Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Preckwinckle calls (another) Code Blue at Historic Cook County Hospital

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Will it be a successful intervention or just another “DNR”?

Five months ago, we wrote about how, despite a series of reprieves since it closed after the 2002 opening of the new Stroger Hospital next door,  the specter of the wrecking ball has never left the sky above the Beaux Arts facades of the historic 1912 Cook County Hospital building

In 1999, the Cook County Board's then President John Stroger announced the structure's impending demise. In 2004, a move by Stroger's forces to get the Board to approve the demolition failed.  In 2007, Stroger's son Todd, having inherited the Board Presidency, announced a $140 million reuse plan. In 2009, another report from Jones Lang LaSalle.  In 2010, the Cook County Board approved a $108 million plan.  In 2011, new Board President Toni Preckwinkle made renovation of the old building a central part of her own $126 million hospital redevelopment plan.
The one constant binding all these plans together is (a) a lot of consultants have made a lot of money, which really would have come in handy in covering the project's cost, and (b) nothing ever happens.  Through it all, the majestic structure stands, empty, decaying, and untouched.
Well, once more into the breach, my friends.     Kristen Schorsch of Crain's Chicago Business is reporting that Toni Preckwinkle is planning “to hire a manager to guide the redevelopment effort of about 10 acres on the Near West Side campus . . .  with an eye toward preserving the historic public hospital building . . . ”  And this fall?   Back by popular demand! Before the Cook County Board for approval - still another plan.

Will the nth time be the charm? Someone's always “saving” old Cook County Hospital, but until that day when construction crews arrive on-site and renovation begins, they will persist in seeming less like saviors, than the cat that absent-mindedly toys with a mouse until it finally gets bored and swallows it whole.

Read the Full Story and see the photo gallery:
Historic Cook County Hospital soon turns 100 - will it be around to see it?

Monday, January 27, 2014

Is it Too Early to Start Worrying about Bertrand Goldberg's Walton Gardens? The history of Rush Street through the Eyes of A Single Building

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A city is an energy, a circuit board of dynamic pathways through which the appetites, fears and hopes of individuals smash against each other, in association or exploitation, in pursuit of satisfaction.  Architecture is the expression of these impulses, generating heat, light and, in moments of failure, anxiety, darkness and despair.  Like the city itself, architecture bridges generations and transcends individual mortality.  It is the medium of transmission for the continuity of life.
A perfect city and architecture would be the equivalent of the audiophile's dream of “a wire with gain”, a neutral amplification of individual action but, inevitably, the city and its architecture provide their own “feedback”, which reshapes and alters the actions which they are supposed to express.

As functions change or disappear, buildings may be replaced for new constructions serving new functions, or simply annihilated when functions and cultures lose their meaning and value.  Just as likely, however, the buildings may endure.  They may be altered for new functions, but the accommodations and values inherent in the original construction will often carry forward to influence the new construction in a way a tabula rasa would not.  This is the continuity of the city.

Have I lost you yet?  Rereading the previous paragraphs, I can imagine you finding them abstract -   tl;dr - so I want to try to pump some blood back into the ideas.  I'm going to tell you the story of a single building - Walton Gardens - and how it falls into the history and future of Rush Street, a geographically compact district of Chicago with an exceptionally flavorful personality, one that has gone through several dramatic transformations down through the decades, and seems now on the brink of another.
Few people who pass by the jewel box of a building on the northeast corner of Walton and Rush probably know it's the design of architect Bertrand Goldberg, best known for twin-towered Marina City.  What's evident, however, is that it's an immensely striking building, especially at night when the light shining out from within makes the spare steel frame almost disappear.

