Monday, June 30, 2008

Tuesday Twofer: For He's a Serial Fellow, plus Nance grows Gill

Word comes that former WBEZ cultural custodian and author of the New Modernist blog Edward Lifson, fresh off of a prestigious Loeb Fellowship at Harvard, has just been awarded an Annenberg Fellowship at USC, where he'll be studying architecture journalism.

(When Gandhi was asked about what he thought of architecture journalism, he answered that he thought it would be a good idea - oh, wait, I think the question was actually about Western civilization; but you get the idea.)

We wish Edward well and hope he will continue trips back to Chicago -which he still considers home - if for no other reason than to keep us informed on the progress of the restoration of Mies van der Rohe's 860-880 apartments.

Elsewhere, Trib architecture Blair Kamin reports Sun-Times architecture critic Kevin Nance is leaving the paper to join the firm of Adrian Smith+Gordon Gill Architecture, which is growing at a feverish pace, as "director of publications." Nance started out writing heavily on architecture, but over time began focusing the bulk of his attention on covering the art world. We wish Kevin well and wonder, as does Blair, whether the financially troubled Sun-Times will replace him.

The Four Tops

OK, so I can't count. On deadline this week finishing up a big project. Will post when possible.

Sunday, June 29, 2008

How a Make a LeWitt (x 100+)

Edward Lifson, on his New Modernist blog, has a spectacular post on the even more spectacular exhibition, Sol LeWitt: A Wall Drawing Retrospective that will feature the work of the late artist Sol LeWitt, who died last April at the age of 78. It's being mounted at MASS MoCa, which occupies a complex of 26 century-old former industrial buildings in North Adams, MA. The site of the exhibition, the 27,000 square-foot Building #7, was picked out by LeWitt himself during a 2004 tour of the museum.
Lifson's photos offer up a great study of the process of recreating on museum walls over 100 pieces made across a span of 40 years. It's especially neat how Lifson shows the geometries of ladders, scaffolding, tools,the volunteer's clothing and even the vectors of their bodies, all interacting with the geometries and chromatics of LeWitt's unfolding designs.
Despite all the activity you see in the photos on Lifson's post, setting up the retrospective still has a long way to go. The official opening isn't until November 16th. Baring death, disability, or abduction by aliens, however, you won't have any excuse to miss it: the drawings are scheduled to be on display for the next twenty-five years.

Check it out - including some videos - here.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Don't Ask

Juan Diego Flórez and friend from the Staatsoper Dresden's new production of Giuseppe Verdi's Rigoletto, via Flickr and the sublime Opera Chic.

Don't Ask: Part II

From an Andrew Patner report from Norway on his fine The View from Here blog, we give you a photo of pianist extraordinare and Risør Chamber Music Festival co-director Leif Ove Andnes (right) kissing a mackerel (center).

Pssssst! - hey, buddy - wanna buy the Trib Tower?

According to Crain's Chicago Business and CBS2 Chicago, billionaire owner Sam Zell has written a "Dear John" letter to Tribune Tower, the Gothic-styled skyscraper by Howells and Hood that has been the newspaper's home since the building's 1925 completion, and which was designated an official Chicago landmark in 1989.

In a note to the company's beleaguered staffers posted on the Trib Co. website, Zell wrote he's looking to "maximize the value" of the corporation's real estate, which translates into he's desperately shoveling assets into the boiler of the Trib Co. locomotive as he struggles to make it to the other side of the precipitous trestle of corporate debt that's collapsing with accelerating speed behind him.

The irony, of course, is that the newspaper business used to be akin to a license to print money, leaving stockholders with an addiction to obese profit margins which, in the endearing herd mentality to which speculators are prone, they fully expected would go on, uninterrupted and forever.

Even as the business model of traditional print media was rotting fast at its very roots, Zell engineered a buyout of the Tribune Company for $8.2 billion, a massive over-valuation that has left the corporation crushed under a debt load that declining cash flow cannot long sustain. Still another irony is that while everyone's been worrying about the fate of supposed weak-sister Chicago Sun-Times, ultimately the Trib may be in even more dire financial straits. Reports of a possible 2009 default began floating through the media in April.

Zell has made a grand tour of his properties, which include the L.A. Times, assuring staffers of his commitment to making newspapers a viable concern. Unfortunately, that takes time, and time is what Zell doesn't have.

