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Friday, August 31, 2018

What to expect at the new Chicago Architecture Center

Posted By on 08.31.18 at 08:17 PM

The Chicago Architecture Center (formerly the Chicago Architecture Foundation) opens in its new location on the river this weekend. - DEANNA ISAACS
  • Deanna Isaacs
  • The Chicago Architecture Center (formerly the Chicago Architecture Foundation) opens in its new location on the river this weekend.

The exhibits weren't fully installed when I dropped in to preview the new home of the Chicago Architecture Center (formerly the Chicago Architecture Foundation) last week, but on a return visit this week everything was up and running.

The center, now in a two-story space in a riverfront Mies van der Rohe building at 111 E. Wacker, opened to the public this weekend, offering a museum experience along with its roster of 85 tours.

There's an entrance fee of $12 for adults, $8 for students, but if you take one of CAC's walking or bus tours, admission to the center's exhibits will be included.

Here’s a glimpse of what you’ll find there:
CAC's new home boasts a jaw-dropping view of Chicago architecture. - DEANNA ISAACS
  • Deanna Isaacs
  • CAC's new home boasts a jaw-dropping view of Chicago architecture.

Spectacular views outside, especially from the second-story Skyscraper Gallery, reached via a grand wooden staircase (or an elevator ride).  The center, a few steps east of Michigan Avenue on Wacker, looks north across the river, toward Tribune Tower and the Wrigley Building. And the entrance to CAC's most famous tour, its River Cruise, is just across the street, where the First Lady docks. 
CAC's Skyscraper Gallery includes a scale model of Beijing's CCTV. - DEANNA ISAACS
  • Deanna Isaacs
  • CAC's Skyscraper Gallery includes a scale model of Beijing's CCTV.
Inside, the Skyscraper Gallery offers large, white scale models of the world's tallest buildings, including Willis Tower, the still-under-construction Jeddah Tower (by the Chicago firm of Adrian Smith + Gordon Gill, which also designed this interior space for CAC), and  Beijing’s otherworldly CCTV Headquarters. Smaller, intricately detailed architects' models of other buildings—like Studio Gang's Vista Tower and Goettsch Partners's 150 W. Riverside—are displayed behind glass, along with explanatory wall text. 
The Chicago Model in the foreground; the city's history on film, behind - DEANNA ISAACS
  • Deanna Isaacs
  • The Chicago Model in the foreground; the city's history on film, behind

CAC's expanded Chicago Model—a small-scale version of every building in the city's center—is the focal point of the other main exhibit area, the Chicago Gallery. The model now sits in front of a large screen and, thanks to a computerized light show, is more or less integrated into a seven-minute film about the city's growth. When the film (which starts its historical account with a brief mention of the treaties that forced Native Americans to move west) gets to the Great Chicago Fire, for example, orange-and-red lights play over the skyscrapers that now stand on the portion of the city that burned. 
The Great Chicago Fire strikes again. - DEANNA ISAACS
  • Deanna Isaacs
  • The Great Chicago Fire strikes again.

In the breaks between film showings, visitors can light up parts of the city model themselves by using one of four touch screens that offer a menu of architectural topics to explore.

I was glad to see that the film—which is informative, necessarily concise, and unsurprisingly promotional (but would benefit from a more sophisticated score)—includes the James R. Thompson Center; maybe that'll help save this threatened postmodern masterpiece. 
CAC's Chicago architecture film includes the endangered Thompson Center. - DEANNA ISAACS
  • Deanna Isaacs
  • CAC's Chicago architecture film includes the endangered Thompson Center.

You don't have to buy a ticket to see the tallest of the Skyscraper Gallery models—you can see it from the street through CAC's massive front windows.  And you can still get to the interesting gift shop without purchasing a ticket.

But a membership (they start at $80) will get you free entry to the exhibits, discounts on lectures and parking, and free tickets to what's still the best of what CAC has to offer—65 walking tours of the actual city.

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Tuesday, July 10, 2018

Pullman to get first new residential building in nearly 50 years

Posted By on 07.10.18 at 06:00 AM

A rendering of Pullman Artspace Lofts - ARTSPACE
  • Artspace
  • A rendering of Pullman Artspace Lofts

The historic Pullman neighborhood is getting 38 units of affordable housing inside a new $18 million artists' enclave—some 124 years after Pullman railroad car workers went on strike over the company's refusal to lower their rents after cutting their pay.

