Chicago – December 2018 – Making Old New Again

Our second Chicago Architecture Foundation tour of the day was ‘Hotel Boom – Making Old New Again’. It focused on the current trend of adaptive reuse, taking old buildings that may or may not have previously been hotels, and updating them as boutique hotels.

As with our first tour we headed south on Michigan Avenue, stopping across the street from the Chicago Athletic Association Building.

The CAA members were the movers and shakers of Chicago in 1893 as the World’s Fair was going on. Anxious to impress their out of town visitors, they engaged Henry Ives Cobb to build them a building rivaling anything that anyone would find in the great cities of the world. One would have to agree they did!





In 2015 the building was remodeled into the aforementioned boutique hotel style, as the club membership had dwindled. The results are one of function, but retaining most of the original look and feel.





The upstairs game room features the Chicago Athletic Association logo. Look familiar – it should as the Chicago Cubs bought the rights to use it in the 1800s.





As we made our way to the next stop we passed the Reliance Building. Designed by John Root in 1890 it remained a commercial property until the late 1990s when it was rehabbed into a boutique hotel.

As part of the Chicago School of Architecture it has the famed bay windows throughout.





On nearby Wabash Avenue is the Silversmith Hotel, so named as it is in the restored Silversmith Building on Jeweler Row. The architect, Peter Weber of the Burnham Architectural Firm, completed the design in 1896.

While it is an early example of the Chicago School of Architecture, the remodel has added modern elements to it (the exterior is required to remain ‘original’ per the Historic Registry requirements).





As we made our way back up Wabash we passed the Virgin Hotel Building, another re purposed building. Unfortunately we were unable to explore the interior.





The Chicago Motor Club Building was famously designed and completed in only 265 days in 1928. It is regarded as one of the finest Art Deco buildings in Chicago. The Motor Club used the building for office until 1986, and others used it for commercial use until 1996.

It sat vacant for many years before Hampton Inn (of all corporations) restored the building into a boutique hotel.





The lobby retains the Art Deco look.





A famed 1928 mural of the United States road system adorns one wall. Since the 1926 directive to give roads numbers was not quite implemented yet, this mural still uses the historic ‘trails’ designations such as the Lincoln Highway, etc.





The spiral staircase continues the Art Deco feel. For a company mostly known for small motels along freeways Hampton Inn really came through with this one.





Across the river, and in a different planet from a hotel room price perspective is The Langham. Often cited as one of Chicago’s priciest hotels, the Langham occupies a portion of the famed Ludwig Miles van der Rohe’s famed IBM Building.

It has a mid century meets gaudy feel.













Our final stop was the London House Hotel. The unusual name comes from the building’s original owners, the London Guarantee Company, an insurance company.

It is situated on the site of Fort Dearborn, the first settlement of any kind in what is now Chicago. As such a sculpture of the fort graces the entrance.





The traditional entrance has an impressive ceiling that amazing was covered up for 50 years by a drop ceiling.





Completed in 1923, it was topped with a cupola made to resemble the Choragic Monument of Lysicrates,





The view from the 21st floor outdoor bar is fantastic.





Earlier in the day, and totally unrelated to any of these posts we visited the 9th floor Winter Garden of the Harold Washington Library. It is not historic, but is cool.





Our night ended up with our cool view from the 23rd floor of the hotel down Kinzie Street toward the Wrigley Building, Tribune Building and others.

Our good luck with the Chicago Architecture Foundation tours continued. While the docents all have their unique approach, and you might pass by or go inside a building you have previously seen, you always learn something new. We are looking forward to more tours.





Chicago – December 2018 – Historic Treasures

The Chicago Architecture Foundation is a large non profit group that supports the historic architecture of the city. With a small army of volunteer docents they offers numerous options for tours, so many that we have decided to become members.

For this cold Saturday we had two tours queued up – the first is Historic Treasures of Chicago. This tour focused on the buildings and people who were instrumental in the development of downtown around the time of the 1893 World’s Fair.

As we left the new CAF facility on Wacker Drive we had an immediate view of some of the classic details in the buildings of the period with this relief carved in the side of 333 North Michigan Avenue.

As we made our way down Michigan Avenue we passed the Carbide and Carbon Building. Now a boutique hotel, it was designed by the Burnham Brothers, sons of Daniel Burnham. While not from the late 1800s – early 1900s period (it was completed in 1928), it is still a great building.




Further south is the Chicago Cultural Center. Originally built as the main public library, we have visited this building often, and will finish this tour inside, but the first part of this tour took us along the outside where you get great contrasting views of old and new.




Millennium Park might not seem like it belongs in a story of Historic Treasures, but without the foresight of Burnham and others the park would not exist.

In addition the legacy of the Wrigley family lives on in the columns.




A skating rink is set up for winter – with a view of the bean.




