Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Slice of Life: The Pigeon Warming Center

Every winter there is a migration of television microwave trucks from the garages of channels 2, 5, 7, 9, and 32 to the City of Chicago's official warming center at 10 South Kedzie.  But what about the city's pigeons?  Where do they go when the weather outside turns frightful?

The answer is Daley Plaza.  Unnoticed by most of the millions of people who wander through the plaza during the city's frigid season, pigeons huddle around the gas-fed eternal flame.  It's a war memorial that our feathered friends use as a means of survival.

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

A Fisher of Compliments

Chicago is one of those places where it pays to look up.  Sure, no one wants to look like a tourist, but at the same time many of the city's architectural delights aren't at eye-level.

Case in point: The Fisher Building.  This Chicago School masterpiece is loved by architecture enthusiasts around the world.  But unless you live in the building you may not have noticed that it's best face is actually hidden beneath the elevated tracks on Van Buren street.  The snowycam photo above simply doesn't do the relief justice.  The building's main entrance on Dearborn Street lacks the elaborate ornamentation.  Instead, it's saved for the dank, noisy side.

In a way, this makes sense.  At the time the Fisher Building was erected (1906) there was probably streetcar tracks running on Van Buren, and not the elevated structure we see today.  So the building actually did put its best face forward.  It's just that the world revolved away from it.

Monday, December 29, 2008

One Fewer Vacant Spaces at Water Tower Place

Getting around Water Tower Place has been pretty confusing this year.  Lord & Taylor's exit brought massive renovations, the American Girl Place,  and a big shuffle of many of the stores.  Things are starting to settle down now, and if you've browsed around the mall lately, you've noticed that the stores seem to be arranged in zones now.

There's a zone for cougar/soccer mom fashion stores, a zone for watches and jewelry stores, a zone for stores specializing in peddling prostitution wear to 12-year-olds, and even a zone for the occasional dad or boyfriend who gets dragged into the place.

One of the newcomers is a place we haven't heard of before until we saw a sign for it.  Aritzia is described by Michigan Avenue magazine as both "fashion forward" and "Canadian."  Take that for what it's worth, we'll welcome an import from Canuckistan if it means filling up a vacant space.

Good luck to them.

New Barney's building to open in January

While we're still in mourning over the loss of Papa Milano's, it's worth noting that its replacement is getting ready to open for business.

The new Barney's New York building bounded by Rush, Oak, State, and Walton streets is complete on the exterior, with the exception of the first-floor facade and sidewalks.  But around the corner on the State Street side, things are moving more quickly.

Citibank will relocate its Oak Street branch to the new building in January.  The Oak Street bank inside the historic (yet rat-infested) Esquire Theater will close on January 15 and re-open in the Barney's building on the 20th.

Does this mean things will move forward with the redevelopment of the Esquire?  Who can say.  So far, any development large enough to be economically viable has been shot down.  Hopefully some compromise will be reached before the building deteriorates enough that it needs to be torn down.

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Spire Screwed Again

It just seems like everyone and everything is conspiring against the Chicago Spire .  What could be a treasure of modern architecture on the coast of Lake Michigan can't seem to get a break.

The latest hurdle is a big one -- the meltdown of Anglo-Irish Bank.  According to the Sun-Times , the bank is about to be nationalized by the Irish government.   That will make it tougher for Garrett Kelleher, the visionary who took over the Spire project, to get the money he needs to continue construction.

According to the Times, Kelleher has already withdrawn almost $70 million from the bank to get this far.  But the bank attached few strings to his spending.  With the bank in the hands of the Irish government, it's unlikely the new people holding the purse strings will be as generous as their predecessors.

At this point, when it comes to the Spire, everything is speculation. It's been like that pretty much since the beginning when Fordham made big plans, but couldn't follow through on them.

For now, all we can do is gaze into the foundation hole and dream of what may... or may not... come.

The Third Time is NOT the Charm for Donald Trump

Donald Trump has a permit for this morning to hoist the spire pieces to the top of his Trump International Hotel and Tower .  But with fierce winds and heavy rain, it looks like it's just not going to happen.  Again.
This is just the latest in a series of tries for The Donald.  A couple of weekends ago a sky crane actually flew with a piece of the spire attached to a cable:

But it was not to be.  Strong winds scuttled that attempt, too.

Today's permit expires at noon, and the weather is only expected to get worse by then.

He has a permit for tomorrow, Sunday December 28th, 2008, as well.  We'll see if mother nature is any kinder to him.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Progress Report:

There's something about walking around Chicago when it's snowing.  It just seems right.  In winter we like to walk in the snow.  In the summer, we like to walk down steamy alleys.  What gives?

Back on topic: the latest round of snowycam pictures shows the progress of the Hotel Palomar at 505 North State Street.  To us it looks like it's up to about the 17th story, and chugging along toward its goal of 36.

As much as we're fans of density in River North, it's a shame that the old park is gone.  Not many people used it, but it was nice to see a patch of green in the area, especially considering the number of surface parking lots just begging for vertical development.

Don't Forget To Do This Before Christmas!

There are lots of free Christmas events around Chicago. Our two favorites both involve trains.

We missed the CTA Santa Train this year because of scheduling conflicts.  But we did catch the annual train display in the basement... er... "concourse level" of the John Hancock Center.

If you haven't been, go.  It's free and it's an excuse to get out of the house.  And all the twinkly lights and nooks and crannies filled with surprises are enough to put just about anyone in the Christmas spirit.

You can also think of it as an architecture excursion -- in miniature.  Try to pick out all of the local landmarks and businesses represented.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

What to do About the Unfinished Bit of Grant Park?

The city of Chicago's great "front lawn" has been a work in progress for over 100 years.  From swamp to dumping ground to parade ground to playground, it has long been a great urban space that the city almost... but not quite... figured out how to embrace.

The latest piece of this puzzle being worked on is the southwest corner.  We're talking about an are north of Roosevelt Road, and west of Columbus Drive.  Mostly what's there now is Illinois Central railroad tracks, a great big lawn, and a sprawling sculpture called Agora.

This area was actually zoned for a residential skyscraper.  But the owner, who is also the developer of Central Station, gave the land to the city to complete Grant Park's quadrangle.  Now the question is -- what to do with it?

The obvious answer is to deck over the railroad track and build another Disneyfied fantasy park like the one up at Randolph and Michigan Avenue.  But that means money.  And is it really the best use of that space?

(Jon Orlove of Adrian Smith + Gordon Gill Architecture presents his firm's vision of what the park could be)

A public meeting was held last week to gather ideas about what the park should -- and shouldn't -- be.  Not surprisingly, the crowd was mostly elderly, and mostly interested in seeing the area used as a traditional park.  By "traditional" we mean wide lawns with occasional groves of trees.  They see it as the only natural use of a park, and the only way to bring nature in the city.