Most of us know the building as Urban Outfitters.  Outfitters was originally a couple of blocks north, at 1120 North State, which for a long time had been the neighborhood McDonald's, and for a short time Winkelstein's deli.  In 1996, with the move to the Goldberg building, 1120 North State become home for the Urban Outfitter's spinoff Anthropologie, which in turn moved out in 2010 to part of the former American Girl space on Chicago.  1120 is now a Lou Malnati's pizzeria.
Maple and Ash - initial concept
Recently, Crain's Chicago Business's Micah Maidenberg reported that Urban Outfitters is again moving back north, this time to a stalled building at 1020 North State that replaced the split-level Hunt Club. Originally it was to become Maple and Ash, with a restaurant on the first two floors and a nightclub on the top third story.  The design seemed an homage to early 20th century industrial buildings, with huge windows placed within a spare (faux?) brick and terra cotta frame.
Although fall of 2013 was the target completion date, after the demolition nothing much seemed to be going on at the site.  In mid-December Spy Guy on unveiled a new, very different rendering.  Out are the big windows in dark-painted frames.  In are four, white-clad stories, with large windows on the first three floors for retail, and an a more enclosed top floor, for a restaurant or club space.
Walton and Maple
And that's not the end of it.  Last September, Crain's also reported that the one-story building at State and Cedar is slated to come down once the leases of current tenants, including a Corner Bakery (formerly a KFC outlet) and Big Bowl restaurant, expire in 2015, to be replaced by a three-story structure with retail at ground level, and a restaurant on the upper floors.
State and Cedar
Upscale retailing has been spilling out beyond its traditional Oak Street home, onto Rush.  With rents of $200+ per square foot, retailing is crowding out the bars, restaurants and clubs that long defined Rush Street as one of Chicago's most famous entertainment strips, upping the ante on density and height.
In 2012, a deal was floated to sell the building housing Carmine's Bar and Lounge -  which began life in the 1960's as the Norge Village Laundromat - for $18 million - about $1,5000 a square foot.  Last month, 42nd ward alderman Brendan Reilly engineered the downzoning of the old Cedar (Man vs. Margarita) Hotel at 1122 North State to send proposals for a 20-story, 220-room hotel on the site back to the drawing board.
The idea was to get some kind of control on development, but for the Rush Street district, the genie may already be out of the bottle. Last fall, spyguy also revealed elevation drawings by Solomon Cordwell and Buenz for a 335-foot-high condo tower DRW Holdings looks build on the site at State and Elm currently occupied by the largely empty three-story Regina Courts. 
The project, which would have only 35 luxury units, was approved by the Chicago Plan Commission last week.

In the beginning - or at least after the Great Chicago Fire - Rush Street was given over to graystones for the affluent, but as the the 19th century drew to a close, that began to change, no more so than with the construction of the Garibaldi Building on the site where Walton Gardens stands today.   

John G. Garibaldi had been born in Genoa, Italy in 1849.  He came to America as a boy, and entered the fruit business as an employee of another immigrant from Genoa, G.B. Cuneo.  Proving especially proficient in his trade (and marrying the boss's daughter), Garibaldi became a full partner in what would become the firm of Garibaldi and Cuneo, whose operations were found in the South Water Market near where the Kemper/Unitrin Building now stands.  Garibaldi came to be known as the “Banana King” of Chicago, and once lost a lawsuit to a woman named Fanny O'Connor, who claimed, in anticipation of what would become a staple of silent film comedy, to have slipped and fell on one of Garibaldi's errant fruits.  (Bananas would figure more tragically in the life of Cuneo's son Andrew, who was fatally shot in the back of the head by Tony Crescio, a man described in the press as “a partly insane banana handler.”)
Garibaldi building courtesy Chuckman Collection
In addition to being fruit merchants, both Cuneo and Garibaldi were active in Chicago's booming real estate markets.  In 1891, Garibaldi bought the lot with 112 feet on Walton and 54 on Rush and began to transform the single-family character of the street with construction of a new $45,000 structure, designed by the architects Treat and Foltz, “of buff Bedford stone, with galvanized iron cornice and bays.”  The first floor held three retail stores behind large-plate glass windows; the upper three  eighteen apartments, the entire building “to be finished in hardwood and heated by steam.”

