Monday, September 13, 2010

Battle in the Sky Brings History Back to the Hancock

What once was old is new again.  The more years I gain, the more I see that things are cyclical.  But I didn't see this coming.

The seemingly friendly Battle of the Observation Decks being waged between the Sears Willis Tower (233 South Wacker Drive), and the John Hancock Center (875 North Michigan Avenue) has seen both sides dip into the old bag of tricks to bring in new customers.

The first shot was fired in July of last year when Willis opened "The Ledge."  If you haven't been to Skydeck Chicago (the current name for what used to be the Sears Skydeck) in a while, this is alone worth the price of admission.  Check out our previous piece on The Ledge for pictures and video.

While The Ledge is all high-tech glass, and physics calculations, and safety regulations, what it does is simulate the experience of hanging off the edge of a skyscraper.  To the majority of people in the 21st century, this is a novelty.  But it's not all that novel.

Hanging out on steel beams is a very late-19th and early-20th century thing to do.  Think back to black-and-white Looney Tunes, or those iconic photographs of construction workers just sort of sitting there, having lunch, perched on a girder hundreds of feet above the street below, without a care in the world.  The same lower-belly giddiness we experience looking at those photos is the same feeling we get to experience first-hand and intensified by visiting The Ledge.

The old thrills are new again.  Except you don't have to be a construction worker to experience it.  You can just pay your $15, close your eyes, and take one giant step into the air.

A year later, it's time for the Hancock Center to return fire.

Last week, newspapers around the world lit up with news about Big John's newest attraction, Skating in the Sky.

The idea is that there will be a skating rink on the 94th floor of the building.  That puts it 1,000 feet over North Michigan Avenue.  But it's not actual ice; it's a slippery synthetic substance that's being used.  Adolescent fantasies about crashing through the glass aside, skating at the Hancock is nothing new.

In fact, shortly after the John Hancock Center first opened, it had a real ice skating rink in the sunken plaza right in front of the building.  The plaza is a public amenity, required to get the zoning permits needed to build such a huge tower in what was then a low-rise area.

Reports of the day indicate that the skating rink was popular, and attracted crowds similar to those that now spin themselves into frigid dizziness at the McCormick-Tribune ice skating rink at Millennium Park.  But it didn't last.  It opened in the winter of 1971, and the following year, instead of ice it was covered with Christmas trees as a safety precaution because it was feared that winds whipped up by the Hancock Center would hurl debris from nearby construction projects at the helpless skaters.  By the winter of 1973, the ice was replaced by crushed rock and planters.  Skating at the Hancock faded from Chicago's collective memory shortly thereafter.

Interestingly, during the same time period there was another ice skating rink nearby at Lake Shore Park that is also gone.  People who have lived in the area far longer than me say the city used to be lousy with ice skating rinks, and nearly everyone enjoyed the sport from families to dating couples to loners and gangs of teen-agers.  But as the city's tastes matured and more and more people sought refuge in warm apartments with television sets to tick away the dark winters, the neighborhood skating rinks became fewer and fewer.

With any luck, the new rink at Millennium Park, plus the new fake skate at the Hancock Center will trigger a resurgence of good, wholesome, outdoor winter activity.  Lord knows Chicago's children could use a little less time playing virtual snowboarder on the Xbox, and more time learning how use their muscles to balance on some blades in a nearby park.

TweetEcho: September 1-12, 2010

For those of you who don't subscribe to our Twitter feed, here are the tweets we posted over the last week or so:

  1. #Chicago building of the day: 2440 North Lakeview Avenue - 2440 North Lakeview Avenue -
  2. Added to the #Chicago Architecture web site: 60 East Walton -
  3. #Chicago building of the day: The Montgomery - 535 West Chicago Avenue -
  4. RT @CRED_by_Crains: Blue Cross parent to exit Illinois Center, consolidate at HQ
  5. Added to the #Chicago Architecture web site: 48 East Walton (Urban Outfitters Gold Coast) -
  6. #Chicago building of the day: 2242-2244 North Lincoln Park West - 2242-2244 North Lincoln Park West -
  7. RT @Chicagoist: City Council gives Mayor Daley green light for $1 billion in bonds O'Hare Expansion:
  8. Added to the #Chicago Architecture web site: 11 West Division Street -
  9. #Chicago building of the day: 325 North Wells Street - 325 North Wells Street -
  10. Added to the #Chicago Architecture web site: 50 East Chestnut -
  11. Ronald Krueck discusses the restoration of Mies van der Rohe's 1951 landmark Chicago project 860-80 Lake Shore Drive -
  12. #Chicago building of the day: Metcalfe Federal Building - 77 West Jackson Boulevard -
  13. #Chicago building of the day: 33 North Dearborn Building - 33 North Dearborn Street -
  14. South Side Chicago church moving to Wisconsin. Not the people. The WHOLE church:
  15. @aThousandFeetUp You and Willis should shoot lasers at each other as a spectacle. Maybe you shoot green and Willis shoots red for Christmas!
  16. #Chicago building of the day: Hotel Raffaello - 201 East Delaware Place -
  17. #Chicago building of the day: Northern Trust Center (Chicago South Wacker) - 125 South Wacker -
  18. RT @HOKNetwork: Evaluating each plan in the St. Louis Gateway Arch design competition -
  19. RT @archpaper: Is the #Venice #Biennale a complete waste of time—and money—anymore? @ArchDaily
  20. #Chicago building of the day: 1300 North Lake Shore Drive - 1300 North Lake Shore Drive -
  21. #Chicago building of the day: Olympia Centre - 737 North Michigan Avenue -
  22. New 44-story tower at Lake & Garland in the Loop: RT @CRED_by_Crains: Hot downtown apartment market piques developer
  23. #Chicago building of the day: Schweepe Building - 1500 South Indiana Avenue -

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Slice of Life: Assumption Church

Until recently, Holy Name Cathedral was both my home parish and my favorite church in Chicago.  Now, it has competition for "favorite church" title.

I've been to Assumption Church (323 West Illinois Street) about five times, and each time it just gets better, for a lot of reasons.  But in keeping with this blog's theme, we'll concentrate on its physical structure.  The church is based on traditional Italian churches.  While the outside is fairly plain, the inside decorations equal any church of similar size I've been to in Italy.  It's a slice of forgotten old school Chicago, and great place to explore if you get a chance.