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

click images for larger view
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.


Anonymous said...

Very well said, Lynn. It's never too early in Chicago to worry about architecture, especially if the buildings is by Bertrand Goldberg.

Unknown said...

FYI. One of your renderings reads "Walton & Maple".
I believe you mean State & Maple.
As Walton and Maple are parallel and 2 blocks apart.

ukash said...

Very well said, Lynn. It's never too early in Chicago to worry about architecture, especially if the buildings is by Bertrand Goldberg.