The Pullman Artspace Lofts, a new apartment building to be built between two long-abandoned Pullman workers' housing units, sits on three-quarters of an acre on Langley Avenue, just south of 111th Street. The three-story, 32,000-square-foot complex sits on land that's been vacant for 88 years. The construction itself marks the first new residential development built in Pullman in nearly half a century. It's unique because it will house 2,000 square feet of community space intended to be used as an art gallery, meeting place, classrooms, and community room. It's expected to open in early fall 2019.

The Artspace Lofts is a home-grown project in a neighborhood that has more than its share of artists, including painters, musicians, filmmakers, sculptors, and ceramicists, said architect Ann Alspaugh, a board member and past president of Pullman Arts, a neighborhood nonprofit whose volunteers have worked on the development for the past eight years.

"It's [the result of] a lot of hard work by a lot of people," she said, noting that the project required meeting and even exceeding local and state landmark and historic district requirements, obtaining unconventional funding, and conducting detailed feasibility studies.

Alspaugh volunteers as a community member; the project architect is the Chicago firm of Stantec (formerly VOA). Alspaugh said she's satisfied that the lofts fit in with the surrounding historic architecture. The developers modified the plans after residents expressed concerns and after reviews by the Commission on Chicago Landmarks and the Illinois Historic Preservation Agency.

"The first thing we want to do is to start an annual art fair," said Alspaugh, who moved to the Pullman neighborhood in July 2010 with her husband, musician Q Kiser, from Rogers Park. The couple bought a three-bedroom house with a front and back yard, a basement, and a garage for what a condo in Rogers Park would have cost. "It also gives me a door into living amid historic architecture and helping restore historic architecture," she said.

Construction of Artspace Lofts is expected to start in September, with tenant applications expected to start being processed next summer. The rents are set so that they're affordable to families at or below 30, 50, and 60 percent of the area median income, which is $38,370 in Pullman, compared with the citywide median of $53,006. That means a studio apartment would rent for $360 a month for a single person who lives at or below 30 percent of the Pullman average, while a two-bedroom unit would rent for $910 a month for a family at 60 percent of the median income.

The complex will house three studio apartments along with 16 one-bedroom and 19 two-bedroom units, and the development will have 25 bicycle spaces and a parking lot for 17 cars. (Street parking is expected to accommodate another 20 cars.)  The developers and a board made up of neighborhood artists will review potential tenants' applications with an eye toward accepting people involved in creative or artistic work who want to be a part of a community devoted to that.

"It's not about the quality or kind of [art] work a person is doing; it's about seeing a demonstrated commitment to a creative pursuit and wanting to be a part of a community that supports" that goal, says Andrew Michaelson, director of property development for Artspace, a Minneapolis-based nonprofit that develops affordable places where artists can live and work.

Pullman Arts, the neighborhood nonprofit, will curate and operate the gallery space for artists' showings, performances, and meetups. The Lofts' hallways and corridors are also intended to be space where residents can create murals and other works, Michaelson said.

The construction is expected to employ 120 people, and the developers have hired a consultant to ensure that women, local businesses, and people of color are hired to help with the work, said Ciere Boatright, director of real estate development and inclusion at the Chicago Neighborhood Initiatives, part of the development team for the Lofts project.

The project was not without some opposition. Some residents have objected to the design plans in a neighborhood with strict landmark guidelines but officials said the project is moving forward.

The lofts are expected to generate $13 million in low-income tax credits and another $1.2 million in historic tax credits. Alderman Anthony Beale (Ninth Ward) says they're part of a "renaissance" in the Pullman neighborhood that's seen $300 million in investments and the creation of 1,300 jobs in the past decade. The neighborhood still suffers from the blight of foreclosures—many elderly residents lost their homes during the housing crisis—but more properties are being rehabbed, and some houses are selling for more than $280,000. "The opportunities are growing every day," he says. "I just need more restaurants and hotel chains."

While Pullman's population declined by almost 16 percent between two five-year periods (from 2006-2010 to 2011-2015), the number of people living in poverty also dropped by nearly 16 percent; six-figure households grew by 58 percent, and the number of college graduates jumped by nearly 10 percent, according to the Metropolitan Planning Council's analysis of the latest U.S. Census data.

The most dramatic increases in college graduates and six-figure households took place in an area bordered by the Bishop Ford Freeway to the east, 103rd Street to the north, Cottage Grove Avenue to the west, and 111th Street to the south. The area includes the 180-acre Pullman Park, a $125 million mixed-use site that has created 800 new jobs.

