A Handful of Pilsen Murals

Distinctly cool today. Call it fall. I’ve read the British consider that usage quaint, or maybe bumpkinish, since “fall” passed out of common usage for them in the 19th century, replaced by “autumn.” Here in North America, we kept the more Anglo-Saxon, and evocative term, though it’s roughly on par in usage with Latinate autumn.

Makes you wonder (me, anyway) why a Latinate equivalent for spring didn’t catch on – “vernam” maybe. Or “aestam” for summer and “hiemiam” for winter (I can see why that didn’t catch on. An alternative would be “brumam” for winter). That’s the kind of thing that occurs me when I see a few leaves floating by.

I need to spend a little more time in Pilsen, where St. Procopius is located. Some years ago I visited National Museum of Mexican Art, back when it was known as the Mexican Fine Arts Center Museum, which is in the neighborhood. The museum had a really good collection of Día de los Muertos-related art on exhibit, which it does every October.

Pilsen’s also got good Mexican food and outdoor murals to look it. We didn’t have a lot of time to wander around and look at them during the bus tour, but I managed to run across a few. Such as this door-sized one, dated this year.

Pilsen mural, Sept 2014A larger one.

Pilsen muralAnd a more horizontal one.

Pilsen mural, Sept 2014I saw a few more from the window riding by. There are many more.

TR & Saint-Gaudens

Remarkable summer-like weekend just passed, but unlike the previous weekends, we didn’t go anywhere. Spent a fair amount of time on the deck reading. Seemingly overnight, some neighborhood trees have turned yellow.

The other day I picked up Striking Change: The Great Artistic Collaboration of Theodore Roosevelt and Augustus Saint-Gaudens by Michael F. Moran (2007) at Half-Priced Books. Looks good. Presidential history and numismatics: a winning combo for sure. I hope to get around to it soon, but then again I have Illegal Tender: Gold, Greed, and the Mystery of the Lost 1933 Double Eagle, by David Tripp, and I haven’t gotten around to reading it yet.

Anyway, TR thought US coinage of the time was uninspired at best, particularly the gold coins, and set about to change them. A lesser-known effort than busting trusts or digging the Panama Canal, but one certainly worthy of TR’s attention. So was born the well-admired Augustus Saint-Gaudens coins.

But there seems to be more to the book than that story. Q. David Bowers writes in Coinbooks.com: “The text is particularly valuable in showcasing the sculptor’s activities with important numismatic projects beyond the famous 1907 coinage. While the story of the coins has been told in depth in several places, including in Renaissance of American Coinage 1906–1908 (Burdette, 2007) and United States Gold Coins: An Illustrated History (Bowers,1982), treatment of the important medals has ranged from scarcely anything to light sketches. Striking Change ends that.

“Further, the author gives a comprehensive look at the design competition for new United States coins in 1891. This involved quite a bit of effort at the time, but ultimately ended as a non-event, as outside artists consulted in the competition did not seem to have created motifs that anyone liked—and Chief Engraver Charles E. Barber of the United States Mint ended up creating new motifs for the dime, quarter, and half dollar.”

Greater Furano 1993

As a destination, Hokkaido has a lot to recommend it. Seafood and walks in the hilly town of Hakodate; mountains in the central part of the island for skiing, for people who like that, as well as biking and hiking trails; fall foliage on par with New England or East Tennessee; dairy products on par with Wisconsin; scenic Lake Akan; a wine-making region, including a wine “castle”; and Sapporo, the only place on the island as crowded as a Honshu city, but with its charms, such as the Sapporo Beer Garden.

The foliage up in the central mountains offered vivid yellows and reds when we visited in late September and early October 1993, but green still predominated in the agricultural areas near Furano, a small city also in central Hokkaido. The terrain isn’t mountainous, but not flat either.

Near Furano, Hokkaido, 1993The region is known for its carrots and onions and corn and lavender, as well as milk and ice cream, none of which the outside world associates with Japan. The Meiji government saw its chance to remake Hokkaido into an agricultural province in the late 19th century – they might have been a little worried that the Tsar wanted it, along with Sakhalin – and naturally hired foreign experts to get things rolling. In this case, the agriculturist William Clark of Massachusetts, who established Sapporo Agricultural College (now Hokkaido University) in the 1870s. We saw his statue at the school.

We walked on one of the roads outside of town. As I said, still mostly green.

Near Furano, fall 1993This sign was simple enough for me to read. Watch out! Children. Essentially, a Children At Play sign.

Children at Play Sign, Hokkaido, fall 1993I liked this.

