St. Edmund Catholic Church & Grace Episcopal Church, Oak Park

Unusually warm this week from Tuesday to yesterday. Still a lot of green leaves. Autumn, but not quite autumn. It’s also the time of the year for Halloween decorations, and to avoid any store or event that uses the terms boo-nanza or spook-tacular.

Two more places from last week’s Open House Chicago, both in west suburban Oak Park. One was St. Edmund, which the sign outside says is Oak Park’s oldest Catholic parish. The church building dates from 1910.

St. Edmund, Oak ParkHenry Schlacks, whose work I’ve run across before, design the church. The interior is resplendent.

St. Edmund, Oak ParkMuch of its splendor is the stained glass, created by a studio in Munich (presumably pre-WWI).

St. Edmund, Oak ParkSt. Edmund, Oak ParkAnd an interesting baptismal font that, when I was there, reflected one of the windows.

St. Edmund, Oak Park

A few blocks away, among the numerous churches on Lake St., is Grace Episcopal Church.
Grace Episcopal, Oak ParkFirst occupied in 1905 — and the building took a lot longer to complete according to its plans, namely another 70 years — Grace Episcopal also has a resplendent interior, in its more muted way.
Grace Episcopal, Oak ParkGrace Episcopal, Oak ParkA sign near the entrance reminds visitors that the church, designed by John Sutcliffe, figured in a scene in Home Alone. I wouldn’t have remembered that, since the last and only time I saw that movie was during a bus ride from Perth to Adelaide, or maybe it was Adelaide to Sydney, in 1991. But I did see “Everything Wrong With Home Alone” not long ago, which was funnier than the movie itself.

We listened to the organist practice for a while at Grace. Very nice. It’s also good to see a church equipped with a gong.
Grace Episcopal, Oak ParkI understand that the gong used during the Winter Solstice Celebration at the Cathedral of St. John the Divine in New York is quite the thing to hear. And see.

Pleasant Home, Oak Park

During the last part of our Chicago Open House visit-as-much-as-you-can excursion on Sunday, in the near western suburb of Oak Park, I found myself face-to-face with a Mills dime slot machine.
Pleasant Home Oak Park Mills slot machineA nearby docent encouraged me to put in a dime. I did so and watched the wheel spin. It might be an antique machine, but it will still give you a fruit-based result. What it will not do is give any sort of payout. My dime was a donation, so I could see the machine move.

Next the docent made it spin without putting a dime in, so I could see the machinery inside in action. The back had been removed just for that purpose. It’s impressive — mainly because I can’t understand at all how such a machine works.

My dime is going to the further upkeep of the building in which I found the slot machine: Pleasant Home, also known as the Farson House, built in 1897.

Farson House Oak ParkAs much as I understand these things, the house is important in the development of the Prairie School. The AIA Guide to Chicago not only has an entry about the house, it devotes more than a page to it, which is major attention from that publication. Prairie School and in Oak Park, but not by Frank Lloyd Wright. Rather George Washington Maher, a contemporary of his who didn’t live nearly as long (dying in 1926), designed the house.

The Maher web site says: “In describing the Farson house, architectural historian Paul Sprague wrote ‘…it was extraordinary… compared to typical residences of the late 1890s. Its clean lines, flat surfaces of Roman brick, stone and wood, and simple rectangular window frames, chimneys and porch openings would have been hard to parallel anywhere at the time except in building by Sullivan and Wright.’ ”

Got an expansive porch, all right.
Farson House porch Oak ParkWhat do slot machines have to do with all this? That’s a tangent worth pursuing — another benefit of looking at things and then thinking, What was it I saw?

The first owner of the house was, according to the Pleasant Home web site: “Famous for his immaculate white flannel suits, red cravats and ties and top hats or straw boaters. [John] Farson gathered around him a vast circle of friends who shared his interests in everything up-to-date. As his passions shifted from horses to automobiles to roller skating, Farson amazed Oak Parkers with his public-spirited nature and high energy.”

He was a Gilded Age millionaire banker (d. 1910), so he could indulge his interests. Slot machines were not one of them, however. That was the business of the second owner of the house, Herbert S. Mills.

“Shortly after the Worlds’ Columbian Exposition of 1893, the young Mills built the first coin-operated automatic slot machine and later manufactured Mills machines of all kinds for his penny arcades and fortune-telling machines. Mill’s penny arcades became institutions on American’s main streets and amusement parks at the turn of the century.”

I’ve read elsewhere — a tangent from a tangent — that it was actually Charles Fey who invented the modern slot machine, out in California. But he did partner with Mills to produce them on a mass scale, and no doubt become very rich as a result.

