Riotous Restaurants

An early discovery in my time in Chicago – probably before I even lived there – was Gulliver’s Pizza (2727 W. Howard Street, Chicago), just across the border from Evanston.

Gulliver's Pizza, Evanston

Gulliver’s lets you know something’s going on before you even walk in the door. The front facade of this totally ordinary one-story building is festooned with architectural ornament of all kinds – sculptures, brackets, ironwork, lamps, columns, and more. Gulliver's Pizza, Evanston

Inside, the place is a riot of lamps and woodwork.

Gulliver's Pizza, Evanston

Gulliver's Pizza, Evanston

Gulliver's Pizza, Evanston

Gulliver's Pizza, Evanston

Gulliver’s opened in 1965 as a partnership between restauranteers Jerry Freeman and Burt Katz. The name came from Katz’s affection for the classic novel Gulliver’s Travels. The independent-minded Katz soon left, starting a series of other pizza joints around town (with likewise literary-themed names). Freeman stayed and grew the business, expanding into the storefronts next door as they became available. The architecture bits come from the late owner’s collecting habits, as I was told by the staff, and were obtained from antique shops as well as buildings slated for demolition.

Gulliver's Pizza, Evanston

Gulliver's Pizza, Evanston

Gulliver's Pizza, Evanston

Mr. Freeman passed away in 2006, but Gullivers continues to this day.


An all-too-late discovery, coming only in my last year or so in the city, was Walker Brothers Original Pancake House (153 Green Bay Road, Wilmette IL).

Walker Brothers Original Pancake House

Walker Brothers is a Chicago institution, the kind of restaurant that always has a line out the door on weekend mornings. That line moves quickly, though, and once you’re in you’ll be treated to mountains of comfort food, fresh squeezed orange juice, and a stunning interior.

Walker Brothers Original Pancake House

While Gulliver’s goes for the overwhelming look of an antique shop, Walker Brothers has a more refined if not restrained aesthetic. Wood and stained glass panels separate rooms and diners. There is a unified emphasis on an early 1900s Arts and Crafts style. It is claimed around the internet that the look dates to the filming of the 1980 Robert Redford flick Ordinary People at the location. Certainly not all the stained glass is vintage, though much of it is, if not of verifiable heritage. In common with Gulliver’s, no info on the history of individual pieces is available.

Walker Brothers Original Pancake House

Walker Brothers Original Pancake House

Walker Brothers Original Pancake House

Walker Brothers Original Pancake House

Ironically for a “Chicago institution”, Walker Brothers is actually a franchise restaurant. Opened in 1960, the restaurant combined the local Walker Brothers Snack Shop name with Portland, Oregon’s Original Pancake House chain. This was back in the days when franchise outlets were allowed to have a bit more personality; there was also a Walker Brothers Kentucky Fried Chicken. Today, the pancake house is one of over 100 “Original Pancake Houses” around the country, but still a unique place, beloved by thousands. Locals Phil Donahue and Bill Murray have been among its repeat customers.

Walker Brothers Original Pancake House

Walker Brothers Original Pancake House

Walker Brothers Original Pancake House

 

Walker Brothers Original Pancake House

Walker Brothers Original Pancake House

This is certainly the first time – and likely the last – that you will find food on this blog. It’s just too good to leave out.

Walker Brothers Original Pancake House

Careful, though. You’ll have a heart attack just looking at it.

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

Emil Frei in Chicago

Before you read this post: if you have not gone through my Emil Frei stained glass tour at Built St. Louis, stop reading and do so right now. It is essentially this post, but 30 times as big and way better.

Once that’s out of the way –

Over the past hundred years or so, the St. Louis-based Emil Frei Stained Glass studio has designed and built windows for thousands of churches around the US. Dozens upon dozens of their Mid-Century works dot the St. Louis area, and they are common throughout the Midwest – but the company never made major inroads to the Chicago market. The Chicago area work of the Frei company is simply not enough to represent their styles well, but it does make an interesting side note to their work in St. Louis.

I would speculate that strong competition from local companies like the Willet Studio kept them from gaining a strong foothold here. Stylistic tastes may also have played a role. The Frei atelier produced Art Deco- and Surrealist-influenced flat glass windows of great subtlety and abstraction; the Chicago market tended to prefer a bolder, brawnier and more literal approach, best seen in the prolific faceted glass windows of Chicagoland churches. The Frei studio was actually instrumental in the development of the faceted glass window style (aka “chunk glass”), and carried out a number of commissions in the medium, but it was something of a side note for the studio, compared to their flat glass output.

