Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Chicago Brick of the Day: City Palace



In an effort to showcase the magnificent architecture of Chicago's Tribune Tower, and to help people understand just how powerful and influential the Chicago Tribune newspaper once was, the Chicago Architecture Blog presents: Chicago Brick of the Day.
Today's brick is from:
Each day we'll show a photograph of a rock, brick, or other piece of stonework embedded in the exterior of the Tribune Tower .
If you haven't done it yet, play tourist for a couple of hours and wander around the outside of 435 North Michigan Avenue and marvel at an architectural work that will not be equalled in our lifetimes.

Missing Lago (Updated)

Update (October 2, 2009 @ 9:22am): We got an e-mail from Club Lago letting us know that things are back to normal and there's going to be a grand re-opening party.  Check this blog post for details.








It's been almost a year since the first time I stumbled across Club Lago (331 West Superior Street) in River North.  The eatery was a great find -- basic Italian food served by people who seem to enjoy their jobs to people who live and work in the area.  A true neighborhood joint.

You may have noticed the word "was" in there.  That's because this past March, the place was destroyed.  Photos posted in the windows of the building document the carnage.




Here's the summary from one of the bigger ones:

"On March 18 just after 7 am, the chimney of the neighbor's building exploded.  Collapsed masonry fell on the parking lot, alley, and Club Lago.  The damage is extreme: at the very least our roof, second floor, and kitchen are destroyed.  The Fire Department arrived to find an empty restaurant.  The chef arrived late that morning; no one was hurt.  But for the first time in our history, Club Lago is closed for business."



I've been out of town most of this month and last, so I haven't had a chance to check on the recovery process, but these pictures are from August and a peek inside showed there was still quite a lot of work to be done.


If you're nearby, pop over. And if the place looks like it's open, have a drink and some pasta.  You'll be glad you did.  Any place that has its customers writing sweet nothings on the door after its destruction must be special.


Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Chicago Brick of the Day: Aachen, Germany


In an effort to showcase the magnificent architecture of Chicago's Tribune Tower, and to help people understand just how powerful and influential the Chicago Tribune newspaper once was, the Chicago Architecture Blog presents: Chicago Brick of the Day.
Today's brick is from:
One of the two historic gates in Aachen, Germany .
Each day we'll show a photograph of a rock, brick, or other piece of stonework embedded in the exterior of the Tribune Tower .
If you haven't done it yet, play tourist for a couple of hours and wander around the outside of 435 North Michigan Avenue and marvel at an architectural work that will not be equalled in our lifetimes.

Status Update: Alta and Cirrus at K Station


The twin towers of Alta and Cirrus reach into a cloudless sky at K Station, the high rise community going up in West Town.

Status Update: Holy Name Cathedral



Although masses are mostly back on schedule at Holy Name Cathedral, the roof repairs continue after last February's fire, and the ceiling collapse almost exactly one year earlier.

Inside, the cathedral is absolutely beautiful and has never looked better.  It's a glorious place for a wedding, and I should know since I got married there a couple of weeks ago.  If you haven't been inside, now's the time to go.  The gift shop is gone, but it's still an amazing space to sit and watch and wonder.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Chicago Brick of the Day: Kwajalein Atol



In an effort to showcase the magnificent architecture of Chicago's Tribune Tower, and to help people understand just how powerful and influential the Chicago Tribune newspaper once was, the Chicago Architecture Blog presents: Chicago Brick of the Day.
Today's brick is from:
Each day we'll show a photograph of a rock, brick, or other piece of stonework embedded in the exterior of the Tribune Tower .
If you haven't done it yet, play tourist for a couple of hours and wander around the outside of 435 North Michigan Avenue and marvel at an architectural work that will not be equalled in our lifetimes.

CTA Circle Line Meetings

Get the latest information and ask your questions about the CTA's proposed Circle Line El project.


  • Tuesday, September 29, 2009
    6:00pm - 8:00pm (presentation at 6:15pm)
    University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC)
    Molecular Biology Research Building
    900 S. Ashland Avenue (Marshfield entrance)
  • Wednesday, September 30, 2009
    6:00pm - 8:00pm (presentation at 6:15pm)
    Bucktown/Wicker Park Chicago Public Library
    Second Floor Community Room
    1701 N. Milwaukee Avenue
  • Thursday, October 1, 2009
    6:00pm - 8:00pm (presentation at 6:15pm)
    Benito Juarez Community Academy
    21 S. Laflin Street

