Sixth St., Calumet, Michigan

From Houghton-Hancock and the Quincy Mine, the town of Calumet isn’t far north on the Keweenaw Peninsula. I was half-expecting something like Houghton, mainly because I didn’t do much research beforehand. None, really. But I’ve owned a postcard depicting the Calumet Theater for a long time, and I knew I wanted to see that.

So we did. It’s a fine old building. Wish it had been open for a look-see inside.

Calumet Theater, Michigan

Copper fortunes built the Calumet. A local architect named Charles K. Shand designed it. The historical marker next to it says, in part: “One of the first municipal theaters in America, the Calumet opened on March 20, 1900, ‘the greatest social event ever known in copperdom’s metropolis.’ The theater contained a magnificent stage and elegant interior decorations, including an electrified copper chandelier.”

The theater’s web site says: “The Theatre opened… with a touring Broadway production of Reginald DeKoven’s The Highwaymen. In the ensuing years, the Theatre’s marquee read like a Who’s Who of American Theatre: Madame Helena Modjeska, Lillian Russell, John Phillip Sousa, Sarah Bernhardt, Douglas Fairbanks, Sr., Lon Chaney, Sr., Jason Robards, Sr., James O’Neill, William S. Hart, Frank Morgan, Wallace and Noah Beery.

“With the decline of copper mining and the local economy, and the advent of motion pictures, stage productions became less common in the late 1920s. From the depression through the late 1950s, it was almost exclusively a movie theatre…

“The auditorium was renovated for the village’s centennial in 1975, and the exterior was restored in 1988-89. The technical and code improvements and backstage reconstruction have just been completed.” These days, the theater holds 50 to 60 events a year, including plays, movies and concerts.

The theater is on Sixth St. in Calumet. The street hasn’t evolved into a day-trippers shopping district, but it does have some other interesting buildings, dating from copper times, from the looks of them.

Calumet, MichiganCalumet, Michigan Sixth StreetCalumet, Michigan Sixth Street

The buildings of Sixth St. also sport a few ghost signs.Ghost Sign, Calumet MichiganVertin’s Department Store (since 1885, headquarters for Lee overalls, union made). The store turns out to have been located in the building pictured above, between the Sixth St. streetscape and the Michigan House Cafe & Red Jacket Brewing Co. This is an example of the kind of thing I learn from a trip after I’ve gotten home. I didn’t know what I was looking at when I stood across the street from the former Vertin’s on the afternoon of July 1. Now I do.

The Vertins were Slovenian immigrants to copper country in the 1870s, and rather than mine themselves, they enterprisingly sold goods to miners and their families. Remarkably, the store endured until the 1980s. More about them is in this article in Copper Country Explorer.

This ghost sign has advertised, through many UP summers and hard winters, for a widely available product: Pillsbury Best flour.

Calumet, Michigan Ghost Sign Pillsbury

Slute’s Saloon has been a saloon, though not under that name, and as the sign says, since 1890. Curiously enough, a descendant of the Vertins is one of the partners in the business, at least according to this 2010 article. A look inside is here.

After I got home, I learned that George Gipp was from nearby Larium, Mich. — where you can find the George Gipp Recreation Area & Ice Arena — and is buried in Calumet. Dang. That would have been something to know beforehand, but you can never really prepare for going somewhere new. Still, I’d have looked for the Gipper’s grave had I known. It isn’t everyone who can inspire motivational speeches down the decades.

Houghton & The Quincy Mine, Keweenaw

Who could look at a map of the Upper Peninsula, taking a solid gaze at the UP’s UP, namely the Keweenaw Peninsula, and not think I want to go there. Probably a lot of people would not think that. But I do.

So on July 1, unfortunately a bit late in the afternoon, we approached Keweenaw via M-26 (a part of the Lake Superior Circle Tour). Aside from a gas station in South Range, first stop was Houghton, a town with a pleasant main street — Shelden Street — that tries to capture the tourist trade, but isn’t a full-blown, Gatlinburg-class tourist trap. Yet it is an old street formerly given over to ordinary commerce, then repurposed over time to feature restaurants, gift shops, boutiques and so on.