“Raising eight children during the years they spent in the home, the Mills lived more quietly than the Farsons… In 1939, when the Mills family sold the house to the Park District of Oak Park, the grounds were designated as Mills Park in their honor.”

One more detail: while it was probably a pleasant place to live, certainly by early 20th century standards, Pleasant Home takes its name from its location, at the corner of Pleasant St. and Home Ave. in Oak Park.

Our Lady of Sorrows Basilica

The only place we visited during Open House Chicago on Sunday that wasn’t in the northwest part of the city or in near suburban Oak Park was Our Lady of Sorrows Basilica on the West Side. Or more formally, the Basilica of Our Lady of Sorrows.

Our Lady of Sorrows Basilica, ChicagoIn our time, the neighborhood is blighted. Across the street from the basilica are more modest structures.
Our Lady of Sorrows Basilica, Chicago neighborhoodBut as mendicants, I expect the Servite Order that runs the basilica wouldn’t want to be in a posh neighborhood. The basilica itself, however, is jewel-box ornate.
Our Lady of Sorrows Basilica, ChicagoDesign credit is given to three gentlemen: Henry Englebert, John F. Pope, and William J. Brinkmann, with the structure going up from 1890 to 1902. I encountered a Brinkmann work earlier this year, out at Mount Carmel Cemetery.

No citation for it, but I have to mention his demise, as described by Wiki: “Brinkmann’s death was unexpected, gruesome and mysterious: his mangled, decapitated body was found on train tracks near 73rd street in February 1911… yet contradictory evidence prevented an inquest from finding a clear reason for his death or a finding of murder.
His funeral was held at St. Leo’s Church on 78th Street, a church he had himself designed in 1905. His death remains unsolved to this day.”

The AIA Guide to Chicago is succinct on the basilica: “It’s Bramante on the Boulevard — with a coffered, barrel-vaulted ceiling rising above the long nave. The stolid Classical facade is enlivened by an English Baroque steeple (its mate was destroyed by lightning).”

Looking straight up at that barrel-vaulted ceiling.
Our Lady of Sorrows Basilica, ChicagoIt’s familiar from a short scene in the 1987 movie version of The Untouchables. In our time, that’s easy to confirm. Sean Connery and Kevin Costner are toward the back of the very long nave. I didn’t remember that scene, since I haven’t seen the movie since it was new, but I read about it. The Chicago way, eh? The Federal way — busting Capone for tax evasion — proved more effective.

The sanctuary.
Our Lady of Sorrows Basilica, ChicagoAnd more.

Our Lady of Sorrows Basilica, ChicagoOur Lady of Sorrows Basilica, ChicagoOur Lady of the Sorrows Basilica Our Lady of the Sorrows BasilicaIt occurs to me that it’s been a good year for visiting basilicas. Our Lady of Sorrows makes the fifth so far. Hasn’t been a matter of planning, it’s just worked out that way.

Logan Square Walkabout

We’re no strangers to Logan Square, but there’s always more to a neighborhood. Aloft Circus Arts isn’t far from the square, but even closer is the Norwegian Lutheran Memorial Church (Minnekirken). In fact, the church faces the square.

Norwegian Lutheran Memorial Church (Minnekirken) ChicagoThe church dates from 1912, when I suspect there were a lot more first-generation Norwegians in the area, and was designed by an architect by the fitting name of Charles F. Sorensen. As we entered, I wondered just how Norwegian the congregation is a century later.

Norwegian Lutheran Memorial Church (Minnekirken) Chicago

Norwegian Lutheran Memorial Church (Minnekirken) ChicagoMore than I’d have thought. According to the church’s web site, my emphasis: “Minnekirken serves as a reminder of a neighborhood heritage long past in which Scandinavians played a significant part. The church is a place where one can experience Norwegian culture in a very real way — whether it be the Christmas celebrations, the after-service coffee hour with traditional Norwegian delicacies, a codfish dinner, or when Minnekirken hosts performers either from Norway or with Norwegian ties. Minnekirken is the only remaining Norwegian language church in Chicago.

By golly, that’s interesting. Like finding out in Charleston that there’s still a French Huguenot church.

Also interesting, and something I didn’t realize at first: the above stained glass window looks like it depicts the Veil of Veronica. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a window with that as the subject.

On the southern end of Logan Square is Logan Square Auditorium, dating from 1915, in the Gilbert Building.

Logan Square AuditoriumThe first floor has retail and the second floor small offices, for doctors and the like. The upper floor has a large ballroom, though with enough chairs I suppose it could be an auditorium. Not especially picturesque, but it would be a good place for an event with a lot of people.

