Chicago – February 2019 – Chess Records

For any fan of music, specifically blues and early rock and roll, Chess Records is one of the most important studios ever. From this small building at 2120 South Michigan Avenue in Chicago came a stunning amount of music that has never been matched.



Leonard and Phil Chess were two Polish immigrants who arrived in Chicago as small boys in 1928. By the time they were young adults they already were running jazz clubs in the south side.

In the late 1940s Leonard and Phil became associated with Aristocrat Records, eventually taking ownership and changing the name to Chess Records.

From this small office they signed many of the all time greats of the blues including Howlin’ Wolf, Bo Diddley, Willie Dixon, Etta James, John Lee Hooker, and most importantly – Muddy Waters and Chuck Berry.






Today the building is owned by the family of Willie Dixon, who save it from the wrecking ball and restored it into a small museum, with plans to make it into a recording studio again.

Just beyond Leonard’s office on the 1st floor is what was the shipping and receiving area, now serving as a room with a number of artifacts including this wall of masks of the greats.





As noted Bo Diddley was one of the more important signings for the label. There are numerous stories on how he received his stage name, but one prevalent one is it was adopted from the ‘Diddley Bow’, a single stringed instrument traditionally use in the rural south. One is shown in the photo below, along with a collection in tribute to Bo.





Willie Dixon was an early arrival to Chess, and a very important part of it’s life, and the survival of it’s story. As with many black blues players, Willie was born in the south and made his way to Chicago in his early 20s.

In addition to being a musician, Willie was a prolific songwriter including Hoochie Coochie Man, I Just Want to Make Love to You, Little Red Rooster and Spoonful.

Even if you aren’t a blues fan, but a rock fan, you have heard these songs covered by hundreds of other bands, sometimes without them giving him credit. Willie was tireless in advocating for blues writers like himself getting their due from others who used their songs without permission.

One of his most famous was from Led Zeppelin’s Who Lotta Love which used music from Bring It On Home and lyrics from You Need Love. The courts almost always found in Willie’s favor, as they did on this one.





The best selling artist for Chess was Chuck Berry. While it was a bit out of their normal strength, and at first thought of by the Chess Brothers as ‘too country’, Chuck and Chess made a great team.

Nearly every famous song from Chuck including Johnny B Goode, Memphis, Tennessee, Roll Over Beethoven and all the others were recorded here.





We came through the front door as all the ‘normal’ guests would have, however the musicians always entered from the alley in back and headed up these stairs.

They may look like just an old stairway, but up these stairs headed the best rock and blues musicians of all time.





Upstairs in an amazingly small area are two studios. The smaller one has a collection of electronics.





Also in this space is the tribute to Muddy Waters. As we toured the facility our guide had a small bluetooth speaker he would play selections from off of his phone. It really added to the tour, and sitting in this space listening to Muddy sing and play in front of his collection was very cool.





Another important group who did a recording at Chess Records was the Rolling Stones.

In 1964 the Rolling Stones were just starting out. They had taken their name from a Muddy Waters song, as they were obsessed with American Blues. Normally the Chess Brothers would not let anyone not signed by the label record there, but the Stones were on their first American tour and managed to get the chance to record.

The material they recorded here was mostly released on an album called 12 x 5, including the only instrumental ever recorded by them – a tribute to Chess Records called ‘2120 South Michigan Avenue’, the address of Chess Records.

They have remained supporters of the history of Chess Records. On display at the museum is some original art from Ronnie Wood.





Our final stop was the main studio. From this small space all that amazing music was made!

It was an honor to sit in this simple room, in this nondescript building on the near south side of Chicago and listen to Etta James play ‘At Last’, realizing it was all recorded right here!

There are a few places in this world that I have been that go far beyond what the building is, or what is in the building, rather what happened there. To me 2120 South Michigan Avenue in Chicago is one of those place.





Chicago – February 2019 – Board of Trade Building Architectural Details Tour

Another rarely offered Chicago Architecture Foundation tour was a detailed look at the Chicago Board of Trade Building.

We met inside briefly before going outside to view the building from LaSalle Street. Among the highlights is the statue of Ceres on top of the building. The statue has no face, which some urban legends say it was because when the building was completed it was much taller than the other buildings, but our docent says that is untrue.





Knowing we were going to visit soon I was able to get an overview photo from Willis Tower just before we headed over.

Note the much lower glass roof to the right – more on that later.





The Board of Trade Building no longer has trading floors, but when they did they mostly dealt in agricultural items such as grains and animals.

This history is celebrated on the outside by a series of bovines (lower left and right center), as well as the two sculptures next to the clock.

The one of the left is Mesopotamian, which was the oldest civilization where crops began, and the Native American on the right represents the new country (America) and the crops.





The Goddess of Industry and Goddess of Agriculture had been positioned on the original building in the 1800s, but were relocated when it was torn down and this building was built.