Status Update: CTA Red Line Grand Station



If you're one of the thousands of people who have been detoured off State Street in the last few months, here you can see why -- there's a massive gaping hole in the street.  It's the nearly total rebuilding of the CTA's Red Line station at Grand Avenue (521 North State Street).  You're spending $67 million on the project, which is the station's first renovation in 66 years.  I couldn't find an anticipated completion date on the CTA's main web site, and the special site for journalists appears to have disappeared since the new main site went online.  If anyone knows the date, post it in the comments section below.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Chicago Brick of the Day: Christ Church


In an effort to showcase the magnificent architecture of Chicago's Tribune Tower, and to help people understand just how powerful and influential the Chicago Tribune newspaper once was, the Chicago Architecture Blog presents: Chicago Brick of the Day.
Today's brick is from:
Each day we'll show a photograph of a rock, brick, or other piece of stonework embedded in the exterior of the Tribune Tower .
If you haven't done it yet, play tourist for a couple of hours and wander around the outside of 435 North Michigan Avenue and marvel at an architectural work that will not be equalled in our lifetimes.

787-Foot-High Hopes Dashed in Streeterville

This wasn't supposed to happen.  This lot on the corner of North Fairbanks Court and East Ohio Street was just a parking lot when I moved to Chicago.  Then the parking lot was torn up and a big pit made for the construction of a 787-foot-tall, 58-story residential skyscraper called 560 North Fairbanks.  Then the housing market collapsed, and the pit was filled in, smoothed out, and given a nice fresh coat of asphalt.  Now we're right back where we started when I moved to Chicago six years ago.  Except that the hot dog hut that used to squat in the corner of this lot is gone.  And we are all poorer for it.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Correction

A couple of weeks ago we published pictures of the building at 66 East Walton Street bearing signs stating that there is commercial space for rent. 66 East Walton Street is currently home to a Tory Burch boutique and the Scott Patrick Salon.

Scott Patrick's lawyer contacted us today to let us know that it isn't Scott Patrick's third-floor space that's vacant, as we had incorrectly surmised. It is actually the second floor space which isn't related to Scott Patrick at all that is for rent.

We apologize for the error.

Chicago Brick of the Day: Powder Tower



In an effort to showcase the magnificent architecture of Chicago's Tribune Tower, and to help people understand just how powerful and influential the Chicago Tribune newspaper once was, the Chicago Architecture Blog presents: Chicago Brick of the Day.
Today's brick is from:
Each day we'll show a photograph of a rock, brick, or other piece of stonework embedded in the exterior of the Tribune Tower .
If you haven't done it yet, play tourist for a couple of hours and wander around the outside of 435 North Michigan Avenue and marvel at an architectural work that will not be equalled in our lifetimes.

Video: The New FlatTop Grill, Plus Q&A

Earlier this week we published an article about the new FlatTop Grill location that opened up in the Sullivan Center (30 South Wabash Avenue).  While we were there during a practice lunch, we shot some video of the inside.  It's presented below so you can get an idea of what the place looks like.



Also, in the previous article about FlatTop Grill we mentioned that we asked FlatTop's PR firm to explain a few things.  The questions and answers are as follows:
  • Why did FlatTop choose this location?
    • It was a perfect spot for us. There’s a vibrancy to FlatTop which makes it a fun place to meet people for breakfast, lunch or dinner. We’re also a neighborhood concept and the Loop is very much a vibrant neighborhood that combines a working crowd along with residents. This location allows us to cater to both groups as well as visitors to Chicago.
  • Were there any special challenges working with this space?
    • There have been no real challenges. Because the Sullivan Center is a historic building, we did need to follow certain guidelines though. And in this Loop location we expect large daily lunchtime crowds each day, since we are in walking distance of many large office buildings. Yet, we are also a neighborhood restaurant and are community focused. Because of this we are able to service both the weekday office workers and the Loop residents. 
  • The Sullivan Center is a very historic building, yet I saw no effort made to highlight, preserve, or show off its history. In fact, the interior could have been any building anywhere.  Is there a reason it wasn't tailored for the Sullivan Center?
    • Due to the historical nature of the building, we followed specific guidelines; and, because the Sullivan Center is such a wonderful historic site we wanted to highlight Chicago’s history in the space. Guests will see pictures depicting some of Chicago’s iconic images throughout the restaurant.
  • FlatTop is one of several eateries that have opened in the Wabash corridor over the last four months.  Why go there instead of another place?
    • FlatTop is a neighborhood type of restaurant and the Loop is a great example of one of Chicago’s downtown neighborhoods. It’s an exciting place to be and it’s the same energy guests find at a FlatTop restaurant. We fully expect that the new FlatTop Grill in the Sullivan Center will develop its own loyal legion of fans, just as all of our other FlatTop Grill restaurants have done.
  • Does FlatTop plan to have business hours that work with the people who live in the Loop and encourage continued residential growth there, or will it only cater to the lunchtime suburban office crowd?
    • We are catering to everyone who is in the Loop: residents, office workers and visitors. The restaurant will be open seven days a week, opening at 8 a.m. every day and closing at 9 p.m. Sunday – Thursday, and 10 p.m. Friday and Saturday. FlatTop guests will be able to eat breakfast, lunch & dinner at this location; in fact, it’s the only FlatTop that is serving breakfast seven days a week, and the downtown residents are the reason we chose to make breakfast available at this location every day.  

