Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Happy Halloween!

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Landmarks Commission's Eloquent Requiem to the Building it's About to Destroy

from the Landmarks Commission report
When I write about the Commission on Chicago Landmarks, I often make a clear distinction between the two parts, only one of which is useless, that make up this entity.

The first is the staff of the Commission, an incredibly dedicated group of knowledgeable professionals, whose work can be seen in the  Reports for Proposed/Designated Chicago Landmarks, which combines highly readable narratives with amazing scholarship in documenting each building proposed for landmark designation.  It is the job of the staff to preserve Chicago's architectural treasures.

The second is the actual Commission on Chicago Landmarks, a body appointed by the Mayor to vote on proposed designations and send them on to the City Council.  As much as it may appear otherwise, it is not the job of to preserve Chicago's architectural heritage.  The job of this body is to make sure landmarking never gets in the way of the whims of connected developers.  It is a job they do well, as illustrated in the case of the Farwell Building.  When the Commission, in an unprecedented show of backbone,  voted not to approve a cynical destruction of that designated landmark, Chairman David Mosena, a former chief of staff to Mayor Richard M. Daley, simply called a second meeting to reverse the vote.
from the Landmarks Commission report
The real function of the members of the Landmarks Commission will be on display again Thursday, when they will be called upon to ignore the evidence, abrogate their responsibility, and vote to destroy Bertrand Goldberg's iconic Prentice Hospital.  Right after they vote to save it.

The Commission staff has created a report thoroughly documenting how Bertrand Goldberg's Prentice Hospital qualifies for landmark designation.  To become a landmark, a building has to meet at least two of seven criteria.  Prentice meets four: historical value, "exemplary architecture", significant architect, and unique visual feature.  Once again, the report is great scholarship, including a biography of Goldberg, a history of hospital architecture and of the use of concrete in architecture, a detailed analysis of the building, its importance and its construction technique, and a fascinating account of Goldberg's pathbreaking use of computer-aided-design in creating the building.  It's a compelling, informative work, generously illustrated with photos and drawings, including those you see on this post.  Download the report here
from the Landmarks Commission report
Usually such a report is added to page of reports we've linked above.  As of this writing, the Prentice Report is not on that page.  It is available only at the end of the November agenda, which I have never seen done before.  It also concludes with a section stating the building 's concrete will - duh- probably require restoration work sometime in the future.  I don't recall ever seeing anything like this in a report before.  It's got the Department of Development's fingerprints all over it, and seems to be just another part of their script. 
from the Landmarks Commission report
In fact, the agenda and its attachments actually lay out the amazing farce that has been carefully scripted by the Emanuel administration.  The draft resolution decreeing Prentice's destruction already assumes that the Commission members will follow this script and vote in favor of landmark designation only minutes before . . . 
WHEREAS, the Commission on Chicago Landmarks (“Commission”) voted to approve a “preliminary landmark recommendation” for the (Former) Prentice Women’s Hospital Building (the “Building”) on November 1, 2012; and  . . .
It also assumes that the Commission will then accept a report by Housing and Economic Development Commissioner Andrew J.  Mooney  that looks like it was written by Northwestern, itself. Probably it was.  It regurgitates almost verbatim Northwestern's arguments that the adjacent two-block vacant lot is off-limits as an alternative, and that Northwestern's state-of-art medical lab can only be built if Goldberg's masterwork is destroyed.

Northwestern is about to surround that two-block vacant lot, which has already been gravel-surfaced and chain-linked for over three years, with a perimeter of flowers.  That is their highest use for the site at the present time, with a vague reference to new construction sometime in the next "several years."  You'd think that Northwestern, with some of the most brilliant minds in the world, could figure out how to make a plan that would integrate the new research lab into the construction on that two-block vacant lot, where it could link to the Lurie Center just across the street, just like a new facility built on the Prentice site.  But I suppose the Department of Development thought such a suggestion would be impolite.  Instead, they're recommending that Prentice be destroyed, to create still another vacant lot, so the two-block square vacant lot across the street won't feel so lonely.

