United Church of Hyde Park

United Church of Hyde Park

United Church of Hyde Park has held down the corner of 53rd and S. Blackstone since 1889, with a congregational history that goes back even further. Architecturally and historically, there is much to say about this venerable church building.

On the outside, the church is not that different from any of the dozens of gray stone church structures that dot the Chicago landscape. It is a free interpretation of the Romanesque style, adapted to an urban corner site and dressed up with touches of French Gothic. Round arched windows, round engaged columns, thin bands of organic ornament, and shear stone walls that rise up without setback or articulation put it in the same vein as Sullivan’s Auditorium Building and HH Richardson’s Glesner House, both close contemporaries.

The church responds handsomely to its corner site, placing the main entrance on the corner and marking it with the bell tower. The current tower roof is a sadly simplified replacement for the elaborate original (see a photo on the Hyde Park Historical Society newsletter); a plain copper panel testifies to the engaged micro-turret which once ran up into the tower’s upper level, today shorn off at the masonry line.

United Church of Hyde Park

Inside, the sanctuary is a surreal departure from the steady American-grown Romanesque exterior. A flat ceiling marked by curving, looping plasterwork and an Egyptianesque colonnade around the perimeter of the sanctuary tell of a space that has been radically changed from its original configuration.

United Church of Hyde Park

Per the church’s own website, the church has roots going back to the earliest days of Hyde Park, beginning as a meeting of residents around 1858 and eventually organizing as the First Presbyterian Church of Hyde Park in 1860. Moving from their original site a few blocks east, the congregation put up a conventional French Gothic stone building at 53rd and Blackstone in 1869.  It was soon too small for the growing congregation, and was replaced by the current structure – erected in 1889 to the designs of architect Gregory A. Vigeant. 

A 1923 remodeling significantly altered the interior, bringing it to its current form. Additions to the space included the balcony, the colonnade, and new flooring to work with the church’s Skinner organ. I would also assume that this is when the flat ceiling was added, as Victorian churches unfailingly went for the more dramatic effects of  exposed wood structure and high pitched ceilings that followed the exterior roof. The whole thing comes together as a sort of surreal Spanish Romanesque fantasy.

United Church of Hyde Park

United Church of Hyde Park

The ceiling dome is a particularly curious specimen. Because the flat ceiling so dramatically lowers the ceiling height, the dome is actually deeply sunken within the roof structure. Above, there is presumably a column of empty enclosed space, originally topped by a skylight; today the skylight is gone or blacked out, and fluorescent bulbs light the dome from above.

United Church of Hyde Park

The stained glass in the sanctuary is unique – an Impressionistic assortment of hues ranging from clear through murky greens and sunset purples, all rendered in overlapping fish scales of glass. The style adds a distinctly Shingle Style air to a church that is already pulled in several other architectural directions.

United Church of Hyde Park

United Church of Hyde Park

The congregation merged with that of Hyde Park Congregational Church in 1930, and with Hyde Park Methodist Church in 1970 amidst a radically changed neighborhood. Today it’s an integrated, open congregation that strongly reflects the progressive influences of nearby University of Chicago.

United Church of Hyde Park


Green on White, Chapter 2 – More Bakery Brick Facades

Back in April I posted a collection of buildings facades made with white glazed brick and olive green accent brick.  At the time, I put up every one I was aware of.  But as often happens when you have 65,000 digital photographs of a city, sometimes things get lost. I’ve since found and tagged more such buildings – a LOT more.

Sadly, what I have not found is further information on the architectural style or its manufacturers and designers.  As usual, though, I’ve included some of the anecdotal histories I’ve found among the Chicago-Tribune archives and elsewhere.

3760 Fullerton Avenue at Hamlin – west of Logan Square

3740-46 Fullerton Avenue – west of Logan Square

1111 W Wilson Avenue – Uptown – most recently home to Rokito’s Mexican Streetside Kitchen. 

The Greenleaf Building, Wilmette – home to 9 separate storefronts. The building appears to have gone up in two parts, with the eastern portion replacing a house in 1912. The 1137 Greenleaf storefront housed a Western Union telegraph office from the 1930s into the 1960s, then the Butt’ry Tea Room & Pastry Shop from 1979 until circa 2010.   At 1141 Greenleaf, the storefront housed a tire shop in 1920, Bob’s Radio Shop in 1925, a belly dance studio in 1973, and a coffee soup & sandwich shop today. 