The Montgomery Ward Tower is located at 6 North Michigan Avenue. During it’s heyday, Montgomery Ward was the Amazon of the time – with mail orders shipped throughout the country.

The building was originally built with a pyramid top and statues, which brought the height to 394′ the tallest in Chicago at the time. After the removal of these the building is 282′ tall.



Our next stop was the opulent Palmer House. There has been a Palmer House hotel on this site since 1871. The first one had the misfortune of being completed just 13 days before the Great Chicago Fire, in which it burned down.

The second one was completed in 1875 and lasted until 1925, when the current, much larger, hotel was built.

It has always been known for it’s luxurious lobby and rooms

A close up of the clock shows some of the detail that exists throughout.



Nearby on Wabash is Jewelers Row. While a number of small, independent jewelers still exist the national chain, Kay, took over the famed store with the peacock clock (while doing a very poor job of painting over the former name).




We continued on to State Street where we found the Sullivan Center at the corner of State and Madison. Originally known as the Carson Pirie Scott & Company Building, it was designed by the famed Louis Sullivan in 1898.

The building is known mostly for it’s significant metal ornamentation of the lower floors, as well as the large ‘Chicago Windows’ throughout.

At one time there were 7 large department stores in downtown Chicago, now there is one. This was one of the original 7, now it houses a Target store on the 1st two floors and a college on the others.







The aforementioned Macy’s store was once the flagship Marshall Fields. To a person every Chicagoan will tell you that the building and the store has gone downhill since Macy’s took over.




The most noteworthy architectural item in the store is the 30,000 piece Tiffany’s ceiling.




Our final stop was the interior of the Chicago Cultural Center. While we have been in here a number of times it is always worth revisiting, with it’s magnificent Tiffany’s ceiling.

As always the CAF tours are well worth the time and money. Our docent Tim was very knowledgeable and personable, giving insight to the buildings and people that built them.









Chicago – December 2018 – Saturday Night Live Experience

Saturday Night Live has been coming to you from New York for 40 years, so it makes no sense why the SNL Experience would be in downtown Chicago, but it is.

With an hour and a half before closing we decided to pay the $25 each and check it out. We got our tickets and went up stairs where we we herded into a small room for the preview video – which fortunately was only a few minutes long.

We then made our way in. The exhibits gave a brief history of the show’s start, followed by how the week of preparation leads up to Saturday night.




The highlights of the exhibit were the costumes and props collected over the years.




The Land Shark




Bill Murray’s Nick the Lounge Singer’s jacket.




Party on Wayne – Party on Garth




One of the more interesting areas was makeup, including the Coneheads.




A large area of costumes.










As well as a collection of the fake products




The upper level had a mock up of the control room, where we were once again grouped together.




This lead us to a replica of the stage where they presented a video to make us feel like we were there (sort of)




The costumes and props are cool to see, but you can likely watch all the videos at home on Youtube. It was cool, but not worth $25 each.

We did however get an additional floor for the Radio and TV Museum. This focused primarily on Chicago TV and Radio, but had some interesting items like Jack Benny’s violin (old school – look it up).





In a section on advertising they had a Crash Test Dummy




The very famous Nixon- Kennedy debate took place in Chicago in 1960. This is the camera used that many say swayed the election to Kennedy.




Meet The Press has been a Sunday morning news program for decades. The museum has one of the sets used.




Finally in the way back machine – Charlie McCarthy (another look it up moment for many)







Chicago – December 2018 – Ravenswood Architectural Artifacts

A trip up the El’s Brown Line took us to the Ravenswood Architectural Artifacts. Located in 80,000 square feet of an old industrial building, they have high end ‘artifacts’, many costing into the thousands of dollars.




They even had a couple of small cars, like this great Fiat.




The collection was unique, and large.


Where else can you find that mummy you were looking for.


Some sculptures from the top of old buildings.




One of those not really sure what they are piles.




Need a sign for the toilet?


Or a letter?


Forms for making masks.




A fireproof suit for working around a blast furnace.




Glass ornament – perhaps it once had a purpose other than decorative.




What a cool collection of ‘stuff’.




Well worth the visit – the Ravenswood Architectural Artifacts. Just off the Brown Line at Montrose.




Chicago – December 2018 – Architecture Center

The Chicago Architecture Center recently moved from the Railway Exchange Building to 111 Wacker Drive. Their new home is much larger, with an exhibit on the second level on skyscrapers.

This exhibit has scale models of a number of the significant buildings from around the world, including many Chicago landmarks like Marina City.

Also included are a couple of smaller scale models of buildings whose design or building materials were unique. This model is the Seagrams Building, built in Manhattan in the 1950s and one of the first ‘glass and steel’ skyscrapers.

The new location on Wacker Drive offers views of the models with an impressive backdrop.

Also noted in this exhibit is the influence that Chicago architects have had on the skyscraper design since the very beginning.