The script's final lines for the members of Landmarks Commission?
Section 3.  The Commission hereby accepts and approves the Department of Housing and Economic Development report recommendation and rescinds its “preliminary landmark recommendation” for the Building.
From unprotected, to a landmark, to a corpse - all in about an hour.  The cynical audacity is breathtaking.  To general public, the Landmarks Commissioners are distinguished citizens, charged with protecting the precious architectural heritage that has made Chicago known throughout the world.  To Andrew Mooney, they're monkeys on a stick, expected to dance to the tune of the guy who brung 'em.
from the Landmarks Commission report

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Emanuel Destroys Prentice

What we pretty much expected all along has now come to pass.   In an article/letter in the Chicago Tribune, Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel has signed the death knell for destroying Bertrand Goldberg's landmark quality Prentice Hospital.  Barring a last-minute action in the courts, which seems unlikely, the building is toast.

Chicago ain't ready for the rule of law yet.  The Chicago Landmarks Ordinance requires agendas to be posting 48 hours before each meeting.  While agendas are usually posted on the Commission's website a week in advance, the agenda for this Thursday's meeting, now less than 48 hours away, has not.

Chairman Rafael M. Leon promised earlier this fall that Prentice would be on the Landmarks agenda this fall.  He lied.  Even if it finds its way onto an agenda in November or December, it will, given the mayor's pronouncement, be meaningless.  Chairman Leon, please spare us the farce of Commission members - all but one of them non-architects - either falling over themselves to justify and praise Emanuel's decision to circumvent the legal process for determining whether a building qualifies for protection, or the equally repellent alternative of the commissioners voting to landmark, knowing full well it's doomed in the City Council Emanuel controls.

Update:  Prentice is on the agenda for this Thursday.  Usually, this would involve one of the Commission staff's excellent reports on the building being presented, and the agenda item would say something like "Resolution to recommend preliminary landmark designation for X and to initiate the consideration process for possible designation of the building as a Chicago landmark".  Here, there's no such reference.  The agenda item "Preliminary Landmark Recommendation" is followed immediately by the item "Report and Recommendations from the Department of Housing and Economic Development and Resolution Pertaining thereto."  I'm betting "thereto" will recommend Prentice's destruction.  Wouldn't want to have an actual debate on whether Prentice qualifies under the Landmarks Ordinance criteria, would we?

Same as it ever was, there are two set of rules in Chicago.

One is for the unconnected.  If the Landmarks Commission decides to designate your home as part of a new landmark district, it doesn't matter how much you don't like it, that's the way the law works.

The second is for connected mega-institutions like Northwestern, where you get to pick and choose the laws you follow.   Don't want Prentice to go through due process for landmark designation?  Just ask, and it will not only be yanked from the Landmarks agenda, but it will kept off - for over a year and a half, while mayoral spokespersons talk about mythical "ongoing talks" that manage never to involve anyone from the broad-based, grass-roots coalition - including many of Chicago's and the world's leading architects - making the case for saving Prentice.

It's kept off to give you time to hire the Chicago office, run by a former Emanuel operative, of a beltway lobbying firm best known for defending Big Pharma and Big Chemical from being accountable for their more toxic actions, and for receiving over $43 million to create the kind of right-wing attack ads that have been flooding our airwaves as never before during this election cycle.  And, for your benefit,  the city will continue to keep Prentice from the Landmarks Commission agenda so you can work with those lobbyists to spend millions of dollars creating a deceptive PR campaign based on misleading, one-sided half truths, astroturf support, and polls carefully engineered to arrive at a desired result.

And finally, to make absolutely sure you're happy, when the Mayor of Chicago announces his decision in your favor, he will do so by repeating all your canned talking points so perfectly, you'd swear he was working for your lobbyists, himself.

There's a story about Harry Cohen, studio boss of Columbia Pictures during the golden age of Hollywood, once saying,  "When I'm alone in a projection room, I have a foolproof device for judging whether a picture is good or bad. If my fanny squirms, it's bad. If my fanny doesn't squirm, it's good. It's as simple as that."  To which Herman Mankiewicz, the screenwriter who co-authored Citizen Kane with Orson Welles, replied.  "Image:  the whole world wired to Harry Cohn's ass!"

The loss of Prentice Hospital is tragic, but it's a reminder of how "The City that Works" works.  Chicago voters had their chance, when Richard M. Daley retired after a pair of increasingly destructive terms, to take an alternative path, but they chose, instead, to elect another emperor.  It's a hard habit to break.  And so, for the foreseeable future, for better or worse, the fate of all things Chicago are, ultimately, wired to Rahm's backside.  And in the case of Prentice, it just squirmed.

