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:
MLK MCM

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.

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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

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…

Layin’ it on thick in Pilsen

This house sits on the 1600 block of W. 16th Street, right across from the magnificent St. Adalbert’s Church.

A house....

It’s a mini-Parthenon, grandeur wrought on the smallest possible scale. Or at least it wants to be grand. In truth…

....with delusions of grandeur.

…it’s a puffed-up ordinary gabled brick house, with a Classical facade sitting in front of it.

But I love it. It’s such an oddball among all the standard brick and wood siding, and it’s obvious that whatever else the owner was thinking, they really really wanted it to be special.