So he's falling back on his roots as a scavenger, dismembering the Tribune Company in what amounts to a vicious circle. He's selling of the best assets to pay off debt, thereby dramatically reducing the cash flow available to service the remaining debt, which will be reduced by another wave of sell-offs of less valuable assets, with another reduction in cash flow, and so on and so on, down to zero.

It's fascinating to watch - like witnessing the dissection of a pig - but odds are in the end the results will the same . You get a great show, you learn a lot, but all you're left with is a dead pig.

Just as Conrad Black sold off the Sun-Time's real estate, the Tribune sells off the Tower, the proceeds go, not into the paper, but to pay off debt, and the cost of rent is piled onto the Trib's operating expenses.

Crain's Thomas Corfman estimates Trib Tower could go for as much as $160 million, which would be only slightly more per-square-foot than Bank of America just got in selling off, for $190 million, the 1.2 million square foot Field Building, the last Chicago skyscraper built after the onset of the Great Depression.

An enticing component of a potential Trib Tower sale is a one-acre surface parking lot (at the bottom in the adjoining photo) just behind the tower, facing St. Clair, a street that this spring has seen the completion of residential high-rises Avenue East (left in photo, behind the Inter-Continental), and Brininstool & Lynch's 550 N. St. Clair (right in photo).

In other news, reports of architectural fragments, eerily similar to the kind found embedded in Trib Tower facades, appearing on E-Bay have proved to be false. Also turning out to be apocryphal is a reported midnight sighting of Zell standing before those same facades, power chisel at hand, as a waiting motorcycle and sidecar idled on Michigan Avenue.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Will They Ever Finish Gene Simmons' Tongue?

Am I just being impatient, or does it seem that the rehab of the Illinois Center plaza at 205 N. Michigan is taking longer than the Sistine Chapel? The proprietors, having decided that the Miesian complex of glass boxes is a bit too dark and sober, have made a huge, floating red canopy the centerpiece of their reconstruction. It's like Calder's Flamingo, but with legs reduced to toothpicks and the body flattened in a roller.

It probably didn't help the project, either cost or time-wise, to line the underside of the canopy with what appears to be paintings by Mark Rothko.

Monday, June 23, 2008

Preservation Chicago Protests 22nd Place Demolition

Last Thursday, June 19th, Preservation Chicago Vice President Michael Moran has sent a letter to the Commission on Chicago Landmarks asking for a denial of the permit the Chicago Archdiocese has filed to demolish the former St. Paul's Church Social Hall at 2131 W. 22nd Place, just down the street from the Henry J. Schlack's designed church of the same name. The application is on an automatic 90 day hold by virtue of the building being rated "orange" on the Commission's historic Resources Survey for possessing "potentially significant architectural or historical features."

Moran describes the building as "one of the largest and most attractive" in the neighborhood. "Please note that this ornamental cornice is completely intact and runs along three facades . . . The buildings exterior is certainly in good shape." Moran recommends allowing demolition of a single story structure at the back of the lot of allow redevelopment while "saving the three-story building that you see pictured."

Farewell, George

"I don't have pet peeves. I have major, psychotic hatreds."

George Carlin, May 12, 1937 - June 22nd, 2008

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Great Greg Hinz analysis of Block 37 Superstation Fiasco

Veteran reporter Greg Hinz, who broke the Crain's Chicago Business story that the CTA was mothballing its "superstation" under Block 37 after dumping $300 million into it's construction, has come up with a great analysis of four possible scenarios for the site's future including building two bypasses at Damen and Jefferson Park to be able to reach O'Hare in 21 minutes ($400 million), hand the whole thing over to Metra and have the trains arrive at Union Station (also $400 million), or use Metra right of way to create an express service that would allow both travelers and outlying CTA commuters to reach the loop in that magical minutes. To me, this is the most attractive of alternatives, as it addresses the issue of how escalating travel times, linked both to sprawl and a precipitous deterioration in the quality of CTA service, has made commuting to the Loop less and less attractive. In it's pre-CTA days, Chicago rail lines ran express trains and local trains just for this purpose, and was able to attract and carry larger passenger loads. The downside? Hinz estimates the price tag at $1.3 billion. Just charge it to the Olympics account.

Calatrava's Chicago Spire Completed!