A spectacular portrait in darkness and light: Eric Hines's Cityscape Chicago

thanks to Chicago Magazine's Dennis Rodkin for tweeting about this video 

Do NOT watch this video here.  Click on it to go to Vimeo, and watch high-res, full screen.  Says the creator, Eric Hines . . .
Cityscape Chicago is a personal timelapse piece consisting of over 30,000 still photographs shot on the Canon 5D Mark III incrementally between July and October 2012 around downtown Chicago, Illinois.

The inspiration of this piece was my fascination with the city of Chicago, particularly at night. For me, there has always been a mysterious sort of feeling to Chicago at night, so I decided to explore and capture it.
Hines's video is so amazing a portrait of the form and energy of a great city that I have to admit that, for me, the soundtrack - Transcendence by 'The American Dollar - is a bit too generic to do it justice.  I substituted the Act I prelude to Die Walküre, which is a better scoring for the drama, triumph and heartbreak, charity and cruelty that are the dynamic of the proud, vainglorious, amoral, spiritual, hopeless, hopeful hive of humanity creating and animating these stunning cityscapes. 
click image for larger view (highly recommended)
The closing shot, the body of Chicago with the circle interchange as the beating heart pumping life through its circulatory system, is as seminal an image of our time as you're likely to find.  I need to get started on that screenplay.

Eric Hines is 22 years old.

Monday, October 29, 2012

Frontier Outpost: The Roosevelt Collection and the Future of the Viaduct District

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Other than a couple of former sandbars, Chicago is flat, flat, flat.  Even when we raised the city out of the muck in the 19th century, it was basically just to a higher level of flat. 
The Roosevelt Road viaduct is another example of Chicago's man-made levels.  It goes on for blocks, towering above Dearborn Park, over once endless strands of railroad tracks now mostly gone, and on to the approach to the bridge over the Chicago River.

In the middle of that viaduct is The Roosevelt Collection, a mixed use development with 342 residential units and nearly 400,000 square feet of retail space, A. Epstein, RTKL and Hirsch Associates, architects.  While it has a new Target to the east, the complex, whose site plan looks like an oversized clothespin, otherwise lies within a moat of some of Chicago's largest tracts of undeveloped land.
The project, conceived by Centrum Properties, broke ground in 2007, the tail end of the condo bubble.  By the time things came on line after the crash, there was so little interest in the condos that existing contracts were torn up and the units converted to rental.  And while those apartments are reportedly now fully leased, the retail component, tther than a huge Icon movie multiplex, remains uncontaminated by tenants to this day.  In 2010, Centrum put the whole thing up for sale, and last year it was acquired by a joint ventured headed by McCaffery Interests for less than half the $350 million it cost to build. 
Since then, McCaffery has moved quickly,  with a new marketing campaign for what is now named The Lofts at Roosevelt Collection.  McCaffrey turned to Antunovich Associates to restart the design.
A series of clunky, never-occupied retail buildings in the center were demolished to create a more open plaza, now nearing completion, with dramatically lit fountains dedicated earlier this month.  
Construction has been going on so long,  it's been memorialized by a couple of J. Seward Johnson sculptures of construction workers installed on the plaza.
Even after all this effort, however, the retail plaza is still eerily quiet.  When I was there last Friday, the only sound was the music from a workman's radio.  Despite of flurry of speculation this past spring over prospective tenants - including everything from Lulelemon to Ulta to an Apple Store - the shopping center remains, as of today, a festival of emptiness.
The area around the Roosevelt Collection has always been a Bermuda Triangle of lost opportunity, centered around the massive corporeal ghost of former railyards that once served Chicago's great depots.  When Mayor J. Daley initially wanted to build a new campus for the University of Illinois there, he wanted it here, but was stymied by the prices the railroads, spinning towards bankruptcy, demanded for the land.  He wound up demolishing a large part of Chicago's Little Italy instead, for the UIC Circle campus.  It's taken nearly half a century for Little Italy to recover from the damage, and still the former railyards are empty.