Shelden Street isn’t the most frenetic example of that kind of street that I’ve seen — that might be in Banff Ave. in Banff in July — but it was busy enough. Red brick and red sandstone structures line the street, including the handsome Douglass House Hotel, which is an apartment building these days.

Across the street and down a block or so, tucked away in a pedestrian passage leading to parking off Shelden Street, was a wonderful mural map of the Keweenaw Peninsula. I can’t find an image of it online, but whoever did it was a first-rate map muralist. The artist managed to straddle the line between creating an actuate map with too much detail and a map illustrated by small images (like in a tourist brochure), which often doesn’t have enough detail.

Houghton is separated from the town of Hancock by Portage Lake, which is part of the canal cutting through the peninsula. The Portage Lift Bridge, with its unusual look, connects the towns. It’s the fourth bridge on the site.

“This… bridge would have double decks with the upper deck carrying four lanes of traffic while its lower deck supported rail traffic,” Keweenaw Free Guide says. “Its lift section – the largest and heaviest in the world – could be raised 32 feet to allow the passage of modern ore carriers below it. Construction on the new bridge began in 1959 and was finished by the following summer. The old steel bridge was demolished.”

We crossed the bridge — driving, though walking across would have been an excellent thing to do — and went into Hancock, whose traffic was bollixed by road construction. As we drove slowly along, however, I was able to see the campus of Finlandia University.

Founded in 1896 as Suomi College, “Finlandia is one of 26 U.S. colleges and universities affiliated with the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, and the only private institution of higher learning in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula,” the school’s web site says. “It is the only remaining university in North America founded by Finnish immigrants.”

Note also that the web site is honest enough to depict students in the snow. The University of Hawaii, it’s not.

Just north of Hancock is the Quincy Mine. Driving by on US 41, you can’t really miss it.
Quincy Mine, MichiganThat’s only the largest of the complex’s surface structures. There are other buildings.
Quincy Mine, MichiganAs well as picturesque ruins.

Quincy Mine, MichiganQuincy Mine, MichiganQuincy Mine, MichiganEngines, probably for ore-hauling trains. Or maybe they brought coal to power the mine. Or both.
These days, the relics are part of the Keweenaw National Historical Park. Once upon a time, Quincy Mine was the most successful copper mine on the peninsula, which is saying something, since Keweenaw was the site of a copper rush beginning in the 1840s and had a lot of active mines for a while (unsurprisingly, Indians dug for copper there for centuries before that).

The National Park Service says: “1840. Douglass Houghton, state geologist of Michigan, publishes a report on the geology of the Upper Peninsula and describes the Keweenaw’s copper deposits. Despite his appeal for caution, a land rush would soon start as investors, miners and entrepreneurs attempt to acquire copper-rich real estate.

“1856. The Quincy Mining Company begins work on the profitable Pewabic lode. Quincy soon becomes an important copper mine, and earns the nickname ‘Old Reliable’ for its nearly constant profits.

“1861: Demand for brass buttons, copper canteens and munitions increases. Despite the need, copper production at many older and profitable mines in the region actually decreases as new, speculative mines open, causing labor shortages.”

Later, telephones and electric wiring spurred more demand for copper, and the Quincy Mine remained in production until the Depression, despite competition from mines in Montana and elsewhere. Quincy’s last gasp as a mining concern was World War II. Remember, copper was in such short supply then that pennies were made of steel in 1943.

Now Quincy is a tourist attraction. You can take a tour down in the mine, at least at the levels that aren’t flooded. We didn’t get there in time to do that, but we were able to look around the ruins and the small museum inside one of the intact buildings. If I come this way again, I’ll time things to see the depths of the Quincy Mine.

The Driehaus Museum

A fine Solstice. Clear and not particularly hot, followed by a short cool night.

The least plutocrats can do for posterity is build lavish, highly aesthetic houses that, decades or even centuries later, are restored and open to the public in one way or another. I suspect modern magnates, business tycoons, and captains of industry are mostly failing in this regard.