In another I-could-kick-myself moment, I've been reminded I've neglected to write about an amazing event, Brickworld 2008, where Lego freaks convene and exhibit their work. The ballroom of the Westin Hotel at 601 N. Milwaukee in Wheeling is filled with models that include some of the world's most prominent buildings.
I didn't make it, but our indefatigable correspondent Bob Johnson did, and he's provided these pictures. He also writes of meeting Lego artist extraordinaire - and Brickworld founder - Adam Reed Tucker, AIA, whose website Brickstructures includes photos of his Lego renderings of such classics as Trump Tower, 7 South Dearborn, the unbuilt project that was designed to the world's tallest building, and the Burj Dubai, which has now taken that title.

Today, Sunday, is the last day you can visit
. $12.00 for adults, $8.00 for kids under ten, open 10:00 a.m. to 3:00. p.M.

Friday, June 20, 2008

Marina City: in Cans, Preserved, and with Angelina

You have only until through Sunday, June 22 to view the entries in Canstruction Chicago 2008, where 80,000 pounds of canned food are used to build 20 large sculptures. For this year's winner, a team from 4240 Architecture built Marina City's twin towers out of cans of tuna, with cans of corn marking the transition from the parking to the residential floors. Lighting design firm Charter Sills & Associates recreated the House of Blues, as well as a Hotel Sax made out of Campbell's soup cans.

The photo here is from the invaluable Marina City Online website, where you can also find a report on the competition. A jury that included Check, Please!'s Alpana Singh, Heaven on Seven chef Jimmy Banos, engineer Craig Vespa and architect Zoka Zola awarded their "juror's favorite" award to "CANtastic Voyage," created by a team from Nagle Hartray Danker Kagan McKay Penney Architects, can be seen here, in one of a sequence of photos taken at the event by Crain's Chicago Business.

You can view all the entries yourself at the Apparel Center, 350 W. Mart Center Drive, through Sunday. Price of admission: one can (and not the one you sit on.) On Monday, 6 P.M. - 9 P.M, a DE-CANstruction team will disassemble the sculptures and ship out the cans of food to the Greater Chicago Food Depository.

Elsewhere on the Marina front, the move to landmark the iconic Bertrand Goldberg complex advanced this Monday with a session where 50 unit owners and residents heard from Chicago's premiere preservation architect, Gunny Harboe, Landmarks Illinois' Advocacy Director Lisa DiChiera and historic preservation consultant Victoria Granacki discuss the process and benefits of landmarking. Marina City Online not only has a report on the session, here, but also offers up an audio recording of the hour long session.

Also on Marina City Online is a short piece including a link to the trailer for a film which prominently features Marina's twin towers, the Angelina Jolie/James McAvoy/Morgan Freeman thriller Wanted, which did substantial location filming in Chicago. It doesn't open until June 27th, but Sun-Times movie critic Richard Roeper is already calling it "insanely entertaining" with "some of the most breathtaking representations of our skyline I've ever seen."

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Great Moments in American Cultural History

"Me Robert Downey, Jr. of cookies"
Cookie Monster, during an appearance on The Colbert Report, discussing his 1970's and 80's addiction as he denied host Stephen Colbert's charges that Mr. Monster has now sold out to fruits and vegetables.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

See You in Court - Save Grant Park starts Legal Defense Fund for battle against Children's Museum

Now it gets interesting. The outcome of the opening skirmishes in the battle over the Chicago Children's Museum land grab in Grant Park, with the Chicago Park District, Chicago Plan Commission, and Chicago City Council all voting to authorize the project, were predictable. The membership of each of these bodies is a creation of Richard M. Daley, who personally appointed all (in the case of the CPD and CPC) or an overwhelming number (in the case of the City Council) of the members, most often with the primary emphasis on unquestioning loyalty and an unspoken understanding that each candidate can be depended upon to rubber-stamp every mayoral whim. (According to former independent alderman and political analyst Dick Simpson, 25 of the city's 50 alderman have never cast a single vote against the mayor.)

Now the battle goes to the court, where the outcome is less foreordained. It was the courts - not the City Council (which also fought tooth and nail to fill up Chicago's lakefront with aldermen's pet projects) nor the State Legislature, - that finally handed A. Montgomery Ward the decisive victory in his own battle to protect Grant Park in the early 20th Century. And, a century later, it will be the courts that will be the final arbiter of the museum's corrupt campaign.