In 1917, Garibaldi died after an operation at St. Joseph's Hospital, even as his daughter Clarinda was giving birth to a granddaughter in a room across the way.  The John G. Garibaldi Trust was formed to  manage his holdings, and in 1954 plans were announced by the Trust to demolish the Garibaldi Building for a new structure to be designed by the 41-year-old architect Bertrand Goldberg.  The budget was $100,000, and the leasing agent was Arthur Rubloff.
image courtesy Forgotten Chicago
The Tribune described the project as a “two story office building and store . . . containing 3,000 square feet of space on each floor, constructed of steel, brick and glass.”  Before the onset of the Great Depression in 1929 halted new construction, upscale retail had meant classically-styled facades of cut stone with Art Deco details.  Now, Goldberg was bringing modernism to Chicago's storefronts, with an open, steel-framed, glass-enclosed jewel box, trimmed in pristine white.
Walton Garden's upper floor became the long-time home to Bill Putnam's Universal Recording Company, whose studios recorded everyone from Nelson Riddle to Nat King Cole and Quincy Jones. From their original location in Hyde Park, Bordelons home furnishing and interior decorating service became Walton Garden's primary ground floor retail tenant, opening on January 8, 1956.  Pittsfield Building bookseller Max Siegel also expanded to Walton Gardens, promising “the world's most exciting bookshore.  Each of the four walls on the main floor will be entirely of glass, with sliding glass doors opening from the lobby and ‘magic eye’ doors opening from the street.   Everything on the ground floor will be visible from the street and the lobby.”

“The project is a result of my faith in Chicago's future as a leading book center,” said Siegel.  “Business is very good in this city, and it's going to get even better.”

In this, Siegel may have been a bit too optimistic.  I was unable to find the exact date and reason for the transition, but by 1957, the Ritts Company of 1138 South Michigan was moving into the Bordelons retail space.  More to the point, Walton Gardens may have been a little bit too far ahead of the curve on a Rush Street that was becoming Chicago's red light district, often described as Chicago's New Orleans, a strip of bars and nightclubs.  At the top end was Mr. Kelly's, the legendary venue that opened in 1957 and booked the hippest acts of the day, from Sara Vaughan to Lenny Bruce and Richard Pryor.  Tony Bennet sang at the Living Room, and talked about spending the night hopping from one club to the next.  It was a jumping time.  If you had your hair done at Shears and Cheers on Rush, you might find yourself sitting under a hair dryer next to Barbra Streisand.

In the basement of Walton Gardens was Dave Falzone's Cafe Continental, described as “a colorful, underground labyrinth, lighted and decorated to simulate a gloried sidewalk cafe.  A picturesque little corridor connects the main dining room with a smaller one, La Contina, directly beneath the Walton Place sidewalk, and some of the interesting stone walls are what is left of the vintage Garibaldi Building.”

Clearly, Walton Gardens was meant to take Rush Street to a more sedate, upscale dimension, but it was too much to expect from one building.  As the 1960's dawned, Rush Street, with its clubs, salons, Franksville and all-night laudromat was pushing more towards raunch, with attractions with names like Pussycat Lounge and Whiskey-a-Go-Go.  After Dave Falzone left the Cafe Continental, he was indicted for possessing $14,000 of stolen liquor.  By 1962, Walton Gardens became home to the  rUmPuS rOom, the “Newest swank Twistery and Dinner-Breakfast Spot.”  In 1966, it was a club called Sneeky Pete's, and, later, The Talk of the Town.  Described as a topless bar, The Talk was raided multiple times in 1973 for B-girl operations, where attractive young women would entice conventioneers to buy them drinks costing anywhere from $3.75 to as high as $15.00 (and sometimes leading them to darkened booths where sexual favors were provided for a price.)  In the end, Walton Gardens didn't change Rush Street. Rush Street brought Walton Gardens down to its own level.
photograph: the Chuckman Collection
Mr. Kelly's closed in 1975, but the street had already began to change when Kelly's was rebuilt after a 1966 fire as part of a project anchored by a 39-story apartment tower.  Mister Kelly's became the upscale Sweetwater bar and restaurant.  The former laundromat became the Chicago outpost of the GuadalaHarry's chain.  The fashionable Harry's Cafe was right next door, but the queen of the new Rush Street was the nightclub Faces.  
image Calumet 412
Opened in 1971, it beat Studio 54 to the disco craze by four years.  With memberships originally going for $500, Faces was the place to be seen and have close encounters with the celebrities of the time, from Telly Savalas, to Sonny Bono, Elke Sommer and Tom Jones.  You know - that whole crowd.  Faces was the place where Frank Sinatra and 40 friends celebrated -  until 6 in the morning - his engagement to the former Barbara Marx.
In August of 1977, at a cost of $1.5 million, Walton Gardens became the home to the Chicago outpost of the upscale California-based Hamburger Hamlet chain, with 185 seats and paneling from Winston Churchill's office.  The former Prime Minister's private elevator was purchased and deployed as Booth 1.