2906 Central Street, Evanston. This curious case appears to be a 1910s storefront with a later second-story addition. On top of that, a 1960s storefront renovation added a flagstone base under the display window, and an angled entryway.

741-743 W. 79th Street at  Halsted – built by 1917.

3650-52 W. Chicago Avenue – Near West Side. Built by 1917, when it was home to J. Faust, dealer of Emerson records. (Records as in 78 rpm singles, with such famous tunes as “He’s Had No Loving for a Long Long Time”, “Some Day I’ll Make You Glad”, and “How Are You Goin’ to Wet Your Whistle?”)

3814 W. 26th Street – Little Village. Now the 26th Street Medical Center. Built by 1915, this was a family-owned building and business from its construction until the end of the 1970s.  The first name associated with it is Vaclav M. Urbanek, in 1915; V.M. Urbanek & Son were listed as one of the many undertakers called upon to serve the victims of the steamship Eastland disaster that year. His son Edward Urbanek became an undertaker and seems to have opened a full-fledged funeral home around 1930 – possibly when the anomalous first floor facade was added.  A snazzy mid-century side entrance came later still. Funerals were held here in the Urbanek Funeral Home until 1970; by 1981 it was a doctor’s office.

3916 W. 26th Street – Little Village – Taquerias Atotonilco has occupied the space since the 1980s.


3519 W. 26th Street – Little Village



4226 W. 26th Street / 4222 W. 26th Street – Little Village

1011 N. Western Avenue

949 N. Western Avenue – Ricky’s Deli

1730 W. 18th Street  (orig. 756);  1726 W. 18th Street (orig. 754) – Pilsen.  The left-hand building was built by 1912. 


1623 N. Milwaukee Avenue – Wicker Park – Red Hen Bread. A 1912 ad shows the National Bedding Company at this address. In 1923, Sigman’s Music Store, a short-lived piano dealer, is advertised. Only 2 years later, ads show the Western Brass and Iron Bed Company at the address. Today, fragments of a demolished neighbor cling to the party wall.

1657 W. 47th Street, Back of the Yards – La Baguette Bakery

4601 South Marshfield Avenue, Back of the Yards – a curious brick upgrade to a much older building otherwise sheathed in wood siding.

5048 S. Indiana Ave. Occupied by 1918 – when some inhabitants were arrested for gambling.

1467 E. 53rd Street at Harper,  Hyde Park. The corner retail store was originally home to a branch of Mesirow & Jacobson Pharmacy, who in 1921 were proud distributors of “Yeast Foam Tablets – A Tonic Food”, and four years later were selling “Vapo Chlorine” as a surefire protection against influenza. By 1940 a grocer occupied the space. 

4200 W. Madison

2149 W. Division Avenue – Nabi Cleaners.  Real estate ads show that the upstairs apartments retain some rather lovely woodwork.


11021 S. Michigan Avenue, Roseland.  In the 1920s, the Peoples Store, a general store.  In the 1940s and 1950s, a Firestone tire dealer.  In the 1970s, a TV store. From the early 80s, Major Motor Auto Supply, whose signs still adorn the party wall, along with a painted over sign in front that remains faintly visible today.

A rare bird: the Art Deco church

One day last summer I was looking at a map of the city, looking for places I hadn’t been.  I realized I couldn’t remember ever venturing west on Irving Park, so, off I went.

I saw lots of neat stuff, including beautiful Portage Park, but the king find was St. Pascal’s Church, a 1930 Catholic structure which was a bit of a jackpot for me.




There is a paucity of Art Deco churches in general. I know of two in St. Louis, and perhaps half a dozen in Chicago, and I am still looking for one that carries the style all the way into the interior. St. Pascal’s is no exception; despite all those geometric details on the outside, the inside is pure Mission Style.



St. Pascal’s is a close stylistic relative of St. Joseph’s, the church in Wilmette that I covered previously. Both are tall and massive, with a shallow carved entry cove, bearing a massive cross with a rose window behind it.


Other examples:

St. Ferdinand, 5900 W. Barry Avenue, out west near Belmont Avenue, filters Art Deco through a 1950s Midcentury prism:

Designed by Barry & Kay in 1955, this building is an amazingly simple collection of powerful geometric forms, overlapping and rising. Construction began in 1956 and the building was dedicated in 1959. It was noted for being air conditioned, and for an underground tunnel connecting it to the rectory (no doubt a cherished feature in the dead of winter.)


Then, there is Hyde Park’s St. Thomas the Apostle Catholic Church – 1929, Barry Byrne, architect.