The volunteer in the ballroom showed us a print of a photo of just such a large event, taken in September 1927. A luncheon from the looks of it, with the crowd looking very much like you’d expect, down to the round eyeglasses and Bendel bonnets. Most of the men had taken off their suit coats, so I’d guess the room was warm in those pre-air conditioned days.

According to the caption, the guest of honor that day was Illinois Gov. Len Small, then in his second of two terms. Generally forgotten now, but true to the tradition of Illinois electing crooks to that office.

Not far to the south of Logan Square Auditorium is Armitage Baptist Church. The leaves in this picture cover its ugly, and unfortunately placed marquee.

Armitage Baptist Church, ChicagoDeveloped in 1921 as the Logan Square Masonic Temple, in later years the Masons bugged out and the building was by turns an event venue and a school. Now Baptists meet an auditorium-style sanctuary that’s very spare, except for mostly Latin American flags. And conga drums.
Armitage Baptist ChurchOn one of the upper floors is a gym in need of some restoration, though it looks like you could still shoot some hoops. The church is working on the building, when funds are available.
Armitage Baptist Church basketball courtFew gyms in my experience have Bible verses on the walls, but I don’t visit many parochial schools.

Before leaving Logan Square, we got a quick look at the Illinois Centennial Monument rising over the square.
Illinois Centennial MonumentI took a closer look at its base some years ago. Next year is Illinois’ bicentennial. I still don’t think we’re going to get another memorial.

Open House Chicago 2017

On Saturday it seemed like northern Illinois got all of the rain that didn’t come in September in a single October day, beginning well before dawn and extending well after dark. The weather nixed our plans to attend Open House Chicago that day, as we did on Saturdays in 2013, 2014 and last year.

Open House Chicago 2017Fortunately, the event is both Saturday and Sunday, so we adjusted our plans a little — because some buildings aren’t open on Sunday, or open after noon (most churches, for instance) — and went on Sunday. By that time the weather was dry and fittingly cool for October.

This year we drove, making a U-shaped foray into the northwest side of the city and then out to Oak Park. In order, we visited: Fort Knox Studios, Aloft Circus Arts, Norwegian Lutheran Memorial Church, Logan Square Auditorium, Armitage Baptist Church, the Stan Mansion, Our Lady of Sorrows Basilica, Pleasant Home (Farson House), St. Edmund’s Catholic Church, Grace Episcopal Church, and the Nineteenth Century Club.

I’ve been to churches and auditoriums and public event spaces and historic houses, all of which are represented on the list, but never to a recording studio. Fort Knox Studios was that and more.

Fort Knox Studios

The name seems like a play on the gold depository, devised by a promoter dreaming of gold records, but it’s also a fact that the facility is on N. Knox Ave., a minor street very near the Kennedy Expressway. In fact, the sizable facility (160,000 square feet) is tucked away in an anonymous industrial area that’s nevertheless readily accessible via the highway. Many years ago, I’ve read, televisions were made on the site.

Our guide claimed that artists liked the obscure location, the better to avoid attention while in town. The name she kept dropping as a studio user was Chance the Rapper, who’s a big deal to people who care about that kind of thing. Chance the Wrapper would be funnier, but I guess he’s not a comedy act. I checked, and he has a perfect real name for someone in that line of work: Chancelor Johnathan Bennett.

Besides the recording studio, Fort Knox also includes rehearsal suites — we passed through a seeming warren of them — and office space for booking agents and others in the business end of things. Just this year, an entity called 2112 opened there as well. It’s an incubator specializing in music, film and other creative startups. Or as 2112 puts it, an “ecosystem” for such businesses. That term has been creeping into business jargon lately.

2112 ChicagoThe fellow who founded 2112 is named Dan Fetters, and our guide said he picked the name because other incubators are named with numbers, especially 1871 in Chicago, but also as a die-hard fan of Rush. That suggests a man of a certain middle age. If he’d been a big fan of Van Halen, the place might be named OU812.

Further south, but still on the northwest side of the city at 3324 W. Wrightwood Ave., we also visited Aloft Circus Arts. From the outside, it looks like a church.

Aloft Circus ArtsThat’s because it used to be one. According to Open House, the structure dates from 1907: “Aloft Circus Arts, the third largest circus school in the country, moved into this more than 100-year-old former Evangelical church last year. Nearly $100,000 worth of renovations were made, including the removal of the pews and installation of rigging on the ceiling to allow students to learn and practice trapeze, aerial skills, pole acrobatics, trampoline, tight-wire, hand-balancing and more.”

People were busy when we walked through. They paid us no mind.

Aloft Circus ArtsAloft Circus ArtsAloft Circus ArtsDoing things I would never do, even if I weren’t a hefty fellow.
Aloft Circus ArtsAs I watched it all, I couldn’t help but wonder: how do you insure a business like that? There must be a way. Glad I don’t have to pay for it.

