Baha’i House of Worship

It is far and away the most grandiose building north of the city limits; even within Chicago, it has few peers. As Sheridan Road leaves Evanston, the Baha’i House of Worship stands like an alien spaceship by the Lake Michigan shore.

Baha'i House of Worship

This fantastic building was made to be a landmark. Construction took over thirty years, beginning in 1920 and not completed until 1953. Only 25 years after completion, it was nominated to the National Register of Historic Places.

Baha'i House of Worship

Architect Louis Bourgeois worked on the design for eight years. Though he strove to create a timeless style that incorporated symbolism from the world’s major religions, you can take one look at his ornamental style and tell right away he was looking at the works of his contemporary, Louis Sullivan. Unsurprisingly, he worked in Sullivan’s office in the late 1880s.

Baha'i House of Worship

Baha'i House of Worship

Gracefully overlapping curved forms evoke the idea of vegetation and geometry, all the while tautly bound within the confines of the building’s surface. The lamp, by contrast, reveals the building’s long period of assembly, spanning two architectural eras: it is pure MidCentury Modern.

Baha'i House of Worship

Likewise, columns on the periphery of the interior are utterly unadorned.

And what of that interior? What payoff awaits within that grand dome? Oh, it’s worth it!

Baha'i House of Worship

Your gaze is drawn up… and up.

Baha'i House of Worship

The dome is beautiful by night…

Baha'i House of Worship

But by day it truly and literally shines, as flecks of daylight slip in between the curving openwork of the dome.

Baha'i House of Worship

Just how they constructed this magnificent trick remains a mystery to me.

This building shines gloriously by day or night, in all weather. Even in the dead of night, it casts warm light onto its surroundings.

Baha'i House of Worship

The Bahá’í House of Worship is one of only seven such buildings currently in existence. They share with it several design concepts, such as the 9-sided circular design, a single open space within, a lack of any representational decoration, and a surrounding setting of gardens. The building is open daily, and if you arrive at the right time you might just have the whole magnificent space to yourself. It won’t last, though, as a steady trickle of visitors comes to see this unparalleled marvel.

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A period revival cluster

Plenty of period revival homes grace the north shore. Yet a sadly large proportion of them draw on Classical influences, a sad reflection of America’s adolescent growing pains, in which the far more interesting (in your humble narrator’s opinion, at least) Gothic and associated styles were passed over in favor of dime-a-dozen, staid, stolid, snoozy Greek influences.

For that reason, this batch of period revivals along Tower Road stands out in particular.

Tower Road period houses #1, 2 and 3

The centerpiece is this brightly colorful, cheery home, of striking gables.

Tower Road period house #2

Tower Road period house #1

It is surrounded by a trio of homes in a comparatively rare style, which doesn’t seem to go by any one name. It’s not truly Tudor Revival; “English Medieval Cottage” is more a description than a name. “Cotswold Cottage” includes some houses with that same sort of wavy, curvy-cornered, crazy simulated-thatched roof, but it doesn’t seem to be requisite to the style, whereas I would call it the defining element of these homes. “English cottage” or “Medieval Revival” might be as close as you get. One expects to see Hobbits coming out of their charming confines.

Edit: After some further research, these three are Storybook Style houses. Unsurprisingly, given their charm, there’s a whole web site and even a book devoted to Storybook architecture. The author, right up front, shares my assertion that there should be Hobbits on the premises.

Tower Road period house #4

Tower Road period house #3

Whatever they’re called, they’re fantastic, a treat for the eye.

Tower Road period house #1

These three also have a cousin a few miles south, in Evanston.

Period house - Evanston

Period house - Evanston

Period house - Evanston

Northwestern University Chapel

The Alice S. Millar Chapel (Edward Gray Halstead, architect, for Jensen and Halstead) is a highly visible landmark in the north shore suburb of Evanston, standing at the point where Chicago Avenue splits off from Sheridan. Its front window of stained glass is illuminated from within, making the building a beacon as well as an architectural mountain.

Alice S. Millar Chapel, Northwestern U.

The building is unabashedly French Gothic on the outside, so it might come as a shock to find that it was completed in 1962, the very height of Chicago’s MidCentury modern boom.