It's a high stakes game that could go either way. If the mayor lucks out, and gets assigned submissive judges that owe their appointment to his organization, he could get a ruling that effectively wipes out the A. Montgomery Ward rulings and all protections for Grant Park, leaving it Mayor Daley's personal playground on which to build whatever castles, Olympic or otherwise, he may choose.

But don't bet on it. Last year, the Chicago Park District entered into a sweetheart deal with the clout-heavy Latin School of Chicago in which it put up $2 million towards the cost of a soccer field in Lincoln Park, in exchange for privatizing the field for the school's exclusive use for the most desirable times of the week. Neighborhood activists filed suit, and this past May, Cook County Judge Dorothy Kinnaird, calling the case "very troubling" and riddled with secrecy, issued an injunction against the deal. After her decision was affirmed unanimously by a four judge panel of the state appellate court, the Park District folded and quashed the deal.

Should such a scenario play out in the Children's Museum case, would the mayor be in danger of not only losing on the museum, but of having recent Grant Park constructions such as the Harris Theatre and Pritzker Pavilion, whose top half was reclassified from a building to a sculpture to evade other existing restrictions on construction in the park, being declared illegal, as well?

If the lawsuit reaches the Illinois Supreme Court, where A. Montgomery Ward sealed his victory, would Justice Anne Burke, wife of City Council powerhouse and Museum backer Ed Burke, recuse herself? As I said, it could get interesting.

Save Grant Park has begun a Legal Defense Fund to help defray costs of the anticipated lawsuits. You can contribute on their website here, or send a check to:
Save Grant Park
Fifth Third Bank
400 E. South Water Street
Chicago, IL 60601
Attn: Save Grant Park

Monday, June 16, 2008

Welcome Home, Perkins+Will: You're No. 1! (In Chicago)

The Architectural Record has published the 2008 edition of its annual survey the top 150 U.S. architectural firms ranked by 2007 revenue. And while storm clouds are gathering - AR's ABI (architectural billings index) showed a nearly 27% decline from last December of 07 to March of 08, 2007 seems to have at least given firms a chance to gather their rose buds from a rather prosperous year, with revenues jumping 20% from 2006.

In Chicago, the largest firm listed is again Perkins+Will, coming off several years of exile where AR classified it as an Atlanta-based company. It's $330.5 million in revenues represented a rise of over 23%. The firm dropped from 5th to 6th in the listings, right ahead of New York based, Chicago behemoth Skidmore, Owings and Merrill ($310.9 million, up 23.8%). Perkins+Wills new Holland Michigan headquarters for the Haworth company designed by Ralph Johnson and Eva Maddox, is getting rave reviews from everyone from the Trib's Blair Kamin to Metropolis Magazine.

After that, it's kinda anti-climax, as Chicago has only three only firms in the top 150: VOA, (62, $47.56 million, up 22.9%); OWP/P (52, $52.9, up 13.5%); and Solomon Cordwell Buenz (82, $37.4 million, up .5%). If you go outside the center city, there's also Northbook's Wiss Janney Elstner, in 22nd place, with $80.46 million in revenues. That firm wasn't even on the 2007 list, which makes you wonder just how complete AR's survey is. Frank Gehry, Richard Meier and Robert Stern are also nowhere to be found.

This year, AR listed an additional 100 firms, which gives us two firms that dropped out of the top 150, A. Epstein (154, $48.1 million, down 6.4%); and Teng (156, $68.63, down 12%.) The discrepancy between billings and rankings comes from the fact that the AR rankings takes into consideration only architecture-related revenues, excluding, for example, Teng's substantial jams and jellies franchise.

Also on the extra 100 are Murphy/Jahn (155, $30 million), FGM (157, $18.29 million); DeStefano+Partners (162, $25.38 million); Darien's Wight & Company (167, $31.1 million); Legat (177, $14.85 million); Walker Parking (205, $66.94 million), and the Korte Company (225, $6.9 million) {their website seems to indicate their HQ's in St. Louis; AR says Highland, Illinois - discuss among yourselves)

International work has become increasingly important, increasing $640 million from 2006 to 2007, and now representing over 18% of revenues. That work is not spread evenly, however. Among the Chicago firms listed, most gravitate towards 100% domestic. The exceptions are Perkins+Will (11% foreign revenues), Epstein (36.8%), and Destefano (27.5%). Both SOM (52.8%) and Murphy/Jahn (55.3%) derive the greater part of their revenues from foreign projects.