Kraków in the Fall

Around this time of the year in 1994, we were in Kraków. I remember liking the city a lot. In my memory, it’s always an autumn gray there. It has also just rained, though I don’t actually remember any rainy weather.

The streets were narrow and the buildings had a prewar feel. Which war? All the modern wars. Architecturally, at least, Kraków survived the great convulsions of the 20th century.

Actually, only the Old Town felt that way. We didn’t stay there, but rather in a plainer area not far away, and spent a lot of time wandering around the better-looking historic areas. As one does, as a footloose tourist.

I’ve posted about nearby places, such as the Wieliczka Salt Mine and Auschwitz II-Birkenau, but not central Kraków. This is a view of Wawel Cathedral.

Wawel Castle 1994 Or, as Wiki tells me, in full: The Royal Archcathedral Basilica of Saints Stanislaus and Wenceslaus on the Wawel Hill. We visited it, and the adjacent castle, and were duly impressed.

I don’t seem to have a picture of the Renaissance Cloth Hall in Main Market Square, but I remember both the hall and the square well. Inside was a large market, a vast array of booths offering goods by artisans, that didn’t seem to be tilted toward the tourist trade. Some of the Christmas tree decorations for sale were exquisite. The only reason we didn’t buy any was that we didn’t think they’d survive shipping home or a few more months on the road.

This building caught my attention. Enough to take a picture anyway. But I didn’t make a note of what it was, if I knew.

Kraków 1994

You’d think you’d remember at least the things you take pictures of, but it isn’t so.

Voice Mail in the Digital Age

Here’s how not to set up your answering machine, if you’re a business that wants contact with the outside world. This is more-or-less what happened when I dialed a nunber recently in pursuit of my work.

Machine Voice: You have reached Three Initial Corp. If you know your party’s extension, please dial it now. To search by last name, please dial 1.


As it happened, I didn’t know the name of the person who could help me. That was one of my questions.

Continued silence.

I thought about dialing 1, just to see what would happen. Or picking a name like Smith, just to see what would happen. But I had some business to conduct, so I didn’t want to go off on a whimsical tangent, as much as I like those.

Click. Click.

Machine Voice: You have reached the voice mailbox of Random Name. Please…

I had no idea if that was the person whom I needed to talk to or not. I left a message. I’ve yet to hear back.

Atatürk at the Stoplight

Sometimes you’re driving along and you see something odd. Not long ago I was driving with Ann in the front seat, and we stopped at a light behind a white truck — unadorned except for one thing.

Ataturk 2017I had her take a picture, since I didn’t have a camera with me. I told her that the face was that of Atatürk, father of modern Turkey. She hadn’t heard of him. Now she has. What he’s doing on a truck in the northwest suburbs of Chicago is another question, one for which I don’t have an answer.

As far as I’ve been able to determine — and I’m not at all knowledgeable about Turkish — the words at the bottom mean, “We follow in the footsteps of Atatürk.” Well, why not? Still, it’s a little like a truck with the face of George Washington plying the streets of suburban Istanbul. Maybe that happens, but it would be odd, wouldn’t it?

Mr. Hall is Gone, But the Monty Hall Problem Lives On

There needs to be a verb to describe reading an obiturary, or hearing about a recent death, with the reaction: He was still alive? Or she, to be complete. Happens a lot. Example I read about not long ago: Monty Hall.

I can’t deny that I spent some hours of my young life watching him preside over eager costumed contestants vying for a new car! etc. But I didn’t know until a few years ago about the Monty Hall problem.

Another example: Tom Paley of the New Lost City Ramblers, the other musical Tom P who died recently. How many people recorded songs about the war with Spain in the late 1950s?

For an even more obscure version, here’s “The Battleship of Maine” by Red Patterson’s Piedmont Log Rollers. Recorded in 1927, when the war was very much in living memory. It’s a little hard to (easily) scare up information about Red, but it’s possible.

Harvest Moon 2017 & “Harvest Moon” 1992

This year’s Harvest Moon, which I read was a little later than usual, was obscured by clouds last week here in northeast Illinois. The near-full moon was nice and clear the day before, however.

Not long ago I found “Harvest Moon” by Neil Young and its slightly surreal video. I must have missed the song when it came out in the early ’90s. It’s a pleasant tune, practically a lullaby for adults. For middle-aged adults, to be more specific.

And who’s the guy always sweeping as the song goes along? Father Time would be my guess. Everything is swept away by time, after all.

I’ve written about named moons before. A fair long time ago, in fact. I suspect that most of the links at this posting about the Hunter’s Moon, the more obscure relative of the Harvest Moon, are long gone. Ten years is geologic time for YouTube.