St. Thomas is one of the city’s most outlandish churches, mishmash of styles and influences that defies exact classification. I mention it here in conjunction with Art Deco churches – but it could just as easily stand alongside Byzantine or Spanish Baroque Revival.

Inside, it’s surprisingly restrained – the closest thing I’ve yet seen to an Art Deco styled religious interior.



Outside, brick and terra cotta run wildly amuck.



And finally, Andrew Rebori’s spectacular Madonna Della Strada chapel at Loyola University, opened in 1938,  is the most unambiguously Art Deco example – perhaps the only one, in fact.

Madonna della Strada Chapel

The Madonna della Strada (“Our Lady of the Wayside”) chapel was the dream and brainchild of Father James P. Mertz, who wanted a chapel honoring the patroness of travelers – such as young college students far from home. Father Mertz raised the money to fund the construction of the building’s shell, then continued the work of gathering materials to fit out the interior for another decade.

Loyola University Chicago

Compared to the radically sculpted exterior, the interior seems a bit tame, particularly the traditional-styled artwork and stained glass –  but it’s still sumptuous in materials, with curved forms that echo the Art Deco style, and full of surprising little details. Dozens of marbles from around the world give the interior a lavish finish.





When the chapel was built, the assumption was that Lake Shore Drive would soon be extended further northward. As a result, the “front” faces the lake, whose waters are only a few feet away.



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.

Wall Street Journal

Robie House to close for renovation

Frank Lloyd Wright’s landmark Robie House is slated to close for extensive interior renovations starting in November, as announced publicly in a neighborhood newspaper today.

New Era for Robie House

"And so this is the view that Mr. Goodman wound up with."

The house is currently open daily for volunteer-led tours. Renovation at the house has been ongoing for several years; visitors to the house witness the construction in progress, and at times various rooms have been closed off and unavailable. The Frank Lloyd Wright Preservation Trust, which operates the house, recently secured a $5 million dollar loan, allowing renovations to speed up. However, the expanded construction schedule means that the house will be completely closed off for the first time since tours began nearly ten years ago.

Much remains unknown about the operational changes that are planned when the house re-opens; the article from the Hyde Park Herald speaks of not re-hiring the current guest services staff, and mentions the possibility of “all-day events” and renting the house out. How this will affect public access to the house (which, after preservation and restoration, is the Trust’s primary mission), and how it will affect the Trust’s goal of operating the house as a museum, remains to be seen.

It appears the house may be closed for well over a year, based on a 2010 re-opening date mentioned in the article.

U. of C.’s Gothic wonderland

I am quite defensive about my alma mater’s campus. Washington University in St. Louis has a beautiful set of pre-war buildings and a lovely setting for them. It’s one of the finest college campuses I’ve seen, and I rank it equal to or greater than such notables as Yale and Princeton.

But I am a realist. I know when I’m beat. And it’s abundantly clear that the original portions of University of Chicago’s campus simply blows Wash. U, and nearly any other campus you care to name, out of the water. And that is not a slight against Wash. U in the least.

University of Chicago campus

I found myself with a few hours to kill on the campus this week. With utterly perfect weather, the campus offered endless perfect snapshots.

U. of C. takes the advantage on three major counts: the scale of its buildings, their decorative flair, and the degree to which the original vision for the campus was carried out.

The original Gothic Revival academic buildings are huge, rising four to five stories high, with towers extending beyond that. They draw from a variety of inspirations, from chapels, cathedrals, chateaus and castles. Having mainly sprung from the pencil of architect Henry Ives Cobb, and later Shepley, Rutan & Coolidge, they are remarkably unified. Cavernous spaces await within, some as elaborately ornamented as the buildings’ exteriors.

University of Chicago campus

The older buildings are ranged around a superblock, four regular city blocks unbroken by through roads. An access drive brings one into a vast main quadrangle, defined on three sides and open to the east. Six smaller quads line the main one to the north and south, smaller and more intimate. An amazing total of three dozen buildings stands on the original campus, mostly constructed over a forty year period.

University of Chicago campus

The completion of these quadrangles is a major coup for the University’s design (Wash U, by comparison, never finished any of its planned quads beyond the first one at the front of campus.) Each is filled with greenery, including towering old growth trees that complete the image of a genteel outdoor room. Each is lined with heavily ornate buildings, the ideal picture of academic life.