Pullman Park includes a 150,000-square-foot Walmart, a Method soap factory, a new Whole Foods distribution center, a second greenhouse for hydroponic greens grower Gotham Greens, and a Potbelly Sandwich Shop that anchors the Gateway Retail Center. That's in addition to the historic Landmark Inn and Greenstone Church, both renovated, and the iconic Clock Tower and Administration Building, which has been renovated into the visitor center for the Pullman National Monument, which was established by President Barack Obama in 2015.

"Everyone is getting lifted up by the positive things that are coming," Alspaugh said.

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Thursday, June 28, 2018

Historic home destroyed in fire; ex-owner furious at county for failing to secure it

Posted By on 06.28.18 at 06:09 PM

A historic home in unincorporated Riverside burned to the ground Thursday morning. - KEN CIRCO
  • Ken Circo
  • A historic home in unincorporated Riverside burned to the ground Thursday morning.

A historic 125-year-old home in Riverside Lawn, described by former owner Judy Koessel as "waiting to be saved," burned down early Thursday morning.

At 1:48 AM, firefighters responded to the call and were warned en route that the structure was "totally involved," said Lyons fire chief Gordon Nord. The cause of the fire was still under investigation, he said. The house wasn't connected to a natural gas line, and neighbors and Koessel said it was frequented by squatters who had done a bunch of damage to the house even before the fire, in part because the county did a poor job of boarding it up.

  • Ken Circo

The stone home was designed and built in 1893 by Alexander Watson, who went on to live in it himself. (Watson also built the first pedestrian bridge to cross the river in the historic western suburb.)

The house had been preserved to keep the original woodwork and stained-glass windows. Koessel says the stone Victorian home was "very significant" and had been in spectacular condition.

But the house was one of nearly two dozen located in a floodplain, and in 2016 the Cook County Land Bank Authority slated it for demolition. The land bank was required to conduct an architectural survey before destroying the homes, and Koessel's home, at 3744 Stanley Ave., was determined to be eligible for the National Register of Historic Places. At one point a county official even told Koessel in an e-mail that the home could be used as a "Forest Preserve house or office." The demolition was put on hold.

Rob Rose, executive director of the Cook County Land Bank, said Thursday evening that the county had been awaiting word on what to do about the house from the Illinois State Preservation Agency.

The home before the fire - KEN CIRCO
  • Ken Circo
  • The home before the fire

"When we found out that this house was eligible, we sent the paperwork to the state agency," Rose said. "We were in a holding pattern waiting for the next step."

He added: "When we hear one of our buildings burned down, we're not happy about it or anything.

The state agency had earlier asked about the feasibility of moving the home, but Rose said it was too expensive.

"We did a cost-benefit analysis of relocation and determined it wasn't feasible with the cost of land and moving," he said.

Officials with the Illinois State Preservation Agency couldn't be reached for comment Thursday.

The house also featured a mural by William de Leftwich Dodge, an American artist best-known for his mural in the Library of Congress. Koessel discovered this only when a previous owner pointed out the signature in the corner of the mural in the house.

"I put his name into the computer and a bunch of stuff came up," said Koessel. "[I] saw a black-and-white photo, and it had the same figures in a painting that my mural had in it. And it said it was at the World Columbian Exposition in Chicago 1893."

After 15 years of research, Koessel determined her mural was the model for Dodge's larger mural for the Administration Building at the fair. The mural was removed from the house in July 2016 and cleaned and repaired. The Newberry Library plans to feature it at an exhibit in the fall, she said.

(Story continues below.)

The mural before it was removed and restored - JUDY KOESSEL
  • Judy Koessel
  • The mural before it was removed and restored
There was leaded glass and woodwork throughout the house. - JUDY KOESSEL
  • Judy Koessel
  • There was leaded glass and woodwork throughout the house.

But the rest of the home hasn't fared as well. After the county took it over when Koessel left in October 2016, the house was repeatedly broken into and vandalized, Koessel and neighbors said.

"The house was in pretty good shape after we left," Koessel said. "But then, in the early spring, problems started. The biggest problem is that the county did come through and board up the windows and the doors. But they didn't do the basement windows—which anybody who knows how to protect your house, the basement is the most likely place where people will break in."

Koessel said she became aware of the break-in when she saw paint splattered across the garage, the same color she'd used to repair chipped and cracked walls. She knew that vandals had made their way through the entire house when she saw scattered copies of Connoisseur magazine taken from her husband's drawing studio in the attic laying outside.

