Fine Arts Building Annex coming down

The lovely thin little building attached to the back of the Fine Arts Building is being demolished. Already mostly gone is the dull skyscraper that stood alongside it.

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December 2006

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April 2010

Dumb. Wasteful. Unlikely to be an improvement in the short or long run. Most unfortunate.

The thick metal framing in front of the Annex indicates an intent to either disassemble the facade for later reconstruction, or else preserve it in place while a new structure goes up behind it. Either way, it’s the dreaded facadectomy, and is likely to lose the impact of this tall, thin facade with an incredibly long, thin building behind it. Nor will it preserve the old tiki restaurant sign painted on the side walls.

* Link: Landmarks Illinois lists the building in its Chicagoland watch list, 2008.

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St. Joseph Ukrainian Catholic Church

It’s been my experience that the Eastern branches and populations of Christianity (Greek Orthodox, Ukrainian, Russian) really don’t care much what the outside of the church looks like – they’re sticking with traditional styles on the inside, no matter how bizarre the resulting contrasts may be.

And so it is with St. Joseph Ukrainian Catholic (1975, architect Zenon Mazurkevych), another one of those churches that seems like an alien spaceship that landed from another world. Even though it is surrounded by MidCentury houses and flats, their conservative style does nothing to prepare you for this rocketship of a building.

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On the outside, it’s almost entirely concrete and glass. A large central dome is surrounded by a dozen reflective glass tube towers, each structured in tiered concrete and topped with a smaller gold dome, representing Jesus and his disciples. The only ornament consists of small crosses atop each dome.

Inside, however, it’s a completely different story.

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Ornate and rich, the traditionally styled artwork is impressive in its complexity, but it simply doesn’t work with the barebones nature of the building. It doesn’t even try.

There’s no hiding the modern structure of the space, of course, but the iconography sure as heck tries!

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Turn away from the center, and a few bits of Modern style reveal themselves, undiluted by the traditional artwork. The only contemporary decoration is the lamps in the tower, and they have not been maintained, as many of the globes are broken and missing.

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It seems like a surprisingly simple space, but in truth that’s a result of the clashing art styles. In a properly decorated building, art and architecture merge into one entity. Here, however, the art exists separately from, and in opposition to, the building that contains it. Neither enhances the other, leaving both feeling incomplete and lacking.

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It’s a bit baffling why a congregation would choose such a space age building design, then do a complete about-face on the interior. It’s a disappointment, as the exterior is truly mind-blowing. And there are plenty of churches where the artwork would be a beautiful enhancement of the interior volumes – but this is not one of them.

St. Joseph's Ukrainian Catholic Church

Marktown Historic District

Marktown

This is the strange, surreal world of the Marktown community, a neighborhood in East Chicago, Indiana that is completely surrounded by heavy industry.

Marktown

In this region of northwest Indiana, there are plenty of neighborhoods that abut manufacturing plants. Marktown’s interest goes well beyond that, as it is a rare and unusual example of a planned worker’s community, with a scale and charm that defies its inhumanly sized surroundings.

Marktown

Marktown

Marktown

Marktown

Marktown

This strange attempt at a charming hamlet amid furnaces and smokestacks began as the brainchild of Clayton Mark, a steel manufacturing magnate who controlled a steel firm and was involved in the building of the harbor and the landfill that today holds Inland Ispat Steel’s vast plants. Seeking to provide his workers with quality affordable housing, Mark planned a sizable community next to his plants.

Mark recruited renown architect Howard Van Doren Shaw to design the new workers’ community in 1916. Shaw drew on the model of an English village, with streets so narrow that today, residents park their cars on the sidewalks. The charming plaster-sided houses were made to be fire-resistant. They ranged from a boarding house for single men (abandoned and deteriorating today) to modestly large houses for mid-level managers.

Marktown

Marktown

Due to financial troubles with Mark’s steel firm, however, only a relatively small fragment – 4 sections out of a planned 30 – were ever built. Plans for shops, a market, a theater, and other amenities were largely scuttled, as was a vision of a more extensive park system enveloping the community. Marktown today contains about a hundred residential buildings, the boarding house (abandoned), one commercial building (also abandoned), and three generous park spaces.

Presumably owing to its less than ideal setting, Marktown struggles to maintain a population. Immaculately kept houses alternate with abandoned and deteriorating ones, sometimes within the same structure. Perhaps 1/4th of the core buildings are vacant. One has lingered in a state of half collapse since at least 2007.

