Chicago – February 2019 – Art Deco Skyscraper Details

We continued the architecture tours with ‘Art Deco Along The Riverfront’. This tour took us into many buildings we had been in before, but each docent will focus on different details, so you always come away with a new appreciation of the building.

We started on the Wacker Drive side of 333 North Michigan Avenue.

This building has granite at the bottom and limestone the rest of the way with reliefs carved into the stone on the exterior.

The elevator lobbies are great. The concept of Art Deco was it was new, young and fresh, and the doors that have decorative panels by Albert Stewart called Night Day illustrate that.

The panels show two young adults in a manner that 5 years earlier would’ve been unacceptable with their ‘risque’ look.

All Art Deco buildings have great letter boxes, and 333 North Michigan was the same. The letter box became a favorite subject for me of this tour.

We went back to the Carbide and Carbon Building. Each docent we have had has a slightly different story on the inspiration of this building, champaign bottle, battery, etc.

Our docent Jeff said it was modeled after the American Radiator Building in New York. Below is the Carbine and Carbon Building.

This photo off of the internet is the American Radiator Building. It seems obvious Carbide and Carbon Building was designed from this look.

The Water Street view of the building shows much of the detail on the exterior.

The Michigan Avenue entrance is the most impressive.

Once inside it is Art Deco heaven. The radiator grills.

The lobby lighting and mezzanine railing.

The letter box.

The elevator door detail. The full elevator lobby photo is the featured photo for this posting.

Even the trash cans have style.

We moved just down the block to the Chicago Auto Club building, now a Hampton Inn.

Again it seems every tour took us into this building, but close observation reveals more details previously missed.

Yet another letter box – which is best is up to individual opinions.

The detail of the balcony, with the light reacting strangely in this photo.

Since it was once a motor club they have retained where the maps used to be set out for the travelers (alas no maps anymore)

Lighting and wall detail.

The famed mural/map of American roads of the mid 1920s.

As we continued down Wacker Drive there was evidence of other Art Deco style, including the lighting, since Wacker Drive was built at about the same time.

While not all of the bridge houses are in Art Deco, this one is.

We passed by 121 West Wacker without going in the lobby, as it is under renovation. This building is interesting as it mirrors closely the Chicago Board of Trade Building – visible way down LaSalle Street in the lower right of this photo.

At the corner of Lake and Wells is the Trustees System Services Building. This building is unique with the mix of materials and the progressively lighter to give the illusion the building is taller than it is.

The interior of the large windows has a great art piece.

The main stairs depict someone who saves as good (on the left) and someone who didn’t as bad (on the right). Ironically the people who built the building were shysters and went bankrupt early in the depression, causing a riot outside the building.

Our last stop was the famed Merchandise Mart. This massive building has nearly as many square feet as the Willis Tower, more than the World Trade Center in New York at 4 million square feet.

Built in the Art Deco style, it has less ‘bling’ than others, but still many nice features.

The building logo is in the granite floors.

The interior of the building is 2 blocks long.

Our last letter box of the tour.

Jules Gierin completed 17 murals for the lobby depicting commerce throughout the world.

Our last stop on our tour came to appreciate the up lighting common in Art Deco buildings. As I almost always end these blogs, our docent Jeff was entertaining and informative – never having to rely on his ‘cheat sheet’ cards.

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.

Cincinnati – January 2019 – Union Terminal

As noted in previous postings the Cincinnati Union Terminal is a masterpiece of art deco that was completed in 1933. It has the largest semi-dome in the western hemisphere, measuring 180 feet wide by 106 feet high.

Once it closed as a rail station in the early 1970s it lived on briefly as a shopping mall before becoming the Cincinnati Museum Center in 1990.

It is immensely popular, with the original information booth serving as the ticket booth for the museums.

Fortunately each weekend day they offer tours of the building. While (as noted in other posts) portions of the building are undergoing restorations, it is still an amazing place to see any of it.

Our docent lead us on an hour tour, giving highlights and details.

The art deco touch is evident throughout, including this ticket booth for one of the smaller theaters.

Among the highlights are the massive mosaic murals on the main rotunda, as well as others hidden in corridors. The detail in the murals are amazing.

All depict either transportation or industry of Cincinnati over the years (up to 1932).

An ice cream shop off the main rotunda was once the women’s tea room. The entire room is Rookwood (a famed Cincinnati ceramics pottery company).

While it was abandoned as a train station in the 1970s, Amtrak has returned and uses a small portion of the building. It too has a great art deco look, with inlaid wood depicting railroad scenes.

A bank of phone booths grace one wall – without phones, but you can always close the door and use your cell phone.

Pierre Bourdelle was a framed French artist who designed linoleum panels with floral design for the walls of the women’s lounge.

Fortunately it is no longer a women’s lounge so anyone (including me) can see it.

A private dining room, and former men’s lounge, has a large mural of a map of Cincinnati and nearby northern Kentucky on the wall and mirrored walls giving a great effect.

