Heinz strained beets! Swan's soap! Public telephones!
I love this detail from Gordon Parks' 1943 photograph of a Harlem street scene.
The few things I will miss about Rosemont
Since August I've been temporarily working in Rosemont, where my company is based. This has required a long, tiring drive (85-mile roundtrip) on clogged expressways, and cramped office space. But tomorrow, I return to downtown Chicago, to a newly built office and a resumption of my daily train ride. Rosemont isn't much to speak of and I'm glad to be leaving, but there are a few things I will miss about the area.
Late lunches at Mac's Restaurant in Park Ridge, where they serve a great club sandwich and always greeted me with a smile. I always found quiet satisfaction at being their last customer of the day, before they closed up at 2:30.
Unobstructed sunsets over O'Hare.
A parking garage that was unexpectedly photogenic if I looked carefully enough.
Okay, the fact that one of the three things that I'll miss about Rosemont is a parking garage should tell you how little I'll miss the place.
Sixth in a series of memorable curbside discards from around Joliet. Queen-sized headboard, circa 1980s, on Campbell Street. I'm guessing the garbage man will get this before any scavenger will.
I'm calling this "Sunset, St. Paul Estates, Joliet." Not quite "Moonrise, Hernandez, New Mexico", but in Joliet we take whatever we can get.
I love this 1906 image of the McKinley Park swimming pool in Chicago, and particularly the fact that something as mundane as a public pool could have had such grandeur (and white-uniformed attendants). The park still has a pool, but the neo-classical structures are long gone.
(Actually, the building on the left still stands, though in sadly degraded form. The other structures and pool are gone.)
Clark and Madison
Lively image of the bustling (northeast) corner of Clark and Madison, in 1948. Ah, to be able to take in a show at the Clark Theater, followed by some liquid refreshment at the Bamboo Inn or Kozer's Tap, and then an afternoon nap in an air-conditioned room at the Planters. None of which, sadly, is possible at that same corner today.
Haskell, Barker, Sullivan
Detail of Louis Sullivan's gorgeous cast-iron facades on the Haskell and Barker Buildings, at 18-22 S. Wabash. The facades were rediscovered during a 2009 renovation, under twenty coats of paint. Alas, the exposure meter on my iPhone wasn't quite up to task; capturing the black detail resulted in the white detail being partly washed out.
Wabash & Delaware
I love this 1963 image by Vivian Maier. It almost looks like there's another world below the sidewalk, barely visible through a jagged fissure.
Fading Ad: Dexter Folder Company
Fading ad for Dexter Folder Company, on Harrison Street in the South Loop. At first I assumed that Dexter once made folders of the manila file variety, but I subsequently learned that its folders were actually automatic folding machines that were used to assemble newspapers, books and magazines. Which makes perfect sense: this building is immediately adjacent to Printer's Row, the city's old publishing district.
A true Chicago icon: the Vienna Sausage Company (now "Vienna Beef") at its grand opening in 1894. The building was at Halsted Street and 12th Street (now Roosevelt Road) near the legendary Maxwell Street open market, but no longer exists after the entire neighborhood was redeveloped as University Village during the early 2000s. Although the sign claims the company's products as "celebrated" and thus indicates the company was already in existence at this time, this may have been its first permanent location. The company first rose to fame during the 1893 Columbian Exposition in Chicago.
Fading Ad: Schmitz & Gretencort
I strongly prefer to find fading ads on my own, finding much more pleasure in unexpected discovery than taking the shortcut of an Internet search. But yesterday, for some reason, I happened to google "ghost sign" (the more common term for fading ads) and "Joliet" and came across a Flickr photo of an ad in Rockdale, a tiny factory town that is almost completely surrounded by Joliet. I was surprised, as I had hunted in Rockdale in the past but hadn't found anything; apparently I must have always driven west down Moen Avenue, and thus missed seeing this west-facing ad.
