Cartier-Bresson in Chicago
Excellent: I didn't know that the great Henri Cartier-Bresson was ever in Chicago, let alone that he photographed memorable images here, like this one. I'm heartened to see he was as enamored with the abstract geometry of the El tracks as countless other, lesser photographers (myself included) have been since the system's inception. And I admire the juxtaposition between the hard rigidity of the tracks and the soft and slightly pained humanity of the boy's face.
Reading in Public: Chicago, 1964
It's been a long time since I updated my "Reading in Public" series (almost a year and a half now) so when this wonderful photograph came up on Calumet 421, I just had to add it. The photo was taken by Jay King on Michigan Avenue in Chicago, in 1964. Not only is this gentleman reading in public, but he's so engrossed by the book that not even walking can distract him; based on the posture of the couple behind him, it appears that he's standing on a corner, probably waiting for the walk light. I certainly hope he looked both ways before returning to his reading. And I wish I could tell which book this was.
Henrici's at the Merchandise Mart
Now, that was a bar: the lounge of the Henrici's in the Merchandise Mart, which opened in 1948. (Not to be confused, however, with the Henrici's flagship location on Randolph Street.) The Merchandise Mart location was designed by James Eppenstein (the subject of this long feature at Forgotten Chicago, where I got the photo; scroll way down in the article for much more on this Henrici's), and that fantastic mural was by Frank Ruvolo. It almost makes me feel like I could slide onto a stool at that glorious curving bar and order an Old Fashioned. Sadly, all tangible vestiges of Henrici's are now long gone.
Merchandise Mart, 1934
Love this gorgeous 1934 photograph looking east along the main branch of the Chicago River, with the Merchandise Mart on the left. The river was so placid at that moment that it almost looks like a reflecting pool, and not the open sewer it was back then.
Wow, this is so cool: this map depicts the Chicago area at the end of the last ice age, around 14,000 years ago. (I knew about Lake Chicago - the predecessor of Lake Michigan - and was aware of its general environs, but had never seen an actual map.) The shaded portions are the land areas that existed back then, while the dotted lines show the modern-day Chicago River and shoreline of Lake Michigan. What is now the city of Blue Island was indeed an island back then, and even today with the waters having receded, it's an unusually elevated area in an otherwise flat landscape. Same thing for Mount Forest Island, which is between Lemont and Willow Springs; I ride right past there every day on my train.
What's really interesting to me about Mount Forest Island is the two outlets that are shown: the Sag Outlet, the low-lying ground where the Cal-Sag Channel was dug during the early 1900s; and the Desplaines Outlet, which is the current course of the Des Plaines River. As Lake Chicago receded, the Des Plaines formed into a river, bending to the north near McCook Station and roughly following the course of the old shoreline shown in the map.
Fitzpatrick on Shay
At Newcity, Tony Fitzpatrick writes a fine tribute to the great photographer Art Shay, who's still alive and kicking at 91, and currently has an exhibition at Ann Nathan Gallery.
His images of Wicker Park and Algren have no cheap sentiment in them. This was a neighborhood of immigrants, of the poor, of working people, of junkies and hustlers and whores—and Shay romanticizes none of it. For as unsparing as Algren’s prose was regarding this place, Shay matches him note for note. There was despair. There was grinding poverty. And there were transcendent moments of grace. None of it escaped Shay’s lens.
I really need to buy Shay's collection Chicago's Nelson Algren. ("Read Algren and you'll see Shay's pictures; look at Shay's photos and you'll hear Nelson's words.") One of my favorite photographers, and my favorite writer.
Fading Ad: Boston Store redux
My good friend Frank Jump was kind enough to repost this photo that I put up last week on Facebook, where I've been running an album called "Photo a Day", of photographs that I've taken each day this year. One afternoon last week, I was walking down Washington Street and looking for a subject, and happened to look across the street at the Block 37 office building, and was very pleased to see the old Boston Store fading ad reflected in the glass. (I had previously photographed the ad - posted here - and inevitably look for it every time I'm walking nearby.) In his post Frank provides more background on the Boston Store, including a great old newspaper ad. I really like the photo, particularly its juxtaposition of modern and aged.