Hokkaido pumpkins, fall 1993Hokkaido farmers also seem to grow pumpkins, used here to advertise a museum. Taku’s Photography Museum, Yuriko tells me. But we didn’t take Taku up on visiting his museum.

First Baptist Congregational Church

By the time we got to the last church on the tour, we were feeling the overload. At least I was. It’s the kind of feeling that drives you back to your room for an evening of television – a bad movie in another language is just the thing — after spending the day looking at grand churches or magnificent museums or arresting ruins or even just intense, one-thing-after-another cities, or some combo of all these.

First Baptist Congregational Church Well, one more. We can handle that. The last one for bus #4 was the curiously named First Baptist Congregational Church at 60 N. Ashland Ave. Its Gothic Revival outside hinted that it was going to be another big, spectacular church inside. That’s a good thing, of course. But the effect wears off a little after four others.

It was spectacular inside. But not in the way I expected. It perked me right up and made me want to look around. It wasn’t like any of the other churches. For one thing, First Baptist Congregational is an auditorium church, trimmed in dark woods, a very inviting design.

The view toward the front, facing the powerful organ, among other things.

First Baptist Congregational Church, ChicagoToward the back.

First Baptist Congregational Church, ChicagoIt’s also the oldest of the churches we saw that day, built as the Union Park Congregational in 1869, long enough ago that the congregation who built it had been abolitionist before the war, and active in resisting the enforcement of the Fugitive Slave Act. After the war, the congregation counted Mary Todd Lincoln as a member for a time.

They hired one Gurdon P. Randall to design their church. He was active in Chicago both before and after the war, but apparently a number of his structures were lost in the Chicago Fire. Union Park Congregational survived, since the fire didn’t reach this far west. Though a number of shifts in congregation whose details I’ll skip, the modern congregation is been affiliated with the United Church of Christ and the National Baptist Convention.

It isn’t lavish in an in-your-face way, but the detail is remarkable.

First Baptist Congregational Church, Chicago, Sept 20, 2014Got pretty stained glass, too.

First Baptist Congregational Church, Chicago, Sept 20, 2014About three years ago, a snowstorm sent one of the smaller spires crashing through the roof and the false roof over the nave (if that’s the right term for an auditorium church). That was bad enough, but apparently the wind then carried soot that had accumulated between the two roofs over the years inside the church, covering everything. The restoration was only recently completed.

St. Paul’s Catholic Church

At St. Paul’s Catholic Church at 2234 S. Hoyne in Chicago, Paul is there to greet you.

St Paul's, Chicago, Sept 2014Or at least a mosaic St. Paul does, looking absolutely certain of his mission to the Gentiles. He’s above the front entrance, and while the church has many brilliant mosaics – and who doesn’t like a brilliant mosaic? – note the bricks around the Paul mosaic. The entire church is an enormous, artful mass of those bricks. As this view from the rear makes clear.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA“St. Paul’s Church was established by a small German community in 1876, with its cornerstone laid in 1897,” the CAF says. “Designed by Henry J. Schlacks, the church was built entirely by its own parishioners — many of whom were professional bricklayers. Singled out in Ripley’s Believe It Or Not as ‘the church built without nails,’ the structure underwent a long-term restoration project completed in 2013. The gothic-style building is visible from all sides of Pilsen due to its exceptionally tall spires and dark brick.”

Schlacks, of course, is the fellow who did St. Adalbert (see yesterday). But St. Paul was an astonishingly early work in his career, since he was only 28 at the time. “Schlacks himself took on the role of general contractor and hired men of the parish…” the CAF says. “He wrote, ‘We could find no builder in Chicago acquainted with the proposed method of construction, or who could give even an approximate estimate of the cost from my plans….’ ”

True to the tradition of its building, parishioners did most of the recent renovation, as this article in Crain’s Chicago Business (of all places) notes. And a fine job of it they did.

St Paul's, Chicago Spet 2014

It’s all brick, even the white areas on the ceiling, which were plastered over at some point. The mosaics, we were told, were completed in the early 1930s – ordered in pieces from Germany, I believe. Especially striking are Jesus and the Apostles, though they look a little like they’re at a board meeting of some kind (the nonprofit Salvation Co).

St Paul's Chicago, Sept 2013By the time we got to St. Paul’s, we were eating our sack lunches in the bus. The tour took us downstairs for more refreshments. The lower level, now an event and meeting space, was a major part of the recent renovation, and striking in its own way.