I know of only two major Frei commissions in the area – the sisters’  chapel at the  Wheaton Franciscan Sisters Motherhouse, and the Oak Park Temple Synagogue on Harlem Avenue. So far I have not managed to photograph either one, though I remain hopeful that will change.

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The windows at Oak Park Temple were designed by Rodney Winfield, and appear to share similarities with his contemporary design for Shaare Zedek Synagogue in suburban St. Louis.

I have photographed three other commissions, however:

St. Xavier University Library
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“The Spirit Will Teach You All Things” is a (relatively) rare faceted glass installation by the Frei company. The design was done by Robert Frei and installed in 1957, as  a gift from then-mayor Richard J. Daley.  The design symbolizes a bird in flight – the Holy Dove, and the spirit of learning.
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St. Rita of Cascia Church

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St. Rita Catholic Church was designed by architect Arthur F. Moratz of Bloomington, a prolific church architect. St. Rita’s was begun in 1948 and finished in 1950. Standing on 63rd Street, the building was built around an existing church on the site, so services could continue uninterrupted.  The church sanctuary is a high, huge space, with Romanesque vaulting and clean, crisp detailing.

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The Rose windows (three total) feature abstract detailing and symbols which typify the Frei company’s work:
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Details in other windows include wheat sprouts representing the bread portion of the Eucharist:
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The offset lettering pictured below is another Frei device; artists like Robert Harmon frequently used stylized and highly decorative fonts as part of their compositions:

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The style used on St. Rita’s entry doors is unique. On white frosted glass, black silhouettes are painted and baked on, representing “the mysteries of the Rosary”. Curiously, the paint appears red from the outside.
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The triangular grape bunches were my first clue that this might be a Frei church – they are an extremely common device.

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St. Clare of Montefalco

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St. Clare is a modest little Catholic church on 53rd Street, with a cornerstone dating it to 1954. Its windows are humble and not especially distinguished, but still bear some of the Frei studio’s hallmarks – including a recurrence of the black-etched silhouette designs from St. Rita.

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The primary figures are done in a traditional literal style, but the lettering and the multi-shaded background glass hints at the window’s more contemporary vintage.

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The antiqued glass features bubbles and irregularities included to add texture. As with St. Rita’s, the wheat and grapes symbolize the Eucharist.

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St. Priscilla Catholic Church

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It’s nothing mind-blowing from the outside, but if you know how to read your MidCentury vocabulary, you can tell there’s going to be great things inside. St. Priscilla Church (6949 W. Addison, 1957) does not disappoint.

Chapel hallway

The entry hall is a long, narrow rectangular space, which extends beyond the main body of the building to form the baptistry, demarcated only by gates. This thin structure has walls of stained glass on both sides, with bold, flowing abstract designs that alternate large areas of clear glass with color.

Stained glass detail

The sanctuary is a large space, with high flat ceilings and walls adorned only by flecks of light (an approach used in St. Louis at St. Catherine of Sienna church, among others.)

Sanctuary

Side wall

Below, the stained glass windows continue the same sweeping wave-like forms seen in the chapel.

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And the motif culminates in the rear window, where Saint Priscilla herself presides over the sanctuary.

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Behind the altar, a massive metal screen rises up to a round skylight.

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The sanctuary can be a rather moody place, depending on the time of day and how many lights are left on. But it is always beautiful.

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The siting of the church lends it additional presence – it sits at the head of the T-shaped intersection of Addison and Sayre.

From the north

A school and newly completed convent already stood on the site in 1956, when Rev. Aloysius Hinterberger led the drive for a new building. Fund raising for the church building began based on a budget of $750,000 (later upped to $900,000). The new building was constructed by Charles B. Johnson & Sons, the general contractor. The new structure was dedicated on Christmas Eve, 1957. Among it better known congregants was builder Albert Schorsch, who developed large swaths of northwestern Chicago.

Today St. Priscilla Catholic Church provides Mass in both English and Polish.

  • St. Priscilla Church site
  • Chicago’s Holy Corner

    From the downtown intersection of Clark and Madison, you’re within a two minute walk of a Catholic church, a Protestant church, and a Jewish synagogue. And all three are well worth the visit.

    First United Methodist Church (The Chicago Temple)

    The Chicago Temple is the tallest church building in the world, and the only skyscraper in Chicago with a religious spire. It’s a 1922 design by architects Holabird & Roche, in a French Gothic style. When it opened in 1924, it was the city’s tallest building.