As we headed back to the main level we had a great view of the Burj Kalif, and how it dwarfs (in height) buildings like the Sears/Willis Tower and the Chrysler Building. It is so tall they had to use both levels of the museum to get it in.

When the Chicago Architecture Center was in the Railway Exchange Building they had a great model of downtown Chicago. This has been moved to the new location and enhanced.

The individual buildings are still there, many easily recognizable.

They have added a huge video screen, and lights that accent various parts of the city – all controlled by panels that visitors can select.

Along one wall they have a map of Chicago with every building in the city color coded to illustrate when it was built: Yellow for pre 1900, Blue for the period between 1900 and World War II (1945), Orange for Postwar (1946-1979) and Red for those built since 1979.

A detailed look at one of the neighborhoods on the North Side – Ravenswood. Many North Side neighborhoods have been going through gentrification – Ravenswood included, but not to the extent of others.

Note the high percentage of buildings were Pre War or earlier, yet the neighborhood is well kept and lively.

This display also shows some of the more common building designs used in the residential space. For Ravenswood it is the ‘Courtyard Apartments’ – there are thousands of them in Chicago.

A visit to the new Chicago Architecture Center is well worth the price of admission.

The former home in the Railway Exchange Building is doing just fine, albeit much quieter.

Volo, Illinois – December 2018 – Movie Cars and More

Late December found us back in Chicago again. For this cold, rainy day we made our way to the far (far) suburb of Volo to check out the Volo Auto Museum

As it turned out it was far more than an auto museum.

But first we passed through Niles, Illinois – and the Tower of Pisa (half height replica)

Finally we arrived at the Volo Auto Museum. It is a collection of 18 different buildings and shelters. Volo is unique in that almost everything is for sale so we saw a great collection of classic cars with prices on them.

As we made our way into the first building it was apparent that they had far more than just cars including a collection of nicely restored jukeboxes.

A Zoltar from the movie ‘Big’. There is a large collection of movie props scattered throughout the museum.

Pedal Cars – They had one of the largest collections I have seen (Gilmore had more, but not by much)

Motorized Bicycles – the famed Whizzers.

Kiddie Rides galore

As noted previously, they have a large collection of props from movies, or marketing from the various entertainment groups like Disney or Warner Brothers.

And a small, but classic, camper collection

A great scooter collection.

Snowmobiles.

A very early Ford with tractor drive wheels and ski’s on the front.

But we are here for the cars.

Some of the ‘cars’ are very custom designs – like a Skate Car

Lots of movie and TV cars. All of the cars you see in the movies and on TV are really one of many of the exact same car (often 10 or more). Volo prides themselves in getting one of these original cars.

Usually they are looking for the car that was used for the publicity so it is not all beat up.

Let’s start with KITT from Knight Rider.

Terminator 3

The Beverly Hillbillies Movie

One of the first Fast and Furious movies

The Ecto Mobile from Ghostbusters.

Ninja Turtles

The Bluesmobile.

A more recent Mad Max movie car

A really wacky one from a movie called Son of the Mask

Vehicle and prop from Alien

One of the original 1960s Batman TV show cars.

The Munster’s Car

Christine. Stephen King made us all afraid of this car.

A later Batman movie car

And finally – a prop car for the Flintstones! The Volo Auto Museum is quite the place – well worth a few hours of wandering around.

Dayton – December 2018 – Cool and Quirky Airplanes

With family in town that has a strong interest in aviation, a day long visit to the Air Force Museum in Dayton was called for. For this visit I focused on the cool and quirky aircraft (and spacecraft).

We start with the horizontal stabilizer of Douglas VC-54C Skymaster with the name of ‘Sacred Cow’. It was the first presidential plane, serving FDR.

The Lockheed VC-140B JetStar was the first business jet produced in quantity for the civilian market.

Because of it’s smaller size it was sometimes referred to as Air Force One Half.

A view from the outside of the cockpit of the Independence.

Another look at the Sacred Cow. While it was state of the art, from this angle it looks like there were 100 pieces of aluminum cobbled together.

Not alien, just not useful.

Early Stealth – the Northrup Tacit Blue. While it was stealthy, it apparently was aerodynamically unstable.

Much of the day was spent checking out the quirky noses on many of the planes.

North American X-15A-2. One bad airplane – Built to fly high and fast it made 199 flights starting in 1959, and it speeds of 4520 MPH!

It was the world’s first piloted aircraft to reach hypersonic speeds, and allow the pilots to earn astronaut wings flying as high as 67 miles above the earth.

But then – they made spacecraft! A Gemini and Apollo.

Back to the quirky noses.

We always go through the museum ‘backwards’ – going straight to Hangar 4 for the Presidential aircraft and working our way to the front for the early flight.

Nothing better than a piston engine aircraft.