St Paul's, Chicago, Sept 2014When I saw it, I thought, Rathskeller. Perfect place to hoist a brew and sing drinking songs in bad German. In the case of the tour, however, the only drinks on offer were water, soda and coffee.

St. Adalbert Catholic Church

The third church on the CAF bus tour last Saturday was St. Adalbert Catholic Church, named for another saint I knew little about. That only goes to show I’m not up on my hagiography, since he seems to be a fairly big-wheel saint of the 10th century. He’s the patron of Bohemia, Poland, Hungary and Prussia, and a martyr. The story is that pagans up around the Baltic Sea – whom he was trying to Christianize — offed him for cutting down their sacred oak.

According to Wiki, at least, he’s well remembered, even in our time: “April 1997 was the thousandth anniversary of Saint Adalbert’s martyrdom. It was commemorated in the Czech Republic, Poland, Germany, Russia and other countries. Representatives of Catholic, Greek Orthodox, and Evangelical churches pilgrimaged to Gniezno, to the saint’s tomb. John Paul II visited Gniezno and held a ceremonial divine service in which heads of seven European states and about a million believers took part.”

In Chicago, St. Adalbert is at 1650 W. 17th St., and currently has some structural issues.

St. Adalbert Catholic Church, Chicago, Sept 2014That’s some of the largest scaffolding I’ve ever seen. Apparently the church’s twin towers are losing their will to resist gravity, and need renovation. Naturally, there isn’t enough money for that, and a cheaper option is to shorten them. That seems like a damn shame. I looked around for a box to drop a dollar in for the cause of saving the towers, but I didn’t see one.

St. Adalbert is the newest of the churches we saw, completed in 1914. Chicago Poles hired Henry Schlacks, who was renowned for his church work in Chicago, to design the structure. It’s done in Italian Renaissance style, and it reminded me of some of the churches I saw in Italy, though I couldn’t say quite which (it’s been more than 30 years, after all).

St Adalbert's ChicagoSt. Adalbert Catholic Church, Chicago, Sept 2014In its early days, the church was Polish through-and-through. Above the altar is a mural depicting events in the saga of Poland, such as the wedding of Queen Jadwiga of Poland and Prince Jagiello of Lithuania, and (I think) the frustration by Charles X of Sweden’s designs on Poland, for which Our Lady of Czestochowa seems to get some credit. Also, the Polish in the arch over the altar is the opening words of “Hymn of the Motherland.” In more recent times, shrines to Our Lady of Guadalupe and Our Lady of San Juan de los Lagos have been added, a reflection of more recent demographics.

The church features an excellent collection of stained glass, some of which tell the story of Adalbert and his efforts to convert the heathen up near the Baltic Sea. Others are episodes from the New Testament.

St. Adalbert Catholic Church, Chicago, Sept 2014There’s even a large Tiffany dome far above the altar.

St. Adalbert Catholic Church, Chicago, Sept 2014It’s almost hidden away from casual inspection, peeking out like a moon in the clouds.

St. Procopius Catholic Church

During the Churches by Bus tour on Saturday, I became acquainted with a few new saints. That’s one of the things about saints, there are always more. The second church for bus #4 was St. Procopius Catholic Church at 1641 S. Allport St. in the Pilsen neighborhood.

St. Procopius Catholic Church, Sept 2014

Procopius? The Secret History Procopius? He was a saint?

No. Different fellow, separated by 500 years or so and some geography. From the web site of St. Patrick’s Church in Washington, DC: “Born in Bohemia; died March 25, 1053; canonized by Pope Innocent III in 1204; feast day formerly July 4. Procopius studied in Prague, where he was also ordained. He became a canon, was a hermit for a time, and then was founding abbot of the Basilian abbey of Sazaba in Prague.

“Procopius is one of the patrons of Czechoslovakia (Benedictines, Delaney). In art, Saint Procopius lets the devil plough for him. He may be portrayed (1) as an abbot with a book and discipline, devil at his feet; (2) with a stag (or hind) near him; (3) with SS Adelbert, Ludmilla, and Vitus (patrons of Prague); or (4) as a hermit with a skull and a girdle of leaves (Roeder).”

Pilsen, as the name strongly suggests, used to be a Bohemian neighborhood, in the ethnic sense of that term, not the hipster sense. In 1875, St. Procopius was established as the third parish for the Bohemians of Chicago, and the parish built this handsome church in the early 1880s. According to some sources, Paul Huber was the architect. Other sources say it Julius Huber. The father and son sometimes worked together, so maybe they both did, to create the Romanesque Revival structure.

