Chicago – December 2018 – Elevated Architecture: Downtown ‘El’ Train

Our final tour of this visit was one I was looking forward to – a tour of architecture of and from the El train. The tour would take us into a number of El stations, as well as checking out some of Chicago’s finest architecture from a view most don’t see – 20 feet up from the El platforms.

We made our way to our first station in the pouring rain. The group of 9 people were more than happy when we arrived at the Washington and Wabash Station. Rebuilt and opened just a year ago, this station is sometimes referred to as the Millennium Station as it is located just a block from the park (but to any Chicagoan it will always be Washington/Wabash).

The canopy is made of steel and glass, with waves that are to evoke the feeling of nearby Lake Michigan.





As you enter the station you are greeting by a significant amount of artwork.





A major portion of the tour was focused on the nearby buildings. We had seen the Sullivan Center previously, but on this tour we had the mix of the canopy of the station with the classic lines of the building.





This row of 5 floor buildings are survivors from the 1800s, and are classic buildings. All they need is someone to come along with $40-50 million to purchase and rehab them (perhaps into boutique hotels!)





We made our way clockwise around the loop to the stations at State and Van Buren, aka the Harold Washington Library Station.

While the station is a fairly typical El station, it has great views of the Fisher Building and the Monodnock Building.

The Fisher Building is an 1896 Daniel Burnham masterpiece. As with many buildings it was built in two phases. Note the bay windows on the portion closest to the camera, then a flat face just beyond that.





The building’s terracotta has numerous sculptures featuring fish and crabs, as well as mythical creatures.





The northbound view of Dearborn Street with the Monodnock on the left and the Standard Club on the right.





The rain and the Monodnock gave a basic light added character.





We had the good fortune of having the CTA Holiday Train roll through the station as we were checking out the sights. A Chicago tradition since 1992, the train is decorated by volunteers and corporate sponsor.

Prior to Christmas they will run open air flatbed cars with Santa on them (check out the blog posting on the CTA Skokie Repair shop for more details as it was being prepared when we were there in October).









Throughout our tour the CTA employees were more than helpful, holding the train briefly while we boarded en mass or letting us through the turnstiles without addition payment to check out the stations.

I am certain to them it is just a job, but how cool would it be to drive an El train around all day.





The Quincy Station was the highlight of the tour. It was opened in 1897 and is essentially the same as the day it opened (with a few additional safety features).





They even have a couple of the original (unused) fare boxes mounted on the wall





It is the only station in the system that does not have advertising, rather they have period correct ads from the early days of the station.

Interestingly the ad on the left for the South Shore could still be valid, as that commuter rail still runs down into Indiana.





The platform maintains the same look. Quite the contrast to the skyscrapers in the background (including the 1400′ high Willis/Sears Tower directly behind the platform).





Again the lighting adds to the overall look.





We continued around the loop, crossing Randolph Street past the Palace Theater.





We made a turn to the west at the northwest corner of the loop, giving a great view of the wood planking for the tracks as well as one of the control stations.





Our final stop was at the Clinton Station in the West Loop. With the recent construction of very tall buildings, and the rain, the views were diminished this day, but it still gave some great symmetry shots.





This station is next to Union Station. The building in the background was once a large warehouse but has been re purposed to condo’s.





The view back towards the loop. It is interesting how this 100+ year old transportation still works, skirting past the massive skyscrapers.





We were at a Metra Commuter Rail station and had the good fortune of seeing their Holiday Train as well! Talk about good luck (even with the pouring rain).

As always our volunteer docent was knowledgeable and personable. With so many tacky tourist hop on hop off bus type businesses in large American cities, the non profit, mostly volunteer Chicago Architecture Foundation is a real treasure. We are looking forward to returning for more tours.







Chicago – December 2018 – The Field Museum

Our major museum visit this trip was to the Field Museum of Natural History. It is known as one of the premier natural history museums in the world, and attracts millions of visitors per year.





We were here to learn about natural history.





As we entered the lobby we stopped by a small kiosk with a display of bugs.





Our first hall major exhibit we toured was the Hall of Ancient Americas. This wing covered both North and South America.

Each region featured pottery, sculptures, jewelry and more, and started with South and Central America cultures such as the Aztec and Inca (and many more)

The final section included the Northern Cultures. While similar to the southern cultures, these featured more large scale sculptures like the totem poles.

The second level featured Griffin Hall – a large dinosaur exhibit.

The most famous is Sue – the most complete T Rex ever discovered. For some reason there was unusual lighting on Sue when we were there.

One the main display the head is a cast of the original, which is in the next room in a display so you can inspect it closer.

We paid a brief visit to the cultures of the Pacific

Our final stop was an Egyptian display, including mummies.

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.