There were dissenters in the crowd, and one of them very astutely pointed out that there is absolutely nothing natural about lawns and manicured groves of trees.  In fact, the traditional park landscape is about as far from nature as one can get without actually laying asphalt.

Still, the notion persisted that this corner of Grant Park should be much like the rest of it -- open lawn with the occasional alley of trees.

This is a real shame, because the two firms that are working on the project presented some really imaginative proposals.  Adrian Smith + Gordon Gill Architecture and EDAW|AECOM are the two finalists chosen to rehab the space.  They showed some magnificent examples of public spaces from Paris to Barcelona to Croatia.  They talked about ways to use rainwater to power fountains, plants to clean storm water runoff, solar cells to illuminate the walkways, and the power of human feet to generate electricity.  It's all very fascinating stuff.  The stated goal is to not just make the park energy neutral, but to actually have the park create more energy than it uses, and leave the surrounding air and water cleaner than it was before.

While it's nice to have a park as a showcase, the overwhelming sentiment on all sides is that this shouldn't be another Millennium Park.  Millennium Park has done great things for the city, its profile, and its finances.  But the new (Insert Corporate Sponsor Name Here) Park at the corner of Michigan and Roosevelt shouldn't be for tourists -- it should be for the locals.

To that end, there was lots of talk about bright, but subtle illumination at night that would draw people from the neighborhood into the park.  There was also a call for some kind of activity that would allow this to be a year-round park.  Maybe some kind of skating facility that would link to Monroe Harbor.  Or a sledding hill.  Or maybe a cafe or other property that would draw people in year-round.  Also seen as important is seating.  One jogger noted that there are virtually no places to sit south of Balbo Drive.

Everyone seemed appreciative of a slide showing the Jardin du Luxembourg in Paris where 5,000 chairs are scattered throughout the park for people to re-arrange and enjoy at a whim.  Interestingly, though, the slides showed a very woodsy portion of the park.  We've been there, and it's mostly lawns and parade ground, and all those chairs are not very welcoming on a hot Gallic afternoon.

Speaking of Paris, and there was much speaking of Paris that night, there is apparently a park somewhere in the city that have the same problem as Grant Park -- a giant rail line cleaved through the middle.  That unnamed park found a solution -- the gravel rail beds have been replaced with a carpet of blooming flowers that change patterns during the summer.  Since the trains easily clear the plants, the two manage to coexist in a single space, and what was once an ugly scar has been turned into a floral work of art.  It's certainly compelling, especially considering Maggie Daley's fascination with flowers and the great job the city does with landscaping certain areas.  The idea was actually proposed by the same woman who designed Millennium Park's Lurie Garden.

Though the park plan is still in its early stages, expect progress to be rapid.  The goal is to have a plan ready to present to the International Olympic Committee when it comes to inspect our fair city in April, 2009.  Grant Park is a key to Chicago's proposed Olympic experience, and this corner is intended to be a gateway linking the Olympic village and sports venues with the spectator and event zones in Grant Park.

Progress Report: Mark 300 North LaSalle "Done"

It's been a long time coming, but it's finally time to mark 300 North LaSalle "done."  At least on the outside.

As evidenced by the construction lights visible across the city at night, the entire building won't be completed until some time in 2009.  But with the removal of the exterior elevator and the installation of the final glass panes on the northwest side.  The snowy-day picture above doesn't do it justice.  We can't wait for the first warm blue-sky day so we can go out and take a batch of stunning photographs of this one.

From a distance, it does a good job of working with its neighbors.  But because so many of its immediate neighbors are small it stands out, without overwhelming the area.

So kudos to Hines and Pickard Chilton Associates on a building well done.

Sunday, December 7, 2008

One Hines Done, Another Hines May Not Happen

If you've scanned the Chicago skyline lately, you've probably noticed that the Hines tower at 300 North LaSalle is pretty close to done.  Just about.  Almost.  But another Hines project a few blocks away at 414 West Lake is in jeopardy.

For months we though that the big shiny tower that Hines was planning to build along the Amtrak tracks next to the Riverbend Condominiums was cancelled.  Now we learn from Crain's Chicago Business that it's not dead, it's just pining for the fjords.

The article says that Hines is having a hard time getting banks to lend it the half-billion dollars is needs to make the 52-story project a reality, even though it already has two anchor tenants lined up.

Of course, in these tough economic times banks are reluctant to lend money to anyone, so it's not necessarily Hines' fault.  But it does illustrate why America is falling farther and farther behind in the skyscraper race.  In pretty much every country in Asia and the Middle East, if you have a big company and want to build a skyscraper, you go out and build it, paying for it up front and reaping the rewards on the back end.

In America and Europe, companies borrow money to build skyscrapers, build them with someone else's money, then hope to make enough money on the back end to pay off the debt plus interest.   So in essence, the developer (Hines, or whomever) hasn't built a skyscraper -- the bank has.  But the developer takes the credit.

It's that kind of deeply engrained house of cards mentality that caused the current economic crisis.  There's a mantra in American real estate which states, "Never build with your money, you build with someone else's."  Such a thought shows that these companies have no pride in what they're doing, or faith that their projects will work since they just shift the risk onto the bank.  It would be unthinkable to do such a thing in other cultures that value personal responsibility.

If your company doesn't have the money to build a skyscraper, then it's not all that big a company, is it?  All those brochures with pictures of shiny buildings -- they all belong to someone else, don't they?  So, what's the point of having your company at all?  Why not just deal with the banks?  Well, that's the way it seems to be going once again.

In the 40's and 50's and 60's, it was banks and insurance companies that built skyscrapers (the John Hancock Center , for example).  Then it went to developers.  Now the banks are getting back into the game -- cutting out the middle man.

That's why in ten years the ten tallest buildings in the world are not going to be in America.  But real estate people will keep telling themselves that it's better to build with someone else's money.

How's that working out for you, Hines?

Saturday, December 6, 2008

River North gets a new tower, and a new park

In these days when skyscrapers from Denver to Dubai are hitting the skids, it's worth noting when something new actually moves forward.

According to the River North Residents Association, developers have actually managed to get financing to build the Parc Huron.  This will be built at 469 West Huron in the booming area known for the Grand Kingsbury, Erie on the Park, and hundreds of new townhomes.

It's been amazing over the last five years to watch the area transform itself from warehouses and vacant lots into a thriving residential neighborhood.  With the addition of the 21-story Parc Huron comes four more townhomes, and more importantly a 15,000 square foot semi-public park.   After the fiasco with the Park at Lakeshore East we're skeptical about any of these quasi-public parks, but at the same time any greenspace in the Loop or Near North Side is welcome.

Friday, December 5, 2008

Sure, we're City of the Year -- but for what?