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    At ground level, the wood-lined main sanctuary is open for most or all of the day; you can wander in just about any time for a look. (Being downtown, that means there’s sometimes a few homeless folks hanging out in the colder months, though the forbidding entrance lobby with its security guard makes it a bit uninviting.)

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    Those stained glass windows are an illusion – there’s no trace of them on the outside of the building, and they remain brightly illuminated day and night.

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    The stained glass is done in a traditional style, but with some contemporary subject matter, including Jesus blessing the skyline of the city and the highrise itself.

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    The sanctuary reaches some impressive heights, particularly when you consider the load of an entire skyscraper is carried above it.

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    But those heights pale compare to those of the Sky Chapel, just below the spire.

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    Long-planned, the chapel wasn’t fitted out until 1952, when a bequest by the widow of the founder of the Walgreens chain made it possible. Despite the changing times, the chapel is fairly conservative in style – though the stained glass continues the theme of bizarre subject matter begun in the sanctuary below.

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    And once again, just in case you forget where you are…

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    City Hall's green roof

    Chicago Loop Synagogue

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    This Midcentury confection is slotted neatly into the street wall. Designed by architects Loebl, Schlossman and Benett in 1957, the Loop Synagogue opened its doors in 1958. The building is adorned by a 1969 sculpture entitled “The Hands of Peace” on the outside, by sculptor Henri Azaz, with stylized hands against a background of Hebrew and English letters spelling out a traditional Jewish prayer.

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    There’s a sort of slow, deliberative elegance to this building. You can almost feel the architects pausing contemplatively, stroking their chins in thought perhaps, before finally selecting these wonderful huge wood door paddles.

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    Beyond those doors lies a simple passageway with offices and other spaces. The main worship space is on the second story.

    The beautiful wall of stained glass was designed by American artist Abraham Rattner and installed in 1960. Based on the “let there be light” Torah passage, it depicts an abstract, metaphysical cosmos flecked with ancient Hebrew symbols.

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    The rest of the space is spare and clean, befitting its Modernist origins.

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    St. Peter’s Church

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    Wedged between two adjoining buildings, St. Peters Catholic Church gives the impression that it was carved out from a solid rock face. Solid, planar walls contrast startlingly with deeply hewn entrances and window openings, creating one of the best facades in the city. Unlike the contemporaneous Queen of Heaven mausoleum, this 1953 church (architects: Vitzhum and Burns) shows a mix of modern and historical influences.

    A three-story high crucafix by Austrian sculptor Arvid Strauss completes this compelling composition.

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    Like the Chicago Temple, the doors of St. Peter’s are always open (again, meaning there’s usually a few homeless guys hanging around, along with a smattering of curious tourists and the usual downtown office workers.) The space inside is vast, befitting the epic facade outside. Seemingly every surface is gleaming polished stone.

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    Deprived of natural light, the designers had to turn to other tricks to give the space a sense of holiness. Illuminated sculpture niches serve in place of stained glass windows, portraying the life of St. Francis of Assisi.

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    The building’s lobby is notable primarily for its wonderfully ornate doors.

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    If you’ve walked past this place, take five minutes to duck inside. It’s well worth the time.

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  • A history of the church from Heavenly City at Google Books.

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  • The eyeslit window apartments

    If you’ve ever driven west on Foster, out toward Harlem Avenue, you’ve surely noticed these two remarkable apartment buildings, standing on the angled block where Foster Place briefly splits off from Foster Avenue.

    5133 N. Neva Avenue

    7111 W. Foster Place - front

    They are 5133 N. Neva Avenue (top) and 7111 W. Foster Place (bottom). Built around 1964, they were designed by one Lee N. Romano, a planner, designer and builder who ran his own eponymous company, founded in 1950. They seem to be his most notable buildings, as very little information can be found about him otherwise. But hey, a guy could do far worse than to leave these MidCentury explosions as a legacy.

    Eyelid window

    Those unmistakable eyelid stained glass windows set the tone of the place. They reappear as a motif in several spots, like the fake balconies…

    Eyelid window faux balcony railings

    The main entry doors…

    Eyelid window doors

    …And even the interior doors, which have their own miniature version of the big window.

    Eyelid window doors, along with eyelid window doors

    Those big windows cast a beautiful light into the tiny lobby space on a sunny day. It’d be hard to live here and not get a little smile on your face every time you walked out the front door.

    Eyelid lightbeam

    They didn’t seem to know just what to do with the backside, but hey, who in Chicago ever does? Lacking a better option, they made it into a little courtyard with a castle wall fence thing. Why not?

    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.