Inside, one finds a spatially grand but comparatively unremarkable interior, most notable for its conflicting personality. There is no lavish Gothic ornament, no encrusted decoration, no mind-blowing accumulations of sculpture or articulation. Unwilling to admit its modern heritage, the building seems a bit ashamed of its historicist clothing, unwilling to go whole-hog with the neo-Neo-Gothic. Amid the carved wood pointed arches and curlie-cues can be found anomalous touches of Modernism, such as the strips of faceted stained glass in the lobby wall.

Alice S. Millar Chapel, Northwestern U.

Alice S. Millar Chapel, Northwestern U.

Millar Chapel, Northwestern University

One thing does make the chapel truly exceptional, however, and it’s staring you right in the face as you drive south on Sheridan Road. The stained glass windows are a masterpiece, and unlike any I’ve seen in Chicago.

Alice S. Millar Chapel, Northwestern U.

I am an unabashed fan of the MidCentury work that came out of St. Louis’s Emil Frei Studios. Their stable of artists created an interelated range of styles that took conventional Christian symbolism and broke it down, reinterpreted it, stirred it up, and let it explode onto window designs that are stunning portrayals of movement and feeling. By contrast, Chicago MidCentury stained glass is almost universally bold, bright, almost cartoonish, rarely abstract, and never subtle or ambiguous. I love it, make no mistake, but 1960s stained glass in Chicago is more likely to blow your mind through its enormity than its subtlety.

So it was a shock to walk into the Millar Chapel and discover that the brightly lit stained glass that motorists see on Sheridan was but a faint hint of what lay within (in fact, the front window’s artistry is actually obscured by the glaring lighting, which leaves parts of the window relatively dark and the rest unnaturally overlit. Adding injury to insult, the window is not visible at all from the inside of the chapel.)

Northwestern Chapel

Northwestern Chapel

This was not some weak historicist brew, nor was it the usual Technicolor style of Chicago Modernism. This was artistry on a level to rival the Frei Studio at their peak.

Alice S. Millar Chapel, Northwestern U.

Alice S. Millar Chapel, Northwestern U.

Within those traditional Gothic window frames seethes a cauldron of imagery and color, muted reds and greens and blues swirling and blending. Recognizable faces and bodies and shapes rise out of an abstract mix of shapes and lines. At the top of one window, a smiling sun watches over the cosmos. In another, the head of a cow floats in a bubble. An owl perches, an atom spins, the US Capitol Building looms, and human figures rise and fall to meet their unspecified fates. The meanings are obscure, eliciting thought and curiosity.

Alice S. Millar Chapel, Northwestern U.

Alice S. Millar Chapel, Northwestern U.

The crowning glory is the rear wall of the chapel, where one of the building’s rare Modernist conceits occurs. The entire rear wall is a window, top to bottom stained glass.

Alice S. Millar Chapel, Northwestern U.

Unsurprisingly, these windows were not the work of a Chicago artist, but of internationally renown designer Benoit Gilsoul, Belgian-born and operating out of New York City. The windows were fabricated and installed by Chicago’s Willett-Hauser Studios.

Alice S. Millar Chapel, Northwestern U.

Former Jewel Food Stores, Part 2

Since my original post, I’ve located and/or been directed to a few more of these tidy little Deco gems.

3241 W. Montrose
3241 W. Montrose Avenue, now Marie’s Golden Cue, a billiards supply store

505 W. 63rd Street
505 W. 63rd Street, now the Showers of Blessing Deliverance Center (which sounds like a marketing executive’s less-offensive name for “church”.)

5225 W. Lawrence Avenue
5225 W. Lawrence Avenue, now Sportif Importer Ltd., a bicycle sales and repair shop

Former Jewel Food Store, Howard Avenue
And finally, this poor building on Howard Avenue, now buried under metal siding. Most recently Dearborn Wholesale Grocers, LP, but now for sale.

Broadway Bank

Broadway Bank

Along the Edgewater stretch of Broadway stands a landmark building. This delightful Gothic revival structure was built for Riviera-Burnstine Motor Sales in 1925 (R. Bernard Kurzon, architect.) By 1951, the building held a furniture company, M.P. Masser, Inc; in 1966, Chicago Art Galleries Inc. was holding annual art sales and occasional estate auctions there. Today, the car dealer is long gone, but the magnificent showroom remains, artfully repurposed as the home of Chicago’s Broadway Bank in 1979.

