Amazingly the Chicago History Museum was founded in 1856, just a few years after the settling of the town. Although twice destroyed by fire (once during the Great Chicago Fire), they still have a vast collection of artifacts celebrating the history of the city.
During our visit to Chess Records I had heard that the History Museum had a nice exhibit on the Chicago Blues, which was our encouragement to go to the History Museum.
In the display is this map showing the amazing collection of recording studios and clubs that featured the blues that have existed in Chicago over the years.
Raeburn Flerlage was a famed photographer of the blues scene from 1959-1971, although his career in music lasted much longer.
His photographs were used for many album covers.
Included in the collection is a copy of what is generally acknowledge as the first blues record of all time, St Louis Blues by W C Handy, from 1925.
The south side of Chicago was the hub of the blues, with Maxwell Street being the epicenter.
All of the blues greats were celebrated here, including Muddy Waters.
In the 1950s record companies were only allowed to have so many records in radio station airplay rotation at one time, so they would just start another record company.
This record of Koko Taylor’s Wang Dang Doodle is on Checker Records, the sister company of Chess Records.
Moving on from the blues display we checked out Chicago – Crossroad of America. This documented Chicago as the transportation hub of the country since the early days of the railroad.
Also on display was one of the original El cars from 1892.
A number of focus displays included one of the infamous gangland activities during prohibition in the 1920s.
Keeping with the infamous Playboy Magazine started in Chicago, as did the original club with the hostess (bunny) outfit on display.
As noted in other postings, Chicago was always mail order center of the country.
Another section celebrated entertainment events in Chicago including the 1893 World’s Fair.
As well as the 1933 Century of Progress World’s Fair.
Finally there was a small section celebrating the professional sports teams of Chicago – baseball’s Cubs and White Sox, football’s Bears, basketball’s Bulls and hockey’s Blackhawks.
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.
What do you get when you take America’s third largest metro population combined with the largest convention center in the country – the largest new car show!
With over 1000 cars and trucks scattered over two of the halls, each auto maker had room to show their standard cars (and trucks) and some special ones, like this Chicago Bears football team truck.
Alfa Romeo brought an F1 car.
To be honest most new cars are boring, and all look alike, so for this show I emphasized on the cars and people, including the ‘Product Specialists’.
Fortunately the auto shows have moved away from the ‘booth babe’ concept and the presenters actually know what they are talking about.
I have found that the larger shows like here and Detroit have a lot of extra features, like this engine display. There were over 10 different engine displays like this scattered throughout the hall.
Cadillac took an interesting approach and displayed this mint 1959 next to current cars. The ’59 showed them all up, as far more people surrounded this car than all the new ones in their display put together.
Like this boring box on wheels. Good luck to the Product Specialist to bring something exciting about this car.
All car shows have people who are constantly wiping finger prints off the cars. Here they all were dressed in these cool overalls like a New Car Show Pit Crew.
Even Porsche has mostly boring SUVs and sedans – but at least the 911 lives on!
Somehow 1974 got mixed in with 2019.
Land Rover had a huge area in the back where they showed the joys of all wheel drive. Jeep and Dodge Trucks had similar setups but they pale in comparison to this.
Not sure exactly what they were seeing but they were getting into it.
I believe this group was shopping cars for their grandparents, because I can’t imagine anyone of this age would have any interest in the ultra safe, boxy Volvo.
Another Product Specialist excited to tell us about their vehicle. All the presenters were very professional and could talk for hours (well minutes) about their car.
There were a few concept cars present, but this one from Lexus looks close to production.
Does this car have enough room in the rear seat for my friend?
Locked? How can I get in?
Hit the starter and lets get out of here – even if you can’t see over the steering wheel.
Thank a Robot for staying off the display and automating most of the production jobs. Thanks Robots!
I will take the dirt bikes and leave the Jeep.
Easily the most passionate presenter was for the Dodge Hellcat – 800 HP of smoke and noise.
The Toyota Impossible – like it will be impossible for this to sell in America.
Where are we – oh yeah – Chicago.
It was Latino Day at the Car Show – even Telemundo Chicago had their new truck (or camión de noticias). Especially cool was the singer doing Sinatra in Spanish.
Did you ever wonder why the car next to you has to blast their music so loud you can hear it through their closed windows and yours. Well they have taken care of that – the speakers are on the outside!
Yes it really is a full size Chevy Silverado made entirely out of Legos.
Enough of this reality – lets go virtual and get out of here.
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.
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.