You can check out the full list - plus AR editor Charles Linn's explanation of how firms get included - here.

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Walter Netsch Dies at 88

Blair Kamin on his Skyline blog reports that the great Chicago architect Walter Netsch died on Sunday at his home. Netsch joined Skidmore, Owings and Merrill in 1947, and his designs over his long career there include the United States Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs, the University of Illinois "Circle" campus in Chicago, and the Regenstein Library at the University of Chicago. Netsch developed the design strategem he called the Field Theory, in which square forms containing core services were rotated into structural extensions of increasing geometric complexity.

Despite being in ill health for some time, Netsch just last month won his battle to keep the Illinois Department of Financial and Professional Regulation from pulling his architect's license because he had not taken required continuing education courses. Read more about Netsch's work and career here, and the extensive and fascinating interviews he gave for the Art Institute of Chicago's oral history project here.

Shades of Shigeru: Curtain Wall made of curtains generates power

Via Engadget, Architect magazine, and Inhabitat, we bring you word of Kennedy and Violich's Soft House, which would replace a home's outer surfaces with moveable curtains woven with photovoltaic collectors that they claim could produce half of the 16 KW of direct current required by a 1,200 foot domicile. And while, in the visuals you'll find at the sites linked here, they look less like curtains than laundry billowing dry in the wind and the threads themselves, which look like a cross between a zipper and a DNA strand, are so expensive to manufacture as to be, at least at the moment, prohibitively expensive - hey, you've got to start somewhere.

Saturday, June 14, 2008

Summer Comes to the City

The calendar may say Spring, but you know summer's come when the Palms return to Marina City . . .
. . . and to Oak Street beach.
. . . the city flocks to the lakefront, clotting thick as gulls.
. . . and the rites of summer - sloth and sport, disengagement and pursuit - again begin their dance.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Dead Parking Garages Tell No Tales - Until Now

To combat increasing congestion, the City of Chicago, beginning in the 1950's, entered into an ambitious program to build a series of ten massive municipal parking garages throughout the center city. Only one survives. Most of these garages did not age well, fading into the urban landscape as the plug-ugly branch of the infrastructure family.

Now, however, a wonderful piece written by Serhii Chrucky for the indispensable Forgotten Chicago website documents Municipal Parking Garages, their optimistic beginnings and unheralded deaths. (Seeing some of the garages gave me a start, as I realized I had never really noticed they weren't there anymore.)

Just as every child is beautiful to its own mother, even a parking garage is beautiful to its architects, and in the idealistic original renderings, before the long decades of neglect and decline, they actually do look beautiful. In the rendering of Facility No. 1 (shown above), a garage on Wacker near State that came to be known as "the birdcage" looks clean, crisp and inviting. The architects, Shaw, Metz and Dolio, also designed the Florsheim building on Canal, where I had my first job, a classic International Style jewel that was mutilated beyond recognition in a recent condo conversion.

Or check out this rendering of the Loebl & Schlossman's Facility No. 5 at 875 North Rush, radiant in the glow of spotlights criss-crossing the night sky as if its debut were a Hollywood premiere.
This gives you an idea of the richness of the generous number of illustrations accompanying the article, full of great info you're unlikely to find anywhere else about a vanishing piece of Chicago history. Absolutely first-rate. Check it all out here.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

The Sixteen Who Stood Up to the Children's Museum corrupt land grab - Deja Vu all over again?

When you look at the list of the sixteen courageous votes cast in the Chicago City Council against the Chicago Children's Museum land grab in Grant Park, you can't help but think you've entered a time warp, that you're looking at the council in the 1970's when anti-Daley independents began upsetting long-incumbent machine aldermen across the city's lakefront. The 43rd ward was Bill Singer; the 44th Dick Simpson, the 49th David Orr, the 5th Leon Depres and Ross Lathrop.

Today, only the 49th ward's Joe Moore qualifies as an independent in the old sense. But others, like the 44th's Tom Tunney, the 5th's Leslie Hairston and the 44th's Vi Daley, who barely beat back a runoff challenger last year - though all elected with Daley support - are beginning to reflect constituencies with a revivified independent streak.