Isn't it strange that during this visit from Santa, presumably during the middle of the night and after he just came down the chimney, there's a roaring fire going in the fireplace? What, does Santa not just drop off the presents, but also makes himself at home, starts a new fire, and maybe pours himself a nightcap and settles into an easy chair?
Ice Ice Baby
I love this photo. If my writing was at all comic - which it isn't - I'd want to have this as a book cover some day.
Two views of 1950s Chicago
Rush Street, looking south from Delaware Street, in 1954. Love that tawdry, gaudy neon. The area is now informally known as the Viagra Triangle (for the middle-aged divorced guys haunting the steakhouses and trying to get lucky), but there's no way it has the hustle and throb it enjoyed well into the 1970s.
Doorway by Harry Callahan, 1955. Probably far from the glare of Rush Street, and likely in a working class neighborhood. Just in this tight frame, I see advertisements for three beers (Sieben's - painted directly onto the window at the upper right - Schlitz and Budweiser) and two whiskeys (Hiram Walker Imperial and Echo Springs). I like a place that gives you a hint of what's inside before you even step off the street.
I love the rusted decay of this door on the Harrison Street side of the old Chicago Main Post Office, which has been abandoned since 1997. Sixty hulking, empty acres of floorspace - 2.5 million square feet - just a short walk from downtown. The place still amazes me, in both its gargantuan size and its emptiness.
"...beside that damn foul-smelling lamp, reading and planning and shivering in his long sag-butt underwear..."
I love this wonderful, remarkable paragraph from the early chapters of Kent Haruf's The Tie That Binds. The narrator is imagining the early life of his longtime neighbor Roy Goodnough, who at the time of the scene is newly married and living with his parents in Iowa, but dreaming of a homestead of his own in eastern Colorado.
On those cold wet Iowa nights then in that first winter of their marriage, with his brothers and sisters sleeping in their bedrooms next door and his folks snoring from another room down the hall, I picture him standing by a kerosene lamp. I picture him reading those flyers and notices and government brochures till he had them by heart, while in the room with him Ada would have been lying thin and straight in their bed under some thick homemade quilts, lying there waiting for him with her hair already combed out and braided, trying to stay awake for him because she no doubt believed a new wife would do that or should at least try to. And still - because I know that's the way he was - he must have gone on night after night the same. Gone on standing there beside that damn foul-smelling lamp, reading and planning and shivering in his long sag-butt underwear, with his red feet itching from the cold and his stringy arms and legs all gone to goose bumps and pig's bristle by the time he finally blew out the lamp and crawled into bed beside Ada - not to sleep yet, you understand, or even to raise Ada's flannel nightgown so he could rub his calloused hands over her thin hips and little breasts - but just to wake her again, wake her so he could tell her one more time how, by God, he had it all figured.I can totally see that scene in my mind - Roy fretting over brochures in the frigid bedroom, Ada waiting nervously in bed, Roy finally crawling under the covers not for sex but to again tell Ada (possibly to her relief) of his grand homesteading plan. Obviously, I'm already enjoying this book quite a bit. Haruf is the best.
Fading Ad: Casey's Liquors
This fading ad for Casey's Liquors (1444 W. Chicago Avenue) is one of the more difficult ad photos I've taken. It was in a narrow, fenced alley that made it impossible to photograph in any manner other than from this extreme angle. I really like the now-defunct store's slogan: "Chances are we got it."
The end of two baseball erasCubs leaving WGN-TV and Astrodome headed for likely demolition.
The Cubs have been on WGN since 1948, and their afternoon game broadcasts have been a daily staple for generations of Chicagoans, myself included. The Astrodome news is somewhat bittersweet for me. I always hated when the Cubs played there, because given Wrigley Field's small confines, Cub teams have almost always been built around slow-moving sluggers, and thus they lost most of their games in the spacious expanse of the 'Dome. Small-ball was always the name of the game there, and of course the Cubs have never been able to draw walks, steal bases or bunt to save their lives. Still, it will be sad to see such a revolutionary structure meet its demise.
It's pretty astounding that this 400-foot-deep hole once existed in the middle of a busy city neighborhood on the Southwest Side. If you look at the lower edge of the quarry in this photo, you can see there were houses right across the street. The quarry still exists (though, I assume, at much shallower depths) and has been redeveloped into Palmisano Park.
