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.