Monday, March 29, 2010

1740 N Sedgwick

Built in 1882, 1740 N Sedgwick is a fine example of the Italianate style of architecture that was very popular in Chicago, as well as much the rest of the US, in the late 19th century.  From all outward appearances it seems to have been especially well maintained, despite its nearly 130 years of age.

Within Old Town there quite a number of Italianate homes, most of which fit two broad categories as either front gabled roofs or townhouses.  These styles are most common on narrow city lots, which are found throughout Chicago.

1740 N Sedgwick fits the first category as it is a front gabled, 2-story residence.  Both styles are typified by ornate cornices detailing, often including corbels and dentils.  It is especially common for the corbels to come in pairs, as we see in this home.  In addition, many of the Italianate homes feature prominent, pedimented and/or bracketed windows and door frames, however this particular specimen lacks this feature.  The windows are normally tall and narrow, while the sashes are commonly single or double paned.  Italianate doors commonly have large narrow panes, mimicking the proportions of the windows.  From their pristine quality, it safe to assume that the doors of this home have been replaced at least once before, though the current doors are fitting for the style of the home. [1]

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Charles T. Yerkes, Railroad Mogul, Philanthropist, Criminal and Astronomy Enthusiast

On March 26, 1888 the Wells Street line of the North Chicago Street Railroad Company's  cable car system opened for business.  In the late 19th century, cable cars ran up and down many of the thoroughfares of the city of Chicago and provided a much needed transit network for business and leisure travelers alike.  The North Chicago Street Railroad Company ran lines on Clark street, Wells street, Lincoln street and Clybourn (note that these last two were was not called Avenues at this time).  Aside from the North Chicago Street Railroad Company, other cable car lines were run throughout the city by companies such as the Chicago City Railway, Chicago West Division Railroad, and the West Chicago Street Railroad (Don't ever get those last two mixed up, they really hate that.)

Our story begins with Charles T. Yerkes (June 25, 1837 – December 29, 1905) from Philadelphia, PA. In the late 1850s and 1860s Yerkes amassed a large fortune first as broker in the Philadelphia Stock Exchange and later as a banker.  Unfortunately, Yerkes fortune was not to last.
"While serving as a financial agent for the City of Philadelphia's treasurer Joseph Marcer, Yerkes risked public money in a colossal stock speculation. Unfortunately for Yerkes, this speculation ended calamitously when the Great Chicago Fire sparked a financial panic. Left insolvent and unable to make payment to the City of Philadelphia, Yerkes was convicted of larceny and sentenced to thirty-three months in the dreaded Eastern State Penitentiary, notorious for its system of solitary confinement. Scheming to remain out of prison, he attempted to blackmail two influential Pennsylvania politicians. The plan failed. However, the damaging information on these politicians was eventually made public and political leaders like President Ulysses Grant feared that the revelations might harm their prospects in the upcoming elections. Yerkes was promised a pardon if he would deny the accusations he had made. He agreed to these terms and was released after seven months in the Eastern State Penitentiary. Yerkes spent the next ten years rebuilding his fortune." - Wikipedia Charles T. Yerkes

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Film Crew on Orleans Street

On a recent walk up Orleans street I stumbled across this film crew setting up their equipment for a n upcoming shoot.  Unfortunately, my reporter instinct was malfunctioning and I didn't muster up the nerve to go and pester them with such  critical inquiries as "what are you filming?" , "who is in it?" and "what does that thing over their do?" .  I did manage to snap this shot of the film crew in action.  Who knows, it could little more than a local commercial being shot, or something as exciting as a early test shooting for the next major Hollywood blockbuster, in Old Town one never knows.

Over the years Old Town has seen more than its fair share of television and film shoots take place on its streets.  In the future I'll go into detail about some of the projects that have shot on location in Old Town, but today I'd like to just tease the topic a little with the comment that stars such as Charlie Chaplin, Steve McQueen, Christian Bale, Johnny Depp and Mini Driver have all had films with significant scenes shot in Old Town.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Time Tells on Old Town

In February, fellow blogger Vince Michael gave us an excellent piece on the Old Town neighborhood.

