St. Gall Catholic Church

St. Gall Catholic Church

In 1956, this UFO of a building touched down at the busy intersection of 55th and Kedzie. It hovers there still today, a circular pie-slice of building fronted by a thin-shell concrete pod. Architects Pavlecic & Kovacevic designed a stridently Modern building, utterly free of historical associations in ornament or form.

St. Gall Catholic Church

The baptistery is a building within a building, a circular form rendered in glazed orange brick, inset with gold-finished crosses.

St. Gall Catholic Church

The stained glass is unobtrusively simple, not particularly groundbreaking, but adequately modern.

St. Gall Catholic Church

Quite a few ornate period details remain. Check out the mosaic-tiled baptismal font, the grid of screens behind the altar, and of course that fabulously Fifties glossy blue-green brick.

St. Gall Catholic Church

The Stations of the Cross are done in a more stylized fashion than the stained glass, more befitting this stridently jet age building.

St. Gall Catholic Church

St. Gall is a shouting punctuation amid all the background paragraphs of the neighborhoods east of Midway Airport.

Link: A history of the church, with detailed information on this building, as part of a tour of church organs.

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Chicago rallies against Proposition 8

Against the cool backdrop of Mies van der Rohe’s Modernist towers, amid the chill of November weather, warm camaraderie carried the day as thousands* of people flooded Federal Plaza Saturday morning to rally against the passage of California’s Proposition 8, which bans same-sex marriages. It was part of the National Day of Protest, a simultaneous gathering of pro-gay rights activists and supporters all across the country.

* around five thousand folks, if I had to take a stab at it. The Sun-Times calls it 2,000, but that sounds way too small.

Chicago rally against Proposition 8`

Chicago rally against Proposition 8

A succession of speakers addressed the crowds, with a range of messages, ranging from hope and love to self-righteous fury. But the overriding themes of the day were hope, rationally focused anger, and continued peaceful but forceful activism. Prop 8 may be a California state law, but ultimately it affects all of us, in Illinois and beyond. It’s a matter of civil rights, of separation of church and state, of the government unduly interfering in private lives, of discrimination… the list goes on and on.

A pathetically tiny group of counter-protesters gathered across the street, bearing such unconvincing slogans as “IT’S NOT NATURAL”. The rally crowd pretty much had wit firmly on their side, however. Some choice samples:


  • “When do I get to vote on your marriage?”
  • “Focus on your own family.”
  • “Homophobia is so 1997”
  • “Church and state… not such a good marriage!!!”
  • “If God didn’t make homosexuals, there wouldn’t BE any!”
  • “In 1967, 16 states banned interracial marriage”
  • “Overcome H8 / Overturn 8”
  • “My faith backs MARRIAGE EQUALITY”
  • “Tax exemption – take it away”
  • “Gay marriage doesn’t scare me / but no healthcare does!”
  • “Land of the free? It’s unConstitutional to take away my rights!!! I pay taxes too!”
  • “Our love does not affect your religion”
  • “If a child needs a mother and a father, then OUTLAW DIVORCE”
  • “What kind of family teaches hate and discrimination?”
  • “No state shall deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the law”

Man, I kinda like that last one. They should make it a law or something!

After the last speaker finished, a short march followed, with the crowd trooping down Adams Street and up Michigan Avenue toward Millennium Park.

Chicago rally against Proposition 8

Traffic was briefly obstructed when part of the crowd decided to hang out in the middle of Michigan Avenue instead of marching onwards, which was about the only thing I really disagreed with. Pissing off some taxi drivers rarely helps anything.

Chicago rally against Proposition 8

University of Chicago Law Library

UofC Law Library

It’s not often you just stumble across an Eero Saarinen building, especially one just coming out of an incredibly thoughtful renovation. Yet that’s exactly what happened to me recently on a stroll across University of Chicago’s campus. I noticed and was immediately captivated by the Laird Bell Law Quadrangle.

UofC Law Library

Saarinen, by all accounts, was a terrible Modernist. People liked his buildings, for starters; they have creativity, individuality, and flair. Furthermore, this building actually acknowledges all that dreadful historicist stuff that surrounds it; instead of having the building shining like a crown upon the very hilltop in splendid isolation, Saarinen intended the library’s profile to reflect the verticality of the campus’s NeoGothic buildings, and even uses one of those NeoGothic walls as part of the quadrangle. Shameful! Quick, somebody take away his Modernist card!

UofC Law Library

The library is, of course, spectacular. Its Modern interpretation of a castelated roofline (and arcade) are thin facades, but the in-out rhythm of the bays is matched by the floorplates behind them. And when you get inside, you find that the study spaces actually follow that rhythm, turning a long narrow corridor into a space that dances. And look at those tables!! They’re custom-cut to match the angles of the building!

UofC Law Library

But I’m getting ahead of myself. One arrives at the D’Angelo Law Library through a lovely minimalist courtyard, occupied by a millimeters-deep reflecting pool. Entering the building is a bit of a challenge; the very obvious, invitingly-placed front doors are, of course, locked up tight. Modern institutions have an incredible talent for taking wonderful main entrances and bolting them shut, then forcing visitors to wander around to some obscure and uninspiring side entrance, and so it is here. It doesn’t help that small signs on the front door actually send people to the wrong set of doors. Whoops.