This photo shows what the trading floors looked like. Unfortunately they are no longer there, as everything has become electronic. The 8 sides ‘pits’ shape now serve as the logo for the building.






Opened in 1930 at the height of the Art Deco movement, it is a masterpiece in the style.





Art Deco pieces are everywhere – from the lighting in the entrance…





To the main lobby lighting bank.





The air ducts….





and the coffee shop. The shop is named for Ceres, who was the Goddess of Grain. Interestingly cereal is named for Ceres.





More detail on the railings of the mezzanine.





The interior also has a number of symbols for grain worked into the design including this railing.





Since it was completed just a couple of years after Lindburgh crossed the Atlantic, they though it would be cool to include a separate mail box for Air Mail.





More grain symbolism on the elevator doors.





In 1980 a 23 floor expansion was completed to the south. While it retains some of the Art Deco elements, it is nowhere near as opulent as the original building.





They did retain some of the elevator doors that were eliminated in some refurbishing and now use them as art behind the security desk.





The new section is the one mentioned earlier with the large glass ceiling and atrium.

One highlight in the atrium is a fiberglass cow, decorated with the logo of the building – the 8 sided symbol representing the shape of the trading pits.






Gracing the atrium is this 3 story mural of Ceres, which from 1930 until 1973 hung in the agricultural trading floor.





The glass atrium rises 12 floors above, starting on the 12th floor.





It was designed by the same person who designed the Thompson Center, Helmut Jahn.





Returning to the original section, we toured the mezzanine level.





Even something as simple as the staircase handrail has amazing detail.





We went to the basement, passing by the floors with modes of transportation in them.





Our last stop was the vault. We had seen this on the Open House Chicago tours, but it is always worth a stop.





I asked our docent which was the infamous vault of Al Capone, and she indicated she believe that to be urban legend, as everything in Chicago seems to want to have an Al Capone connection.

With that our tour of the Chicago Board of Trade Building was completed. Once again our docent was knowledgeable and entertaining, and the tour was well worth it.







Chicago – February 2019 – The Rookery

In my opinion the Rookery is the most architecturally interesting building in Chicago, and one of the best in the country.

Situated in the financial section of downtown Chicago on South LaSalle Street, it’s exterior doesn’t give any impression to a visitor of what awaits inside.





Famed architects Daniel Burnham and John Root designed the building in 1888.

With a mix of styles including Moorish, Venetian and Romanesque it was a remarkable building when completed. What makes it even more amazing is Frank Lloyd Wright lead the first of three major renovations in 1905-1907.

The second renovation was completed in 1931 by a former Wright assistant, William Drummond.

The third and final renovation was completed in 1992, and brought it back (mostly) to the FLW look.





Wright covered much of the ironwork with white carved Carrara marble.





The cantilevered staircase was something the people of the early 1900s hadn’t seen. Many refused to go onto the staircase, assuming it would fall off the wall.

Wright added the vertical supports, but they have never been attached – merely there to give assurance to people. The stairs are still doing just fine after 100 years of being cantilevered.





A close up of the marble work.





The stairs to the mezzanine are worn from a hundred years of feet going up and down them.





The mezzanine flooring is glass block.





The mezzanine also gives a great view of the light court.





The lighting of FLW.





Every photo blog posting seems to have a symmetry shot and this is this ones. It is the skylight lattice work.





This view shows one side of the cantilevered steps, as well as more of the marble and skylight.





The second floor elevator lobby looking towards the front of the building. At one time this was closed off for offices.





A view back down the stairs to the glass block. Every angle you look at this amazing building reveals a number of features.





The famed spiral staircase.





A view from the elevator lobby of the stairs.





The very cool lights near the elevators. Note the ‘Y’ underneath the light – it is a symbol of Chicago representing the Chicago River coming from the lake and forking into the North Branch and South Branch.

As you walk around the city you will find this ‘Y’ on numerous structures (but you have to look closely).





The elevator lobby, stairs and skylight! And then you get a reflection of it all off the floor.





Another view from the mezzanine including the Frank Lloyd Wright Trust gift shop.





Our docent Bruce was excellent, very knowledgeable and willing to share.

Here he shows where in the last renovation they left one of the original iron columns exposed.





Our final stop was a rare visit to the 11th floor Burnham Library. While it is a nice enough room, it is what was accomplished there that makes this a very special venue.

Essentially the design of the City of Chicago, and the 1893 World’s Fair were all decided in this room by the country’s greatest architectural minds.

Once again the Chicago Architectural Foundation docents were excellent. We look forward to more tours on this trip.







Chicago – February 2019 – Union Station Architectural Tour

Back in Chicago for more architecture tours starting with the Union Station.





We passed by the symmetrical cool train shed and post office in the distance on the way.

Chicago was for more than 100 years mail order capital of the world with Sears, Montgomery Wards and others shipping products around the country. With all that business, the post office was massive. It is now being converted to condo’s and offices.