The Roosevelt Collection is built on land that once held tracks leading into the old LaSalle Street Station.  The two blocks to the north remain vacant.
To the west, along Wells Street, the Roosevelt Collection shears off to another empty void, formerly holding the tracks leading to Solon Beman's masterful Grand Central Station, demolished in 1971.  In the center of this site, Bertrand Goldberg's River City was erected in the 1980s.  River City was originally to have been the capstone of Goldberg's career, a massively ambitious project on 230 acres with nine 72-story-high triad towers.  In terms of civic support, however, River City lost out to an alternate project, Dearborn Park, built beginning in the 1970's on 51 acres of formerly railyards formerly serving the decommissioned Dearborn Station.  The only part of the River City to be realized was the mid-rise element we see today.
The area along the river south of River City and next to the Roosevelt Collection remains vacant, as does the 11 acres north of River City, on the site of Grand Central Station.  In 2007, it was finally sold off by CSX - the successor corporation to the B&O Railroad - to a Skokie capital firm, but its highest use remains as an impromptu dog park.
The real prize, however, is to the south of Roosevelt  Road, 62 acres of former railyards that have reverted to a wonderous, semi-wilderness.
Rezmar Development had  big plans for the site - 4,600 residential units and 670,000 square feet of retail, centered on the first Ikea in the city's borders, but they were done in by the twin curses of the economic crash and the conviction and imprisonment of Rezmar's boodler/CEO Tony Rezko.  The site was put up for sale in 2010.  2nd ward alderman Robert Fioretti has suggested it as a location for the up-to-now mythical Chicago casino.  In 2010, the winning proposal in the Network Reset design competition co-sponsored by MAS Studio and the Chicago Architectural Club called for turning the 62 acres into parkland. Right now, however, it's just the land that time forgot.
As you can see, all of these parcels around the Roosevelt Viaduct  are below it.  McCaffery seems to sense the need for patching it all together, and has taken the unprecedented step of constructing a stair at the back of the Roosevelt Collection linking down to the lower level, although the only thing  there right now is a new dog park.
A multiple-level city is something Chicago encounters so infrequently that we don't do a very good job of it.  In terms of developing a visually compelling urban landscape, nothing beats breaking the flatness, whether it be the hills of San Francisco or the Spanish Steps in Rome.  The vistas created, and the contrasts they provide, can make a city both more comprehensible and more compelling.  You no longer seem lost in a grid that seems to just repeat, unto infinity.  You can see edges and borders, with well-designed stairways or inclines the markers of transition.  It brings a dense city back to human scale.
Right now, the Roosevelt viaduct is an anti-urban disconnect from the fabric of the city, just as the retail to the west of the river veers towards an anti-urban, shopping-within-a-sea-of-parking vibe.  Assuming all those vacant tracts around the Roosevelt viaduct eventually begin to fill up, the city needs something more than a development-by-development improvisation, lest the district become just a series of insular, self-contained mega-projects, existing in near-perfect isolation one to another. That's the profile of a second-rate suburb, not a great city.  All the parcels will be developed separately, but continuity counts.  Chicago needs a plan and a set of guidelines to stitch this tabula rasa together if the Roosevelt Viaduct District is to realize its potential as one the city's great neighborhoods

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Chicago Streetscene: Before the Fall, Desert Flowers

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Possum Exploded and Made Whole: ROA's Pilsen mural

click images for larger view (recommended)
We've written previously about the macabre, spectacular rams mural Belgian street artist ROA painted on the back of Hedrich-Blessing's headquarters.
This summer Chicago got another entry in ROA's menagerie.  On a railroad viaduct along 16th street between Laflin and Ashland, the artist has given us a giant possum, split apart below the neck to reveal a slightly gory fantasy of exposed innards, just in time for Halloween.
According to an account by Redeye's Erin Vogel, the artist fell in love with the Pilsen site, because instead of a single wall, it's actually three parts - a front wall along 16th, which then curves off to a wall further north.

ROA painted the mural to take perspective into account, so that if you stand at just the right place, the front and back walls resolve to form a normal undissected possum. 
 And yes, I know I have to go back when there aren't cars blocking the full view.
The mural is part of 25th ward Alderman Danny Solis' program to create artworks all along the viaduct, which is already a bit of a museum of murals old and new.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Battle for Prentice on Chicago Tonight, 7:00 p.m.

Chicago Tonight, 7:00 tonight (Wednesday)  will have Eddie Arruza moderating a discussion between Christina Moore of the National Trust for Historic Preservation and Al Cubbage of Northwestern University about the battle to save Bertrand Goldberg's Prentice Hospital.  WTTW, Channel 11. 

Chicago Streetscene: Mashup

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Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Meet me at the God Box: Mies van der Rohe: A Critical Biography with Shulze and Windhorst - More for October

It's still not too late to be adding items to the October Calendar of Chicago Architectural Events.

