On the northeast corner of S. Woodlawn Ave. and E. 58th St. in Hyde Park, on the South Side of Chicago, is the Frederick C. Robie House, on that site for more than 100 years and best known as an exemplar of the Prairie School of Design. Next door to its north, at 5751 S. Woodlawn, is the Seminary Co-op Bookstore, one of my favorite bookstores anywhere, though new to the site. One block west of the intersection is the Oriental Institute Museum, repository of Near Eastern treasures, most of which they’ve dug up themselves. The Rockefeller Memorial Chapel rises to the southwest of the intersection, an ornate, soaring structure. That’s a lot within a short walk.
Last week was spring break for Lilly and Ann. Last year I took them to Texas for the occasion, but for various reasons this year, the idea of going anywhere never really took root. Still, I wanted to go somewhere – even if only a few miles away and for a few hours – and see something new if possible. In the summer of 2003, I wrote, “I walked by the Robie House, a creation of Frank Lloyd Wright. Him again. One of these days, I will take the tour, but not today.”
I didn’t know at the time that renovation of the Robie House had barely started, and hasn’t been completed even now, though mostly it has. The main goal last Friday was to tour the Robie House, which we did. Afterward we walked over to Rockefeller Chapel, and then spent an hour or so in the Oriental Institute Museum.
It was still fairly cold, but at least the sidewalks were clear of ice, and we didn’t have far to walk. Street parking always seems to be available next to the Midway Plaisance, just south of our destinations. In 1893, the Midway was briefly the focus of the world’s attention as part of the world’s fair, but now it’s a little-known urban green space, at least outside Chicago. That’s too bad, because it’s certainly interesting, if you know what was there.
We didn’t go into the Seminary Co-op Bookstore. I was astonished to see its new location, which I hadn’t heard about. Until a year and a half ago, the store was snugly located in the basement of the Chicago Theological Seminary, at 5757 S. University Ave. Turns out the seminary has moved, too, and now the building is home to the U of C’s Dept. of Economics, so famed in free market song and story.
Wiki, for what it’s worth, says: “The seminary move was controversial: it involved the disinterring of multiple graves.” I didn’t know anyone was buried there. Who was buried there? I’ll have to look into that sometime. Once upon a time, I did enjoy the Thorndike Hilton Memorial Chapel and the collection of rocks embedded in the seminary wall. I assume those are part of the Chicago School of Economics now.
Currently the streetscape between the Robie House and where the Seminary Co-op Bookstore used to be – which is across the street from the Oriental Institute Museum — is under construction.
I was surprised to see the bookstore’s new location, which even seems to include a café, like you might see in a Barnes & Noble. It didn’t seem right. At the basement location, there was no room for anything but books and more books. This video, at least, assures us that the new location still has a “maze aspect” and that Stanley Tigerman did the design (himself or Tigerman McCurry Architects staff?), which I guess counts for something.
But how could the new site have the book-cave charm of the old? Next time I’m in Hyde Park, I’ll take a look, to see if the new can hold a candle to the old.