"I called the county, and the next day they came and boarded up the basement windows," continued Koessel. "I thought maybe there wouldn't be any more damage. But evidently through that summer and fall, somebody took their time and pried off one of the basement windows."

Because the house wasn't receiving electricity, the pumps Koessel used to keep it from flooding weren't running.

"That basement was filled with water at least seven or eight times," said Koessel. "What a shame, what a shame, what a shame.”

Rose said the county hadn't secured the basement windows because "they didn't think someone would fit." Following the initial break-in he says he instituted biweekly inspections designed to prevent vandalism and squatting. He said those found no evidence of anyone being inside the home in the weeks leading up to the fire.

Neighbors disputed that, however. In interviews, they told the Reader there were signs that someone had been inside in recent days.

And Koessel says her former neighbors told her the same thing.

"They'd say, 'Judy, it gets rocking and rolling in that house so crazy sometimes that we're, like, afraid to live [here] anymore,' so I wanted it torn down so that these people, my neighbors, could feel safe again," she said.

Because of all the damage to the home after she left, Koessel said she wasn't sad to see her former "fairy-tale" home burn.

"Honestly, I'm happy. I'm glad," she said Thursday. "It was so hard to see the house in decline."

Vandals broke into the home after the Koessels moved out. - JUDY KOESSEL
  • Judy Koessel
  • Vandals broke into the home after the Koessels moved out.

  • Judy Koessel

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Wednesday, May 16, 2018

Check in, then check out these five iconic hotel movies

Posted By on 05.16.18 at 06:00 AM

John Turturro in Joel and Ethan Coen's Barton Fink
  • John Turturro in Joel and Ethan Coen's Barton Fink
Beginning this Friday, Gene Siskel Film Center will screen the new documentary Always at the Carlyle, about the famed New York City hotel. This got us to thinking about the long, rich history of fictional films set in hotels, from Georges Méliès in 1897 to Wes Anderson in 2014. We've selected five iconic ones below (and yes, we know, there's also The Shining).

Continue reading »

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Wednesday, May 2, 2018

Everything you ever needed to know about the Chicago common brick

Posted By on 05.02.18 at 06:00 AM

The Chicago common brick is coveted for its uneven salmon hues and lumpy imperfections. - SUN TIMES NEGATIVE COLLECTION
  • Sun Times Negative Collection
  • The Chicago common brick is coveted for its uneven salmon hues and lumpy imperfections.

Reader's archive is vast and varied, going back to 1971. Every day in Archive Dive, we'll dig through and bring up some finds.

Tori Marlan's 1999 feature "Brickyard Blues" is the Reader at its best: an obsessively detailed examination of a part of city life that you'd never bother to think about—the brick—and the people whose lives revolve around it. Marlan introduces us to the world of brick stackers—independent contractors who toil long hours for low pay, cleaning and stacking "Chicago common" bricks at demolition sites. They fill pallets called "skids" with 530 bricks and get paid $10 per skid; the bricks are then resold all over the country for aficionados of the unique, rustic look of the Chicago common.

Continue reading »

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Monday, March 19, 2018

How the city cleared out the north side to make room for Sandburg Village and white prosperity

Posted By on 03.19.18 at 06:30 AM

Carl Sandburg Village in 1978 - SUN-TIMES PRINT COLLECTION
  • Sun-Times print collection
  • Carl Sandburg Village in 1978

Reader's archive is vast and varied, going back to 1971. Every day in Archive Dive, we'll dig through and bring up some finds.

Today Carl Sandburg Village is a collection of ugly midcentury condo buildings that separate the Gold Coast from Old Town. There's nothing especially remarkable about them; if you happen to be walking along that stretch of Clark and LaSalle, there are plenty of other things you would probably want to look at first.

But Sandburg Village has a fascinating history, retold by Denise DeClue in almost novelistic detail in her 1978 story "The Siege of Sandburg Village." The development began as an urban renewal project to rescue the north side from "blight," aka what city officials considered too many nonwhite people living in one area.

Continue reading »

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Wednesday, February 28, 2018

Jackson Park and Thompson Center lead Preservation Chicago's annual list of the city's seven most-endangered architectural treasures

Posted By on 02.28.18 at 03:43 PM

  • Eric Allix Rogers
  • Jackson Park

Frederick Law Olmsted's Jackson Park (including Midway Plaisance and the South Shore Cultural Center)—the designated site of the Obama Presidential Center—tops  Preservation Chicago's 2018 list of the city's seven most-threatened architectural treasures.  The annual list puts a spotlight on historic structures and landscapes threatened with demolition in the hope that they can be restored and reused. 