On Tuesday, October 23th, 5:30 - 7:30 p.m., Franz Schulze and Edward Windhorst, co-authors of the highly anticipated new and revised edition of Mies van der Rohe: A Critical Biography, will be at the Robert F. Carr chapel on IIT to discuss and sign copies of their new book. The chapel, known on campus as "The God Box" is the only ecclesiastical space designed by the architect.

It may be the last week of the month, but we still have over a dozen great items still coming up, including The Churches of Edward Dart at AIA/Chicago, Christian Kerez at IIT, Incessant Visions, a film on Erich Mendelsohn at the Spertus, with a post screening talk by Stanley Tigerman, AIA Chicago's Designight 2012, the Richard H. Driehaus Foundation Preservation Awards, Tom Leader at UIC, and, for Halloween, Edgar Allen Poe readings at Glessner House.

Check out the October Calendar of Chicago Architectural Events.

Monday, October 22, 2012

Exiled to Indian Boundary: a Monument to Boodle in Old Chicago

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 Indian Boundary Park is all about things short in duration but long in memory.  In her excellent book, The City in a Garden: A History of Chicago's Parks, Park District historian Julia Bachrach writes: 
Through the 1816 Treaty of St. Louis, the united tribes of Ottawa, Ojibwa, and Potawatomi ceded a 20-mile swatch of land to the United States government allowing white settlers and fur traders to safely pass through or settle in this area.  The resulting boundary line  cut through what is now Indian Boundary Park in Chicago's West Rogers Park neighborhood. 
That treaty had a shelf life of exactly 17 years.  In 1833, it was unilaterally abrogated and Native Americans forced out.

Flash forward to nearly a century later, when an independent commission began assembling land for Indian Boundary Park.  Designed by Richard F. Gloede, Indian Boundary was a pastoral conception - no baseball diamonds.  Many neighborhood streets - Greenleaf, Lunt, Morse, Estes and Farwell - had already been named for the original 1870's combine that constructed early Rogers Park.  Now, in the boom of the 1920's, a new generation of developers enveloped the  the east and north borders of Indian Boundary with a collection of picturesque apartment complexes such as the Tudor Revival Park Gables and the Jens Jensen-designed Park Castle.
In 1929, architect Clarence Hatzfield again called on Tudor Revival for Indian Boundary's handsome fieldhouse, which soon became a vital cultural center for the community, including being a residency site for the CSO's training ensemble, the Civic Orchestra.  In May of this year, a disastrous fire gutted the fieldhouse.  It's now closed, indefinitely, for repairs.
Indian Boundary's second short-in-duration, long-in-memory moment comes in an easily overlooked lump of stone not far from the fieldhouse.   Atop a couple of squat concrete blocks, you will find the heavily weathered keystone that sculptor A.C. Goddard carved for the Washington Street entrance of architect James J. Egan's City Hall and Courthouse building.
This rockpile was  Chicago's infamous fifth City Hall.  Begun in 1875, it took a full decade to complete.  Along with the adjoining County Building, it came in at an astronomical price tag of $4 to $5 million, no small part of it ascribable to graft.  The structure was a piker compared to New York City's Tweed Courthouse, which took twice as long to build and where the embezzlements of Boss Tweed are said to have been a larger part of the eventual $13 million cost.  In the long run, however, New York came out ahead.   The Tweed Courthouse still stands today as a beloved civic landmark.
new County Building, old City Hall - photograph: Library of Congress
The 1885 City County Building wasn't so lucky.  Its structural deficiencies and the lack of usuable space in its pompous bulk became apparent soon after the opening, and the prematurely crumbling edifice was demolished in 1908, after less than a quarter-century's service.    It's restrained replacement by Holabird and Roche, while woefully deficient in graft and corruption, proved far more durable.  It still stands - handsomely - today.

So Goddard's sculptural fragment, looking now a bit worn, dazed and disoriented, has already spent over three times as long looking down at Indian Boundary's lawn then it ever did in its intended deployment at its high perch,  gazing impassively at the teeming parade of human comedy passing below through the portal of that proud, forgotten building.  Ozymandias, anyone?

Sunday, October 21, 2012

George Solti at 100

Today's 100th anniversary of the birth of George Solti, the long-time music director who brought the Chicago Symphony to worldwide prominence, brought back all kind of memories of how Solti and his music making contributed to my own life.