The magazine formerly known as Gentlemen's Quarterly has named Chicago its 2008 "City of the Year."  Sure, anyone from the hot dog vendors at Sox Park to the ballcap-and-sweatshirt crowd in Lakeview could have told you that.  But GQ's reasons are intriguing because they're both insider, and wildly superficial.

The article focuses immediately on politics, and of course the city's mostly benevolent dictator, Richard M. Daley.  It then moves on to perpetual insider, and now Obama-maker David Axelrod, the Rove of the moment.  But then it derails by picking Jesse Jackson Junior as a reason Chicago is good.  Umm...  Excuse us?  The article notes that he's come out of his father's shadow, and while that's true the only way he made that happen is to adopt many policies that run in direct opposition to his father's legacy.  The elder Jackson wasn't afraid to stand up to the elder Daily.  These days when Hizzonor says, "jump" Junior says, "how high?"  Jesse Jackson can call up WGN-TV and demand to be on the News at Nine whenever he wants (and he does).  If Junior tried to pull that stunt, he'd get laughed at.

Fortunately, the GQ article goes way beyond politics and gives literature as the number three reason the city is so great.  Good for GQ.  A lot of people don't realize that Chicago's literary heyday is not in its past, but in its future.  With the recent death of Studs Terkel a lot of people saw it as the figurative, and literal, nail the coffin of great Chicago writing.  But GQ notes that there are many talented writers still slogging through the gritty streets of the city with rumpled suits and a wad of notebook paper.  Though, these days they've traded their mac coats for Mac computers.  Still, in this age when even Tony Bennett has sold out to the MTV crowd, the pleasures of crisp book have the power to seduce.

And then there's the architecture.  While Chicago was the home of the world's first skyscraper (much to the chagrin of New Yorkers) , and has been a trend-setter from art moderne to Meisian International to 90's McScrapers, and now into the wild blue postmodern, all GQ could find to talk about is the Spire.

Ah, yes, The Chicago Spire -- the hopes of a new generation of architecture fans wrapped up in a shining baguette of technology.  Don't get me wrong -- we're huge fans of the Spire around here.  But GQ's choice of it as a symbol of the city's greatness does Chicago a disservice since anyone who's been following the project knows that it's on hold.  Now thousands of people who see it featured in the glossy pages between impossibly-breasted supermodels and impossibly-sculpted shaving ads will do a quick Google and learn that Chicago isn't everything the article promised.  That the ancestral land of wild onions has its flaws, too.  And that if the article is wrong about the Spire, then what else is it wrong about?  Suddenly all that hard work and goodwill is tarnished, and an opportunity to raise the city's domestic profile is wasted.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Hospital for sale!

While a lot has been written about the continuing controversy surrounding the new Children's Hospital in Streeterville, the people at the Chicago Journal haven't forgotten about the old place.

The Journal reports that people living nearby are worried about what will happen when the thriving hospital at the heart of their neighborhood becomes an abandoned hospital in the heart of their neighborhood.

Naturally, there is talk of turning it into a library or a community center or any of the other typical suggestions that come up when vacant space presents itself.  But considering the city's financial condition and the condition of the real estate industry, this chunk of real estate is likely to remain abandoned for a long, long time.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

North Side NIMBYs win another one

Looks like another vacant lot will remain vacant instead of homes for people paying taxes and contributing to society.  The alert came from Alderman Reilly's office the other day:

Clark & Chestnut Development Update -- Project Has Been Withdrawn
Earlier this year, LG Development filed an application to amend Planned Development #313, requesting approval for a 370-foot, 28-story residential condominium structure to contain 49 units and 83 parking spaces. Over the past several months, Alderman Reilly has hosted a number of neighborhood and condominium meetings to provide his constituents with an open and transparent process and solicit local input while he considered the merits of the proposal.
This week, Alderman Reilly received a letter from the applicant informing him that
they are withdrawing their application to amend Planned Development No. 313. Since the application has been withdrawn, the project is no longer pending the Alderman's approval and the existing Planned Development stands, which allows for the construction of a two-story structure on the site.

Friday, October 17, 2008

North side NIMBYs at it again

Just in time for Halloween, the old ladies of Chicago's Near North Side are at it again.

Back in the 60's and 70's they bought their plush homes in the sky on streets like Delaware, Chestnut, and Clark.  Now that a new generation wants a taste of that life, it's all hands on deck for a fight against change.

The latest target of their elderly invective is the proposed residential tower at 111 West Chestnut Street.  A recent article in the Chicago Journal outlined the typical bogus grievances about congestion and neighborhood character and oh... a new one -- sewer capacity.

It's the usual crowd of people who already have their high-rise lifestyles trying to keep anyone else from having it; or worse -- marginalizing their view!  

It's hard to argue that a building with just 59 residences will have much of an impact on traffic, but the geriatric gentrifiers have dragged that old saw out of the complaint toolshed.  They're also claiming that the building's residents will clog the buses and subways, too.

But most of the complaints are about "neighborhood character."  The old ladies are afraid that if anyone else is let in things might change.  Because, you know, the neighborhood has never changed before.  And it's exactly the same today as it was before all those old ladies got their dee-lux apartments in the sky-high-high.  

So what are they trying to preserve?

A quick look at 111 West Chestnut's current state reveals... plastic Walgreen's bags.  A brick.  Sand.  Dirt.  McDonald's cups.  And what maybe an adult diaper.

If that's the neighborhood character they're so desperate to cling to, I say bring on the cranes and bulldozers.  We're a movin' on up!

Friday, October 3, 2008

Chicago's chances of landing the 2016 Games

Exactly one year from now we'll know if Chicago will host the 2016 Olympic Games.  A lot of work has been poured into the city's Olympic effort in the last few years, but are we any closer to getting the games now than we were when we started?

Transit isn't up to snuff.  Though there are signs that things are getting better, it's only because most of the system seems to be under perpetual construction.  Forget about the billion dollars spend on the Brown Line which will still be crowded when all those dollars are spent.  It's the Blue Line shut downs and bus shuttles that are the real embarrassment and leave a bad taste in visiting mouths.

Hizzonor wants an express train to the airport, just like they have in Hong Kong and most other hubs of civilization.  But that would mean DOING something, and this isn't the Chicago of the 1890's.  There are no visionaries left.  No risk-takers.  No leaders.  Daley's old man could get it done.  The son... not so much.

It's not strange to place such importance on transportation when hosting a major international event like the Olympics.  Beijing built two entirely new modern subway lines.  Chicago is going to try to make due with the same creaky routes we've had since the middle of the last century.  Not because they are good, but because the leadership is bad.

Here's a cultural exercise I actually participated in once:

  • Step one: Leave your hotel in Hong Kong and ride the Airport Express train to HKG.
  • Step two: Sleep on the flight from HKG to ORD.
  • Step three: Ride the Blue Line from ORD to home.

It'll leave you wondering which city is part of the Third World.

