Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Slice of Life: The Backs of Things

Most architecture puts its best face forward.  Usually the back of the building abuts another building or is otherwise hidden.  But there's a block in the Loop where a number of buildings put their faces forward, but leave space in the back.  The result is a community light well that allows sun and air to penetrate the interior of the office building stockade.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Tuesday Trivia: Before There Was Illinois

Q: Can you name all the entities that have claimed jurisdiction over what we now know as Chicagoland?


  • Illinois Country (borders undefined)
  • Upper Louisiana (part of New France)
  • New York (until 1782)
  • Connecticut (until 1786)
  • Northwest Territory (until 1800)
  • Indiana Territory (until 1809)
  • Illinois Territory (until 1818)
  • State of Illinois (present)
There may be others, but these are the ones we found.  History buffs, feel free to post corrections below.

Raccoons Are Not Afraid of the El

Digging through some old files I came across this piece of video.  It shows a raccoon getting its dinner on an El platform while passengers and trains come and go.  The critter doesn't seem to care.

The video is pretty poor quality because it was shot in 2003 with a Sony Clie UX-50 -- a kind of souped-up Palm Pilot.  It was state of the art at the time, but the art has changed a lot since then.

Monday, December 28, 2009

The Wheels On The Bus Go... Oh, Holy Crap!

This picture is from last winter, but when I happened to come across it I found it far too interesting not to post.  It's a CTA route 151 bus on Michigan Avenue after its tire has come off the wheel.

I'm not sure how something like this happens, but you can bet someone had a bad day.

Slice of Life: Peaceful Night

A peaceful night in Erie Park (630 North Kingsbury Street -- officially called Park 511), along the banks of the North Branch of the Chicago River.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Mini Marshall Fields

It's no great secret that even though I travel a lot, I haven't seen much of Chicago's suburbs.  Generally, if I'm on the move, my journey starts at the airport.

So on those occasions I venture into the suburbs I'm usually delighted by the little things.  One of them is the series of mini Marshall Fields stores that seem to litter the area.  They help me envision a time when State Street was the great mother ship of a retailing empire, and scattered around its sphere of influence are miniature versions bringing the same class and sophistication to the hinterlands.

Alas, those days are long gone; but the buildings remain.

This photo shows a mini-Marshall Fields in Evanston, now known as the Evanston Galleria (807 Church Street, Evanston), complete with a miniature corner clock similar to the famous one at State and Randolph Streets.

There's also an even small one in Lake Forest (682 North Bank Lake, Lake Forest) that we've mentioned before.  There are probably other ones out there in suburbs I have yet to explore.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Slice of Life: For Love and Cheeseburgers

A wee moggie gazes out  the windows of the Anti-Cruelty Society (157 West Grand Avenue), hoping that someone will take pity on him and bring him home for love and snuggles and cheeseburgers.  Alas, no one comes this night.

Friday, December 18, 2009

On Track To The Past

Whether most people see them or not, railroads are still the lifeblood of Chicago's economy.  But there once was a time when train lines were far more intertwined with daily life in the city than they are now.

This old line runs along West Carroll Avenue -- a street in River North many people don't even know exists.  It carried newsprint to the old Chicago Sun-Times Building before trucks made the line redundant.  This was long before the Sun-Times building was torn down to make way for the Trump International Hotel and Tower (401 North Wabash Street).

Mayor Daley would like to use the tracks to run a trolley or light rail service from Union Station to Michigan Avenue.  But these days a lot of Hizzonor's dreams are going unfulfilled for reasons that are beyond the scope of this blog.