I came to classical music late, and, too Swedish for drugs or wild partying, it became the major addiction of my youth.  In music I found all the emotions  I shied away from in my well-behaved life.

(flawed audio, great performance) 
I was so lucky.  My very first concert was at Ravinia, when a young unknown conductor, the second or third, last-minute choice after Istvan Kertesz failed to make it to the city in time, conducted an earth-shaking performance of the Mahler Resurrection symphony, aided during the apocalypse section by the heavens erupting in thunder and lighting and drenching the lawn audience.  That conductor was James Levine.

My second concert was heard all the way up in the last row of the gallery at Orchestra Hall.  Carter's Variations for Orchestra, and then, the Mahler 5th, with Solti conducting the CSO.  As you can hear from the recording, even with the rather tubby acoustics of Medinah Temple, it remains one of the most virtuosic performances of all time.  Adolph Herseth's solo trumpet call pierced the hall like Joshua at Jericho, and when the tsunami of sound swept over the audience with the entrance of funeral march, it may not have brought down the walls, but it shook all the cobwebs out of the mind and penetrated to the very soul. When I hear certain conductors decry "excesses" in the performances of Gustav Mahler (and, yes, I'm looking at you, MG), they're of course targeting Solti and Bernstein, but I wonder how they think Mahler's "symphony as a world" can be kept in their genteel teacup.
The Solti years were triumphant and tempestuous.  The CSO was the light under a bushel ever since a great tour that was to be led by Fritz Reiner had been cancelled years before.  Solti and the CSO conquered both Carnegie Hall and the great concert venues of Europe.  At a time when it was at the top of the news chain, Time Magazine put him on its cover as "The Fastest Baton in the West: Chicago's Georg Solti."

Solti's earlier rehearsal techniques earned him the nickname "The Screaming Skull", and on the podium his gestures were compared to those of a prizefighter.  Those violent jabs sometimes made it seem less like he was coaxing out the music than yanking it out by its entrails.  But the performances!

My third concert was Solti and the CSO playing Beethoven's 5th, and the next month, Schoenberg's monumental, thorny Moses and Aron with Richard Lewis and Hans Hotter. The month after that, it was my introduction to Giulini, with Brahms 4 and the Mahler 9th.

And it didn't take me long to be a lifelong Giulini acolyte - the combination of elegance, warmth and that "Promethean Fire" Claudia Cassidy referred to made, for me, the perfect combination, especially in a 1975 performance of the Bruckner 8th that shook me to the very core and remains the most profound concert experience I have ever had.

Giulini, alas, aged as he got older.  Although a Giulini performance was always an event, tempi grew slower and slower; the fire was banked.  Solti's energy never wavered, even at the end.  I remember the performances of Wagner's gargantuan Meisteringer when Solti was in his 80's.  When I came into Symphony Hall, I noticed a chair had been set up for him on the podium, and I thought that time must finally had taken its toll.  The chair, however, was largely unused.  Once in a great while, Solti would lean into for a few moments, and then be up and standing, conducting with his accustomed vigor.

Unlike the CSO's current Music Director Riccardo Muti, Solti was far less interested in the city than we was in its orchestra. Critics groused he didn't spend enough time in Chicago, but Solti knew the depth of his contribution, and to him, that was enough.  "They should erect a statue to me!"  he responded.  And so we did

Solti's first performance as an opera conductor took place in Budapest on the same day the Nazis marched into Austria.   Knowing the danger, his parents, who he would never see again, sent him into a long exile, and it would only be after the war that his career could begin its meteoric ascent.

Yes, Solti could sometimes overwhelm a work with his hyper-tensity.  More often than not, however, he brought out the soul of the works in deepest expression.   When I listen to much of the music being made today, it can best be described as "workmanlike."  With Solti, perhaps because of his own life experience, making music seemed less a pleasant way to pass the time, than an existential life and death experience, at which everything was at stake.  That's the point of view I aspire to, and I miss George Solti's spirit even as much as we celebrate it today.

After Solti's unexpected 1997 death - all manner of celebrations had been scheduled in celebration, including concerts he was to conduct - the CSO's new Music Director Daniel Barenboim opened the season with the Nimrod section of Elgar's Enigma Varations in tribute. Here is Solti himself conducting the London Philharmonic.