A second view of the room.

Finally a stop in the main dining room that features some recently discovered food themed artwork.

The Cincinnati Union Terminal was, and continues to be, one of Ohio’s great buildings.

Chicago – October 2018 – Open House Part 3

Day 3 of touring the city with Open House Chicago started with another building that is not officially part of the tour – Union Station.

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Union Station is in my opinion the second best train station in America (Grand Central Terminal is first, and the Washington Union Station is tied with this one).

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You make a grand entrance down the staircase.

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Past the Corinthian Columns…

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A quick look back up the stairs…

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And you are in the Main Hall.

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Unlike Grand Central, Union Station still has the cool old wooden benches.

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On this early Sunday morning there were about 20 people in the Great Hall, and 15 of us were taking photos.

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The 100-400mm provides close up of the details on the ceilings.

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And the tops of the columns.

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Even the Amtrak ticket office has a good look to it.

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More classic touches.

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While the Amtrak ticket office matched the building this ugly kiosk does not.

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The Amtrak business class lounge is new but matches the look and feel of the rest of the station.

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Across (underneath) Canal Street is another newer section of the station.

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Leaving Union Station we headed down West Jackson Street toward our first official Open House Chicago stop of the day.

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But not before passing this great new addition to downtown Chicago, with a massive map of the Chicago River up the entire side of the building.

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200 West Jackson Street – The Open House Chicago spot was a 28th floor tenant lounge in a recently remodeled building.

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Even though we were on the 28th floor, the Willis/Sears Tower towered over us.

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A collection of south loop buildings.

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Additional south loop buildings.

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Just down the street is the Chicago Board of Trade – one of the classics.

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This is Art Deco at it’s finest.

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We have been here before, but our New York friend had not – what better way to show him what Chicago has than to come into this lobby!

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While minimalist, the elevators are classic Art Deco as well.

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As cool as the lobby is – the basement holds another treat, this massive vault door and safe deposit box room.

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For the really important stuff – a vault inside a vault.

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The security guard/stand up comedian entertained the crowd with his description of the room, and it’s history. He said all he really wanted to be was Hugh Jackman in The Greatest Showman – and I think he could do it. What a hoot, and informative.

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This box is reputed to have belonged to Al Capone.

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to be continued…..



Pittsburgh – October 2018 – Doors Open Part 2

Doors Open Pittsburgh continues…


Koppers Building – When it was completed in 1929 this 35 floor building was topped out at 475 feet high, making it Pittsburgh’s tallest for a time (passed a short time later by the Gulf Tower).

Constructed of polished granite and Indiana limestone, it is an excellent example of Art Deco.

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Lets head inside.

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As we entered we were greeted by a couple of the more than 200 volunteers. Events like this rely on volunteers, and all weekend we met welcoming, enthusiastic people who made the visits more worthwhile. A big thank you to all of the volunteers, but on to the visit….

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The three story lobby has a variety of marble finishes.

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There is significant use of bronze throughout the lobby including another great mailbox.

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Do you ever wonder where the elevator is? Not in this building!

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The cool clock collection continues…

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Even the handrail is stylish.

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First Lutheran Church – One stop that was not originally on our itinerary was the First Lutheran Church, but a hard rain shower had come along so we ducked inside.

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They are proud of the fact that this church was the first English speaking Lutheran church west of the Alleghenies, having been founded in 1837.

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The ceiling is amazing.

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As is the pipe organ.

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As with most churches, this one has some very ornate stained glass windows.

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Union Trust Building – Another building built by Henry Clay Frick, the Union Trust Building was completed in 1916 in a Flemish Gothic structure.

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It is believed that the roof is modeled after the Woolworth Building in New York, with the terra cotta dormers and mechanical towers that look like chapels.

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Even with this stunning roof, the most amazing feature of this building is the lobby, and its massive atrium leading up to the skylight.

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A closeup of the skylight.

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What a great building.

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The clock tour continues in the Union Trust Building.

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As does the mailbox tour.

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City/County Building – As we continued our day it became obvious that Pittsburgh experienced a massive building boom in the 1910s. Another example of this boom is the City/County Building, which was completed in 1916.

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The entire build emphasized local resources, from the architects to the materials and construction workers, it was directed that all the resources should come from Allegheny County.

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The lobby features a bust of William Pitt.

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As well as sculpted columns.

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Our visit included a stop at the Mayor’s office.

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Pittsburgh is noteworthy for their unique dialect, differing from the rest of the country with the accents and use of words. The most common of these is ‘Yinz’, which is Pennsylvanian for Y’all. Another is the way that downtown is pronounced (Dahntahn), and is celebrated with this sign in the Mayor’s office.

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Also open were the Council Chambers, located directly next to the Mayor’s Office.

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Oliver Building – The Henry Oliver Building is located directly across Smithfield Street from Mellon Square. Completed in 1910, the 25 story building now contains offices and an Embassy Suites hotel.