Interestingly, the reason the old Sun-Times Building was located along the Chicago River is the same reason the Chicago Tribune's current print house at the Freedom Center (777 West Chicago Avenue) is also located on the river -- so that newsprint could be brought in by barge.  I've never seen any old pictures of newsprint being unloaded at the Sun-Times site, and I've read that the Tribune has never used its barge unloading capability at the Freedom Center.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

TweetEcho: December 7-December 16, 2009

For those of you who don't subscribe to our Twitter feed, here are the items we tweeted in the last week or so:

  1. The Hermes logos are up at the new Hermes location on Oak Street:
  2. Chicago's cheapest architecture tour: No club to join, tour fees, or docents to tip:
  3. Tuesday Trivia: Name the only TWO residential buildings on Lake Shore Drive with odd numbered addresses:
  4. We hear there's been a sudden flurry of activity today at the long-dormant Waterview Tower. Anyone know what's going on?
  5. Children's Memorial Hospital has a new "projection": Ha! "Projection!" I get it!
  6. Dogs in backpacks=cute. Dogs in backpacks on motorcycles=danger!
  7. The new public skating rink next to Wrigley Field opens today. $10+skate rental if you don't bring your own.
  8. A new hospital will replace the vacant lot in Streeterville that used to be the CBS building:
  9. The Chicago Architecture Blog: Third Chicago Skyscraper Fire in Three Weeks
  10. The Amish have set up shop in the Loop!
  11. Beware of Chicago's sign-eating tree!
  12. @LittleMissMatch is now open in the old Barneys New York Space on Oak Street:
  13. Just voted for Tweet of the Year #openwebawards
  14. Just voted Hootsuite for Best Twitter App #openwebawards
  15. Kinda cool: Michigan Avenue Best Buy has a concierge & will deliver phone chargers or other forgotten electronics to nearby hotels.
  16. The Elysian Chicago is now officially open:
  17. Pictures of the damage from this morning's deadly Chicago skyscraper fire:
  18. Nokia is going to close its Michigan Avenue store:
  19. The Tribune's best #Chicago architecture of 2009:
  20. Here's a good photo of The Plaza on Dewitt, the building where the woman was killed in a fire last night:
  21. Second Chicago skyscraper fire in a week. This one killed a woman:
  22. Public skating rink to open by Wrigley Field
  23. Staff at Chicago's new Elysian hotel will refuse tips -- just like hotels in Asia:
  24. @CMEGroup Nice pic. Thanks for pointing it out to me.
  25. Chicago architects build gingerbread houses:
  26. Very sad, since I love the Atwood Cafe: Hotel Burnham faces foreclosure:
  27. Is it just me, or is it really quiet in the Loop today?
  28. Just went to Chicago's new Culti store. Makes you want to redecorate your lifestyle.
  29. New Children's Memorial Hospital tops out today: More on the building:
  30. WSJ op ed asks if we can finally get over Mies van der Rohe and move on to something more interesting:

Madison Street Gap Has Been Filled

Back in April we talked about the Gap store closing at Three First National Plaza (70 West Madison Street).

The good news is... the vacant retail space has been filled.

The bad news is... it's yet another cell phone store.

Granted, I haven't shopped at a Gap store since I was a kid in the 1970's and it was the place where poor people went to buy dungarees.  But I think we're pretty close to the Loop's saturation point for cell phone stores.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Follow-up: Hermes and Little Miss Matched on Oak Street

As a follow-up to an article earlier this week, I went by the Little Miss Matched boutique that's opened in the former Chelsea Passage space at 39 East Oak Street.  I haven't received any answer to my inquiry with Little Miss Matched, but based on what I saw, I'd say this is a temporary pop-up store just for Christmas.  The floors are damaged and scarred and there's white sheets instead of walls in the back of the shop.

Also, One of our regular readers e-mailed some pictures to me today showing the new Hermes logos on the old Barneys New York building (25 East Oak Street).  Inside is still supposed to be a mess, but the fact that there's new window coverings means that progress is being made.


Use Any Old Phone For A DIY Architecture Tour

There are any number of applications that will help you explore Chicago with the help of your fancy shmancy smart phone.  Heck, we even have a web app of our own coming out soon (Shhh!  Point your iPhone at  But you don't need the latest high-tech gadget to take an architectural tour of the Tribune Tower (435 North Michigan Avenue).

The Tribune Company now has a phone number you can call from your regular cell phone to get a tour of its magnificent building.  It's 312/222-TOUR.