Also on the list, released today, is Helmut Jahn's 1985 James R. Thompson Center (originally the State of Illinois Center), at 100 W. Randolph. The unique postmodern building has been put up for sale (and possible demolition) by Governor Bruce Rauner.

James R. Thompson Center - GABRIEL X. MICHAEL
  • Gabriel X. Michael
  • James R. Thompson Center

Here's the rest of Preservation Chicago's "Chicago 7" list, which actually has eight entries this year:

William Rainey Harper High School, 6520 S. Wood: a Prairie-style structure designed by Dwight Perkins and completed in 1911.

William Rainey Harper High School - ERIC ALLIX ROGERS
  • Eric Allix Rogers
  • William Rainey Harper High School

The Washington Park Substation, 6141 S. Prairie: a classical revival-style electrical substation designed by architect Hermann von  Holst, dating from 1928 and 1939.

Washington Park Substation - DEBORAH MERCER
  • Deborah Mercer
  • Washington Park Substation

Woodruff Arcade, 6361 N. Broadway: a Chicago School arcade designed by Herbert H. Green and completed in 1923. It has already been sold to a developer.

Woodruff Arcade - WARD MILLER
  • Ward Miller
  • Woodruff Arcade

Hotel Guyon
, 4000 W. Washington: an imposing Moorish Revival structure in West Garfield Park by Jens  J. Jensen (not the landscape architect), finished in 1927.

  • Gabriel X. Michael
  • Hotel Guyon

Union Station
, 210-225 S. Canal: the original architect was Daniel Burnham; after his death, Graham, Anderson, Probst & White took over. It has a classical revival exterior and a beaux arts interior, and was completed in 1925.

  • Eric Allix Rogers
  • Union Station

The city's brick paved streets and alleys, dating from the 1880s to the 1910s.

There's a quick video tour of the endangered buildings here

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Monday, January 8, 2018

Obama Center will not park cars on the Midway Plaisance, after all

Posted By on 01.08.18 at 06:25 PM

  • Eric Allix Rogers

The Obama Foundation, which in recent weeks has reaffirmed its plan to build an aboveground parking garage on parkland at the east end of the Midway Plaisance, did an about-face today, announcing that it "has heard" the voices of protest and will now put the Obama Presidential Center garage underground on land it has already acquired in Jackson Park.

The foundation had argued that the aboveground garage would still be parkland because it was to have been covered with grass.  Among those questioning that claim were Save the Midway, Friends of the Parks, the Cultural Landscape Foundation, and Jackson Park Watch.

Here's the foundation's statement, e-mailed by a spokesman for the foundation:

Continue reading »

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Friday, May 12, 2017

Lewis Klahr’s Sixty Six is a masterful journey through inner space and the American past

Posted By on 05.12.17 at 01:09 PM

  • Sixty-Six
Tonight at 7 PM noted collage artist Lewis Klahr will introduce the local premiere of his 12-film cycle Sixty Six at the University of Chicago Film Studies Center. (Admission is free.) For Chicagoans who care about experimental cinema, this is one of the major events of the year, a chance to hear a leading voice in the avant-garde discuss one of his richest, most entrancing works. On a visual level Sixty Six is characteristically dense, as Klahr creates mosaics from layers of photographs, comic-book cutouts, and random objects; the soundtrack is no less accomplished, combining snippets of movie dialogue, new and old music, and field recordings. (Fred Camper, writing about Klahr in the Reader in 2002, aptly described him as a successor to Joseph Cornell.) The overriding theme is mid-60s American culture, with many of the found images and sounds coming from that era. While Sixty Six works as a poetic essay about consumer culture in full swing, it's best appreciated as a subjective, dreamlike evocation of a particular time and place. A film to get lost in, it's the most satisfying work of art I've encountered so far this year.

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Wednesday, May 3, 2017

Obama downplays traffic concerns and pledges $2 million donation at Presidential Center presser

Posted By on 05.03.17 at 05:09 PM

Obama at today's conference - AFP PHOTO / JOSHUA LOTT
  • AFP PHOTO / Joshua Lott
  • Obama at today's conference

Former president Barack Obama introduced the design plans for the Obama Presidential Center at a packed, invitation-only meeting in the auditorium of the South Shore Cultural Center this afternoon. The plans include the potentially controversial closing of Cornell Drive, which currently runs through Jackson Park, where the center will be located.

Continue reading »

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