But once you finally get in…

UofC Law Library

…the interior is grand. The building makes handsome use of its waffle slab floor plates, placing a light fixture in each one. This gesture creates a glowing grid, making a decorative asset out of something that’s all too often just left hanging there unadorned.

UofC Law Library

The main reading room is a masterpiece, cool and sophisticated, spotted with decorative furniture. The main staircase descends smoothly from the mezzanine level, as much sculpture as fixture. The renovation has placed fittingly-styled furniture in strategic locations; these splashes of bright color contrast with the cool tones of the building itself.

UofC Law Library

UofC Law Library

The cool interior is also offset by the generous amounts of natural light flooding the study areas along the building’s perimeters. With walls of glass, students practically float among the trees as they pour over their books.

In the wake of a masterful renovation by OWP/P Architects, only a few subtle clues differentiate the old from the new. The stainless steel standoffs supporting many panes of interior glass, for example, are not something that was in common use 50 years ago. Yet their cool simplicity fits perfectly with the building’s aesthetic. Some quick online digging reveals the vast extent of the renovation, which is a shock considering the final product. Clearly the architects understood and cherished Saarinen’s original intent — it shows in the stunning beauty of the final product.

Links:
Wall Street Journal

Howard Street

Howard Street marks most of Chicago’s northern-most limit, though the city line jumps a few blocks northward from Clark Street to the lake. Walking down Howard, though, you wouldn’t suspect you were on the farthest hinterland of the great metropolis. Howard is fully qualified to be the main street of an entire town, with grand commercial buildings, a magnificent theater, and highrises both old and new.

Howard Street

The catch, of course, is that Howard marks the end of Chicago in technical terms only. To the north lies the great suburban town of Evanston, only the first of many suburban outliers that stretch nearly to the Wisconsin border. In that sense, Howard is not very far from the center, and its compelling architecture merely reflects that fact.

Howard Street

Howard also benefits from its status as a transportation hub. The Red Line, one of CTA’s busiest rail lines, terminates there, handing things off to the suburban Purple and Yellow lines. Numerous bus lines arrive here as well.

Howard Street Red Line entrance

Howard has a reputation as a not-so-nice place in general, a reputation which tends to spill over to the rest of Rogers Park. It’s a bit inexplicable, given its location. Well-served by rail and bus, sandwiched between tony Evanston and the inevitable northward march of gentrification, only minutes away from the lake, it is only a matter of time before real estate here goes through the roof. When it happens, the architecture will be waiting.

Howard Street

Howard Street

The Paulina Building is just one of many ornate highlights along the strip. Another is the Werner Brothers Fireproof Warehouse, a brick box with a fancy front.

Werner Brothers Fireproof Storage building

Werner Brothers Fireproof Storage building

Werner Brothers Fireproof Storage building

The high point is the Howard Theater Building (Henry L. Newhouse, who also did the south side’s similarly-styled Atlantic Theater.) Like so many other Chicago neighborhood theaters, it was built in 1917, in the rush of post-World War I escapism. The auditorium was razed in 1999, but the lobby and commercial portion remain, converted to condominiums, and still spectacular.

Howard Theatre

Clad in shimmering silk

Howard Theatre detail

Heading east, there’s a short gap for a public park, followed by another jewel, a massive 1925 apartment building named the Broadmoor. The entrance and the corner shield ornament are both extravagantly luscious.

Howard Street

The Broadmoor

The Howard Street commercial district comes to its eastern end not with a bang or a whimper, but with a delightful profusion of 2- and 3-story flatiron buildings, a reaction to the acute angles cut by Rogers Avenue as it slices through the orthogonal grid.

Howard and Rogers

Flatiron

Like S. Michigan, the district is a sampler of architectural styles and trends, yet totally different in its atmosphere. Its prospects are likewise different; a huge condominium building recently went up, testifying to this area’s rising future. The problems will pass away in time; residents may well struggle with the rising costs. But the beauty of the architecture will remain.

Roseland’s South Michigan commercial district

Chicago’s far south side is a surreal land, where industrial hellpits alternate with charming small-town main streets. It is a place where strange things happen, such as Western Avenue becoming a one-way street. And it is home to random outcroppings of once self-sustaining communities, places that were functionally independent towns in and of themselves.

S. Michigan Avenue commercial strip

The blocks of South Michigan Avenue that run through the Roseland neighborhood are one such area. A lengthy commercial district, roughly centered around 112th Street, lines Michigan as it rolls ever further southward toward a termination point at 127th. (Streets in Chicago often “end”, only to crop up alive and well a few blocks further onwards, and S. Michigan is no exception. This particular strip is not only interrupted a mile north of here, but also picks up again to the south after skipping over a bend in the Calumet River.)

