Loyola says goodbye to an old… friend? Acquaintance, maybe?

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I’ve seen quite a few campus buildings meet the wrecking ball, mostly at my own alma mater but elsewhere as well. But seldom have I seen a campus demolition greeted with such a quirky, open, mixed bag of emotions as that of Loyola University’s Damen Hall.

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From the layman’s perspective, Damen Hall is the quintessential 1960s building – big, bland, banal, ugly, and horrible. Designed with no operable windows, looming massively over everything around it, utterly bereft of ornament – Damen is a hard building to love. Students and faculty likened it to a radiator, a toaster, and a prison, and it’s hard to argue with those assessments. Even I, the all-things-Midcentury guy, never bothered to get a full-body shot of the place in life, only snapping a few details that caught my eye. Demolition prep work is well underway, so it’s a bit late now.

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But despite its reputation as a monstrous pile of awfulness, Damen’s impending demolition has inspired an outpouring of affectionate commentary from the Univesity community.

While the building was still in use, a 3-minute video tour was produced, a sardonic pastiche of Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous that manages to be informative, fond, wry and hilarious all at once. The University ran a contest to see who should be the last Loyolan to leave the building and lock its doors. The building has its own Facebook page, lamenting its own impending demolition and missing the days when students filled its corridors and strange elevator system.

Much of this is probably just the result of the building as a shared experience, a minor trial that most students had to endure at some point in their career. But I’d like to think that underneath it all, there’s some wisps of appreciation for the building’s genuine merits, for it did have a few.

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For starters, those marching concrete columns are a powerful statement, and the play of light across them is beautiful. I never saw that massive auditorium, but as shown in the video link above, it’s a stunning piece of Midcentury space.

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And then there’s the front lobby. The lobby and its grand tile mosaic mural was one of my first Midcentury discoveries in Chicago. There wasn’t much to the space: the mosaic on one side, two wall of glass on the other, a row of vintage seating that Mies van der Roes would have welcomed on the IIT campus.

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“Wonders of Creation” is a 1966 work designed and executed by Melville Philip Steinfels. The mural is a delight, an abstract plunge through the natural sciences as filtered through a 1960s lens.

Loyola University Chicago

The mural is gone now, bare concrete block walls left in its wake. It will be relocated to Loyola’s medical campus, in the inner southwest suburb of Maywood.

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You can see more details of the mosaic, and read the artist’s thoughts on the work, in the Loyola Nursing School’s Annual 2008 Report. The main Loyola campus, meanwhile, will be diminished for its loss.

A coda: I’m not too keen on the new building that will go up in Damen’s place, either; it’s a historicist replica that mockingly apes the oldest buildings on campus, rather than bringing any new ideas to the table (this is marketed as “complimenting” the older buildings.) Designed to be ultra-modern in technology and function, it hides those attributes as though they were badges of shame. Resorting to this sort of neo-historicist pastiche, as so many other universities now do, is a sad admission that our age has nothing of substance to say in built form; all we can do is copy ideas from a hundred years ago, badly.

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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.

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.

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

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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.

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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.

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

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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:

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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.

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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

On and around Drexel Boulevard

I’ve been neglecting the south side lately, so here’s some views from Drexel Boulevard.

Drexel is a grand urban parkway, divided by a huge strip of grass and trees, which starts just north of the University of Chicago. It looks like a major thoroughfare till you reach its northern end and find that it goes nowhere, petering out around 39th Street. On and around its short length, however, there’s a lot of magnificent architecture and interesting urban sights, remnants of its heyday as a home to some of the city’s wealthiest citizens.

French.  Definately French.
I have no idea what this chateau-like building was originally, or even what it is today.

Apartments, block after block
Before it becomes a full boulevard, Drexel is thick with apartment blocks.

Victorian row

Abandoned railroad embankment
This abandoned railroad embankment once crossed the area on a bridge, now long vanished.

Modernist tile mosaic
The orange windows are pretty awful, even by my Mid-Century Modern-loving standards, but the tile mosaic is lovely.

Drexel dies without warning into Oakwood Boulevard. Take a left and cruise west, and you’ll find a couple of striking churches:

Blackwell Memorial African Methodist Church

South side church

South side twin

Just a bit west and north of that, they’re tearing down huge numbers of old public housing buildings, including a lot of low-rise stuff that really ought to be reconditioned instead — but that’s a post for another day…