The importance of transportation cannot be underestimated.  Crain's recently reported that Tokyo is in the lead for the 2016 games in large part because of its transportation network.  Tokyo's competing subway companies move 23,000,000 people each day.  That's 20 times more than the CTA.  Tokyo can absorb the Olympic Games without blinking.  For Chicago it will be a hardship that the city must convince the IOC it wants.

Here's what's coming up:

  • February 2, 2009: The final filing deadline for the candidate cities.
  • April, 2009: The International Olympic Committee visits to inspect Chicago.
  • October 2, 2009: The announcement is made in Copenhagen.
April of 2009 will be a magical time to be in Chicago.  There will be flowers everywhere, the streets will be smooth and perfect, and the trains will run on time.  Mayor Daley will make sure of it.  It's the biggest, most important, event the average person will never see.  But at least we'll benefit from the crumbs for a while.

At this point there are varying theories about which city is ahead in the contest, but by all estimates Chicago isn't it.  The two front-runners at this point at Tokyo and Rio de Janeiro.

Tokyo scores well in all the technical categories.  But awarding the games to Asia so soon after the Beijing Olympics seems unlikely.

Rio is on top because the Beijing games demonstrated that a Third World city can host a successful Olympics, and because there has never been an Olympic Games in South America.  

Chicago... Well, Chicago is in the middle of America.  And these days European bureaucrats hate America.  They love the notion of the care-free 1950's Happy Days America, and the one that saves their butts from military problems around the world.  But liking America is not politically correct in Europe.   And Europe matters because of the 115 people who will decide which city gets the 2016 Olympic Games, the majority are from Europe.  There are only three Americans on the committee, and they don't even get to vote.

This may be over before it even started.

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Another parking lot bites the dust (we hope)

If there's one thing that doesn't belong in downtown Chicago it's surface parking lots.  They contribute virtually nothing to the economic, social, and visual vitality of the area.  And fortunately, there may be one fewer soon.

According to the Fulton River District e-mail bulletin, the parking lot at 108 North Jefferson could soon make way for a multi-use building.

View Larger Map

That's the lot a block behind the Citigroup Center, northwest of the ABN AMRO Technology Center.

As more and more people move into the area, we can hope that fewer and fewer surface parking lots will survive and the area can become a thriving home to thousand of new Chicagoans.

Monday, September 22, 2008

Metra Market Moving Forward

It's been decades since this was first proposed, but finally some dirt is turning with the Metra Market project.

This will take that bricked-up arcade beneath the Metra rail tracks north of the Ogilvie Transportation Center and turn it into a shopping and restaurant plaza.  Similar projects have been successful from Paris to Evanston, and with the recent spike in residential density in the West Loop it looks like this might actually happen this time.

The lead tenant is supposed to be a "French Market" (not sure if that's a brand or a description) which will be made up of a couple dozen specialty food vendors (cheeses, breads, etc...)  Boutique foods marts have increased in popularity in the last few years in the Loop are with the emergence of Fox & Obel, Pastoral, Lavazza, and others.   Hopefully they will do as well or better in the West Loop location.  However, what downtown really needs is a proper butcher shop.  Abe Froman would blanch at the current state of Chicago's retail meat scene.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Latest Esquire proposal passes latest hurdle

There may finally be some movement at the Esquire Theater on Oak Street.  It's been five years since the multiplex shut down, leaving the city's most posh shopping district with a giant vacancy.

This week city council's Plan Commission approved a plan which would replace the theater with three brownstone-scale retail buildings like the others lining Oak Street.  The facade has landmark status, so it will be fun to see how the architect manages to blend the old and the new here.

The buildings can be no taller than three stories, or 60 feet each, and no hotels are allowed.  That's a big concession to local NIMBY groups who blocked plans for a boutique hotel in this location fearing additional traffic and noise.

The current proposal still requires additional approvals before we see anything happen, but there were men in hard hats touring the inside of the building just yesterday, so things look good.

For those of you worried about what happens to your neighborhood Citibank branch, that's moving into the new Barney's New York building.  It will be on the corner of State and Oak where Papa Milano's used to be.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Why is a city on a Great Lake afraid of water?

For the last three days we've been inundated with television news coverage of the flooding happening in Chicagoland.  There have been plenty of pictures of people being evacuated from their homes because of rising flood waters.  Rescue crews have been mobilized to save these helpless victims from mother nature's fury.


What's wrong with these people that they need to be saved from six inches of water?  TV news producers, writers, editors, and reporters are trained to show us the most dramatic and important video that comes in that day.  So what do we see?  People huddled in rubber dinghies being pulled to "safety" by firefighters who are simply sloshing along in ankle-deep water.  People bemoaning their misfortune that they have all of nine inches of water in their basements.  These people need to suck it up and get on with their lives.

The storm that brought the flooding to Chicagoland was the remains of Hurricane Ike.  When Ike crossed from the Gulf of Mexico to Galveston Island it brought 21 FEET of water.   And what did the people of Galveston Island do when Coast Guard helicopters came to their rescue?

They said, "No thanks.  We're fine.  We can take care of ourselves."  With water up to the second or third-stories of some homes these people are taking care of themselves.

Meanwhile, the soft-and-doughy Chicagoans are freaking out at mere inches of water that might make the legs of their foosball tables soggy, or require wee water wings for their precious tiny dogs.

Seriously, Chicago: Grow a pair.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

The high architectural price of Diesel

Everyone knows gas is expensive.  And diesel is more.  But the people running the Diesel store on Rush Street should ask for their money back.

After being closed all Spring and most of the Summer for interior and exterior renovations -- this is what it looks like.  Exposed screws in the facade, and a paint job that looks like it was done by pigeons with the runs.

Maybe it's supposed to look gritty, or industrial, or urban.  But it just doesn't work.  It looks dirty, and it certainly doesn't fit in with the surrounding buildings or the squeaky clean Gold Coast.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

The saddest building in Chicago

This has got to be the saddest sight we've seen in Chicago architecture in a long time.  The city's mighty flagship cathedral has been undergoing repair work for months, ever since a piece of the ceiling caved into the sanctuary.  But this... this is just wrong.

From our perch we've been watching workers on the rooftop scrambling around for weeks and weeks.  Now a quick stroll to Whole Foods has us viewing the full horror as we pass by.

Sure on a global, or even a regional scale, Holy Name Cathedral wasn't all that great.  But it's the best church in Chicagoland and the focus of the thoughts and prayers of millions of people each day.  To see it trussed up like this is just heartbreaking.  We can only hope the bandages come off soon.

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

WBBM-TV manages to screw up a landmark

It's been a couple of decades since WBBM-TV ("CBS2" in consultant-speak) made much of an impact on the city of Chicago.  It's ratings have been in the crapper for years.  Its analog signal is barely visible even just a mile away from the transmitter.  And digital?  Forget about it.