WGN Radio talk show host John Williams narrates four different tours of the historic building -- one about the various stones embedded in its facade, one about the building's grotesques (the correct name for its gargoyles), one about the lobby and a fourth that is an overview of the entire building.

It's a clever way to promote the building to tourists and passers-by and since Tribune owns most of the 312-222 prefix, all it costs the company is the price of a fancy answering machine while generating valuable goodwill.

And don't feel like you have to stand around and gawk at the building with all the tourists.  The audio tours are just as interesting listening from the comfort of your office phone.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Tuesday Trivia: Odd Numbers on LSD

Recently we published a photograph of Lake Point Tower, which made me think of this trivia question.

Q:  Lake Point Tower (seen below) at 505 North Lake Shore Drive is the only residential building east of North Lake Shore Drive.  But it's not the only one with an odd house number.  What is the other building with a street address indicating that it is on the east side of Lake Shore Drive?

A: 999 North Lake Shore Drive.

This building should actually have the address 954 North Lake Shore Drive, but has been granted the vanity address of 999 Lake Shore Drive, even though it is on the west side of the street.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Third Chicago Skyscraper Fire in Three Weeks

For the third time in three weeks, there has been a significant fire in a Chicago residential skyscraper.

Here's a statement from Alderman Reilly's office:

On Sunday afternoon at roughly 2:00 p.m., an extra-alarm fire broke out in a condo unit located on the 28th Floor of 1455 N. Sandburg Terrace, a residential high-rise located in the Gold Coast neighborhood.  Initial reports indicate the fire broke out in Apartment #2801, with much of the fire contained to that unit.  The occupant of the apartment was rescued by an off-duty firefighter in the area who carried the resident down 28 flights of stairs to ground level and out of harm's way.
The injured resident is in her mid-fifties and is reported to have suffered from burns and smoke inhalation.  The resident was transported to Northwestern Memorial Hospital for treatment where her condition is listed as "serious."
The Chicago Fire Department reported that the 28th and 29th floors sustained damage during the blaze; however, the lower floors were spared what could have been extensive damage.  According to our reports, no other injuries have been reported at this time.
The fire, classified as a "2-11" alarm by the Chicago Fire Department, broke out around 2:00 pm and was extinguished by approximately 2:30 pm.   The Chicago Fire Department responded quickly and in force - dispatching 130 firefighters and paramedics to the scene of the fire.  Building residents were allowed back into the high rise by roughly 3:20 p.m.
The cause of the fire is currently under investigation.
And here's video from WMAQ:

View more news videos at:

Status Update: The Heisen House

One of the few magnificent old mansions remaining on Lake Shore Drive is being renovated.

The Carl Constantine Heisen House (1250 North Lake Shore Drive) looks like it's been gutted and workers are busy putting things back together.  It's really amazing that such a beautiful mansion remains at this location when so many of its contemporaries were knocked down so that skyscrapers could be built in their place.

In fact, the southern turret of the Heisen house is mere inches away from a neighboring tower.

The home was built in 1891 and designed by architect Frank Abbott.

Among those who have lived at the home is Dorothy Dickson, the daughter of a Chicago journalist who married Heisen when she was 20.  He was a ballroom dancer of note and she had a semi-successful silent film career back before the movie industry moved to what would become Hollywood.  They eventually moved to Britain and divorced.  Her Chicago-born daughter became a big deal on the London stage.

It's not very often I get to post pictures of pretty girls in this blog instead of buildings, so here you go:

Dorothy Dickson in 1927

Slice of Life: When Cranes Snuggle

A pair of cranes working on the new Children's Memorial Hospital (225 East Chicago Avenue) take a snuggle break in the middle of the day.  Awwwwww.

Aftermath of a Skyscraper Fire

Here's what it looks like at The Plaza on Dewitt (260 East Chestnut Street) a couple of days after a fire on the 36th floor of the 43-story building killed an elderly German woman.

If you click to enlarge the photo, you can see the windows have been boarded up on some of the units on the 36th and 37th floors.  Meanwhile, the streets below are clogged with an army of carpet cleaning and other disaster repair service vans.

The last I read, the fire was caused by a kitchen appliance and is being called accidental.