Last night, after picking Maddie up from her guitar lesson, we swung down to Rockdale and found the ad, and that's my photograph above. Though the ad is in poor condition and hard to read, my knowledge of local history helped me immediately recognize the name "Schmitz & Gretencort", an old department store in downtown Joliet. (Here's an earlier blog post I did about the store.) There's additional wording above the name, the only clear part of which reads "The Boys." Oddly enough, the white van in the photo also appears in the exact same location in the Flickr photo. Possibly belongs to the owner, though, sadly, more likely a regular.
The photo at the top is an early home of E.J. Brach & Sons, on the northeast corner of LaSalle and Illinois, circa 1909. After seeing this online and, on a whim, doing a Google Street View of the address, I was delighted to see that the building is still standing. I took the lower photo today during my afternoon walk. Most of Chicago's once-thriving candy industry is now gone, so sadly this building now only houses nothing more unique than yet another Jimmy John's outpost, plus whatever happens to be upstairs.
I love Marco Cadioli's tumblr Abstract Journeys, with its stark satellite landscape images. The image above is my own take on the idea, and shows the square block that includes my house. Not quite as abstract as Cadioli's farmstead images (and not as sharp; his are from Google Earth, mine are from Google Maps, which seems to have lower resolution) but, I think, still interesting.
19 S. Peoria Street, then and now
Sure, that parking lot is convenient and the employee picnic table looks inviting, but, still, I'm sure things were a lot more lively at Waller's Public Bath.
Duncan Ceramic Products, Authorized Dealer
Yesterday, I took a detour down a stretch of Center Street, on the north side of Joliet, that I had never driven before. Standing out amid the usual hundred-plus-year-old houses, I was very pleased to discover this old storefront building. I would guess it was originally a corner tavern or grocery (the name near the roof reads "Sievert"), though it's now empty and for sale. The decal on the front door for Duncan Ceramic Products indicates its most recent incarnation was some sort of art supply store, though I can't find any confirmation of that online through an address search. Such a store seems somewhat incongruous with the surrounding working-class neighborhood, which might mean it's been empty for a very long time.
Fading Ad: Joliet Litho-Print
I've known about this ad for a while now, but only just got around to photographing it yesterday. This is Joliet Litho-Print, on Chicago Street in downtown Joliet. In the inset photo, you can make out "Service Printers", "Pamphlets" and "Catalogs", and if you look even closer, there's a lime-colored swoosh stripe (inverted, anti-Nike) just above "Litho-Print." Based on the company's limited web presence - I couldn't even find a website - it's unclear whether or not it's still in business, so I'm glad to have finally photographed this while I still could. I've been into fading ads for about fifteen years now, and have lost far too many ads by assuming they would always be around to photograph some other day.
Fading Ad: People's Gas Company
Here's another fading ad, one that's hiding and seems somewhat shy. I saw this from atop the same parking garage where I photographed the A.C. McClurg ad; it's the old Peoples Gas Company building at 122 S. Michigan. The ad is on the back on the building, facing west, and is mostly obscured by the taller, modern tower at the left side of the photo. Due to its height and the closeness of that modern tower, I doubt that this ad is fully visible from anywhere other than inside the tower.
Fading Ad: A.C. McClurg & Co.
I was quite pleased to suddenly discover this fading ad during my afternoon walk last Friday. I was strolling west on Adams, approaching Wabash, and happened to glance up, above the El tracks, where I saw the ad high up on a building at 218 S. Wabash. Because of where the ad is situated (facing a narrow gap over a small four-story building, next to which was a tall parking garage) the exact spot where I happened to be at that moment is essentially the only point where the ad can be seen from the street. I rode the elevator to the top level of the garage, walked past the cars and to the edge, where I was able to take this shot.
The ad is for A.C. McClurg & Company (you can see all but the "A.C." and the "Mc"), once one of the most prominent publishers in Chicago; McClurg most notably published Edgar Rice Burroughs' Tarzan books as well as The Dial, one of the most prominent literary journals of its day. McClurg also operated a major book store which eventually morphed into the legendary Kroch's & Brentano's. In an interesting twist, this photo actually includes a second ad: in the upper left corner you can see an ad for Lyon & Healy, which I have previously documented.