Marktown

Marktown

I wonder if a completed Marktown might have had the critical mass to sustain itself more thoroughly than it does today. You can’t point a camera in Marktown without hitting a massive industrial structure, but a larger development might have meant a core that was better-insulated from the unpleasantries of heavy industry.

Marktown

Marktown

The Marktown Preservation Society hosts a very informative site about the neighborhood, which is a designated historic district and on the state of Indiana’s 10 Most Endangered Places list.

Marktown

A ride up Martin Luther King Drive

Last weekend I found myself in Hyde Park on a pleasant morning, with nothing to do but ride my bike back home. I took a leisurely ride up MLK (King Drive? Every town has its own street honoring Dr. King, and they all have their own unique way of abbreviating the name), through the core of Bronzeville, where a multitude of historic architecture waits to impress and overwhelm.

MLK Drive
D. Harry Hammer House, 3656 S. King Drive, 1885 – William W. Clay

MLK Drive

MLK Drive

It being a Sunday morning, I stood on the sidewalk for a while and listened to Gospel music swelling from within the church at right, the Metropolitan Apostolic Community Church. It’s a 1891 brownstone beauty in a Romanesque style, originally the 41st Street Presbyterian Church.

Metropolitan Community Church

MLK Drive

Graystone row houses

And the hits just keep on coming. House after house and block after block speak to the jaw-dropping wealth that landed here in the 1880s and 1890s.

MLK Drive

42nd and King Drive

Though the best parts of the avenue are residential, there are some impressive institutional buildings as well, several converted to churches. The Mammoth Life and Accident Insurance Company, a Kentucky-based firm, occupied a building sporting a neon sign that is rather at odds with the Beaux Arts facade. I have no clue if this building remains in use at all, but it doesn’t look like it.

MLK Drive

The Sinai Temple at 46th and MLK was begun in 1909 for a Jewish Reform congregation. Today it houses the Mount Pisgah Missionary Baptist Church.

MLK Drive

And there are some delectable slices of Mid Century Modernism, as well. Liberty Baptist Church has been documented by Lee Bay, though he doesn’t share interior photographs. I wasn’t feeling up to venturing inside, so that remains a future mission.

MLK Drive

Nearby, Illinois Service Federal Savings & Loan occupies a 1960s building that presents a wild facade of folded plates to the street. The bank has neighborhood roots dating back to the 1930s.

MLK Drive

The South Park Baptist Church leans toward the Streamline Deco end of the Modernism scale. It went up in 1953, to the designs of architect Homer G. Sailor.
South Park Baptist

Further north, the Hartzell Memorial United Methodist Church leans a bit more toward the stock side of Midcentury design:
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The avenue kind of explodes into a nothing-scape north of here, thanks to a lot of big redevelopment products that have brought grassy fields and parking lots to the areas just south of downtown.

Michael Reese demolition

In recognition of Landmarks Illinois’s release of their annual 10 Most Endangered Historic Places list today, let’s look back at the single most endangered architectural place in the city of Chicago: Michael Reese Hospital, being destroyed even as I write.

Michael Reese demolition

Michael Reese demolition

Michael Reese demolition

With the demolition of the these buildings, Chicago can lay claim to yet another of its vaunted firsts: it has destroyed more Walter Gropius buildings than anywhere else in the world! Truly a feat to brag about.

Michael Reese demolition

The demolition has magically caused a big retaining wall, a truck trailer storage yard, six railroad tracks, an 8-lane highway, and half a mile of distance to spontaneously vanish from the face of the earth, and now Bronzeville is suddenly connected to the lake, just like the city promised it would be when those dumb old hospital buildings were finally out of the way.

Michael Reese demolition

The city, meanwhile, has announced no development plans for the site. This is almost certainly because so many developers are frantically beating down their door and desperately trying to one-up each other that the city fathers just can’t make up their mind which one to take up.

Michael Reese demolition

Too bad there weren’t any buildings already on the site. Then they wouldn’t have to go and build a bunch of new ones!

Michael Reese demolition

Suburban in their day

The great Chicago Fire of 1871 was a watershed moment for the city. Beyond obliterating much of the city and triggering an architectural golden era, it also resulted in the city requiring brick construction within its limits. Thousands of brick buildings went up in the decades that followed, giving the Chicago cityscape its distinctive style.