Slice of Life: Junkyard Dog

Being a junkyard dog isn't everything it used to be.  Back the Little Rascals days, there was some cachet to the job.  Now, between burglars throwing sedative-laced steaks to you, and minor league baseball teams being named after you, it's hardly worth the effort to get up and bark at the occasional passing photographer.

This dog was photographed in Chicago's meat packing district.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Sweetwater Flowing at Illinois Center



One of our alert readers e-mailed us some camera phone pics of the new Sweetwater Grill in the Loop (225 North Michigan Avenue).    It looks like it opened in the last couple of days, and fills the space vacated by the collapse of the Bennigan's restaurant chain.





Chicago Brick of the Day: Lincoln's Springfield Home


In an effort to showcase the magnificent architecture of Chicago's Tribune Tower, and to help people understand just how powerful and influential the Chicago Tribune newspaper once was, the Chicago Architecture Blog presents: Chicago Brick of the Day.
Today's brick is from:
Each day we'll show a photograph of a rock, brick, or other piece of stonework embedded in the exterior of the Tribune Tower .
If you haven't done it yet, play tourist for a couple of hours and wander around the outside of 435 North Michigan Avenue and marvel at an architectural work that will not be equalled in our lifetimes.

What is Hubbard's Cave?

Every day millions of people driving around Chicagoland listen to the local traffic reports on TV or the radio.  Hundreds of times a day, traffic reporters reference a place in Chicago called "Hubbard's Cave."  Travel times in and out of the Loop are calculated based on the location of this landmark.  But remarkably few people really know what it is, or what it looks like.

(The entrance [or exit] of Hubbard's Cave at West Wayman Street)
Many people are correct when they state that Hubbard's Cave is the place where interstates 90 and 94 go under Hubbard Street in West Town.  But there's a lot more to Hubbard's Cave than a simple overpass.

Hubbard's cave runs for a quarter of a mile from West Hubbard Street to West Wayman Street.  Unless you're stuck in traffic, in a car it flashes by in the blink of an eye since there are so many other things to keep your eyes on at that critical salmon run in the highway.  But up top, there's quite a lot to see.


(There's no sign of it at the surface, but traffic is humming through Hubbard's Cave beneath this parking lot.)


More than just a street underpass, Hubbard's Cave is a triple-decker infrastructure sandwich that passes beneath railroad tracks, parking lots, even entire warehouses are perched over this most vital of Chicago's motor arteries.  Now and then there are gaps in the roof allowing people to peek down into traffic.  Or more often -- allowing the traffic below brief glimpses into shafts of sunlight from above.

The earliest reference to "Hubbard's Cave" we could find in local newspapers was from 1962, and it's clear from the context that the name was already in common use by the public.  Back then what we now call the Kennedy Expressway was known as the Northwest Expressway and people traveling the route were in much more peril than today's travelers.

(Hubbard's Cave passes beneath five city streets and seven sets of railroad tracks.)

That's because of the "cave," itself.  It earned its name because its size made it unusually dark for an underpass segment of a freeway.  So drivers entering the underpass needed a few seconds for their eyes to get used to the darkness.  Then, less than a minute later, they'd be blinded by the sun as they emerged from the other end.

The name, obviously, comes from Hubbard Street above.  But there is some evidence to show that it may be WGN Radio's Irv Hayden who coined the term and made it famous.  He was 720's helicopter traffic reporter, best known for occasionally landing next to freeways and helping stranded motorists push their cards to the shoulder.  It was his use of the term that spurred city officials to do something about the "cave"-like nature of the road.
(A glimpse of the traffic through a gap in the roof.)
It's remarkable by modern standards to realize that this underpass, and perhaps many more like it, were unlit.  There were no lights underneath the bridges and viaducts that make up the cave.  It was originally thought that car headlights would be enough to successfully navigate the passage.

That changed in 1962 when the city of Chicago spent $160,000 to fix the day-night-day problem for drivers.  According to a letter to the editor in the August 26, 1964 edition of the Chicago Tribune, the city spent $20,000 covering the walls with high-gloss paint to reflect light, and another $140,000 on lights so that drivers' eyes wouldn't have to make such painful adjustments from light to dark and back to light again.