Parking garages are a great place to photograph from, or just to take in unique views. Most of what we see downtown is either from street level or from high up in tall buildings. But garages provide an interesting middle ground: five to ten stories high, with the uncovered top level providing an open, panoramic view. Especially on the streets along the El tracks (Wabash, Van Buren, Wells, Lake) where redevelopment has come slower than the more marquee streets of the Loop, garages provide a rare glimpse of scruffier and (to me) more charming older buildings. And since they're open to the public, garages are easily accessible without having to navigate through security.
Fading Ad: Brunswick
This building at 623 S. Wabash Avenue in Chicago was the headquarters of Brunswick Corporation (previously the Brunswick-Balke-Collender Company) from 1913 to 1964. That distinctive logo should be familiar to anyone who's ever shot pool on a Brunswick table or bowled in a Brunswick alley. Brunswick is still in business, though it moved to the suburbs years ago. Interestingly enough, before Brunswick this building housed a showroom of the Studebaker automobile company, and the opposite (north) side of the building also has a Studebaker ad which must be over a hundred years old. Unfortunately I had to shoot that ad facing south, toward the bright sun, and the lettering of the ad was totally washed out. (You can just make out the ad in this shot from Google Street View.) It's rare for one building here in Chicago to have two fading ads, let alone ads for two iconic companies.
Fading Ad: Hollywood Tuxedo Rental
I just love this fantastic faded ad from the Chicago Lawn neighborhood, photographed by Marian Saska. But the photo was taken in 1972 and, unforunately, the ad is now long gone. Still, nice to see it preserved for posterity. As for the ad content itself, I know they were trying to emphasize the tuxedo, but it's kind of unsettling to see the woman rendered so faintly, only in outline.
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.
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.
Blymyer Building, Cincinnati
This 1912 photo of downtown Cincinnati is very cool in general (such bustling energy!), but even cooler is this inset photo of the top of the Blymyer Buidling and this glorious ad:
Unfortunately, it's not a fading ad now, since the building no longer exists - still, this is the most extensive "building directory" ad I've ever seen. That building apparently was quite the mecca of the writing trade - two typewriter dealers, a printer and a stationer.
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.
The guests posed politely, but were itching to go home.
Another marvelous found-snapshot from Ron Slattery at bighappyfunhouse. Apparently taken by a young girl, of a less-than-easygoing group. I wouldn't have guessed this was from 1973; based on the outfits, it seems at least a decade earlier.
Catholics and girlies and air raids, oh my!
Love this 1942 photograph by Fenno Jacobs of a magazine stand in Southington, Connecticut. If you click here for the full-sized image, you can zoom in on the various covers. I particularly like how randomly the publications are arranged - that inset photo shows, all within a few inches, Catholic International, Smiles (based on the cover, some sort of girlie/lingerie pulp?), Little Oscar's First (Air) Raid and an astrology magazine.
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.
Fading Ads and Fading AIDS
My great friend Frank Jump is refining his Fading Ad Campaign series of fading ad photographs, and will soon be incorporating vintage ads into portraits of fellow AIDS survivors, such as the photo of Steed Taylor and the Griffon Shears ad shown above.
As this project has matured and I have become a long-term survivor, the original metaphor of the Fading Ad Campaign that rang true for me fifteen years ago still resounds, but the overtones have modulated. Although I continue to utilize these images to draw light upon the fading problem of AIDS, fostering awareness isn’t the primary focus anymore as is the condition of the aging survivors, many of whom have lost their fear of dying from AIDS but are succumbing to age-related illnesses and complications from pharmacological toxicities. Through this campaign, my life mission is to continue to shed light on this lingering issue that still affects many of us in the LGBTQ community.