Friday, October 19, 2012

Goodbye Daley Bi; Hello Maggie Daley Park - stripping North Grant Park bare

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Former Richard M. Daley condemned it as "Nowhere", the 20 acre park named after his father that he wanted to destroy so he could repopulate it with the stalagmite-styled skylights needed to try to erase the subterranean gloom in the Childrens Museum he wanted to jam beneath its surface.

That was over five years ago, and now, finally, Daley Bicentennial park is about to be erased.  But not for a museum.  The combination of a failing economy, anemic fundraising and persistent public opposition proved to much even for someone as powerful and persistant as Mayor Daley, and the Childrens Museum decided to stay put at Navy Pier.

No, as was always the case, the park is being torn up because the membrane that separates it from East Monroe parking garage below needs to be replaced.   A new North Grant Park, named after the late Maggie Daley, will be constructed atop the new membrane.  Designed by Michael Van Valkenburgh, it stands to be a handsome counterpoint to Millennium Park to the west, combining elements both passive . . .
. . .  and active . . .
For now, according to Grant Park Advisory Council's Bob O'Neill, there are over 800 trees to be uprooted. with a mere 38 to remain at Peanut Park to the east, and at the miniature golf course to the south.  None of those 800 trees, which O'Neill claims to be all be aged, diseased or dying, will be replanted, although some of the wood will be reused on the new playground.  1,000 new trees are to be placed in the Valkenburgh landscape, of a mix still being determined.

Chain link fence is going up.  The majestic trees will soon be only a memory.  They served well.
Read a photoessay on the uprooting of a different park:  A Forest Departs - Tree by Tree

The Heretofore Unmentioned: MDA City Apartments

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I came to the MDA City Apartments, at the southeast corner of Lake and Wabash, during Open House Chicago last year, mostly as an opportunity to get on their roof and take pictures of the grotesques atop 203 North Wabash.  As I learned then, and again this year, the MDA is one of those buildings few have heard of but that has its own interesting history.

Designed by Daniel Burnham, Jr.  and completed in 1927, it's 24 floors, 290-feet high.  Originally known as the Medical and Dental Arts Building, it was home to both the Chicago Dental Society and the Chicago Medical Society, as well as a larger roster of doctors and dentists.  In October of 1939, it was the site of the first meeting of the Chicago chapter of Alcoholics Anonymous.  Their 1940 New Year's Eve party was noted as featuring a "large assortment of sobered up piano players."  The Chicago Literary Club, founded in 1874, moved to the 22nd floor as a cheaper alternative to their previous lodgings in the Fine Arts Building, and the same floor was the site of 10 cent lectures sponsored by the Marxist publication The New Masses in the 1930's.  In 1929, the Tribune reported that Mrs. Benjamin Baskin gave birth to a baby boy in one of the elevators.  I'd like to think the building's large population of doctors included least one obstetrician.
Over time, the structure evolved into a more traditional office building, and was known for the rather ugly paint job on its top floor facades.  In 2003, the building, renamed MDA City Apartments, underwent a $45 million upgrade by Hartshorne Plunkard Architecture that saw the offices converted to 190 luxury rental units, with an outlet of the Elephant and Castle restaurant chain on the first floor of the limestone clad base, which also includes an Artisan Pastoral Cheese Shop.
During Open House Chicago, I got a highly informative tour of the building from Lauren of the Management Office, which included the handsome "Sky Park" at the top, with both a club room . . .
and an outside deck offering striking views of the Loop L going both south and west . . .
the Chicago skyline . . .
 and Millennium Park . .  .
From the 1950's until it moved into it's own building at the base of MOMO at State and Randolph, the Booth/Hansen building now known as the Joffrey Ballet tower, and was one of the locations used by Robert Altman for his film, The Company.  This barre is the last visible artifact of the Joffrey's tenancy.
The space on 8th floor was once a medical amphitheater for observing operations, complete with skylight.  Today, it's split into two segments - the exercise room, and a film theater.

The blank-walled east side of the building featured a large mural, Loop Tattoo by Johanna Poethig (thanks to the Chicago Architecture Blog for the info) . . .
 . . . which is due to be covered up by 73 East Lake, a 42-story tall apartment tower now rising, that will wrap around MDA, facing both Lake and Wabash.
And, of course, there's the great view of its neighbors to the north, on the building now becoming a Virgin International hotel (can you tell it was designed by Rapp and Rapp?) . . .