(Construction of what would become Hubbard's Cave clipped off the northeast corner of this warehouse.)


Edward Reiter, the man who spearheaded this project when he was chief engineer of the City of Chicago's Division of Subways and Superhighways (what a great department name!), lobbied to have the name of the underpass changed to "Reiter's Daylight Passage" since it was he who turned the "cave" into something else.  But, as we all know, nearly 50 years later the name remains the same.

(The other end of Hubbard's Cave.  Nature tries to reclaim the parking lot, but the plants don't realize they're not on terra firma.)

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Chicago Brick of the Day: Beaumaris Castle



In an effort to showcase the magnificent architecture of Chicago's Tribune Tower, and to help people understand just how powerful and influential the Chicago Tribune newspaper once was, the Chicago Architecture Blog presents: Chicago Brick of the Day.
Today's brick is from:
Each day we'll show a photograph of a rock, brick, or other piece of stonework embedded in the exterior of the Tribune Tower .
If you haven't done it yet, play tourist for a couple of hours and wander around the outside of 435 North Michigan Avenue and marvel at an architectural work that will not be equalled in our lifetimes.

Slice of Life: A Tree Grows in Chicago


It's always amazing how nature constantly tries to reclaim what was once its domain.  Witness this little green sprout in front of the Anne Fontaine store at 909 North Michigan Avenue.  A tree is trying to establish itself in a tiny patch of dust washed into the corner of a Gold Coast gutter.  The chances it will survive the winter are pretty close to zero unless steam from the sewer keeps it warm, but I wouldn't count on it.

Status Update: Sweetwater Grill at Illinois Center


The "Sweetwater" signs are up at the Illinois Center.  It's a good sign of progress and nice to see something taking the space that was once a Bennigan's restaurant, then a massive advertising billboard for Snickers.  I don't know if anyone from Sweetwater will ever read this, but if someone does -- tell your employees to stop picking their noses in public; at least while they're in uniform.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Chicago Brick of the Day: Union Stock Yards



In an effort to showcase the magnificent architecture of Chicago's Tribune Tower, and to help people understand just how powerful and influential the Chicago Tribune newspaper once was, the Chicago Architecture Blog presents: Chicago Brick of the Day.
Today's brick is from:
Each day we'll show a photograph of a rock, brick, or other piece of stonework embedded in the exterior of the Tribune Tower .
If you haven't done it yet, play tourist for a couple of hours and wander around the outside of 435 North Michigan Avenue and marvel at an architectural work that will not be equalled in our lifetimes.

Status Update: The Ritz Carlton Residences

After a summer of demolition, ground work continues to be done for the Ritz Carlton Residences at 664 North Michigan Avenue.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Chicago Brick of the Day: Fort Sumter


In an effort to showcase the magnificent architecture of Chicago's Tribune Tower, and to help people understand just how powerful and influential the Chicago Tribune newspaper once was, the Chicago Architecture Blog presents: Chicago Brick of the Day.
Today's brick is from:
Each day we'll show a photograph of a rock, brick, or other piece of stonework embedded in the exterior of the Tribune Tower .
If you haven't done it yet, play tourist for a couple of hours and wander around the outside of 435 North Michigan Avenue and marvel at an architectural work that will not be equalled in our lifetimes.

Video: Review of the New Dusable Harbor Boathouse

On the first warm day of 2009 I found myself wandering around the New East Side.  It's the location of the last place I lived, The Shoreham, and a dozen other high rises along the lakefront.  Wandering toward the water I was struck by something new -- a new boathouse at Dusable Harbor (401 North Lake Shore Drive).

When I lived in Lakeshore East, this was where a dank funk would roll out from beneath Lake Shore Drive and tumble into the welcoming waters of Lake Michigan.  That's not what I found in 2009, though.  The little area had been completely fixed up, with the previously mentioned boathouse, and a new bridge to keep Loop-bourne joggers from becoming unwillingly merged with speeding cyclists on the lakefront path.

Last night WTTW ran a piece on the new boathouse that we mentioned back in June.  It's a nice look at how great architecture can come in very small packages.


FlatTop Grill Opens at the Sullivan Center


The re-inventing of Chicago's venerated Sullivan Center takes another major step forward today (Monday, September 21, 2009) with the opening of FlatTop Grill.

Many people will remember the Sullivan Center (33 South State Street) by its previous name -- the Carson Pirie Scott flagship store.  When Carson's pulled out of the Loop it was the latest in a series of devastating retail moves that continue to slowly turn Chicago into a generic Anytown, U.S.A.