Frank has always seen fading ads as a metaphor for perseverance and survival, but this series of portraits and interviews with AIDS survivors will undoubtedly make that connection even stronger. I'm really looking forward to seeing what he comes up with.
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.
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."
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.
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.
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.
Hilton Head photographsLast week we were on our semi-regular vacation in Hilton Head, South Carolina. As always I took a ton of photos, but since the natural geography never changes much there, I'll skip showing the usual sunsets, waves and mountains. Instead, this time I'll focus on some strange and quirky images I managed to capture.
Nothing symbolizes the heaven-and-hell, saint-and-sinner tension of the south for me quite like this roadside scene: the sprawling Adult World sex superstore, towered over by a giant cross. This perspective is deceiving: the cross (a quarter of a mile down the road) is actually much taller than the store. It's almost as if the cross was built to give customers one last reminder, as they step into the store, just whom they're pissing off by satisfying their craven urges.
Tunnel through an Appalachian mountain, in the Pisgah National Forest. Julie cringes every time we go through a tunnel, especially a long curving one like this where you can't see the other end.
I always know we're arrived in the south when the first Waffle Houses begin to appear. I like how the motel sign next door seems to comment on the regional orientation of the restaurant chain.
Strange cover illustration of James Agee's iconic autobiographical novel. If I didn't know better, this cover would lead me to believe that Agee's mother was some sort of human-butterfly hybrid.
Narcissism, pure artsy narcissism.
I love the refreshing informality of Piggly Wiggly. Every other supermarket calls it bathroom tissue or toilet paper, but not The Pig, nosiree.
Fading Ad: Grocer
I was pleasantly surprised to come across this fading ad this past weekend, during our drive home from vacation (on Hilton Head Island, South Carolina). The ad is for an old grocery store in Lexington, Kentucky (343 E. High Street); the building now houses Common Grounds Coffeehouse. A fading ad and good espresso. Two of my favorite things.
This morning's dramatic sunrise almost looked like a Bierstadt landscape. With no mountains anywhere near Joliet, we have to rely on clouds for our grandeur.
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.
Spruce grove at the Morton Arboretum in Lisle, Illinois. This weekend the three of us did a long hike through the arboretum, where we hadn't visited since Maddie was a toddler. Beautiful place - it's the former estate of the Morton family (of Morton Salt fame) and includes everything from thick forest to savannas to marshes to prairie to formal gardens. The Mortons were pioneering naturalists (the family patriarch was the founder of Arbor Day) and their legacy has been lovingly maintained at the arboretum. We really enjoyed our visit and plan to return regularly, the next being a month or two from now for the autumn foliage.
The 40th Parallel
Completely fascinating: photographer Bruce Myren traversed the United States along the 40th Parallel, and photographed each of the 52 points at which the latitude line was intersected by a whole degree of longitude. Navigating west to east, you don't even see a building until Noblesville, Indiana, and only a few of the photos show any signs of human habitation at all. And only one depicts a genuine city: Columbus, Ohio. This is a vivid reminder of how much of our country is open, uninhabited land, despite having over 300 million people.
That photo above was taken in Hollenberg, Kansas, and is probably my favorite in the collection.
(Via Steve Himmer.)
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.
Fading Ad: Falstaff Beer
My friend Marie Carnes posted this fantastic fading ad for Falstaff Beer, on the side of the Brooklyn Tavern in Springfield. I'm calling it a fading ad because although the bar is still in business (and in the news), Falstaff has been defunct since 2005. I'll always remember Harry Caray drunkenly waxing poetic about the glories of Falstaff during Sox games on Channel 44 during the seventies.
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.
Fifth in a series of memorable curbside discards. This one is actually of our own driveway - Maddie decided to finally get rid of her Elmo lawn sprinkler, which never worked very well anyway. Given the longtime appeal of Elmo, I'd be surprised if somebody doesn't salvage this before the garbage man arrives tomorrow, but it was still there as of this morning.
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.