As a former CBS -> Westinghouse -> CBS employee, I have a soft spot for the Tiffany Network.  I looked forward to a new age of Eye greatness starting with the opening of the new CBS2 Broadcast Studios at 22 West Washington.  I should have known I would be disappointed.

The Skyline lets us know that CBS has chickened out.  Again.  Instead of giving us an 80-foot-wide video screen wrapping around its corner of Block 37, WBBM-TV will instead have a video screen that's less than half that wide.  And it doesn't wrap.  Oh, and it's shorter, too.

I never worked for CBS in Chicago, but I have several friends who have and do.  They say it's typical of the way things run there these days -- take a big, important, brilliant plan and beat it into a homogenized, non-offensive, piece of who-gives-a-crap.  They say the video screen is emblematic of the state of the news that comes out of there:  small, lackluster, full of potential, but ultimately a child of compromise.

The Trib says there were complaints about the screen.  It's typical of local television stations to be hyper-sensitive to any little fringe group with an acronym and a word processor, but it's unclear if that's the reason CBS changed its great plans into mediocre plans.  Even the architects presented CBS with several dramatic alternatives if a smaller screen must be used.  Not surprisingly, these experts were ignored and the station decided to play architect and stick the screen centered above its studio.

Good job, WBBM-TV.  Once again you've proven to Chicago that you're a non-factor.

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Tuesday Trivia: The Civic Opera Building

Q: Which Chicago showplace was shuttered because the Civic Opera Building took away all the best shows?

A: The Auditorium Building on Michigan Avenue

Millions of tourists must be right

It's something of a burden to bear.  For the thousands of people who live in the New East Side not a day passes without hundreds, sometimes thousands, of tourists wandering their streets asking how to get to the lakefront and Navy Pier.

Long lines of cars snake into, and then back out of, the cul-de-sacs and private driveways of the New East Side as legions of tourists ignore the few tattered signs put up to direct them.  Once an articulated CTA bus got stuck back there and it took the better part of 12 hours to get it turned around.

The opening of Millennium Park only made things worse.  After all -- it only makes sense that the city's front lawn would connect to the lake and eventually on to Navy Pier.  But more than once I have seen a frustrated tourist raise an angry fist to a local when told, "you can't get there from here."

Well, some day maybe they can.

With the impending destruction of Daley Bicentennial Plaza to make way for the new Chicago Children's Museum, there are finally some serious talks about linking the parks and the lakefront in that area. it cost $20 million to do the same thing at 11th Street.  How much it will take farther north remains to be seen.  But a committee is starting work on it, and maybe there will be some logical relief soon.

All cushions accounted for

Last night's storms were among the wildest we've felt since moving to Chicago six years ago.  The tornado alert for Lincoln Park and Montrose harbor was bad enough.  But when round two blew through a few hours later, our building got hit many dozens of times.

Things could have been worse, though.  Take a look at the roof of 777 North Michigan Avenue (you may know it as the Wallgreen's Building at Michigan and Chicago):

Ordinarily the rooftop pool furniture is aligned in neat little rows.  But last night's winds pushed all of the chairs, lounges, and cushions into a big pile.  Remarkably, it doesn't appear that any of it left the roof, which is good news.  Imagine your surprise if you got hit by a chaise lounge falling from a height of 30 stories.

Monday, August 4, 2008

A grand entrance to Chicago

A hundred years after the Burnham plan for Chicago was laid out, another piece that plan may become a reality. CDOT is working on a plan to make Congress Parkway in the Loop more grand, and in the process, more pedestrian-friendly.

Right now, Congress between Wells and Michigan Avenue is a big flat slab of tarmac with speeding cars and pedestrians in peril.  It is a psychological divider between the pedestrian-friendly Loop and the pedestrian-friendly South Loop.  But the street, itself, is something of an adventure to cross.

The CDOT plan is to make the street look more like a city street and less like an expressway.  The idea is to snap drivers coming in from the Eisenhower Expressway out of their daze and make them realize that they're in the city now and it's time to slow down.

The ideas call for new planters, new landscaping, more trees, and changes to the pavement to make it more than obvious that there are a dozen pedestrian crossings.  Changes in traffic signal timing and a reorganization of turn lanes are also in the works.

The Burnham plan envisioned Congress Parkway as a grand boulevard -- a major entrance corridor to the city.  This project will go a long way toward making that a reality.  It also includes decorative lighting of the buildings and infrastructure in the area -- a lighting scheme that could be tied into the renovated lighting coming to Buckingham Fountain.

Part of the $20 million needed for the project will come from federal congestion funds.  The rest looks like it will have to be ponied up by the city.

Another goal of the project is to draw more restaurants and cafes to the Congress corridor and the residential development that frequently follows them.

Sunday, August 3, 2008

Live demolition online? Maybe. Maybe not.

The Ruby Tuesday's restaurant chain has taken out a lot of ads in newspapers and on the internet recently strongly implying that it's going to demolish one of its locations and stream the video live on its web site ( There's a countdown clock on the web site which indicates the demolition is scheduled for this coming Tuesday, August 3. The ad and the press releases out of Tuesday leave out some very important facts, which is why I wrote "implying" at the top of this. I'm not entirely convinced that this isn't some kind of trickery. But I guess we'll find out in a couple of days.

Friday, August 1, 2008

Lollapawinners and Lollapalosers

Today is the day that the 2008 edition of Lollapalooza opens at Grant Park in Chicago.  For this long weekend, hundreds of thousands of people will swarm all over Chicago's front lawn enjoying food, music, and all the city has to offer.

Of course, this has the grumpy old ladies and NIMBYs who live along the park's perimeter on edge.  They see Lollapalooza as an invasion of their personal space, even though the park is public property and not their personal domain.

So if you've ever wondered what the city gets from Lollapalooza, other than the regular tax money generated by any other concert, we have the answer.

In 2007, Lollapalooza gave $100,000 to Grant Park.  that was used to plant 120 new trees, add new and better landscaping at Hutchison Field, a new garden on the south side of the park near Michigan Avenue, and 75 new shade trees.  In addition, Lollapalooza gives hundreds of thousands of dollars to smaller community parks around the city that would otherwise be neglected.

This year, in addition to the $100k being given to Grant Park, and the $1 million the festival is donating to renovate Buckingham Fountain, $75,000 is being set aside specifically to repair the grass after the festival.

Seems like quite a lot from one event.  By contrast, the Taste of Chicago, a larger, longer event, gives the park exactly $0.

We've heard frightened old ladies who watch too much CBS2News say they're worried about violence at Lollapalooza after the shooting at this year's Taste of Chicago.  Comparing the two events is the height of folly.