S. Michigan commercial district

These blocks bear the imprint of a neighborhood that was doing well until the 1960s, like so much of urban America. The architectural styles run the gamut from 1880s Queen Anne, through Gothic, Italianate, Sullivanesque, Renaissance, and Art Deco.

A.B. Anderson

Roseland Family Medical Center and Pharmacy

Sullivanesque ripoff

Art Deco detail

Like Milwaukee Avenue on the near northwest side, this district is home to a number of 1940s-vintage neon signs, well past their prime. Unlike their northside counterparts, few if any of these appear to remain operational.

Gatelys Peoples

Jansen's Furniture

Sy Block Appliances

And of course, there are the inevitable Midcentury interventions, which in places like this were all too often the final signs of optimism and new construction before economic deterioration set in.

American Ideal Cleaning

A new design

Not much appears to have happened here post-1960, construction-wise. The neighborhood appears predominantly black today, a sharp contrast with the mostly-white neighborhood of Pullman just a few blocks to the east. The state of repair of the buildings, and the nature of the businesses indicate an area that’s suffered economic decline for decades. Still, it’s a busy district, with lots of people on the sidewalks, cars passing by, and plenty of storefront businesses open.

Some gems remain standing today. Most prominent is the Roseland Theatre Building, all shiny white glazed brick with glazed green terra cotta for a centerpiece. It’s simple but beautiful. The section shown here is literally the only ornament remaining on the whole building; sadly, the entire lobby entrance has been stripped of its ornament.

Roseland Theatre Building

All these shots were taken in a fifteen-minute drive-by. Hopefully I’ll get back there to spend more time giving the area’s architecture the attention it deserves.

It was a good night to be in Chicago.

A group of friends got together and rented a couple of rooms in the Michigan Avenue Hilton, overlooking Grant Park, then invited a bunch of folks up to watch the show. Wine flowed freely, and binoculars were passed around as we watched the crowds gather.

The rally site

Our 44th president

Yep, that blurry thing? That’s Obama. My full-sized camera and its spectacular zoom lens are currently out of commission, so I did this with a digital point-n-shoot and a pair of binoculars. Aheh.

We could hear him making his speech from the park; his words then repeated on a three-second time delay over CNN.

Post-rally crowds flooding Balbo

Thousands of people flooded down Balbo and back into downtown after the rally was over. All around, the air was electric. Despite the crowds, we saw no sign of problems or trouble… just a lot of happy, happy people.

Michigan Avenue

Immaculate Conception Church

I still remember the first time I saw Immaculate Conception Church (1963, 7211 W. Talcott Avenue.) We were hurrying out to O’Hare, southbound on Harlem to pick up the Interstate. Despite my attention being divided by dodging through traffic, my jaw dropped when I saw its looming cylinder of unbroken stained glass.

Immaculate Conception Church

It was immediately obvious that this building had a completely over-the-top case of Midcentury madness. It was More MidCentury Than Thou.

Immaculate Conception Church

Some months later, I found time for a closer inspection. The details confirmed my original impressions. Top to bottom, this building pulled no punches. It used every MidCentury trick in the book.

Immaculate Conception Church

Immaculate Conception Church

Immaculate Conception Church

Today, I finally got to go inside the building. Despite the grand setup, I was still blown away by the interior. The level of detail on the outside pales before the onslaught that awaits within.

Immaculate Conception Church

One enters the sanctuary by passing through the glass cylinder, and it is of course top-to-bottom stained glass, waves of bright color pouring in on arriving worshipers.

Immaculate Conception Church

The sanctuary itself is spatially plain, open and airy, but festooned with decoration and ornament.

Immaculate Conception Church

Overhead, a series of false skylights filled with stained glass designs bring colored light in from above. More of the stained glass designs pour down the towering windows.

Immaculate Conception Church

One-inch glazed tile coats the columns, the walls, and the floor of the altar space. The pastor commented that he finds it a bit like being in a swimming pool. Be that as it may, I’ve never seen a swimming pool with polished-gold tile patterns!

Remember those colored tiles on the outside? They aren’t just for decoration:

Immaculate Conception Church

If they look familiar, they should: colored glass block like this is a staple of the Chicago Midcentury style. So is the combo of cream-colored brick with baby blue highlighting patterns. Not only is Immaculate Conception a deliriously exuberant piece of Modernism, it’s also a localized design, in tune with the regional 1960s vernacular.

Immaculate Conception Church

The stained glass designs, by Chicago’s Michaudel Stained Glass Studio, are modern in their way. They lack the subtleties of an Emil Frei design, but the abstract patterns of flowing color, the drifting text, and the stylized figures all set the designs firmly apart from their Gothic and Renaissance antecedents. There is a cartoon-like punchiness to the designs; the windows are big and bold, loud and clear.

Oh, and I guess I shouldn’t have said that nuclear explosions aren’t “standard church fare“, because, here you go!

Immaculate Conception Church

Immaculate Conception Church

I’m still reeling from the visit. I could go again and again. In fact, if my DSLR camera ever gets out of the shop, I almost certainly will.

Immaculate Conception Church