Northside United Pentecostal Church
Northside United Pentecostal Church – Andersonville

Outside the city, however, other communities were growing. Suburban areas like Ravenswood and Lakeview would eventually be annexed by their burgeoning neighbor… but not before they erected a number of churches that, unlike their Chicago cousins, could still be built of wood.

Resurrection Covenant Church
Resurrection Covenant Church – North Center

A number of these older buildings dot the Ravenswood area. One is a landmark. Others are less well known, and evoke the feeling of a small town church, something you’d expect to find a stone’s throw from farmers’ fields. Mostly they are simple in style, lacking elaborate detailing, substituting plain cathedral glass for stained glass designs or just dispensing with the whole colored window thing altogether.

Christian Community Church
Christian Community Church – Ravenswood

Below are a few that I’ve explored in more detail:

Summerdale Community Church – 1892

Originally Summerdale Congregational Church, if the stained glass transom window is any indication.

Summerdale Community Church

Summerdale Community Church

Summerdale Community Church

Summerdale Community Church

Addison Street Community Church

As simple as a country church, with handsome dark wood beams holding up the ceiling. Simple frosted, yellow-tinted windows give the space an otherworldly glow.

Addison Street Community Church

Addison Street Community Church

Addison Street Community Church

Addison Street Community Church

All Saints Episcopal Church – 1883

All Saints is a landmark building, a rare Chicago example of Stick Style design. Designed by architect John C. Cochrane, the AIA Guide to Chicago notes that it’s probably the oldest wood frame church in the city. The building is having its share of troubles today; if I’m remembering right, the tower and front porch are pulling away from the rest of the building.

All Saints Episcopal Church

All Saints Episcopal Church

All Saints Episcopal Church

The windows make use of simple materials to create complex patterns; colored cathedral glass is arranged in diamond patterns to create walls of color. Combined with the lovely structural elements and the overall composition of space, this is perhaps the most architecturally satisfying of the bunch.

All Saints Episcopal Church

Lake View Presbyterian Church – 1888

If All Saints Episcopal is the queen of the wood frame churches, then Lake View Presbyterian is the king. Built in an equally rare Shingle Style, this landmark near Wrigleyville is jammed tightly into an urban site. The interior disappoints on some levels; it is sparsely ornamented, and an 1890 addition changed the orientation of the sanctuary, leaving an oddly structured space that is somewhat at odds with itself.

Lake View Presbyterian Church

Lake View Presbyterian Church

However, all is forgiven once you’ve seen the sun shine through the building’s jeweled stained glass windows.

Lake View Presbyterian Church

Lake View Presbyterian Church

Lake View Presbyterian Church

Lake View Presbyterian may also be the most heavily used of these churches; the day of my visit, a table with snacks and refreshments had lured a large crowd, that was still lingering and socializing a good 30 minutes after the serviced ended.

Another 1960s hospital chapel

Mercy Hospital’s office tower is hard to miss when you’re flying along the stub of highway that collects 90, 94, and 55 and funnels them all onto Lake Shore Drive. It’s a decent bit of Onassis Modern, clean, spare and elegant.

Mercy Hospital

Within, it’s mostly hallways and offices and patient rooms, but a few bits stand out. Like any good 1960s hospital, it has a wonderful chapel.

Mercy Hospital

By itself, the chapel is a simple and solemn affair, but it’s dominated by two spectacular works of art.

Mercy Hospital chapel

Against the east window wall, a metal screen represents major events in the life of Jesus in abstracted form.

And in the front of the chapel, a purely abstract mosaic sculpture takes up the entire wall in an explosion of color, texture and material.

Mercy Hospital chapel

Mercy Hospital Chapel

Mercy Hospital chapel

Both works, along with at least one other sculpture in the hospital, are the creations of Nassio de Valencia, who finished them in 1967. In a rare show of respect for artistic curiosity, his hand-written notes explaining the works remain hanging in the chapel today, neatly framed, explaining that the mosaic sculpture is meant to capture in purely abstract form the mystery of the risen Christ, as well as drawing from the native arts of the artist’s home in Spain.

Mercy Hospital chapel

A few small details match the style of the window screen, such as the twin podiums and wall-mounted candelabras. Simple benches with leather seats capture the calming austerity of the place. It’s an altogether fitting mood for a hospital chapel.

Credit where credit’s due: I would likely never have thought to go looking for this place if the guys at Forgotten Chicago hadn’t idly suggested it.