Love this 1907 ad, which apparently appeared in Chicago theater programs. (I wonder how many people waited until the show was over, and how many snuck out for a quick nip during intermission.) Wonderful graphics, but oh, such shoddy punctuation: the incorrect usage of "it's", and the accent mark placed above the S instead of the E in "cafés."
Fading Ad: A. Sulka & Company
Here's a different kind of fading ad. At the former Chicago branch of luxury clothier A. Sulka & Company at Madison Street and Michigan Avenue, the company name was affixed onto the building with some sort of raised script lettering. The signage must have been there for quite some time, because after it was removed, the years of weather left an outline of the lettering on the building. Nice little relic.
"Step high, stoop low, leave your dignity outside."
Aimee Leavitt has a terrific piece, "The migration of the hipster", in the Chicago Reader which surveys the city's primary artist/bohemian/hipster neighborhoods since the end of the 19th Century. This quote, from an unidentified University of Chicago student, is nearly perfect:
"This is no place for a beatnik, and the weather is the principal reason. If you want to lie around like a beachcomber in Chicago, contemplating your navel and grumbling about the uselessness of it all, you're out of luck. It gets cold here in the winter time, and you might have to go to work. And that would spoil everything."And I admire Leavitt's observation that Nelson Algren, while admittedly a Wicker Park hipster of the 1940s, probably would have beat the crap out of the wimpy Wicker Park hipster/musicians of the 1990s.
Monadnock Building, west-facing wall, taken during the late afternoon from the tight confines of Federal Street. One of my favorite buildings in the city. Somewhere in the back of my mind is a novel about the office denizens of just such a building.
Joel Daly, actor?Longtime WLS-TV anchorman Joel Daly, who retired in 2005, apparently is also a pretty good stage actor. He once played Atticus Finch in a stage version of To Kill a Mockingbird, and now he's been cast as Howard Beale for a new adaptation of Network.
"I think Paddy Cheyevsky was a wonderful commentator of his time," Daly says. Yet Network "says more about what television is today than it did in 1976. With all the reality TV and all the other things that didn't exist in 1976--TV's worse."Fitzgerald was wrong: there are indeed second acts in American lives. I'm glad to see Daly is still doing well. He was always a favorite of mine.
Sometimes accidental photographic subjects are more interesting than what you intended to photograph. I was trying to snap a long-distance photo of the Santa Fe Grain Elevator from my fast-moving train, but although I did catch part of the elevator in this photo (at the center-right, beyond the telephone pole), far more interesting to me are the brick houses, garage and oddly-parked van in the foreground, plus the blurred rush of the trees. This is in McKinley Park on the near Southwest Side, at 33rd and Damen.
Fading Ad: Chicago Paper Company
On an instant whim, I photographed this image from my train this morning, of the old Chicago Paper Company building at Wells and Polk in the South Loop. I'm not sure which I love more: the fading ad bearing the company name, or that marvelous vast wall of small windows. (The blank spots are windows reflecting the morning sun.) I converted the photo to black and white to eliminate the sickening greenish tinge of the train window; I also found that doing so, combined with higher contrast and reduced brightness, really helps bring out the lettering.
I previously photographed this building last year, specifically for another ad along the roofline. But I like this current image much better.
A tale of two buildings
The photo above shows the top floors of the Waterman Building at 127 S. State Street, right next door to the Palmer House Hilton. Designed by Holabird & Roche and built in 1920, the building originally housed the Chicago branch of the Waterman fountain pen company, with a luxurious street-level retail showroom and assembly/warehousing operations upstairs. The building is now considerably worn and showing its age, but still retains a sort of muscular elegance.
Meanwhile, this photo shows the Beef & Brandy Restaurant, also on State, which dates from the 1960s and is also showing its age. The ugly maroon awning, atrium-like front windows (which always remind me of a 1980s-vintage Wendy's) and pseudo-Colonial upper windows add little to the aesthetics of State Street, which itself has been aesthetically challenged for decades.
The strange thing is that both of these photos are of the same building. Here's the full view:
This might be the Loop's most comically incongruous building. Designslinger has much more about the building. As that site notes, the blank white area in the middle floors was once an enamel background for a two-story-high sign; for some reason when the sign was removed the enamel panels were left behind, and are still pockmarked by holes from the sign's former mountings. I'd love to see the latter-day embellishments of the bottom four floors totally stripped away, and the building restored to some semblance of its former luster. Perhaps for a high-end jeweler, condominiums or a boutique hotel. But I'm probably just dreaming.