  • Lollapalooza lasts three days.  Taste lasts for weeks.
  • Lollapalooza attracts families.  Taste is open to anyone wandering by.
  • Lollapalooza visitors have to pay $80-$200 to attend.  Tastegoers pay $0.
  • Lollapalooza visitors buy tickets online so the festival knows exactly who will be there.  Taste is open to anyone wandering by.
  • Lollapalooza will have 210,000 people this year. Taste had 1,000,000+ on July 3 alone.
In the past there has been very little crime at Lollapalooza.  The only arrests have been for scalping and gate jumping.  The same cannot be said Taste.
The bottom line is that there are a lot of people who don't understand Lollapalooza or what it's about.  I felt the same way first time it was announced, but after seeing the festival and the people it attracts first-hand, this isn't some meathead concert series.  It's a family event that's as much about granola and electric vehicles as it is about getting one's groove on.
A word of advice to the old ladies out there:  When you let fear win, you've lost at life.

Thursday, July 31, 2008

Chicago to welcome transients -- It's a good thing

There's been a lot of talk among the lakefront set lately about the two new harbors the city plans to open.  The one at 31st street seems pretty straightforward.  But unless you live in the South Loop, who wants to dock at 31st Street?

The other is more interesting -- the new docking area planned south of Navy Pier called Gateway Harbor.  This area outside the Chicago River lock is envisioned as having 350 slips.  But more important than that is that 169 of those slips will be for transient vessels.

That means that, for the first time, people will be able to sail to Chicago, tie up at a transient slip, have lunch, take in a show, and then sail off back home to Michigan or the North Shore or Toronto, or Europe, or wherever they came from.  It's a fantastic idea that is long overdue.

Skippers pay for the transient slips by the hour, like you pay for parking at a parking garage.  High fuel prices notwithstanding, this could open up a whole new tourism avenue for Chicago.

Right now, the plan is to have both harbors open by 2010, but people in the know say that given the current state of the project, that goal is unrealistic.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Progress Report: The Clare at Water Tower

Every time we think this building is done, we wait a week and still work continues.  The Clare at Water Tower Place has been chugging along since 2006.  Back in the spring, construction crews put on the top -- a four-story space that looks like it's going to be part mechanical and part some kind of massive solarium.

For those of you who forget what the fugly four-story office building that used to be at this location looked like, there's a video of the demolition over at the Clare's web site.

We can't wait to see what happens at the fanciest old folks home in the Midwest.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Tuesday Trivia: The John Hancock Center

Q: What famous Hong Kong skyscraper was inspired by the design of Chicago's John Hancock Center.

A: The Bank of China Hongkong tower.

How to stick your tongue out at Michigan Avenue

The renovation of the public space in front of Michigan Plaza is complete, and the most striking change is the addition of a giant red tongue giving a raspberry to the thousands of people who walk by each day.   Sure, it looks like an awning, but its size, height, and shape don't look like it would be useful for keeping the rain off of anybody.

The rest of the plaza came out pretty good.  Though we would have liked to see more trees and greenery there are actually tables out there now!  You hardly ever see tables included in public spaces these days; especially in new construction.

Monday, July 28, 2008

Still waiting to be delighted

Is anyone delighted yet with the progress on the Mandarin Oriental Chicago?  Anyone?  Beuller?  We didn't think so.

After years of waiting, and staring at signs of promise, this is all we have to show for what was supposed to be a new showcase hotel in the heart of Michigan Avenue:

It's just an empty lot.  Not even surface parking; just a lot.  The surface parking operation that was there got kicked out in favor of... nothing.

We know these are hard times, but somehow thousands of other skyscrapers are going up in cities around the world suffering through worse economic times than Chicago.

There is a little hope, though -- there is a very swish Mandarin Oriental sales office in Two Prudential Plaza that seems to still be active.  Let's hope it's a lot busier than it looks.

Friday, July 25, 2008

Chicago losing a title?

If you've never seen it before, drink it in.  That's the pool for the residents who live in the John Hancock Center.  It's a full-sized pool on the 44th floor of the building, which puts it about 500 feet in the air.  To date, it is the world's highest pool.  But for how much longer?

With new megatowers coming online around the world almost every day it seems like a title that could be lost soon.  In Hong Kong, for example, many of the residential and hotel buildings like the MetroPark Hotel have pools of their roofs.  And while the Burj Dubai's hotel only goes up to the 39th floor, there are residences above it -- so the possibility exists that there's a pool up there somewhere.  We won't know until the joint opens next year.

Maybe the builders of the Chicago Spire can make a last-minute design change and put a little blue and wet on the roof of that building so that we can at least keep one record-setting title in the Windy City.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Progress report: The Elysian

How's that Elysian coming along?  Take a look for yourself.  The combination hotel and residential tower at the corner of Rush Street and Oak Street is really having an impact on the Gold Coast skyline.

Down below, it's starting to shape up pretty nicely, too.  Walking past, you can clearly see the area where the circular driveway will be.   That's being put in in order to reduce congestion on Rush and State streets from idling cars.  The faux-French rooflines on the lower floors are coming together nicely, and it seems like it's going to be a much nicer tower than everyone feared.

Oh, and there's a note in Women's Wear Daily that a Marc Jacobs Collection boutique will be part of the ground floor retail space.  Just in case you hadn't already heard.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Clubbing at 900! Woo!

Things could be getting a little louder at 900 North Michigan Avenue.

Labone Limited Partnership has applied for a Public Place of Amusement license with the City of Chicago.   A PPA license is required for businesses that have, "theater, live acts, live music, dancing, two or more pool tables, less than four automatic amusement devices."   Could it be planning to put in a new club on the Rush Street side of the building?  Maybe not.

Note the "live music" line in there.  Labone is the company that owns Frankie's Scaloppini, the lower-end Italian joint that opened where Tucci Bennuch used to be.   It's possible that Labone just wants to add a guitar player to Frankie's.  But then again, Potbelly has a live music and a singing girl, but doesn't have a PPA license.

The greening of 900

Have you noticed what's going on on the roof of 900 North Michigan?  It's getting a green roof.  Well, not the roof of the actual skyscraper, but on the roof of the building that's officially called the 900 North Michigan Avenue Annex.  Construction has been going on for about a month and from what we've been able to see in that time, it involved tearing up the old roof, putting in a new roof, and now finally what appears to be a lawn.

The brochures for the Residences at 900 North Michigan Avenue already tout its garden (barely visible in this photo behind Michigan Place) as the city's highest outdoor greenspace.  Of course, it will lose that title once the roof on the annex is opened.  It will be interesting to see if people who live in the building will be able to access the new garden high above Oak Street and Rush Street.  We'll let you know what we see.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Tuesday Trivia: The Merchandise Mart

True of False?  The Merchandise Mart has its own ZIP code.

False.  Though many tour guides will tell you that it does, they are incorrect.  In 2008 the Merchandise Mart was forced to share its ZIP code with the surrounding neighborhood all the way up to Chicago Avenue.