But more importantly, it left Mayor Daley's favorite retail drag with a gaping cavity across the street from one of Hizzonor's recent successes, and down the street from another project that faces an uncertain future. Early notions of filling the huge space with a supermarket or other large-scale retail replacement for the department store failed.  Now, behind the scaffolding and plywood, the Sullivan Center is slowly being re-born one storefront at a time.


But the action isn't on State Street.  It's around back on a newly reborn section of Wabash Avenue.  A recent streetscape upgrade has done wonders for Jeweler's Row and businesses are responding.

The latest opening is the aforementioned FlatTop Grill.  It's moved into the Sullivan Center's storefront at 30 South Wabash.  Last week, the eatery's public relations company invited me in for a preview meal and to take some photographs.  I'm still wedded to my J-school ethics, so I declined the meal; but I'm always up to a sneak peek of anything new, so camera in tow I popped by on a glorious autumn afternoon.

Although many of the storefronts on this block are celebrated for the intricacy of their cast iron decorations, FlatTop landed in one of the more plain bays, with sadly boring brown rectangles beneath a tangle of fire escapes.  Perhaps it's Prairie School elegant; but I never really understood or appreciated the Prairie School aesthetics the way so many others do.

Inside, the 4,000 square-foot restaurant is a riot of red paint and chrome accents.  It has the feel of a darkened space, but everything is quite clearly visible.  Maybe it's the same red light trick that astronomers play on their pupils in order read their charts in the dark.  Though the impression is of darkness, it is very clean, inviting, and modern.

For those unfamiliar with the concept, FlatTop is a D.I.Y. stir-fry joint.  Think of it as the stir-fry bar at Big Bowl, but large enough to take up an entire restaurant.  You pick your meats, your sauces (who knew there were 20 sauces in the world?), and vegetables -- then bring them to the grill where they're prepared for you and delivered to your table.  I recommend forgoing the table entirely, and cozying up to the row of stools that run alongside the prep area so you get lunch and a show.


The space is divided into three areas:

  • A welcome center which contains the maĆ®tre d's station and a small but efficient bar where you can have a drink while waiting for your friends.
  • The main room where two parallel self-serve bars funnel you toward the cooking area.
  • And a back dining room, which is considerably more intimate, welcoming, and tranquil than the cacophony out front.

If you're with someone you want to actually talk with, I recommend asking for seats in back.  When I was there, the place was packed with a practice lunch and I could tell that the din of people and preparation was making it hard for some diners to hear their companions.

This is FlatTop's 14th location in Chicagoland and beyond, and the first that I know of that was built in a historic property.  In fact, the press release for the opening proudly touts the Sullivan Center location as a selling point.  Yet, inside I saw no evidence that any effort was made to preserve this architectural legacy.  The ceilings have some services exposed, but the entire area is painted black so if there are any architectural details up there to witness, you'll need a flashlight to see them.  The space is certainly slightly unusually shaped, but that can happen with any restaurant in a competitive market and isn't specific to this location.


Still, Flat Out Crazy's C.E.O Frederic Mayerson said, "Being in the newly renovated Sullivan Center ramps up the energy and excitement that already surrounds a FlatTop restaurant. Guests in the Loop will discover it's a fun and friendly restaurant to hang out with friends over breakfast, lunch or dinner."  That's all well and nice, but exactly how does being in the Sullivan Center "ramp up the energy?"  FlatTop spent two years prepping this location, so I asked its PR company to elaborate on why all signs of this location's history appear to have been obliterated.  When I get an answer, I'll post a follow-up report.

If you live or work in the Loop and are looking for a good, quick, different lunch, then FlatTop Grill seems like a great option.  I'm not a restaurant critic, so I'm unqualified to comment on the quality of the food (another part of the reason I refused the meal mentioned above).  But everything looked fresh and smelled delicious.  The space is like Ikea meets Kate Spade meets Big Bowl -- but in a good way.  Service seemed prompt, but of course at a lunch where all of the managers are watching, of course it is.

Still, I think FlatTop Grill will be great addition to the neighborhood, and I plan to stop by for lunch in the next few weeks.  I recommend everyone else do the same to welcome this business to the neighborhood, and support more businesses in the Loop.



  • Open for dinner starting September 21st.
  • Open for lunch and dinner September 22nd.
  • Open for breakfast, lunch, and dinner September 23rd and onward.
  • Vegetarian-friendly
  • Allergy-friendly
  • 8:00am-9:00pm Sunday through Thursday
  • 8:00am-10:00pm Friday, Saturday
More photos below: