Chicago Day 1, In the Loop, 17th February 2017
We landed at O'Hare airport late on the Thursday night and Michael, Anne's son, drove us to his apartment in a northern suburb of Chicago. It is a pleasant residential area with older houses which are all individual. Mike's building dates from the early 20th century. He is on the 4th floor with no elevators and we always dreaded the moment we arrived back to climb the stairs after walking miles around the town.
For the record here is a picture of Michael's building, rather nice I think you would agree.
The next day we were anxious to get into the city. Michael has spent a lot of time walking the streets of Chicago and knows the architecture very well. He proved to be an expert guide.
We walked down to his closest 'El' station. The El is Chicago's metro system, and is very effective and very cheap, we paid $28 for a week's unlimited travel. The trains mainly run on elevated sections. which is fascinating to watch in the centre of the city. The first part of the system was built between 1892 and 1895. In 1897 the tracks in the centre were connected to form a loop around downtown Chicago (this area is also known as The Loop).
I took a lot of pictures over the course of the day, so I shall split them over a few blogposts. Here are pictures from the Loop area.
We arrived at the State and Lake station in downtown and the first thing we saw was the Chicago Theatre, very fitting. The next was a mural of Muddy Waters, also very apposite
Rumour has it that the seed of Chicago was sown by Jean Baptiste Point du Sable and his Indian wife, who built a house on the north bank of Lake Michigan by the mouth of the Chicago River in 1779. Du Sable was an African American trader from the Caribbean. A treaty was formed with the local Indian tribes in 1795 which gave access for US citizens to a 6 square mile area of land around the mouth of the river. Fort Dearborn was built in 1803 to protect settlers from the Indians but this was destroyed by the English and French in 1812 and many settlers were killed by the English and the Indians who were now their allies. A new fort was built but it was not until 1833 that the Indians were moved out to reserves and the city began to grow. In 1848 access from the Chicago River to the Mississippi was gained by the building of the Illinois and Michigan canal. This and the arrival of the railroad turned Chicago into a great trading centre.
In 1865 the enormous Union Stock Yards opened and continued to process and pack meat for transportation until 1971. This and the trade in grain from the great plains were the backbone of Chicago's wealth. The small canal was replaced by two other waterways over a period of time. In 1892, as a response to some dreadful flooding which polluted the lake, the course of the Chicago River was turned away from the lake towards the Des Plaines River and the Mississsppi by the building of the Sanitary and Ship Canal which gave way in 1933 to the Illinois Waterway. These shipways meant that goods could be moved from the Atlantic via the Erie Canal and the Great Lakes all the way through to the Mississippi and down towards New Orleans and the Gulf of Mexico.
In October 1871 disaster struck and in three days the city was razed to the ground by the Great Chicago Fire. Around 300 people were killed and around 100,000 lost their homes. In consequence the building of wooden structures was banned in downtown and gave the impetus for the creativity of the Chicago architects and engineers.
In 1893 the artistic side of Chicago life was boosted by the World's Columbian Exposition which was visited by over 25 million people. The Art Institute of Chicago had opened it's doors in 1879 and the Chicago Symphony Orchestra and the University of Chicago were founded in 1890, All this led to a city that was culturally rich as well as economically vibrant, despite several economic slumps.
Chicago has some very remarkable buildings and it could be said that this was where the skyscraper was born. Masonry constructions have a limited height but the architects of the Chicago School started to explore steel-frame construction and plate glass from the early 1880's. The Montauk Building designed by John Wellborn Root and Daniel Burnham was built 1882-1883 using structural steel and in 1884 William Le Baron Jenney designed the Home Insurance Building, with a steel skeleton and in effect produced the first skyscraper, although only 9 storeys high. This structure only weighed a third of a conventional masonry building. Both of these buildings have now been demolished.
Michael gave us a very erudite tour, and this first day we walked for 9 hours exploring the architecture of Chicago. The photography was done rather on the fly. I had no tilt and shift lens with me. Even a tilt shift would have become faint when confronted with the Sears Tower! I have done my best to adjust the perspective of the pictures but sometimes I have had to go with the flow.
I will start with an important building which we did not visit till later in the day. This is the Rookery, designed by Burnham and Root and built 1885-1888. It is a purely masonry apart from the Court side of the building which does have a steel frame, and it goes as high as possible using this technology. Chicago sits on a bog and Root designed 'floating' foundations of iron and cement to perch this hulk upon. The interior is a delight but we will come on to that later.
The first architectural subject we came upon was the Reliance Building. This is an exemplary representative of the Chicago School of Architecture. It was built strangely. The original structure had leases that expired on different dates. The bottom two floors expiring first. The architects, yes Burnham and Root again, jacked the building up and demolished these floors and rebuilt them in 1890-91. On expiration of the top 3 floors' lease, Charles Atwood, who had replaced Root after his death in 1891, demolished those and rebuilt in style. This is a skeleton steel and glass building. At the time the windows were the largest yet built. They are known as Chicago windows, built as bays and having large static central panels and then two opening ones on either side to give ventilation.
For something completely different we then visited two plazas. The first was the Richard J. Daley Centre. This is a 31 storey tower designed by Jacques Brownson and built in 1965. It is constructed in Cor-Ten steel which rusts as it ages giving a warm patina. The rusting process actually increases it's strength. Picasso donated a sculpture to the city, also made of the same material.
Opposite the Daley centre is the Chicago Temple Building, designed by John Holabird and Martin Roche and erected in 1922-23, The First United Methodist Church occupies space at the bottom, while in the spire is a chapel and the rectory, 21 storeys high. This was built over twice the permitted height at the time but fortunately the rules were waived.
There were other buildings bounding the square, including this little electricity substation which Michael pointed out, Built in an Egyptian style. There was also an eternal flame for those who had fallen in the 2nd World War which the pigeons were enjoying.
Not to be outdone by Picasso, Miro had also donated a statue which was in a little courtyard opposite the Daley Centre. This is 'The Sun, the Moon and One Star.' Rather pretty.
We were now on our way over to the second plaza, but we stopped to look at the Chicago City and County Building, designed in the classic revival style by William Holabird and Martin Roche and built 1907-1910. This 11 storey building has 6 storey granite Corinthian columns on the exterior and a marble interior. It is still serving it's original purpose.
We came to the James R Thompson Centre. This rather strange edifice was designed by Helmut Jahn and built in 1979-85, It is massive, occupying 3 blocks and 17 storeys high but it has become a bit of a white elephant. It was built for state offices and the concept was open government and accessibility. Unfortunately it is costing a fortune to heat and maintain. In the courtyard stands yet another piece of public art, Jean Dubuffet's 'Monument with Standing Beast'.
Our next stop was to be the river. We walked there, looking down canyons and inspecting the pretty Oliver Building, designed by Holabird and Roche and built in 1907.
Our final stop before we got to the river was at the Chicago Goodman Theatre, designed by Howard Crane and Kenneth Franheim and built in 1922 when Chicago was in it's hey day. Oh and picture of the El train.