History never repeats itself, exactly, but there's a good chance that we've entered the sour, extended downward trajectory of Richard M. Daley's long reign as mayor, following the pattern set by his father.

Richard J. Daley won election with the support of progressive elements in the city, and his early terms were marked by optimism and achievement. As the 1960's rolled on, however, his administration was marked by corrosive and costly imperial fiats such as the destruction, at a time when huge swaths of unused railroad yards were opening up for development, of much of the city's Little Italy neighborhood for the construction of the UIC Circle Campus, which played a major role in destabilizing the near west side for the next three decades. After the debacle of the 1968 Democratic convention, opposition from former supporters Daley had cast aside spread from liberal to working class areas of the city.

While his massive reservoir of power ensured his continual re-election, his later schemes like an airport in Lake Michigan, or a crosstown expressway that would have torn up neighborhoods all along the western spine of Chicago, went nowhere and, in the later case, was a decisive factor in opening the way for the machine's choice for governor, Michael Howlett, to be trounced by anti-machine renegade Democrat Dan Walker.

Now we face the same endgame with his son. Like his father, Richard M. Daley will in all probability be re-elected as mayor as many more times has he desires, but the Children's Museum battle is a waystation marking his increasing isolation, as his sense of invulnerability leads him to discard and demonize anyone rash enough to offer a strong dissent to his policies.

Do you think that the residents in the buildings around the CCM's proposed Grant Park site, many of whom pioneered the back-to-downtown movement and, I'm betting, delivered large majorities for Daley in past elections, will soon forget how quickly and viciously he turned on them, branding them a band of ugly racists for daring to oppose his pet project? In the 2007 elections, for the first time in decades, a large number of Daley-backed aldermanic candidates went down to defeat, a trend that should continue in 2011 and beyond, even in the face of still more smashing Daley re-election victories.

To Daley, the nuts and bolts of running a large city are yesterday's news. His energies are increasingly drawn to grand baubles like the 2016 Olympics, his great white whale. Because he believes himself both infallible and invincible, his actions grow incrementally outrageous. Those outrageous actions will create more and more dissent, and the mayor will respond to that dissent with outrage and an escalating reckless vehemence, finally retreating into an inner circle largely reduced to a small cadre of the most shameless sycophants and flatterers.

I'd like to be wrong about this. No hee-haw.

As for the museum battle, it's on to the courts.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

City Council votes on Children's Museum as more bogus signatures emerge on CCM ad

The Chicago City Council will vote Wednesday on the Chicago Children's Museum move to Grant Park. Mayor Richard M. Daley has cause for confidence, since the Council, like the Chicago Plan Commission, is a Daley production. Almost half of the current aldermen owe their seat to mayoral appointment. As political analyst and former 44th ward alderman Dick Simpson has noted, 25 of the city's 50 alderman have NEVER cast so much as a single dissenting vote against any administration proposal.

Elsewhere, after this blog reported that the Chicago Children's Museum falsified support of the Lyric Opera of Chicago in a full-page ad it ran in last Sunday's Tribune, Tribune architectural critic Blair Kamin reported in his Skyline blog that the ad's listing of the College of Architecture at the Illinois Institute of Technology was also bogus. Kamin quoted the College's Dean, Donna Robertson, as stating that the letter she wrote endorsing CCM's plan represented her personal endorsement, not the support of the school, something she also confirmed for me in a voicemail she left on Tuesday. Also on Tuesday, a spokesman for the Art Institute of Chicago wrote me that the museum's listing in the CCM ad was also in error. Like Robertson, Art Institute President James Cuno wrote a personal letter supporting the CCM's move, which in the CCM's ethics-free world, was apparently enough to add the Art Institute itself to the list of supporters in their ad. A broadcast on WBEZ referenced a number of similar cases of fictitious listings

Normally you'd think the support of luminaries like Donna Robertson and James Cuno would be more than enough, but not for CCM. Its battle plan depends on fabrication of the appearance of a wide public support that doesn't exist. Like all those that preceded it, a viewer poll by NBC5 last week showed overwhelming opposition - about 80% - to the Children's Museum's Grant Park land grab by the over 3,000 viewers responding.