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The building was designed by Daniel Burnham. Interestingly other than Chicago, Pittsburgh has the most Burnham buildings still standing (7), and when first built they were actually taller than those in Chicago. It is thought by some that this is as a result of the steel barons, whose steel was required for the skyscrapers, for this ego boosting building boom.

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The building features another great safe.

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Art Deco is used throughout.

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The mailbox collection continues….

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The highlight however was being permitted to go check out the 25th floor lobby of the Embassy Suites, and the views from the windows throughout the floor.

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New York City – September 2018 – Grand Central Details

America’s greatest train station is Grand Central Terminal. While hundreds of thousands of people commute through the terminal every day, and nearly every tourist who comes to New York stops by, I had the opportunity (and the zoom) to check out close ups of some of the details.

The feature photo is a closeup of the clock and sculptures that are at the top of Grand Central facing south towards Park Avenue.

Let’s head inside.

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The iconic information kiosk clock backed by one of the schedule boards. The information kiosk is reached via an internal spiral staircase from the lower level of the terminal.

The clock was made by the Seth Thomas Clock Company. The clock has made appearances in numerous movies including North by Northwest, The Fisher King, the Godfather and others.

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The Beaux Arts Chandeliers frame the Main Concourse, with five on both the north and south side.

The bulbs have a basic look to them, but in reality they were replaced in 2009 with far more efficient fluorescent ones.

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Looking up from one of the lower level walkways you see a chandelier, skylights in the ceiling and the famed ceiling.

There are numerous photos on display in the terminal showing sunlight beaming through the side windows – something that is no longer possible because of the tall buildings surrounding GCT.

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Also in the lower level are some classic wooden benches. Before a restoration in the 1970s these benches were used for waiting passengers in the Main Concourse.

Since then, their primary use has been in the food court in the lower level, but others are in the corners of the lower level.

In addition the Springfield, Massachusetts train station recently installed some restored GCT wooden benches that were unused. They are currently on ‘permanent loan’ to Springfield, who restored them as part of the deal.

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While technically not in Grand Central Terminal, the Graybar Building has been closely associated with GCT since it’s construction in 1927.

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The building has the classic art deco mailboxes in the granite wall, as you walk through the GCT passage to Lexington Avenue (more on the Graybar Building later).

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Back in the Main Concourse one of the chandeliers accents the departure boards perfectly.

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The famous sky ceiling – 125 feet across and hung from steel trusses, the ceiling has 2,500 gold stars.

One of the earliest passengers in 1913 quickly figured out that the sky is ‘backwards’, on the ceiling east is on the west side of the concourse, and vice versa.

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Until the 1990s the grime was so bad the ceiling was barely noticeable. As a reminder they have left a black patch to show how dirty it was.

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A random look up shows amazing detail.

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GCT ‘hidden’ high up on one of the side walls.

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A ticket sellers window.

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Down in the lower level even the elevator lobbies have amazing detail.

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As do the track entrances.

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Heading out onto Lexington Avenue we see the main entrance to the Graybar Building. Note the giant reliefs on each side.

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Eagles are a recurring them in GCT, and the entire area.

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More detail on the exterior of the Graybar Building.

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The Graybar Rats – The sculpted rats are depicted as though they are climbing ropes that anchor a ship. In reality it is what is holding up the canopy over the entrance.

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Other canopy supports have more traditional artwork on them.

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Easily one of the most overlooked vintage New York Skyscrapers, the Graybar is worth spending some time looking up at.

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Another building that is closely associated with GCT is the Helmsley Building.

While not quite as famous as GCT’s clock facing south, the Helmsley clock greets the Park Avenue traffic coming from the north.

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This building too has numerous gargoyles and other sculptures throughout.

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More Helmsley Building detail.

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The former Postum Building at 250 Park Avenue is a prewar survivor where all the other buildings of it’s time (circa 1924) have long since been torn down and replaced with taller, newer giant glass boxes.

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Finally one last look at another of the famed GCT Eagles.

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Bloomfield Hills, MI – June 2017 – Cranbrook Art Museum & Saarinen House

The Cranbrook Academy of Art was founded in the 1920s by George Booth, who asked renown Finnish architect Eliel Saarinen to design the campus and buildings. Eventually the campus was expanded to include both boys and girls schools, a Science Museum as well as the Art Museum.

The Saarinen House has been restored to it’s 1930s look, and the museum offers tours, which we attended. The house itself (in my opinion) was somewhat disappointing as it did not give the ‘wow’ feeling that I often have when going into other famous homes, such as many of the Frank Lloyd Wright homes of the same period. Instead it seems more ‘practical’ and commonplace, in a 1930s art deco way.

The grounds of the campus are very nice, with gardens scattered about, along with numerous sculptures and fountains. The museum was somewhat smallish, but had some interesting artifacts including the chair collection.


The Art Museum

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Gardens and Fountains

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The interior of the Art Museum

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Saarinen House

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