Faces closed in 1989.  Rush Street had followed the usual trajectory of enormous success spawning ever-higher rents forcing out the tenants who made the district popular.  The singles bars moved over to Division Street.  Harry's Cafe was replaced by the massive Tavern on Rush, and soon Rush Street was what's now known as the Viagra Triangle, where moneyed middle-aged libidos chase young women usually far shrewder than they let on.  The Faces building was torn down for the new Barney's store.

Hamburger Hamlet moved out of Walton Gardens in 1988.    Urban Outfitters took over in 1996, the address now 935 North Rush.  Sometime this year or next, they'll be gone.  What's next?  The owner of the building, JMB Realty, which also owns the Shops at 900 North Michigan, said in a statement published by Crain's “There's a huge amount of interest for what is one of the best retail corners in Chicago.”   Could they be thinking there might be even more interest with a larger building?
Walton Gardens is a largely overlooked work in the Goldberg canon.   It earns only a fleeting reference in the Catalog for the Art Institute's 2012 show on the architect, and the essential 1984 monograph Dans La Ville seems not to mention it at all.

The building as it exists today is a mannerist revision of Goldberg's original design.  In the original a thin canopy wrapped around the top perimeter of the ground floor, flags flew on the masts along the roofline, and the metal frame appears to have to been painted white.  Now, the canopy has been removed.  Only the open metal frame remains, now an industrial reddish-brown.  The masts, shorn of their pennants, appear as functionless stumps.  The mechanical penthouse desperately needs some tender loving care.
What remains a constant, however, is the striking transparency Max Siegel bragged about back in 1955.   Ironically enough, stripping the canopy bare gives that transparency further emphasis.
You can argue which is better, the original or the revision - do you prefer the Young Elvis or the Vegas Comeback Elvis?  What's indisputable, however, is that Walton Gardens is the most distinctive building on Rush Street.  During the day, the wear and tear may be visible, but at night, it's an unmitigated stunner.  And Rush Street has always been made for the night.  Even as everything around it has changed - several times - Walton Gardens endures as the bridge of memory and visual anchor of Rush Street.  It's a keeper.

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Chicago: City of Light? Mayor Rahm Sees Luminous Future for his Town's Architecture

Image: City of Chicago
Mayor Rahm Emanuel says Chicago needs another 9 million people - at least if they go back home after they give us their money.  Yesterday he gave a speech on the importance of tourism to the city and its economy, and touted the boost in visitors from 40 million when he took office to 46 million a year today.  Now he wants to pump it to 55 million by 2020, projecting it will translate into 30,000 new jobs.

Efforts begin with stretching this year's Chinese New Year celebrations from January 31 through February 14 and from Chinatown and the Loop to throughout the city.   The expectation is that once word gets around, large numbers of citizens on the Chinese mainland will be rushing to the nearest airport - if they can find it in the smog - to get the next flight to Chicago to see those amazing New Year's festivities they've heard so much about.  As one legendary Chicago performer would say, “It could happen!”
Image: City of Chicago
The second part of Rahm's initiative kicks in later this month with the launching of “an international competition to light the city at night.  The competition will seek entries from artists, architects, planners and designers from around the world.  It will begin with the river and extend throughout the city and activate Chicago at night, allowing tourists more opportunities to enjoy the city and presenting another reason for people to visit Chicago."
I love competitions as much as the next guy, but I can't help wondering why Emanuel doesn't just pick up the phone and call in Chicago's extraordinary lighting designers.  It's not like our city is somehow bereft of striking architectural lighting.  Somewhere along the way, Rahm must have noticed the way the floodlit Wrigley Building has anchored Michigan Avenue for the better part of a century, or how the tops of such landmarks as the Hancock Center, 900 North Michigan, the Wrigley clock tower and now even the Hotel Intercontinental shine with nocturnal color that actually changes in hue throughout the year.
Images courtesy David Davies Design Studio
There's no shortage of local talent.  Perhaps the most spectacular lighting transformation of any Chicago building was John David Mooney's transformation of Mies van der Rohe's IBM Building - with David Davies as production manager - deploying 5,000 floodlights to make each of 7,200 windows an individual pixel in an enormous dynamic canvas of geometric color.  Chicago theatrical lighting design firm Schuler Shook has also had a hand in creating striking exterior illumination, including that for the original Chicago Water Tower.  Architect Helmut Jahn has worked with lighting designer Yann Kersalé to create color-shifting illuminations for his Deutsche Post building in Germany.

