art, the palazzo-styled 200 East Pearson, where Ludwig Mies van der Rohe made his home for the last two decades of his life.
Landmarks Illinois, Antunovich Associates
In 1937, De Golyer tackled a very different project.  Working with a team that included Hugh Garden, Thomas Tallmadge, Hubert Burnham, and landscape architect Jens Jensen, De Golyer transformed 35 acres of riverfront property north and south of Diversey into the Julia C. Lathrop Homes, among the very first examples of federally funded public housing.  According to Preservation Chicago . . .
The design owes much to the earlier 19th century industrial towns (Saltaire, New Lanark, Pullman) as well as to the Garden City tradition started by Ebenezer Howard in England -- naturalistic setting, brick construction, low-rise buildings, curving walks and streets, informal siting of buildings, ample open/green space, and simple ornamentation.
Initially maintained as a whites-only development, the complex slowly began to be integrated, getting its first black residents in 1956.  According to Landmarks Illinois, Lathrop was a popular destination for returning veterans after World War II.  Later decades saw increasing problems with gangs and narcotics.  As part of its "Plan for Transformation" from 2000, to be completed within a decade,  the Chicago Housing Authority announced its intention in 2006 to demolish the Lathrop Homes for new development, resulting in protests from both residents and preservationists. With the project achieving a listing on the National Register of Historic Places earlier this year, the scorched earth approach has been put on hold.
Walking the complex today, its charms are evident.  The buildings are simple but elegant,  The grounds are handsome, with plenty of mature trees.  There's a nature trail along the river, although it's now cut off from the river with chain link fencing and overgrowth.
In 2011, the CHA moved out all residents in the northern half of Lathrop.  Although rehabilitation has taken place, there have been no move-ins.  According to Curtis Black's story at Community Media Workshop's Newstips site, drawing on stories in the Chicago Reporter and Crain's Chicago Business, 82% of Lathrop's 925 units are now vacant.  Lathrop's remaining residents were stunned to hear CHA staffer Veronica Gonzalez suggest at a June 27th meeting that her agency's long-standing pledge that residents would be able to remain during the project's renovation might be rescinded and the entire project emptied in case of an "emergency".  The resulting outrage caused the CHA to issue a statement that it was still committed to keeping residents in their homes during the rehab, while reserving the right to kick them all out.
Landmarks Illinois, Antunovich Associates
 In 2010, the CHA handed Lathrop's future over to Lathrop Community Partners, a consortium of five firms including Heartland Housing, Bickerdike Redevelopment Corporation, and Related Midwest, a firm better known for constructing big residential high-rises.  In 2007 Landmarks Illinois had a preservation plan prepared by Antunovich Associates, which should be the starting point for any redevelopment, but may well not be.
A couple Saturdays ago, residents held a rally/barbeque against the rumored evictions, and to urge the CHA to make the vacant, rehab units available for leasing.  The t-shirt worn by a long-time resident  covered a major concern . . .
"No Market Rate."  The Plan for Transformation formula for redevelopment is one-third market rate, one-third affordable housing, and one-third public housing.  A Related Midwest executive told Curtis Black that at Lathrop market rate, which requires demolition and new construction, is non-negotiable, for two reasons: "to attract retail development, and to qualify for TIF financing."

Landmarks Illinois
Antunovich Associates
This is how the public sector is diluted through privatization. What was once a public asset is carved up into chunks, so that private interests can profit off of public holdings.  Usually with TIF subsidies.  Residents may well be looking closely at Related Midwest's actions at another CHA complex, the ABLA Homes on the near West Side, where Black reports that Related is asking to change the ratio of what was entirely public housing to 80% market rate, 20 per cent public housing, and no affordable housing at all.

Lathrop residents' "No Market Rate" is mirrored by what could said to be the motto of Lathrop's neighbors, "No Poor People Here."  Their voices were heard in comments in a 2010 piece on Lathrop by Dennis Rodkin in Chicago Magazine.  "tear -em down",  "If Lathrop stays  public and opens 600 more units - for me personally it'll mean losing big money and inability to sell my condo, ""rif raf and deadbeats", "'Don't build new public housing units on the site as it will not benefit the neighborhood", "move the people out of there . . .  I would feel much safer.", "crackheads running all over the neighborhood", "Why not turn it in to a large riverfront park?"
This is the way the world works.  Wedged between the Clybourn strip malls to the west and new condo developments to the east, the Lathrop Homes are an affront to upscale development.  To those who have worked their way up to be able to buy a sparkling new home in a trendy neighborhood, the residents of Lathrop are, at best, an embarrassment; at worst, a frightening menace.  To the working poor of Lathrop, those neighbors are the overseers of their future, who have no other interest in them than making them invisible, anywhere but here.
Yet, for a few golden decades, Lathrop, and other projects like it, were successful evocations of the American dream, where working people of different races lived together as they built a better life for themselves, in a setting that proclaimed that finding yourself on the lower end of the income stream didn't mean you forfeited your right to well-designed, decent housing, in a park-like setting.  In the increasing inequality of today's America, is there no longer a place for the idealism and commitment that created the Julia C. Lathrop Homes?