As much as the damage to Grant Park and the decimation of the court rulings that have provided it protection for over a century and a half, the permanent debasement of public discourse will be a disastrous after-effect of a Children's Museum victory. Naively, perhaps, I've always thought of our cultural institutions as the custodians of Chicago's better nature. I would never have imagined that such an institution - and for the moment let's be kind and include the CCM among them - would conduct a public campaign built out of deliberate deception, withholding of information, race-baiting, gutter politics, and an almost pathological proclivity for telling lie after lie. If the CCM prevails, this type of campaign will become the new norm, one that institutions will ignore only at their peril. It will longer be Daniel Burnham who has set the standard for civic debate in Chicago, but Karl Rove.

Time Regained: The Chicago Inter Ocean Building

There weren't as many postcard vendors as in the past at last week's Printer's Row Book Fair, but I was still able to pick up several interesting views into Chicago's architectural past, including this one of the Chicago Inter Ocean's building, completed 1900, W. Carbys Zimmerman architect, which stood on Monroe Street across from what is now the hanging gardens of Chase Plaza.

Now forgotten, it was one of Chicago's major daily newspapers, beginning its life in 1865 as the Chicago Republican, and renamed the Inter Ocean in 1871, perhaps symbolic of the city's emerging global prominence. It was said to have started going downhill after being acquired by transit mogul Charles T. Yerkes, builder of the Loop "L", who used the paper as a mouthpiece in his battles against reformers' threats to the lucrative traction franchises that he had secured through wide-scale bribery.

The Inter Ocean's previous building, at the southeast corner of Dearborn and Madison, was replaced in 1902 by the 17 story Chicago Tribune Building by architects Holabird and Roche, a palatial headquarters that went into a long decline after the Trib moved to its present gothic skyscraper on North Michigan avenue. It was demolished in 2003 to make way for DeStefano+Partners distinctive One South Dearborn.

Yerkes died in 1905; the Inter Ocean in 1914. If you're old enough to remember the Monroe Theater - that was the Inter Ocean. It was retrofitted into a movie theater in 1920, and by the 1950's was a grind house showing such classics as Cannibal Girls and Raw Meat. It ended its days as a soft porn house, before being demolished to make way for Helmut Jahn's 1980 Xerox Centre.

And in our own increasingly globalized world, wouldn't the Inter Ocean be a great name for a internationally-focused web-based newspaper, taking up the slack from all the international coverage that Sam Zell is reportedly killing off at the once great Tribune Company newspapers he now controls?

Monday, June 09, 2008

Hills Issue Hillock

Congratulations to Archidose's John Hill and his wife (unbilled appearance) on the recent birth of their beautiful baby girl, and our thanks to self same (name withheld) baby girl for giving this humble blog several weeks of diminished competition as the proud parents re-order their lives around their new addition's feeding and sleep patterns.

Chicago Children's Museum ad falsifies list of supporters

Edging towards a Chicago City Council vote on its proposed land grab in Grant Park this coming Wednesday, the Chicago Children's Museum ran a full page ad in this Sunday's Chicago Tribune with a long, often somewhat curious list of all the groups they claim support them. (Did you know the Chicago Public Schools support the move?) Some of the listings seemed a bit strange, as many are organizations that don't usually involve themselves in politics or public policy battles. So I checked a couple out. Here's one response I just got from Lyric Opera, which was listed as one of the museum's supporters:

"Lyric Opera of Chicago has not endorsed the proposed new site for the Children's Museum, and did not authorize inclusion in the advertisement which appeared Sunday in the Chicago Tribune."

How many more of the listings on the ad are similarly bogus? Could the CCM's Astroturf campaign grow any more dishonest?

Sunday, June 08, 2008

Tales from the Crypt: City To Bury $300 Million Mistake under Block 37?

Any doubts that Chicago's corrupt TIF (tax increment financing) system, which diverts somewhere around $500 million a year from general revenues, is a debilitating scam on the city's taxpayers, should be erased by Greg Hinz's story in this week's Crain's Chicago Business, which reports another $20 million in TIF funds are about to be appropriated for the $320 million CTA "superstation" under Block 37. And what will that get us? According to Hinz, a mothballed station.