Rather than private buildings, however, Rahm seems to be placing an emphasis on lighting public infrastructure, which falls within the sweet spot of another Chicago designer, Tracey Dear, who rescued the grubby decrepitude of the pavilion designed by Zaha Hadid for the Burnham Plan Centennial with beautiful nighttime lighting.
Dear's debut project was actually a colorful illumination of 11 bridges across over a mile of the Chicago river. Imagine the procession of those lit bridges showing up in one of those aerial shots that have become the hallmark of Sunday/Monday night football broadcasts.
Luftwerk, Luminous Field, at Cloud Gate
Then there's Luftwerk, whose show SHIFT just closed at the Cultural Center,  and whose 2012 installation Luminous Field, transformed Anish Kapoor's Cloud Gate sculpture in Millennium Park in mesmerizing patterns of color.

In yesterday's press release, Emanuel united his two initiatives under “the Elevated Chicago” banner, and his use of the world “Elevated” leads me to something I've been proposing - to absolute silence - for years.  Wabash Avenue has traditionally been considered the problem child of the Loop because of its falling beneath the shadow of the Loop L.  Most recently, the Chicago Loop Alliance, in partnership with Civic Artworks - has been soliciting ideas for their campaign, How Would you improve Wabash Avenue?
To me, the primary answer has always been obvious.  Stop trying to ignore the L and start looking at it.   Ultimately, the Loop L is not just historic infrastructure - it's the largest piece of sculpture in Chicago.  Take the time to look at the pillars, girders, trusses and struts, and you'll find amazing, intriguing and - yes - beautiful webs of form.  It's like an enormous Richard Serra, with delicacy and detail added in.
This isn't just a tourist thing.  It's about countering the drear cold darkness of winter in the city, and bringing out the best in its architecture and infrastructure even at night.  Yes, Chicago - it's schools and government institutions - need bread, desperately, but no city survives without the circuses that give the heightened sense of life that makes people want to live there.
During the day, it's pretty easy to see the L's potential but right now at night, it's lost in the shadows, a great, unending blob of darkness that casts Wabash down into the gloom.
Let Mooney or Dear or Kersalé loose on it.  Let them light it up in all its exquisite detail, and - I guarantee you - Wabash at night will become one of Chicago's premier attractions, drawing tourists to its glow like bugs to a zapper.

Thursday, January 16, 2014

An Astonishing Experience: La Grande Bellezza - held over at the Music Box for one more week

Étonnez-moi.  Hot off its win as Best Foreign Film at the Golden Globe Awards last Sunday, the Italian Film The Great Beauty (La Grande Bellezza) has been held over at the Music Box theatre for another week.  The theater's website refers to it as “an outlandishly entertaining hallucination.”  It screams out to be seen on the big screen. Don't miss it.

It begins at Janiculum, one of the hills overlooking Rome, with a man contemplating the inscription on a war memorial, Roma o Morte.  Rome or Death.  A tourist takes a picture of the view from the terrace.  It is breathtaking.  For him, literally - he instantly drops dead on the pavement. 