The entrance along Canal Street are graced with this massive colonnade the entire length.





The exterior doors and the surrounding ironwork.





Once inside, a quick look back at where we just came from reveals a grand entrance.





The Amtrak Metropolitan Lounge – AKA – The Pennsylvania Room, from the days of the Pennsylvania Railroad.





As you reach the Great Hall you are greeted with these massive Corinthian columns, and a scaffolding free skylight!





When we last visited for Open House Chicago in October the ceiling was covered with scaffolding. The temporary inconvenience has paid off – what a magnificent hall and ceiling.





Even the statues look brighter.




The detail on the tops of the columns are stunning.





A second view of a column as well as the period perfect lighting.





The south end of the hall.





With the renovation complete hopefully they tear down the hideous Amtrak kiosk that is so out of place.





The benches are original to the 1925 construction.





We were fortunate enough to get to visit the Burlington Room. In the early days it was the women’s lounge.





This creepy looking guy keeps watch over the room.





Our final stop was in the Legacy Club. It is awaiting some remodel for private event use.

The city of Chicago should be proud of their grand rail entrance now that the renovation has been completed.








Cleveland – February 2019 – Radwood

There is a group of auto enthusiasts who celebrate the 1980s and 90s automotive style couple with the overall feel of the time. They encourage period correct dress to go along with the cars.

Normally held outdoors with large audience participation I read online that the Crawford Auto Aviation Museum was holding an exhibit.





The small display of about a dozen cars did feature some fashion.





Some of it the classic (some would say tacky) look straight from Miami Vice.





It is not their goal to have the best, or most expensive cars presented, just ones that are representative of the era.

Overall the exhibit was disappointing because it lacked that audience participation. Fortunately there is more to see at the Crawford.





Most of the museum celebrates the long history of auto making in Cleveland and northern Ohio. One of the longest in business was White Motors who started building cars and trucks in 1900.





In addition to the cars and planes there are numerous large banners celebrating historic Cleveland events including the 1936 Great Lakes Exposition.








For many years Cleveland held the national air races. The exhibit includes a couple of the planes.





The lower level featured more automobiles with historic significance..













We finished by checking out this sweet Cleveland motorcycle







Cleveland – February 2019 – Time Travelling again

As noted on a previous posting I took the opportunity to get some current photos of Cleveland for the second in the ‘Time Travel’ series.

The corner of Euclid Avenue and East 9th Street has always been the financial center of Cleveland. The view below is looking west on Euclid Avenue in 1905.

Note the red building on the left remains from the 1905 photo, while most of the closer buildings have been replaced over the years.

While streetcars no long run down the streets, there are dedicated bus stops in the middle, which is where the new photo was taken from.






Just up the block is the Arcade – which was featured in the earlier posting. This photo is also from around 1905.

And as you can see it hasn’t changed much at all! It is amazing to think of all of the people who have walked these corridors in 130 years.





The Colonial Arcade is just across Euclid Avenue. It too is nearly identical except for the fashion.






Meanwhile just outside of the Colonial Arcade on Prospect Avenue is an exterior view of the hotel.

If you look closely at the top of the new photo you will see a portion of the original sign painted on the outside wall.

Also of note a Kia is now parked where the horse and buggy was in 1900.






Meanwhile back on Euclid Avenue we see the Arcade from the outside, with a view in the distance of the Soldiers and Sailors Monument on Public Square.

As with the early 1900s one – traffic was light on our visit too.






This view is at the monument looking back down Euclid to where we just came from.

Notice the lamp post is still in the same spot in the foreground, just a different lamp.






The Williamson Building below was completed in 1899, and stood until the early 1980s.

In a brief departure from the normal ‘before and after’ photos, the photo below shows the implosion of the Williamson Building in the early 1980s. Of note I am in the crowd somewhere, and was covered from head to toe with the (most likely hazardous) dust.

The result is the aforementioned 200 Public Square Tower. Since the 1930s the iconic Terminal Tower dominated the Cleveland skyline, and Public Square.

When the long time Cleveland industrial giant Standard Oil of Ohio wanted to build their corporate headquarters, the city finally relented and gave permission to have this dominating building. Of course before it was even completed British Petroleum (BP) bought Sohio, so it opened as the BP Building! It has since then changed names a couple of times.

Again as with the earlier photo the wagon with horse has been replaced with the wagon from Honda.








The Northwest Quadrant of Public Square features the Old Stone Church, one of the oldest buildings in Cleveland – built in 1855. The right side has had an additional steeple added, but other than that it is the same.

The church is still there, but all of the other buildings have long since been replaced – so long ago that the replacements are now considered historic.









Finally a look east on Superior Avenue. The Arcade’s northern entrance is visible on the right (just behind the first streetcar in the old photo and with the canopy in the new photo).