Late 19th-century and early 20th-century plutocrats, on the other hand, did not shrink from their duty along these lines. They might have imagined they were celebrating their worldly success in a highly visible way, and maybe they were, but sic transit gloria mundi. Beyond their own time and concerns, they were leaving something for later hoi polloi to ogle.

I will give Richard Dreihaus his due, however. I’m not sure he counts as a plutocrat, but he is a wealthy fund manager of our time. He might not have built a lavish house — or maybe it’s still private — but in any case, he managed to restore the Samuel M. Nickerson House at 40 E. Erie St. on the Near North Side of Chicago to its Gilded Age glory.

Now it stands, stocked with fine art and objets d’art, for the hoi polloi to see (for a fee). Hoi polloi such as Yuriko and I on Sunday afternoon, when we visited the Richard H. Driehaus Museum, which occupies the Nickerson House.

Richard H. Driehaus Museum

Chicago magazine in 2007 on the philanthropist: “Driehaus, the founder of Driehaus Capital Management… is no ordinary preservationist. He is a man who can afford to indulge his passions — for art, for parties, but mainly for restoring historic architecture — on a boundless scale, as anyone who has visited his many residences and offices around the world can attest.

“In the past two decades, Driehaus has emerged as one of Chicago’s most prominent advocates for historic preservation. He has also taken a leading role in encouraging the city and public institutions and groups to adopt a more design-centered approach to civic projects.”

Driehaus bought the building at 40 E. Erie St. in the early 2000s, when it was being used as an art gallery, and spent a good deal restoring it, including cleaning the exterior, which I’ve read was black from a century-plus of pollution. Considering its location on Erie, I’m sure that I walked and rode by the building any number of times in the 1980s and ’90s — and took exactly no note of it.

Since 2011, it’s been open to the public as the Driehaus Museum. I still took no note of it until last year, when I was walking by and saw its sign. Museum? This is a museum? Since when? Even in the Internet age, it’s hard to keep track of things.

Samuel M. Nickerson was a successful banker in early Chicago who tasked Edward J. Burling of the firm of Burling and Whitehouse to build him a mansion, which was completed in 1883. Burling had a long career in Chicago, with many of his buildings destroyed by the Fire.

The Nickerson House rooms feature 17 types of marble, along with onyx, alabaster, carved and inlaid wood, glazed and patterned tiles, mosaics, and Lincrusta, which was brand-new to the United States at the time. During Nickerson’s time, the place was replete with his and his wife Mathilda’s artwork, later donated to the Art Institute. Driehaus not only restored the house to its Gilded Age look, after years as office space and other uses, but made it into museum space for his collection of art from the period.

The museum says: “When the Driehaus Collection was formed during the early 1970s, acquisitions focused primarily on Art Nouveau posters by Alphonse Mucha and his contemporaries. From that essential core, the collection has grown to include master works of design by such Belle Epoque luminaries as Louis Majorelle, the Herter Brothers, Édouard Colonna, John La Farge, Emile Gallé, and Josef Hoffmann. In addition to these important holdings, the Driehaus Collection is one of the country’s leading private collections of works by preeminent American decorative designer Louis Comfort Tiffany.”

The lighting was good for looking, less so for non-flash photography. I got a few half-decent images, mostly of some of the artwork or room details, but not the rooms.

Richard H. Driehaus MuseumRichard H. Driehaus MuseumRichard H. Driehaus MuseumThat statue is in the Gallery Room. Always good to have a reminder of the Psyche and Eros story around. I especially liked the fireplace behind it.

Richard H. Driehaus MuseumThe fireplace was put in by the second owner of the house, paper baron Lucius Fisher. He also had the distinction of commissioning Daniel Burnham to do the excellent Fisher Building, which still stands in the South Loop.

The fire surround, dating from 1901, was by Giannini & Hilgart, done in lacquered cherry and iridescent glass. Remarkably, traces of that operation remain on line. The studio also did the striking glass dome in the same room as the fireplace. Looks like Tiffany, but no.