For the characters in Paolo Sorrentino's brilliant La Grande Bellezza, the monument's inscription should be, if not Roma è la morte, at least Roma è il sonno.  The beautiful people most often wander through the city as if sleepwalkers, sedated by their own affluence and the imposing architectural leave-behinds of millenniums of history. For them,  Rome, if not death, is certainly the big sleep, rounding nights of frenzied partying.  Like the one blazing on the terrace of Jep Gambardella's apartment, which just happens to be right across the street from the Coliseum.  It's Jep's 65th birthday, and his aging circle of fashionable friends join him in gyrating to the pounding music in the style of youth that has passed them by.  Dancers grind, seductions are attempted, a frenzied woman screams, a dwarf is tossed, and every so often, through the pulsating music, a Mariachi band strolls as if in an Ives symphony.
photo courtesy Janus Films - click images for larger view
The next day, the mcguffin is revealed, as Jep learns sad news regarding his first love, forgotten for decades.  Except its more than a mcguffin, and the anguish is real, but contained rather than operatic.  Jep has become a flaneur, not just of Rome, but of his own life, from which he has become stylishly detached.

Style - its pleasures and limitations - is at the center of La Grand Bellezzia.  The travelogue resemblance to Woody Allen's To Rome with Love is only surface.  Jep is an insider, not a tourist.  He knows the guy who has the keys to get into the city's most secret, splendid interiors, and we get to come along.  We walk the empty midnight streets with him, and follow cinematographer's Luca Bigazzi's camera to one splendid setting after another.
image courtesy Janus Films
During one evening stroll,  Jep encounters the great French actress Fanny Ardant.  Two people united only by celebrity, they gaze at each for an extended moment with delight and interest, and then, at a loss for words, move on.

On one level, La Grande Bellezza is intended as another attack on the vacuity of Berlusconi's Italy, and it's also a conscious homage to the 60-years-previous decadence of the Rome of  Fellini's La Dolce Vita.  (At one point Jep wears a pair of thick-rimmed glasses that could have been stolen from Marcello Mastroianni.)  Like Mastroianni's Marcello Rubini (or Guido), Jep lives within a web of impossibly beautiful women now, like him, deep into middle-age.
Toni Servillo, with force of nature Sabrina Ferilli (image courtesy Janus Films)
Like Mastroianni's characters, we see everything through the eyes of Jep, in an astonishing performance by Toni Servillo.  And if you're tempted to think Servillo is just playing himself, check the entirely different energy Servillo reveals when speaking as himself in this interview made during the run of Inner Voices at the Chicago Shakespeare theater last year . .  .

Even in his underwear, Jep is always impeccably dressed, and a scene as simple as picking out his new friend's dress for a funeral takes place in a setting any scenic designer would die for.
image courtesy Janus Films
Truth be told, despair among the beautiful people has its attractions.  Everyone seems to sense the dread, but the cocoon of affluence helps keep the anguish fleeting.  
image courtesy Janus Films
Outrage would seem to be the most appropriate response to all of this from the vast majority of us who are neither excessively beautiful or insanely rich, but the seductiveness is unmistakable.  Director Paolo Sorrentino not so much mocks but exalts his grotesques.  More to the point, he makes them human and surprising.  No one - not the dwarf, the Cardinal rumored to be the next Pope, the exploited child, the 40-year-old stripper, the 104-year-old saint - long stays within the cliches of our first impressions.
image courtesy Janus Films
You will either be exasperated by the movie's indulgences, or you'll discover something of yourself in the joys, frustrations and fears beneath the polished surfaces of the film's characters, and find the sumptuous images and elusive emotions of La Grand Bellizzia staying with you the rest of your life.

Wanna buy a historic home? An Update on the 1896 George H. Phillips house on Magnolia

If you've always wanted to live in a handsome, historic Chicago house, here's your chance to save one from the chopping block.

One of our correspondents who has had a conversation with the owner of this 4600 block of North Magnolia home, a/k/a the George H. Phillips house.  Said owners told them "they would be open to offers for the sale of the house within the next few days providing it meets several conditions."

I have no idea what the asking price is or what those several conditions might be, but if you're a serious prospect let me know and I'll pass the information on.

Our Original Story:

Say Goodbye to the George H. Phillips House.

Tuesday, January 14, 2014