Back in Chicago for more architecture tours starting with the Union Station.
We passed by the symmetrical cool train shed and post office in the distance on the way.
Chicago was for more than 100 years mail order capital of the world with Sears, Montgomery Wards and others shipping products around the country. With all that business, the post office was massive. It is now being converted to condo’s and offices.
The entrance along Canal Street are graced with this massive colonnade the entire length.
The exterior doors and the surrounding ironwork.
Once inside, a quick look back at where we just came from reveals a grand entrance.
The Amtrak Metropolitan Lounge – AKA – The Pennsylvania Room, from the days of the Pennsylvania Railroad.
As you reach the Great Hall you are greeted with these massive Corinthian columns, and a scaffolding free skylight!
When we last visited for Open House Chicago in October the ceiling was covered with scaffolding. The temporary inconvenience has paid off – what a magnificent hall and ceiling.
Even the statues look brighter.
The detail on the tops of the columns are stunning.
A second view of a column as well as the period perfect lighting.
The south end of the hall.
With the renovation complete hopefully they tear down the hideous Amtrak kiosk that is so out of place.
The benches are original to the 1925 construction.
We were fortunate enough to get to visit the Burlington Room. In the early days it was the women’s lounge.
This creepy looking guy keeps watch over the room.
Our final stop was in the Legacy Club. It is awaiting some remodel for private event use.
The city of Chicago should be proud of their grand rail entrance now that the renovation has been completed.
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.
We were fortunate enough to get tickets to two Open House Special Tours.
Our first tour was of the CTA El Train Repair Shops in Skokie. Directions to our tour was to go to the Howard Street Station on the Red Line and gather on the far end of the platform.
For this Saturday morning the platform was jammed with many people not used to taking the train, as they were in town for the University of Nebraska game against Northwestern in Evanston. To the normal commuter seeing a 1922 El Car come rolling into the station would be a surprise, but to this large out of town crowd it was stunning.
One of the volunteers was dressed in a period uniform.
While others had their safety vests on. All of the vintage cars are maintained by volunteers – many retired CTA workers.
The passengers were excited…
As we arrived at the yard we were greeted by other vintage cars awaiting restoration, as well as the revenue generating current cars.
The 400 series cars really stand out against the modern cars in the yard.
But it was time to tour the shop.
Our tour guide was the manager of the facility.
There were El cars in various states of repair.
This station refurbishes the wheels.
While another lifts the entire car for easy access.
They also have some bays with pits to get underneath the cars.
A great Chicago tradition is the Holiday Train. Started in 1992, the Holiday Train is a labor of love for the CTA employees who volunteer to work on the cars, as well as the public. During the holiday season the Holiday Train visits every El station on every line, usually taking food baskets to local organizations.
Another vintage car along ithe snow removal engine (minus the blower)
The El Cars have springs and shocks like a regular car, just much larger.
An axle and wheels.
A pile of wheels waiting on refurbishing.
A collection of contact shoes that connect the train to the third rail to provide power to the engines.
A series of trucks ready to go. After this we headed back to our vintage car and returned to Howard Street Station.
Our second tour of the day was the Chicago Tribune Printing Facility
The Chicago Tribune Freedom Center is a printing and inserting facility located along the Chicago River. Built in 1981, it was located along the river with the theory of bringing the paper products directly into the facility by boat, but the first shipment showed that with the bend in the river, the bridges and the building itself they couldn’t get to the dock. While the doors are still there they have never been used for their original purpose.
Our guide was someone from the receiving department.
Our tour of the 800,000 square foot facility started in the warehouse with massive 1 ton rolls of paper.
From this warehouse they are loaded onto carts that are electronically routed (via a wire in the floor – 1980s technology at it’s finest) to the appropriate press.
There are a total of 10 massive presses that are used. The Tribune facility prints not only their own newspaper, but also for the regional suburban newspapers, the New York Times and Wall Street Journal for the Midwest, and even their local competitor the Chicago Sun Times.
The tour group was very focused.
The massive printing presses are very cool.
The Chicago Tribune Printing Facility was a great tour – one of the best we have done.
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.
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.
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.
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.
The first level has a traditional church.
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.
Outside is some unique art.
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.
The Pedway hosts a collection of stained glass.
Some general scenes around the city.
A tourist boat on the Chicago River.
One of the lift bridge control buildings frame by a 60 floor building.
Classic Chicago – The Merchandise Mart with a Brown Line El train coming in.
Old street light and new skyscrapers.
Up Wells Street from the 10th floor of a parking garage.
A building along Madison Street.
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.
The buildings along East Randolph Street.
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.
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.
Smithfield Church – The church was completed in 1927, at the corner of Smithfield Street and Strawberry Way.
The church was built by the German Evangelical Protestant Church, and has German sayings throughout.
As with the other downtown churches, the Smithfield Church has an impressive organ.
As well as the stained glass.
The HYP Club – The Harvard, Yale, Princeton Club of Pittsburgh has a small 2 floor building surrounded by skyscrapers.
The Alcoa Building towers over it’s neighbor.
The interior itself was nice, but not noteworthy. We did have an enjoyable conversation with one of the hostesses, learning much about the club – which interesting is no longer restricted to just alumni of Harvard, Yale and Princeton.
