Postcards from Chicago

I’m publishing my full journal for this trip from 2018 at Daveno Travels, but I want to include some additional highlights here. I fear I’m becoming notorious for taking more notes and photos than a single blog can hold…

On my second full day in Chicago, I set out for the 1926 Building, also known as the Fine Arts Building, built in 1895 as a showroom for Studebaker carriages. It has housed artist studios since 1898, including Florence Ziegfield’s Chicago Musical College, the largest music college in this country at that time. It’s also the site of the American Medical Women’s Association, founded in 1915. The glass front elevator has a human operator, and like the Smith Tower in Seattle, gave me an unimpeded view of every floor as the elevator took me to the 10th floor, where I found placards marking the studios for L. Frank Baum (Wizard of Oz), Henry Blake (Cliff Dwellers) and Frank Lloyd Wright (architect).

The Monroe Building, designed by Holabird & Roche in 1912, has a beautiful Gothic – Italian Romanesque interior that’s covered with tile work made by Rookwood Pottery, one of the largest woman-owned businesses in the country at the time. It remains among the largest commercial installations of Rookwood tile in this country.

Upstairs is the Pritzker Military Museum. It’s small but houses a library, and an interesting collection of artifacts and wartime recruitment posters. I got a kick out of seeing this field sewing kit and a tin containing a military button polishing kit.

Next stop is the Art Institute, with its pair of life size bronze lions guarding its doors, a gift from Mrs. Henry Field when it was rebuilt after the Chicago Fire. I find the Textile Gallery closed (there’s always something closed!). The Decorative Arts gallery has a piece of office furniture designed by Frank Lloyd Wright. I later found out that he also designed bric-a-brac for his homes, and even the gowns his wife wore …

Downstairs I find a room of miniature rooms, built by Mrs. James Ward Thorne for the Chicago World’s Fair in 1933-34. She became an active fundraiser for organizations like the Women’s Exchange, which gave women the opportunity to sell handcrafts to subsidize their household income. The rooms are built to a scale of 1″=1′. The hats in the settees below are are less than an inch tall, hard to photograph both due to their size, the glass cases and the dim lighting. You can see more of these miniature rooms here.

I spent a lot of time in the Armor Room – my favorites are here. After escaping that room, I find small illuminations mounted in recesses in the wall of a hallway. This pair is from a “Lives of the Saints” circa 1250/1300, tempera with pen and ink on parchment, depicting Saint Lucy (a Roman martyr, at left) and Saint Scholastica, sister of Saint Benedict and a founder of female monasticism.

I resumed my self guided architectural tour along Michigan Avenue, which was a residential district on the waterfront of Lake Michigan until it was destroyed during the Chicago Fire. As the city was being rebuilt, debris was dumped and built over, similar to how Seattle was extended out into the Puget Sound.

The Gage Building was a trio of buildings built by the same architects in 1898, as a millinery factory for the three millinery firms – Gage, Keith and Ascher. It’s facade was designed by Louis Sullivan and recalls the Arts & Crafts movement of medieval revivalism that was popular at the time in both the US and Europe. The ground floor is now a restaurant.

The Singer Building dates to 1926, architects were Mundie & Jensen. It’s 10 stories tall but only 140 feet wide due to land speculation fever and subsequent prices in the 1920’s. It housed mostly offices and some repair facilities. I had to duck into the alley and reach above my head to touch the original building. The bottom floor is now a Subway sandwich shop.

Today I saw about a third of the sites on my list. I spent the evening paring down my ‘must-see’ list and reading up on The Rookery, the commercial building I would visit tomorrow morning. So much to see here …

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