Broadway Bank interior

The interior is hard to miss in the early evening; with its grand plate glass windows, the building positively glows after dark, revealing an ornate ceiling and original chandeliers.

Broadway Bank

The exterior is one of Broadway’s most grandly ornamented buildings, with rows of Gothic arch caps arranged in a Venetian style.

Broadway Bank

It’s a wonderful architectural gift to a stretch of Broadway that’s often desolate (across the street is the blank side wall of a big box grocery store.)

Broadway Bank

North Shore MidCentury, Part 2

231 N. Burnham Place / Sheridan Road
1973 – Pure expressive massing. This house’s interior volumes strain to break free, pushing the facade to the limits of thinness. Every one of those boxes is filled with livable space. “Ornament” consists of the house’s own volumes, and the interplay of glass with a couple of solid facing materials. Delightful, and it must surely be awash in natural light all day long.

2770 Sheridan Road

2770 Sheridan, Evanston
1977 – Everything about this house screams 1960s, from the vertical wood slats to the mixed-color brick, but it evidently came down the pike about ten years later than it looks. That front entry facade is pure art!

2776 Sheridan Road, Evanston
1978 – Next door, this awkwardly realized concrete bunker tries, but just doesn’t have much in the way of poetic massing. The near-total lack of windows just kills it.

1331 Sheridan Road, Wilmette
1978 – Another fortress in concrete, but this one succeeds beyond all expectations. This elegant house raises the primary living spaces up above the ground – a strategy used 70 years earlier in Frank Lloyd Wright’s Robie House. Up top, the living room (or whatever it is) glows like a beacon at night. Thirty years old now, but it could just as easily be brand new.

718 Sheridan Road, Evanston
1983 – Again, my first guess was late 1960s, perhaps a facade tacked on to an older house. Well, the facade is certainly tacked on, but the house is surprisingly new. Given the date and the strangely pretentious front elevation, one is tempted to call it a PostModern work. A split driveway (surrounding a planted island!) descends to twin single-car garages, with stairs leading up to the main entrance. Miniature grandeur, or a house with its foundations washed out from under it? You be the judge!

The North Shore MidCentury tradition

The 1950s saw a burst of construction throughout Chicagoland, and the moneyed, historicist-drenched north shore was no exception.

207 N. Burnham Place / Sheridan Road
1952 – One of the north shore’s oldest post-War modernist houses is this split level. It stands in a virtual forest today, largely obscured by trees and bushes even in the dead of winter, but its simplicity of style and contemporary massing are evident nonetheless.

1325 Sheridan Road, Wilmette
1957 – This house must have been shockingly minimalist among all the elaborate bungalows and NeoClassical mansions lining Sheridan Road. Its incredibly thin and flat roof and utter lack of ornament still stand as a stark contrast to the houses around it, even its ranch house contemporaries. The pattern of yellow and slate blue brick colors is wholly unique.

400 Sheridan Road, Wilmette
1957 – A few miles south, a pair of MidCentury houses went up across the street from the famed Baha’i House of Worship. This one, the senior by one year, has many classic Chicago MidCentury elements – two tones of horizontal flagstone, the banded facia lining the flat roof, and stylized geometric porch railings.

416 Sheridan Road, Wilmette

IMG_0671b
1959 – The neighbor to the north is predominantly built of brick, now covered in white paint (not original, I’m guessing). It has a more volumetric massing.

930 Sheridan Road
1959 – A mile or so up the road, this ranch house hews more closely to the standard Chicago MidCentury model. Flagstone walls, a broad picture window in front, and gently pitched roofs are all typical of the more mass-produced builder houses from the same era. The angle-intensive red pediments also draw on a common Chicago builder element, but having them repeated in triplicate really gives this little house some eye-catching pop.

IMG_0018a
1958 – Well, someone had paid a visit to Villa Savoye, and here attempted to translate that iconic house into Chicago terms. The results are interesting but definitely awkward. That flagstone, for example, was never meant to float through the air like like that. This poor house is also crammed into a fairly narrow lot, leaving it no room to breath, nor any room to be viewed as a singular object. The architect knew it, too; the sides are faced with cheaper brick, giving the house’s elevations a distinctly split personality. The house has sat vacant for a while, and I nearly had a heart attack the morning I saw a construction fence going up around the lot. The permits, however, seem to be for renovation rather than demolition.

IMG_0032

1128 Sheridan Road, Wilmette