Cocktails at Henrici's
I'd love to have a framed original of this cocktail menu from Chicago's legendary Henrici's, circa 1945. Having it would probably inspire me to finally find a vintage cocktail cabinet for our living room, which it would hang directly above. Until I saw this, I didn't realize that a Cuba Libre is basically the same as a rum and coke, but with a much better name. I'd guess it became known as the more generic "rum and coke" during the Cold War, when making any sort of tribute to Cuba would have been a major no-no.
Incidentally, if you've ever been to Chicago's Museum of Science and Industry, you may remember Yesterday's Main Street, a re-creation of a Chicago street, circa 1910. For many years, one storefront was made up to look like Henrici's. But with that restaurant now long gone, presumably along with any potential benefactors to the museum, that space now depicts the still-thriving Berghoff, whose family owners undoubtedly made a generous donation to the museum to make this happen. I preferred the Henrici's.
Fading Ad: W.W. Kimball
This fading ad is pretty tough to read. Running vertically down the right side of this building, you can just barely see the name "Kimball", with the "K" being even more faded than the rest. This was the former home of W.W. Kimball and Company, the famous manufacturer of pianos and organs, at the corner of Jackson and Wabash. (And, incidentally, right across the street is the old Lyon-Healy building; Wabash was once Chicago's Music Row.) Both the Kimball and Lyon-Healy buildings are now owned by DePaul University as part of its downtown campus.
This charming medieval couple has clearly been keeping diligent watch over the fire alarm at 314-316 S. Federal for decades. The building was originally St. Hubert's English Chophouse (which was quite the destination in its day) but is now used only for storage by the adjacent Union League Club.
Fading Ad: Century Building
I'm somehow charmed by this stylistic hodgepodge of a fading ad, on the south side of the Century Building, 202 S. State St. Reading from top to bottom:
202 S. State Street
Choice Space/300 to 3500 sq. ft./Phone 431-1730
Based on the graphics and the lack of an area code with the phone number, I would guess this ad dates from the late 1960s or early 1970s. That's also roughly the last time State Street had anything that would have been considered "choice" office space. The less-than-pristine portion at the left side of the ad is due it being painted over a vertical outcrop in the brick wall, which I assume conceals a chimney pipe.
Happy birthday, Chicago!
Happy 180th birthday to Chicago, which was incorporated as a town on this date in 1833. I'm not sure exactly when this map dates from, but it must be from very early on since the town mostly consisted of just four square blocks at the time. (The map's orientation is skewed - the top of the map is west, not north.) I'm intrigued by that branch of the river that extends from Water Street (now Wacker Drive) and State Street, and runs southwest before ending near Clark and Washington, as well as the shorter one that parallels LaSalle and Clark. I've heard about underground rivers beneath other cities (particularly Manhattan) and have wondered if any remain in Chicago. These two undoubtedly no longer exist, as they would have interfered with the vast network of freight tunnels which were later bored beneath the Loop, and were surely filled in during the nineteenth century. Still, I have hopes of discovering some other river (or, more accurately, a stream) around here that was built over instead of filled in - that is, just not one that runs under my house.
Seeing this 1954 photo of commuters getting off the Illinois Central train in Park Forest, Illinois, reminds me that I still want to read Walter H. Whyte's landmark study The Organization Man, which was based on the denizens of Park Forest, one of America's first centrally-planned suburbs. After Whyte's book, I'd also like to read The Man in the Gray Flannel Suit, Sloan Wilson's bestselling novel of the same era and subject matter. Based on this photo, it looks like Park Forest had quite a few gray-suited organization men back then.
River North usually gets a bad rap as being a vacuous playground for suburbanites, but at least the area has preserved its architectural heritage much better than the Loop has. Here is the main entrance for the old Union Special Machine Company building, at 310 W. Kinzie, right behind the Merchandise Mart. The building is now condominiums - which is far better than being demolished.
Fading Ad: Majestic Building
This fading ad is of the Majestic Building, at 18 W. Monroe. The building originally housed the Majestic Theatre as well as general office space, and is now the Bank of America Theatre, with the offices recently converted to a Hampton Inn hotel. Lately I've been enjoying taking city photos during the late afternoon, when the sun is lower in the sky and casts some dramatic shadows such as this one.