Pittsburgh Engineers Building – Daniel Burnham’s first Pittsburgh building was the 1899 Union Trust Company. Built in 1899 for Andrew Mellon and Henry Clay Frick, it was noteworthy for it’s safe.
The bank left long ago, but the safe is still there.
The Engineering Society of Pittsburgh has taken over the building, and has a club/restaurant that celebrates the engineering of Pittsburgh, with an emphasis on the bridges.
William Penn Hotel – The William Penn Hotel, a classic old school hotel, was opened in 1916. Over the years it has hosted many famous people, including numerous presidents.
Situated along Grant Street, it has long been the center of society in Pittsburgh.
The main lobby.
The lower level has the famous Speakeasy Bar, so named because of it’s reputation during prohibition.
The hotel has a collection of artifacts including Lawernce Welk’s first bubble machine (for those too young google or youtube Lawrence Welk)
The Pennsylvanian – While it was officially called Union Station, the major train station at the corner of Liberty and Grant was always more commonly known as Penn Station, as the only railroad it served was the Pennsylvania Railroad
Designed by Daniel Burnham it went into service in 1901.
As you approach the station you are greeted by a great rotunda that was once used by carriages arriving and departing.
The ceiling of the rotunda is one of the master pieces of the city, and of Daniel Burnham’s career.
The rotunda is worth a number of looks…
Immediately inside is a smaller room that greeted passengers.
The Main Hall, with it’s high ceilings and skylights, continue to impress people today. After the buildings restoration in the 1980s to apartments, this hall has been used for functions like weddings and meetings.
Original benches from the station era are still used in this hall.
Detailed carvings are throughout.
The skylights open up the lower level to natural lighting, despite the fact that the entire building rises another 10 floors around and above them.
Another classic public clock.
On this day they were also offering tours of one of the apartments.
From the 4th floor hallway you had a better look above the skylights at the higher floors of the building
As with most of the other historic buildings in town, the Pennsylvanian has a great mailbox.
According to the New York MTA documentation there are 472 subway stations throughout the city. Over the years a few have been abandoned for various reasons.
Easily the most famous of those abandoned stations is the former City Hall station. Since 1945 it has sat unused in the loop at the end of the 6 train.
On rare occasions the New York Transmit Museum offers tours of this station. Tickets are hard to get and available to members only (I had a good friend who came through for me!)
We went to the current nearest station (also known as City Hall) and boarded a 6 train that went a short distance before stopping to let us off. The crowd was excited.
The station itself was the masterpiece of the system when it opened on October 27, 1904. It was the first station to open on the first line.
The station has a single platform that is curved. This curve eventually lead to the closing in 1945 as the newer cars were longer and made the gap between the cars and the station too wide.
The arched ceilings and tile work make what the Transit Museum refers to as the ‘Jewel in the Crown’ of the entire subway system.
As with all subway stations the station name is a mosaic. While plain compared to some the tile work around it adds to the overall feel of the station.
There are numerous skylights in the station. We had a night time visit so the ambient light from outside was minimal, but it too added to the aura of the tour.
The mezzanine shown here (and the featured image of this posting) is amazing.
The huge mosaic at the top is also a skylight, although for this tour there was no light from above.
Back down on the platform the simple, yet elegant chandeliers provided dim lighting that accented the arched ceilings.
The station is nearly intact, but some of the skylights need some work. Still the view of the ceilings and the curved platform is stunning.
The primary station sign from the platform to the mezzanine level. Imagine the excitement in 1904 arriving and seeing this entrance to the station.
There were 40 people on the tour so it was tough not having people in the photo (or getting into other people’s photos).
A view from the mezzanine to the platform.
A closeup of the platform ceiling and chandeliers. While we were there the 6 trains kept slowly rolling through their loop, their wheels screeching loudly on the sharp curve.
One not so hidden secret for the non paying tourists is to stay on the 6 train at the end and check out the station as the train makes it’s loop. Supposedly conductors will sometime allow this – the guides say do it on a bright sunny day so there is some light from the skylights.
There are a few plaques commemorating the opening of the subway system.
A close up view of the arched ceiling tile work.
A close up view of the City Hall station sign mosaic and a skylight.
The view down the platform into the tunnel with an oncoming train.
Clearly I couldn’t get enough shots of the curved platform and ceiling. The style is known as a Guastavino Vault – the tile arch system using self supported arches and architectural vaults with interlocking terracotta tiles and layers of mortar.
It is named for Rafael Guastavino who immigrated to New York in 1881 from Barcelona. His work, and others in this style grace numerous buildings throughout New York City and beyond, including the Ellis Island Great Hall.
Another view of a train rolling through with the arches and skylights (darkened). With no passengers they looked like ghost trains.
One last look at the mezzanine level.
And it was time to leave. Even this was amusing as our tour was holding up the entire 6 line as they stopped, set out a ramp to cover the gap and herded us on as fast as possible, with the people not wanting to leave.
Eventually we relented, and we left this fabulous place.
I feel fortunate to have had this opportunity – thanks to a good friend and the Transit Museum.