University of Chicago campus

The map linked above shows the collapse of campus planning in the wake of World War II. The blocks surrounding the original campus show a total disregard for the shaping of outdoor space; the buildings sit in almost random non-relation to each other. The simple, easy, timeless lessons of the original campus were deliberately thrown to the winds, and chaos is the result.

But I’m here to praise, not critique. Within that one superblock, the University’s architects laid out a magnificent tribute to the power of unified design. Surrounding buildings continue the theme of magnificent Gothic, but none have the unified quadrangle configuration of the original campus core.

University of Chicago campus

The campus core is so big that I never even made it to the northern half on this particular visit; instead I concentrated on finding my way into the enormous upper-floor rooms promised by the huge windows on the Harper Memorial Library (perhaps the centerpiece of the entire campus) and Stuart Hall. Numerous other major spaces remain for me to find: chapels, dining halls, reading rooms, lecture halls.

University of Chicago campus

I could write a small book about the campus just based on my occasional visits over the years; the stunning Rockefeller Chapel alone is worth several blog entries.

University of Chicago campus

University of Chicago campus

The U. of C. campus was one of my formative images of Chicago, one of the first places in the city outside the Loop that truly blew my mind. Yet somehow I’ve never given the whole thing a thorough photographic documentation; my recent three hour visit barely scratched the surface. I’ll be back, for certain. I hope those who live, work and study amid the grandeur and beauty of the campus core appreciate it as much as it deserves.

University of Chicago

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…

They are Mohammedans in faith, polygamous in custom, and bandits by instinct

Something remarkable happened to me while in St. Louis last weekend. I mentioned — just in passing — that I lived in Chicago, and a fellow just gave me a book he’d gotten off of eBay. Just like that!

The book bears the unwieldy title of The Magic City: a Massive Portfolio of Original Photographic Views of the Great World’s Fair and Its Treasures of Art, Including a Vivid Representation of the Famous Midway Plaisance, and it is, of course, a compilation of photographs from Chicago’s 1893 World’s Fair. It was published in 1894, the year after the fair’s magnificent run. As might be expected from a free, 113-year-old book, the copy I got is in “poor” condition: the pages have some water damage around the edges, many have developed a purple discoloration, and the binding has pretty much come apart. But the photographs are still in fine shape and all the text is there.

The photos are mostly 8×10, so they have massive amounts of detail. They include overviews of the fair grounds, shots of each major building (including at least one view of Sullivan’s Transportation Building that was new to me), and many shots of the exhibits — including the many indigenous peoples shipped from around the world to be displayed at the fair.

It’s an incredible document of an incredible event, and a window into a time whose mores and values were often quite different than our own. The sheer scope and scale of the fair is mind-blowing to behold. Architecturally, it was a time when people loved their buildings unabashedly:

As the Manufactures Building held the wondering interest of multitudes by the unexampled magnitude of its dimensions, so the Administration Building struck with amazement, and won the unstinted admiration of every World’s Fair visitor by its incomparable beauty and artistic magnificence.

Culturally, Victorian society was equally sure of itself:

A typical Bedouin, with his main transportation dependence [a camel], stands before us in the photograph, nothing being omitted in the characterization of the roving bandit of the Asiatic Steppes, as he is seen in his own desert country. His tarboosh, bournouse and gibbeh, his trusty scimeter [sic], and a countenance reflective of the cruel instinct that he vainly seeks to hide beneath his richly colored robes, are conspicuous as they are typical. His patient beast of burden, demure, but equally treacherous…


Our illustration is one of two Sioux men, whose style of dress shows the result of contact with civilization. In earlier years their rainment was principally a breech-clout and blanket, but progress has effected changes, which, though gradual, will in a few years more eliminate every appearance of savagery in the dress and customs of the plains Indians.

….and amazingly odd:

Babies of strange peoples have a fascination for us greater even than have the customs which often excite our amazement. Indian mothers have always found large profit in exhibiting their papooses to overland travelers, and who is it that would not give a quarter for a peep at a real Chinese baby?

The exhibits were lavish beyond compare: sculpture, furniture and paintings from around the world. Machinery of all types. Native dwellings. Dioramas. Entire mock streets and villages. The world’s first and still largest Ferris Wheel. Secondary buildings that are all but forgotten against the grandeur of the main buildings, but would be landmarks in their own right if they still stood today. Today, little remains of the fair besides the Museum of Science and Industry’s grand building, and the Wooded Island that stands in a lagoon behind it.

It’s nothing short of amazing that nobody has re-issued this remarkable document.