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 – 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 – 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.

Chicago – October 2018 – Open House Part 1

Our Chicago Open House weekend started on Friday, before the official event started on Saturday. We made our own tour of places that were open.

 

James Thompson Center – Designed by Helmut Jahn, the Thompson Center is a 17 story curved glass building housing many government offices. From the interior all 17 floors are visible in the impressive atrium.

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On the plaza in front of the building is a sculpture from Jean Dubffet called Monument with Standing Beast. Standing at 29’ high, the sculpture weighs in at 20,000 pounds.

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Cook County Office Building – A classical 12 story office building located in the government section of downtown Chicago, to me it is most famous for where the Blues Brotthers went to pay the property tax for the childrens home (and yes the Cook County Assessors office is located in this building).

The building has the classic Art Deco look on the interior.

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Chicago Temple – The First United Methodist Church of Chicago was the first church to be founded in the city, even before it was a city, in 1831. In 1838 it moved to it’s current location at the corner of Washington and Clark.

In the early 1920s with downtown Chicago rapidly developing the church debated selling their valuable land and moving out to one of the neighborhoods. Eventually they decided on a novel approach, build a skyscraper with a church included, and in addition, put a chapel on the top. The result was a 568’ tall building with what is to this day the highest church from street level in the world.

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The first level has a traditional church.

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Known as the Sky Chapel, it was part of the original building but not fully completed until 1952 as a gift from the family of the Walgreen’s Drug Store founder.

To this day the church is self funded by the rents paid by other tenants in the building, allowing it to fully focus on serving the diverse community it serves.

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Outside is some unique art.

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Marshall Field’s (Macy’s) Tiffany Dome – With over 1.6 million pieces it is the largest Tiffany  mosaic in existence. Designed by Louis Tiffany in 1907, over 50 artisans worked on scaffolding for 18 months to complete this amazing masterpiece.

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The Pedway hosts a collection of stained glass.

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Some general scenes around the city.

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A tourist boat on the Chicago River.

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One of the lift bridge control buildings frame by a 60 floor building.

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Classic Chicago – The Merchandise Mart with a Brown Line El train coming in.

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Old street light and new skyscrapers.

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Up Wells Street from the 10th floor of a parking garage.

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A building along Madison Street.

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Millennium Park

Cloud Gate is a public sculpture located in Millennium Park. While the artists inspiration was liquir mercury, it is commonly referred to as The Bean. It is one of the most popular tourist attractions in the city.

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The buildings along East Randolph Street.

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Pritzker Pavilion – A Frank Gehry design, the pavilion is a band shell that hosts numerous events each year. For this mid October night it was quiet, but still stunning with it’s red lighting.

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Art Institute of Chicago is one of the oldest and largest museums in the United States. From this part of the park, you get a great view of one of the modern additions along with the Michigan Avenue skyline.

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tomorrow the official events starts.

 

 

Chicago – October 2018 – Open House Part 2

Open House Chicago continue…

 

The North Leg of the Chicago River toward Chicago Avenue – clearly we are in … Chicago.

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151 North Franklin – a new, nondescript building saved by a great rooftop deck.

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Some strange lighting on a nearby building.

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180 North LaSalle – it was billed as Open House, but really just a lobby was open.

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Another (brief) revisit – The Builders Building. But this skylight is worth it.

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20 West Kinzie – Originally a Google Building it is now home to a flexible work space group called We Works.

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Their 17th floor common space offered some different aspects on some iconic buildings.

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They too have a nice outdoor space on the 17th floor.

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Just up the street in a 100 year old warehouse is the architectural firm of Ross Barney.

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330 North Wabash – Miles van der Rohe designed this basic, yet famed 695’ high skyscraper.

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The minimalist, but stylish lobby.

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Originally built for IBM and completed after Rohe’s death in 1969, the Open House Chicago event was held on the 15th floor in the offices of Thornton Tomasetti.2018 10 13 316 Chicago Open House.jpg

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This firm is a leader in engineering design, focusing on mechanical engineering of many famed skyscrapers around the world.

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Our final stop of the day – the John Hancock Observation Deck. Definitely not part of Open House Chicago, but worth the visit on this partly cloudy day.

We arrived about an hour before sunset and barely made it up in time, but we did!

Enjoy sunset and night time in Chicago.

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continued….

 

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…..

 

 

Chicago – October 2018 – Open House Part 4

Open House Chicago continues….

After finishing our tour of the Board of Trade Building we were a bit early for 111 West Jackson, as it didn’t open until 10 AM.

With our time we toured one of the best blocks in Chicago – South Dearborn between Jackson and Congress. The Fisher, Plymouth, Old Colony, Manhattan and Monadnock all are in the same general area

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All were built in the late 1800s and early 1900s with amazing detail.

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The streetlights in the area retain the classic look.

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Of all of them, the Monadnock is the most important. Built in 1891 it continues to this day at the largest load bearing brick building in the world.

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While the Fisher Building has these ornate cornices.

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The nearby Harold Washington Library adds some bling to the neighborhood.

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All of the buildings are worthy of close ups of the detail.

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The Chicago School of Architecture (a style – not a specific educational facility) was famous for it’s use of bay windows.

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Another cool street light.

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Views straight up show the detail underneath.

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My New York friend was stunned and amazed at the massive external fire escapes. Note that they were manufactured locally.

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Finally 111 West Jackson was open for viewing from their 25th floor outdoor deck.

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This deck offered a wide view of the south loop skyscrapers from the Willis/Sears Tower to Chase Tower (aka 10 South Dearborn).

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Over on Michigan Avenue we paid a return visit to the Railway Exchange Building.

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The lobby is vastly different as the Chicago Architecture Foundation has moved to a new location, and taken the model with them. Personally I think the lobby looks better without the model.

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On the upper floors we visited two different architectural firms.

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Both still feature the cool view of the 17 story atrium.

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As well as commanding views of the park and lake (along with some of the building detail just outside the window).

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A southeast view towards Grant Park.

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The skylights at the very top of the Railway Exchange Building.  An amazing building completed in 1904.

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The architecture firm on the 17th floor had some models displayed.

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The top floor is also known for the portals for windows.

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to be continued…..