Suds on the Chicago River

So, if you'll remember your beer history, Molson merged with Coors.  And then Miller announced a merger with Molson Coors to form MillerCoors.  Well, now it looks like the whole shebang could end up in Chicago.

The Chicago Sun-Times reports that the new company has picked Chicago for its new home and that 400 jobs will move here.  But where, exactly?  There's not enough time to build a new tower (sad), so it's scouting locations in existing properties.

The Apparel Center is said to be high on the list of candidates.  A couple of years ago that building scored the Sun-Times when it moved to make way for the Trump Tower.  Maybe we'll see another giant corporate logo hanging from the building's horrible facade.  It could only make things better.

Monday, July 21, 2008

Hail to the Queen... Or not.

Here are three things that most Chicagoans don't know.

  1. The area across Lake Shore Drive from Buckingham Fountain is called Queen's Landing.
  2. It was named that when Queen Elizabeth II's yacht moored there during a visit to the city.
  3. Next year is the 50th anniversary of that event.
While city government doesn't seem prepared to mark the occasion, private groups are turning up the heat.  They'd like to see the long-desired pedestrian under- or overpass finally be built linking Buckingham Fountain with the lake.  Each year millions of confused tourists try to cross Lake Shore Drive because it simply doesn't make sense that you can't get to the water from the fountain.  Until a couple of years ago there was a pedestrian crossing, but CDOT killed it.

With the 50th anniversary of Elizabeth's visit almost here some people are hoping to revive the lakefront link plan.  There are discussions about getting a British architect to design the project, and maybe a British company to pay for it.

Now, it's already waaaay too late to get a pedestrian link to Queen's Landing built in time for the anniversary, but it's not too late to organize a groundbreaking ceremony to mark the date.  But that would need a commitment from the city to actually get the thing built.  

The city is starting or completing a number of projects linking lakefront parks with the actual lake, including 11th Street and Solidarity Drive and the new bridges being considered for Lincoln Park.  Maybe it's finally time for this long-overdue project to get started.

Also interested in the project is the British Consulate in Chicago.  It would love to have some sort of ceremony marking the 50th anniversary of the queen's visit, but isn't sure what it can do in conjunction with the city yet.   One thing is certain -- if they want to get a British dignitary or a member of the royal family to be here for the ribbon cutting, they'd better get their request in soon.  Very soon.  Official visits have to be planned months in advance.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Progress Report: 10 East Delaware

In case you were wondering what replaced Chicago's best Asian fusion
restaurant, here it is.

10 East Delaware is designed to be one of the new breed of classy
skyscrapers that look like Paris on steroids. See The Fordham and the
Elysian for other examples.

One disappointment is already apparent: there will be zero setback
from the sidewalk on either side. That means a less walkable
neighborhood in an where many of the sidewalks are already
unreasonably narrow.

Oak Street diamond may shine again

The former diamond of Oak Street may get a chance to shine again.

The Chicago Tribune reports that South Africa's DeBeers company is thinking about opening a boutique in the former Esquire Theater building.  

The Esquire has been vacant for quite some time.  Plans to redevelop it into a hotel were nixed by the neighbors who worried about traffic and noise.  A quiet upscale diamond merchant, however, would fit in nicely.  After all Harry Winston and Graff have both been welcomed to Oak Street with open arms recently.

It's worth noting that Chicago is a little behind on getting a glance from DeBeers.  The company has operated a shop in Houston's Galleria mall for at least a year, and probably longer.

Another note -- the same Tribune article reports that Penguin in the 900 North Michigan Annex (Rush Street) will open on July 30th.  But there are signs up inside the mall stating that Penguin is already open for business.  Hmmm...

Another VACANCY sign at 900 North Michigan

It's probably not that surprising, but another big store is closing at the Shops at 900 North Michigan.  The Magnificent Mile's northernmost mall is losing Waldenbooks.  The book seller has sent out "store closing" e-mail messages to thousands of (soon to be former) customers.

To be honest, the location wasn't that great for the store and we're surprised it lasted as long as it did.  900 doesn't get as much foot traffic as the rest of the Boul Mich, and as you get higher up in these vertical malls the number of people wandering by dwindles.

It's just the latest in a series of changes at the mall.  Ultra-high-end crystal purveyor Lalique closed its shop a few weeks ago.  That doesn't appear to be the Chicago store's fault, though.  Lalique has closed a number of its boutiques recently, including one at the Louvre in Paris that will become an Apple Store.  The Lalique space at 900 is being taken by an expanded Mont Blanc pen store.  But for the expansion, Mont Blanc is closed.  Just before the closing, Lalique's manager was telling customers that it would re-open, possibly on Oak Street.

Also closed for renovation is the Oak Tree restaurant.  Oak Tree closed for a little while last year, too, but not for renovation.  At the time the wait staff told customers it was going out of business.  Now the staff is saying that it's a renovation and Oak Tree will be back in the September/October time frame.

Also currently closed is the first floor of what used to be Club Monaco.  The store is keeping its second floor, but the first floor is becoming a Michael Kors store.  Closing the lower half means there is no longer any men's items at that location.

Michael Kors also has its eye on the current Stewart Weitzman space for a second boutique.  We hear it will be a while before Weitzman moves out, possibly up to a year.

While you're updating your 900 North Michigan chess board, don't forget Tucci Benucch was replaced by Frankie's, and King Cafe replaced Corner Bakery.

Overall it looks like a major play by the mall to make itself more upscale to compete or blend better with Oak Street and set itself apart from the riff-raff chain stores popping up all over Michigan Avenue (Best Buy, Crate and Barrel, etc...)  What might accomplish this better is if 900 figured out a way to convert its Oak Street-facing loading dock into a mall entrance.

Friday, July 18, 2008

Progress Report: Chicago Avenue Brown Line station

A few years back we at the Chicago Architecture Blog went a little nuts when the Brown Line rehab project got underway.  Now that we're starting to reap the benefits, it might be time to calm down a little bit.

Anyway, this piece of good news just came in from Alderman Riley's office:

Chicago Brown Line CTA Station Update

Beginning Friday, July 19th, the Chicago Brown Line station will see the re-opening of Franklin Street for normal pedestrian usage.  The obstructions currently located on either side of Franklin Street will be removed at this time.  The permanent staircases currently located on Chicago Avenue and Franklin Street will operate as an "exit only" staircase until the completion of the project. The station should be fully operational on September 7th.  The staircases on Chicago and Franklin will be open for both entrance and exit, and the elevators at the same location will be fully operational at this time.
Woo hoo!

Turning green into a gateway

Anyone who's wandered around outside the Blackstone Hotel can tell you -- there's something missing in the southern part of Grant Park.

It lacks the vibrancy of the north end.  Too much of it is still railroad tracks and a big, hot, open space.  That may be great for grasshoppers, but it's not much use to people.