Back then, the Benedictines administered the church. There was even a monastery on site that later moved to suburban Lilse and became the Abbey of St. Procopius. Now the Jesuits operate the church.

St. Procopius Catholic Church, Sept 2014In our time, Pilsen is a large Mexican-American neighborhood, with some bohemians in that other sense – those who can’t afford Bucktown or Wicker Park any more – filtering into the neighborhood. Or so I’ve read. My visits to the neighborhood have been scant few in recent years.

Here’s Procopius, center stage. No stag or skull or leaves or even a devil, but artistic interpretations vary.

St. Procopius Catholic Church, Sept 2014Not far away are Mary and the infant Jesus, flanked by Joachim and Anne, with Mary as a girl. I don’t ever remember seeing this particular array before, but I don’t spend a lot of time studying religious art.

St. Procopius Catholic Church, Sept 2014

In a back corner of the church stands a statue of Miguel Agustin Pro, S.J.

St. Procopius Catholic Church, Sept 2014The Jesuits are honoring one of their own, martyred by the anti-clerical government of Mexican President Plutarco Elias Calles in 1927. Before being executed by firing squad, Pro put his arms up and cried out, “Viva Cristo Rey!” Newspapers published a picture of him in that position, and so he stands in a church far to the north.

The church is also a shrine of the Virgin of San Juan de los Lagos. A sign in Spanish and English on the outside of the building, near the entrance, says so. (The nearby cornerstone says: “AD SANCTUM PROCOPIUM C Missio Haec Fundata Est A.D. 1875 Hic Lapis Angularis Positus Est 23 Julii 1882.”) If you can’t make it to the shrine of that name in central Mexico, coming here counts, and apparently people do in droves.

First Immanuel Lutheran Church

On Saturday just after 10 a.m., Yuriko and I found ourselves at First Immanuel Lutheran Church, 1124 S. Ashland Ave. in Chicago. The predicted rain hadn’t happened yet, and the morning was warming up, unlike most of the fall-like days last week.

First Immanuel Lutheran Church, Sept 2014Note the top sliver of bus in front of the church. We’d come by bus, as participants in the Chicago Architecture Foundation Churches by Bus tour. Five busloads of people spent part of Saturday morning and afternoon, in an tour organized by the foundation, at five different churches on the West Side and in the Pilsen neighborhood. Each bus had a different route, so that only one at a time was at any given church. Our bus, #4, went to First Immanuel first. All of the churches were worth a look, and most had some extraordinary features.

These days First Immanuel is near the sprawling Illinois Medical District, anchored by enormous hospitals — Rush, UIC, Cook County Stroger, and Jesse Brown VA — and including a lot of other healthcare facilities. All that was in future when construction started on the church in 1888. The congregation dates back to 1854, as a daughter church of a Lutheran church in the city. The area was suburban in the 1850s, and a lot of Germans were settling there. An architect with a suitably German-sounding name of Frederick Ahlschlager did the Gothic Revival design.

In the church’s early days, it wasn’t far from West Side Park, where the pre-Wrigley Cubs played. The church’s web site asserts that parishioners were able to watch the Cubs from the tower on their way to winning the World Series in 1909, but maybe they simply got the date wrong, since the last time the Cubs won the championship was 1908. By the 1930s, the docent pointed out, the church was ahead of its time in making a conscious effort to include all races, and officially integrated in the 1950s. In 1966, Martin Luther King Jr. spoke at the church.

The interior’s not overly ornate, but it’s decidedly churchly.

First Immanuel Lutheran Church, Chicago, Sept 2014

First Immanuel Lutheran Church, Chicago, Sept 2014The church’s organist happened to be present, and he treated us with a few minutes’ playing. The organ is new, only installed a few years ago. It’s got 4,000 pipes and a powerful sound. We got a close look at it after the organist finished, which isn’t something you often get to do. Seemed like a forest of pipes in there.

House Walk Oddities

There’s a house facing Palmer Square in Chicago that sports a huge radar antenna next to its driveway.

3071 W Palmer Sq, Sept 2014The house was on the Logan Square House & Garden Walk. Everyone asked about the antenna. The docents asserted that it’s WWII vintage, and that the homeowner’s doing a bit of do-it-yourself SETI. Maybe that’s so, but I don’t think you need any reason to have something that much fun in your yard.

It also doubles as a home for plants.

3071 W Palmer Sq, Sept 2014This back yard was my favorite spot on the walk. Besides a piece of radar equipment that’s on the lookout for Vulcans or Vogons or whatnot, a there were a lot of tall trees – more than usual for a city yard — a picturesque trellis, and a charming little garden with built-in oddities in its stonework, such as this bench.