That's right. After nearly a third of a billion of dollars in spending - currently about $100 million over the original budget - Hinz says the "superstation" will be left unfinished, unusuable, and unopened. No one appears to know just how much more it would cost to complete, so, according to Hinz, it will be sealed to stop the bleeding. Kind of like Tut's tomb, if Tut's tomb had been filled not with artifacts of gold but copies of construction contracts.

The Block 37 "superstation" was a pet project of former CTA head Frank Kruesi. Even as he allowed standard maintenance to be deferred, "slow zones" proliferate, and the CTA make expensive payouts to settle lawsuits resulting from subway derailments, Kreusi still found $60 to $70 million to pour into block 37. On top of that, Block 37 developer Joseph Freed was shaken down to chip in another $19 million to cover the overruns.

And on top of that, $42,000,000 in TIF funds went into the mix, with Hinz reporting another $20 million in TIF funds are about to be sent down the same drain. How can this be?

Because TIF money is spent with a minimum of accountability and transparency. The mayor proclaims; the checks are written. No one got to ask Kreusi or the mayor whether it was really a good idea to construct a transfer point between Red and Blue rail lines at what is probably the most expensive place in Chicago to build it, or a superstation for a express service to the city's airports that didn't exist, and won't exist until someone comes up with another $1.5 billion to fund it.

And will Chicago's teflon mayor Richard M. Daley be held accountable for a boondoggle that in most any other city would be the end of a political career? Don't be ridiculous.

As Ben Joravsky reports in the Chicago Reader, the massive Central Loop TIF from which the Block 37 funds came, by law was supposed to expire at the end of 23 years, which was on June 20, 2007. But in 1999, the mayor's forces in Springfield quietly pushed through an amendment revising the period to 24 years. And so a TIF that had already diverted $900 million in tax revenue has diverted, since its scheduled expiration, another $48,000,000 and counting. $48 million that didn't go to schools, or police or pensions or city services, as the mayor shed crocodile tears about having no alternative but to raise taxes and fees by hundreds of millions of dollars.

And now, Joravsky reports, there are signs Daley will look to extend the Central Loop TIF for another 15 years.

So don't be fooled by the crowds and the shoppers, the sold out theater performances, and all the construction. In a way the city's truly poor neighborhoods can only look on with envy, the Loop is chronically depressed, and the Daley administration has every intention of keeping it that way for a very long time. A billion and half dollars accumulating in the city's hundreds of TIF districts could go a long way towards covering those Olympic overruns.

Wednesday, June 04, 2008

Nichols Bares its Feet for Summer

via our indefatigable correspondent Bob Johnson, here's a composite of two photographs showing the footings for Renzo Piano's Nichols Bridgeway, currently under construction, as it stretches towards its destination in Millennium Park, Olive Oyl elongated and slender on the ascent, short and muscular Popeye biceps on the descent.

Sunday, June 01, 2008

Pecha Kucha, Kerwin, Enquist, Gang, Sexton, Eifler, SEED, Prairie Avenue, Canstruction - 50 events on June Calendar

  • Pecha Kucha celebrates its first birthday with volume 5 at Martyr's;
  • Thomas Kerwin and Phillip Enquist talk on Chicago's 2016 Olympics bid
  • Mark Sexton, John Eifler and Timothy Poell talk about glass and the Spertus, Trump Tower and Garfield Park Conservatory at the Chicago Architecture Foundation,
  • Chicago's Green Permit program,
  • Canstruction Chicago 2008 makes sculptures out of cans and feeds the hungry,
  • Jeanne Gang talks about her new Columbia College Media Production Center, at CAF
  • Bill Tyre discusses his book Historic Prairie Avenue at Glessner House on Friday and a Sunday, fundraiser offers tours of rarely seen mansions
  • SEAOI's annual awards banquet
  • The third SEED Conference with Carlos Segura, Jim Coudal, Edward Lifson and others, at Crown Hall at IIT
  • a webinar explains NCARB-IDP
  • a panel a the Spertus Institute, including Rico Cedro of Krueck and Sexton and Doug Farr of Farr Associates tackles The Future of Sustainable Architecture,
  • the 2008 Rural Heritage conference,
  • the German American Chamber of Commerce offers up a seminar on Renewables and Energy Efficiency
These are just some of the highlights of the nearly 50 items on June's Calendar of Architectural Events. Check it all out here.