Adams StreetThe couple moved slowly along the sidewalk, laboring in the sun-drenched heat. The husband, just behind, stopped and then stepped into the shadow which brought a few degrees of relief. His wife also stopped, and glanced patiently back at him. The look in his bulged eyes, just above the tube that trailed from his nostrils and down to the oxygen tank on his hip, showed her his anxiety, even fear. As if he wasn't quite sure he would make it, unless he paused for a rest. She waited, without a word or even a gesture, as if long accustomed to such moments.
I just can't get enough Randolph Street photos from the fifties and sixties, and only partly because my dad used to work in the block shown above, between State and Dearborn. The signage (including, just on the north side of the street, Eitel's Old Heidelberg, the Oriental Theatre and the Woods Theatre) is so gaudy that it's almost beautiful. Plus I love that there was a bowling alley right in the middle of downtown; its unlit sign is in the left-center of the photo, above the bus.
Lake Street, looking east from the Chicago & North Western viaduct. Yesterday afternoon.
View from inside of Cafecito, Wells Street, Chicago.
Strolling on Canal Street
I love this 1953 view of Canal Street, looking north from Fulton Street. I'm intrigued by the presence of the woman and child - back then the area was almost entirely industrial sites and railyards, and not exactly the ideal place for a stroll. All I can think of is that with the Chicago & North Western railroad station having been a few blocks from that corner, maybe the two had a layover between trains and the woman wanted the kid to burn off some nervous energy before getting on their next train.
Here is the current view from almost the exact same vantage point. The tall building in the old photo (North American Cold Storage) is just visible as a sliver at the left of the right-hand condo tower - the cold storage building itself was converted to condos during the 1990s. The industrial building on the west side of the street in the old photo is now Cassidy Tire, which is marked by red signage.
Fading Ad: Champlain Building
Walking down Wabash this afternoon, I was surprised to see this faded ad in the distance, a few blocks south on the opposite side of the street. I don't remember ever seeing it before, but I guess the El tracks block its view from most vantage points other than where I happened to be walking. The lettering is hard to make out, but I could just discern "Champlain" and "37", which I later found out was the Champlain Building, at 37 S. Wabash. Though the faded ad itself leaves much to be desired, I like the composition of this photo, particularly the contrast of the vertical columns of the buildings against the diagonals formed by the streetlights, tracks and windows.
Ordinarily I love vintage signage, especially for a former Chicago institution like Karoll's. But I have to admit that this signage (shown in 1977) was kind of tacky, and really marred the exterior of the Reliance Building, one of the Loop's true architectural gems.
(Via Calumet 412.)
Yesterday afternoon, while enjoying a brief stroll, I couldn't help admiring this bas relief on the Commonwealth Edison substation at 115 N. Dearborn. Though I'm not sure what that's supposed to be - maybe a superhero? Electric Power Man?
Hinky Dink Kenna's gold star
Sweet relic of Chicago, interesting backstory. But the saloonkeepers and pimps of the First Ward owed Kenna a hell of a lot more payback and appreciation than that.
Church of the Holy Pigskin
When my morning train passes through the Brighton Park neighborhood, to the south I always see a hulking building that looks like an auditorium. This morning, a few minutes of Google Mapping and a quick address search finally revealed its identity: the St. Agnes Parish Center, once a thriving local landmark (roller rink! bowling lanes!) but now vacant after having become much less vital with the demolition of the adjacent church a few decades ago. Clearly this parish took their sports very seriously, as this carved figure would attest. Carved gargoyles and crosses I'm used to seeing in church architecture, but football players? Hardly.
Sad: former Bulls center Tom Boerwinkle has passed away, at age 67.
"He was a great teammate with a heart of gold," Love said. "And I always tell people: Half of my baskets came from him. He's one of the best-passing big men of all-time."Boerwinkle was a mainstay of the Bulls when I first became a fan, anchoring the middle for one of the greatest lineups to never win an NBA title: Boerwinkle, Bob Love, Chet Walker, Jerry Sloan and Norm Van Lier.