Tempus Fugit, DudeIt took me a few moments to puzzle out what it says. Once you know it, though, you see it every time you look at it: TEMPUS FUGIT. A good thing to remember.

On the 3100 block of W. Lyndale Ave., a block north of Palmer Square, we happened across a fence made of old bicycle parts.

Bicycle fence, Chicago, Sept 2014Bicycle fence, Chicago, Sept 2014Maybe it’s an homage to the bicycle history of the area: Schwinn used to have a bicycle factory near Palmer Square, and in fact bicycle baron Ignaz Schwinn had his mansion at the corner of the square and Humboldt Blvd. (since torn down). Bicycle enthusiasts of the late 1800s and early 1900s held races around the square, too. And come to think of it, in our time, the Chicago Tour de Fat is held at Palmer Square.

Or maybe they just wanted to be creative with their fence. The bicycle-fence property wasn’t on the house walk, but that doesn’t mean it didn’t feature something I’d never seen before, or even conceived of. The kind of thing you’ll see if you’re paying attention.

The Houses Near Palmer Square

The point of a house walk is to go inside and look around while a docent tells you some interesting things about the things you see. They also sketch a short history of the property, and in the case of Chicago houses from the earliest years of the 20th century, the story tends to be: X house was built incorporating Y and Z influences. By the mid-century, later owners updated, modernized, painted over, or otherwise Eisenhowered the earlier charms of property, then the neighborhood went to hell and maybe so did the house. In the last 20 years or so, individuals have been spending a lot of time and money restoring – with some concessions to modernity – X house to close to its original design, because Y and Z influences are damn cool.

One particularly egregious example of Eisenhowering an interior on the Logan Square House & Garden Walk involved rooms trimmed with dark, beautiful woods installed by expert craftsmen in 1912 that have only recently seen the light of day again. Forty or so years after they were installed, they were painted white. All of them. Then re-coated a number of times afterward. Pictures on display showed just how lifeless that made the room.

The walk was well attended. Sometimes we had to wait outside a house while another group filed through.

3080 W Palmer Sq, Sept 2014Docents inside and out the houses pointed out various architectural details: Prairie School this and that, Victorian flourishes, Chicago-style windows, a couple of oculus ovule windows (oval eye, see above), an assortment of columns, a diversity of balustrades, cornices a-plenty, brick, limestone, beautiful woodwork, ornate electric lamps that used to be gas, wooden floors from species no longer harvested or at least tremendously expensive, walls restored or partly restored, and more.

And a surprising amount of stained glass in some of the houses, including the following remarkable example. Then again, Chicago used to be a mecca of stained glass manufacture.

Palmer Square Stained GlassSome of houses featured collections of stuff that were as interesting (to me) as the architectural details. One homeowner collected train paraphernalia, including a working early 20th-century fare box from a CTA car, plus neon sculpture, old radios, and more.

Another homeowner devoted the walls of a small room to his personal collection of presidential campaign buttons. Each candidate’s buttons were grouped together and under glass in one of those framings that’s a little deeper than a picture frame. All of the presidents since McKinley at least were represented, and so were a number of losing candidates (I saw Willkie, Goldwater, Humphrey and Dole), even a few that didn’t make it past the primaries, such as Nelson Rockefeller.

In another house, one wall sported a panoramic photograph of an enormous group of people in a park-like setting. From the looks of the fashions, about 100 years ago. The docent speculated that it was a company outing or picnic or the like in Humboldt Park, since it looks to be summer. But she said that no one was certain. Nothing was written on the print. I could have stared at the thing a good deal longer, taking in face after face – and there was quite a variety, young and old, male and female. Men in hats, women in long skirts. Who were they? What was important enough about the occasion to take a panoramic picture, but not important enough to record anything about it on the print?

In yet another house, the man who had owned the place from the 1930s to the 1980s had apparently walled up a number of things in the basement, including gold coins, gold certificates, postcards, and publicity shots of movie stars from (by the looks of them) the ’20s – no one I recognized, since fame is fleeting.

Maybe he thought G-men were going to come looking for his gold, though by the mid-1970s, gold ownership was lawful again. According to the docent, the current owners of the house sold the gold coins and the proceeds went to further the renovation. Some of the postcards and publicity images were on a table for us to look at, and the docent showed us a $10 gold certificate from the trove. It was a small note, clearly Series of 1928, making it one of the more common gold certificates. It was a fairly well circulated note, so not particularly valuable, though worth a good deal more than $10.