"When I take my students to Old Town today – as I did last week – I ask them to look not just at the architecture, but also at the sense of place. There is a scale to Old Town, a closeness of building to street and street to cross street and curb to curb that you simply don’t find anywhere else in the city. It is not so much about the rope mouldings above the windows or the paired brackets and dentils at the eave or even those Furnessian ornaments on Adler & Sullivan’s Halstead Houses. It is about a premodern relationship of buildings and streets and narrow alleyways – something not unusual in Rome or the old part of Edinburgh but exceedingly rare in Chicago." Vince Michael, Time Tells

Check out the rest of the post here,'s-old-town/

Friday, March 19, 2010

235 W Eugenie

235 W Eugenie street is the address of this unique condominium building, designed by the prolific Chicago based architect Harry Weese (June 30, 1915 - October 29, 1998).   Before I discuss the specific building in question, I'd like to take a moment to discuss Harry Weese, a seemingly mercurial man who among many other things was once challenged to a duel by Eero Saarinen. [1]

Some of Weese's projects located in Chicago are the Seventeenth Church of Christ, Scientist, The Metropolitan Correctional Center (now known as the William J. Campbell United States Courthouse Annex), the Time Life Building and the Fulton House, as well the renovation of the Louis Sullivan Audtitorium Building.  Extensive lists of Weese's many projects are readily available at his wikipedia page (linked above) so I won't list more of them, however,  I will point out from the short list above, it is clear that Weese worked on an immense variety of projects including jailhouses, churches, renovations, low rise residential projects, and high rise office buildings.

As an architect, Weese was principally a modernist. Gone from Weese's projects are the extensive ornamentations, turnings and moldings that typified the construction practices of the past.  It is a mistake to take Weese's modernist aesthetic as boring or rudimentary.  Weese playfully used unconventional forms and layouts to create intriguing and inviting buildings.  Weese's Metropolitan Correctional Center is perhaps the world's only jailhouse that is built in the shape of a slender extruded triangle.  One can only hope that the residents appreciate this piece of architecturally playful Zeit Geist they occupy.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

309 W Eugenie

A fun, modern home at 309 W. Eugenie Street, this residence is easily and often overlooked (I must confess I passed by this home a fair number of times before noticing it).  Built in 1963 [1] (this home is nearing it's 50th birthday!) this single family home possesses several architecturally significant details. Close inspection reveals these details and how they separate it from the structures around it.

The first thing you will likely notice are the undulating curves of the brick facade as it playfully interacts with the windows and roof line.  These unexpected curves seem to beak up the otherwise hard and rigid patterns of tradition masonry construction, and seem to suggest something a little less formal, perhaps more natural (which is enhanced by the selection of green paint for all wood panel siding.   It is important to notice these pattern, as it serves as a datum for the remainder of the home.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Schmidt Mitzgerei

On the corner of Hudson Avenue and Menomonee Street resides the charming Schmidt Mitzgerei (butcher's shop) of old town.  The mitzgerei, built in the classic German fachwerk style, utilizing heavy timber framing was established in 1903.    Today it is the home of the Sullivan Law firm.  

It is a fine example of the early German immigrant construction that at one time was quite common throughout the Old Town Neighborhood.  After the great Chicago fire of 1873, Chicago instituted a ban on wooden construction that impacted construction practices in Old Town and the rest of the city to this day. Interestingly, the sign's "Mitzgerei" is spelled with a an "i" while spelling with "e" is the more modern spelling for this German word.

The street the building resides on, Hudson Avenue, was originally named Church Street, which is of note for two reasons, first, it is interesting, that the road switched from an 'Avenue' to a 'street',  which is certainly comparable to switching between the Yankees and Red Sox, proving that these terms really do have no official meaning whatsoever, and second, that the building was able to avoid being located on the adjacent, unfortunately named , Hurlbut  Street (later changed to Cleveland Avenue).

Friday, March 5, 2010

The Bells of St. Michael's

Like so many places of geographic merit, the exact boundaries and limits of Old Town are often in dispute, ask 3 residents of old town, and you're likely to get 3 different answers, and ask 3 outsiders, and you'll get another 3 unique answers.  The adage of the neighborhood has long been "If you can hear the bells of St. Michael's, you are in old town".  Unfortunately, even this simple definition can lead to disputes among the many elderly residents, who, though well meaning are perhaps deficient of hearing at times.  The adage does lead to one indisputable truth, St. Michael's church itself, is within Old Town, and as such, it makes a fitting place to begin my discussion of this wonderful, historic neighborhood.