Welcome to glamorous WestmontJulie and I recently noticed an interesting phenomenon while driving through the western suburbs: the long stretch of luxury car dealers on Ogden Avenue in what is mostly a middle class area - primarily Westmont and to a lesser extent Clarendon Hills and Downers Grove. Most of the high-end makes are represented: Bentley, Lamborghini, Porshe, Mercedes, BMW, Infiniti. Our guess is that the rich people of Oak Brook, Hinsdale and Burr Ridge refuse to allow something as tawdry as a car dealership within their village limits, thus forcing dealers to set up shop in the next town over, where they rub elbows with considerably more prosaic neighbors. Thus, Bentley of Downers Grove is directly across the street from this underwhelming site, and the palatial Lamborghini Chicago (actually in Westmont) is next door to a strip mall with a nail salon, yoga studio and wheelchair dealer.
From stable to chop house to coffee house
This is fantastic: Asado Coffee is opening a coffee roaster and cafe in the Pickwick Stable, a wonderfully obscure and out-of-the-way building that survived the Great Chicago Fire. The building is at the end of a gated alley on Jackson just west of Wabash, and is completely enclosed by the surrounding buildings. (It's the darkened square at the center of this satellite image.) It's also tiny - each of the three floors is only 19' square, which means the entire building is only 1,083 square feet. I first heard about the building last year and have been fascinated by it ever since. I can't wait to have coffee there, likely on a regular basis.
(Via Gapers Block.)
A 1930s tile facade for a long-gone hamburger stand, revealed during renovation of a former Mexican restaurant. I'll have a burger. Oh, hell, I've got ten cents - give me two.
This week I was pleased to discover that my office building stands on the former site of the Chicago recording studio of pioneering jazz label Okeh Records, where Louis Armstrong and His Hot Five cut all of their sides. Alas, my building only dates to 1987, so Satchmo's spirit doesn't exactly stalk the halls. And I haven't been able to find a photo of the old building.
Sometimes train delays are good things. Yesterday morning my train was stopped for several minutes on the southwest side, in the Garfield Ridge neighborhood, which gave me time to fully take in the scene outside. A dusting of snow had partially covered this vacant industrial lot, which used to be a car junkyard but was recently cleared and graded, for some unknown purpose. I couldn't decide how to best describe the scene; at first, the snow mixed with the dark soil reminded me of powdered sugar on chocolate cake, but as I gazed longer the table-flat lot ringed with wild grasses looked almost like a lake. And obviously, the cake and lake versions are impossible to reconcile. Fortunately, images often succeed where words fail, and this photograph describes the scene more vividly than I can in writing.
Boy's gotta have it.
What a fantastic bit of local ephemera: a tape box cover from Chicago's Universal Recording Studios, circa 1960. Music-related, vivid artwork, and a Bertrand Goldberg-designed building that still stands. What's not to love?
The lost West Fork
I never cease to be amazed by facts that I gradually discover about Chicago. The latest: there used to be a West Fork of the Chicago River on the southwest side of the city, running west from the South Branch at Damen Avenue, all the way to the city limits and beyond, finally emptying into the Des Plaines River near the towns of Lyons and Forest View. In the Rand McNally map from 1910 shown above, the West Fork is the dark curvy line above the parallel lines of the Sanitary and Ship Canal ("Drainage Canal") and the Illinois & Michigan Canal. The West Fork was basically made obsolete by the Sanitary Canal (which was fully completed in 1922), and was filled in during the late 1920s. The only obvious traces of the West Fork today are several diagonal property lines (between California Avenue and St. Louis Avenue) which once ran along the river's banks.
The West Fork's current obscurity is somewhat strange since, as Libby Hill notes here in The Chicago River: A Natural and Unnatural History, the fork is the reason Chicago first came to exist, as it was the only waterway link between the Great Lakes and the Mississippi River. Because of the fork, voyagers could travel almost entirely by water, with only a short overland portage required at the fork's western terminus, before continuing on to the Des Plaines, the Illinois River and ultimately the Mississippi.
Farewell, HelixHelix Camera is closing, after 49 years in business. I don't think I ever bought anything at Helix, other than having some film developed at their former store in Champaign. (Most of my camera equipment was inherited from my brother, and my darkroom equipment came from the long-defunct Lion Photo.) One by one, camera stores are disappearing. Thank goodness that Central Camera is still with us.
(Via Gapers Block.)