Last year that started to change with the installation of "Agora" -- the leggy sculpture by a Polish artist.   But more has to be done.

To that end, a coalition of architecture firms, business interests, and civic organizations are working on a plan for the southwest corner of Grant Park.  The idea is to make it a major gateway to the Loop, the Museum District, and the South Loop.  Starchitect Adrian Smith is among those involved, so expect great things.

Renovating Buckingham

We have more information on the upcoming renovation of Buckingham Fountain.  The landmark waterpiece has been rehabbed any number of times over the years, but this time the city is going all out.  The preservation effort should also hopefully keep the fountain from leaking as much as it does and to make it more water efficient.

The fountain will close right after Labor Day and work will continue through the winter.   Expect to see the area tented off so workers can make progress even in January.  Hizzonor wants to have the fountain fixed and pumping by April 1, 2009 -- that's when the International Olympic Committee begins its visit to Chicago.  So what do we get for our $25 million?

  • Removal and cleaning of all the marble
  • Rehabilitation all the plumbing
  • Rehabilitation of the basin

It doesn't sound like much, but there's more in the works.  One notion being explored is replacing that horrible crushed pink granite mess that surrounds the fountain with a proper walking surface that doesn't get in your shoes.

Trees and landscaping, though a great idea, cannot be added because it would change the design of the plaza.  It's historic design was intended to be a vast open space, and in the interest of historical accuracy we're OK with letting that go.  But no one's sure about what kind of surface, historically speaking, was supposed to cover what it called the "table" (the area where people walk).  

One idea currently gaining traction is to replace the crushed granite with paving blocks.  This would give people in wheelchairs better access to the fountain.  We're told it can be quite hard to push through all those rocks right now.  The pavers would have a gap between them filled in with crushed rock to allow rainwater to drain into the earth instead of into storm sewers. The pavers the city is looking at would be constructed of concrete, but have the same crushed pink marble embedded in them to keep the plaza's familiar color and to allow the color to last.

In addition to redoing the plaza, there's talk of giving the fountain's light show a high-tech makeover.  We're talking LEDs here, but elderly crabs are shrieking in fear of lasers.  If so, so what?  Chicago could use a good laser show.

So, where does the $25 million come from?  Well, this time it's not entirely your wallet.  Eight million dollars comes from the ARTIC's Ferguson Fund.  That's money used for public art in the city.  Another $1 million comes from Lollapalooza, payable in four yearly installments of $250,000.  The remainder will come from your pocket, though it's hard to say in what form.  Ideally the city and the state would kick in an equal share (It's not like the state tourism board doesn't use Buckingham in any of its promotions).  But a full state contribution is seen as unlikely considering that Governor Blagojevich cut $350 million from hospitals recently.  So either the city is going to have to fork over the entire amount, or we're going to see some corporate branding like with the Chase Promenade and the BP Pedestrian Bridge in Millennium Park.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Columbia is Coming

As the retail shuffle continues on North Michigan Avenue, we have sad news for 12-year-old boys across the Midwest yearning for a Chicago vacation:

There will not be three Victoria's Secret stores within three blocks of each other in Chicago.
Tragic, we know.
When the big Victoria's Secret store at 830 North Michigan Avenue was being renovated a couple of years ago the chain opened another shop across the street in Water Tower Place.  When the renovation was complete, the Water Tower Place shop was doing so well it was decided to keep both open.   
Then came word that Pottery Barn was closing (actually, it's already closed) its North Michigan Avenue store entirely and that Victoria's Secret would take its place.  So what happens to the VS at 830?  Well, we now know -- Crain's Chicago Business is reporting that the 830 space next to Borders will be taken by Columbia Sportsware -- a new entrant to the city's retail market.  That leaves us with only two Victoria's Secret stores.  How will we cope?
You always hear people complain when Starbucks locates two stores across the street from each other, but somehow Victoria's Secret doing the same thing is OK.  Now we'll have Columbia Sportsware at 830 North Michigan and The North Face at 875 North Michigan.  Hmmm....  Maybe someone can convince REI to move into the vacant former CompUSA space around the corner.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

The photo that should make Chicago proud

This is a great photo. Not for it's composition -- that is questionable. Not for it's quality -- it was taken with a cell phone camera. What should make Chicagoans proud is its content.

This is a freight elevator panel in the John Hancock Center. You'll notice that the buttons go up to 98. How cool is that? How many cities in the Western Hemisphere have buildings with 98th
floors? Only two: New York and Chicago. And Chicago has twice as many 100+ story buildings as New York.

The John Hancock Center actually has 100 stories (and the Sears Tower 110). 99 and 100 are accessed through another elevator. But it's still a cool picture.

Art learnin' - Not book learnin'

A beautiful summer day at the newly re-greened Seneca Park. Because of its shady location grass has a hard time growing here. That's why there is a fence around the grass and signs reading, "Newly seeded area, Please keep off the lawn."

As you can see, that concern for the condition of the park is not shared by the Museum of Contemporary Art next door. Those are MCA Art Camp kids and counselors frolicking of the fragile greenery. I guess artists don't learn to read.

R.I.P.: Park Michigan

It's game over for the Park Michigan.  We hear that the svelte tower that was supposed to rehab the old YWCA on Michigan Avenue at 9th street (official address is 830 South Michigan Avenue) is dead.  The idea was to rehab the historic Y and add the condo tower behind it in order to make the project profitable.  But it's just not happening and the property is up for sale again.

In the end, what killed it?  We're not sure.  We're hearing two possibilities -- significant structural deficiencies in the YWCA, and pressure from the so-called "community groups."  You know the ones -- the NIMBYs who have got their view and won't let anyone else have one.

So instead of getting these:

  • Landmark tower
  • Hundreds of new residents
  • Millions of new tax dollars
  • New grocery store
  • New ground floor retail
  • New restaurants
  • Preserved YWCA building

The South Loop gets to keep these:

  • Abandoned, unsound YWCA building
  • A surface parking lot

Good job, NIMBYs.

Monday, July 14, 2008

New Year -- New Service

Well, today marks six years since the Chicago Architecture Blog first went online.  Both the web site and the city have grown remarkably since that first post all that time ago.

To mark our sixth anniversary we are abandoning the homebrew blogging software cobbled together out of bits and bytes and tape and chewing gum and are going with a commercial blog solution.

Why?  Well, to be frank it took a long, long time for us to convert pictures and prose into blog entries on the old system.  There were lots of macros and Photoshop kludges and it was all a lot more work than it was worth.

Now, armed with fancy new iPhones (actually the old ones -- we haven't ponied up for the 3G yet) we hope to be able to publish more entries, more quickly, and many of them right from the street as we take pictures.

We're hoping this new method will bring you more information and help us all see Chicago a little better, and a little faster.