Whatever else you can say about the Gilded Age, its aesthetics were first-rate, if you had the scratch for that kind of thing. A better look at the interior is this WTTW production, but even so it’s a pale substitute for being there.

St. John Cantius, Chicago

On Sunday I visited St. John Cantius, a Catholic parish church in what’s called the River West neighborhood, east of the Kennedy Expressway and west of the North Branch of the Chicago River. It’s easily accessible via the El, which is in fact a subway by the time you get near St. John Cantius.

St. John Cantius, ChicagoThe church was part of a wave of Polish-style Catholic churches built in Chicago more than 100 years ago, as the city local Polish population expanded mightily. I’d seen a few of these churches before — St. Adalbert and St. Stanislaus Kostka, for instance — but not this one.

“Designed by Adolphus Druiding and completed in 1898, St. John Cantius Church took five years to build,” the church web site says. “The imposing 130 ft. tower is readily seen from the nearby Kennedy Expressway.”
St. John Cantius“The unique baroque interior has remained intact for more than a century and is known for both its opulence and grand scale — reminiscent of the sumptuous art and architecture of 18th-century Krakow. In 2012, St. John’s completed an ambitious restoration, returning the lavish interior to its original splendor.”
St. John Cantius, ChicagoSt. John Cantius, ChicagoI also wanted to visit so I could hear a Latin mass, or part of one anyway. According to the church bulletin, I arrived in time for the Extraordinary Form of the Mass (Tridentine High Mass in Latin). Actually I was a little early, so I sat for a while in a back pew and admired the interior, as a pleasant wind blew in through the main doors and on my back, adding additional texture to the experience.

By the time the mass began, the sizable church was fairly full, though not packed, with a diversity of ages. I haven’t seen that many women cover their heads in quite a while, including some elaborate lace coverings.

Soon the church was filled with music. I was sitting in the back and couldn’t see the choir or the other musicians up in the balcony, but I surely did hear them. I’ve had only spotty exposure to sacred music, but that didn’t keeping me from understanding how astonishingly good it was.

Much more impressive, it turned out, than the priests and their Latin, mainly because I wasn’t within hearing range of much of it. Mostly I heard a hum of words, a few of which I could pick out. Not that I would have understood all of it anyway. Some other time at some other mass I’ll sit closer. My impression is that Latin is a pleasing language to hear.

Regarding St. John Cantius’ music, the church says: “Our Sunday Masses regularly feature Gregorian chant, chanted by our schola cantorum and by the congregation. The parishioners of St. John Cantius are intent on preserving the choral traditions of the Roman Rite which gives Gregorian chant ‘pride of place.’

“Additionally, the people of St. John Cantius work to preserve the patrimony of liturgical music that comes from the Renaissance period and from the Viennese choral tradition. But our choirs also sing modern choral works that are consonant with the Roman tradition of sacred music.” More about the church’s music is on this short video.

Wicker Park, The Neighborhood & Wicker Park, The Park

Juneteenth has come around again. We need more holidays in the summer, and that would be a good one, celebrating human freedom.

We went to the city on Sunday, giving me an opportunity to wander around Wicker Park on a warm but not too hot day. I visited both places of that name. Wicker Park’s both a fashionable area — which it was not 30 years ago, when I first lived in Chicago — and the name of a smallish triangular park within the neighborhood.

The intersection of North, Damen and Milwaukee is part of the neighborhood, but I didn’t hang around there much this time. Instead, I walked along some of the side streets. Much of the residential North Side of Chicago looks like this in June.
Wicker Park June 2017The handsome Wicker Park Lutheran Church is at 1502 N. Hoyne Ave.
Wicker Park Lutheran ChurchIt was already closed by the time I got there, but the interior looks like this.

The building dates from 1906, though the congregation goes back to 1879. “It boasts a basilica design, with double colonnades and an apse, a style used in ancient Rome for courts of law or places of public assembly,” notes the church web site. “The two towers are based on those of Abbey of Sainte-Trinité (the Holy Trinity), also known as Abbaye aux Dames, in Caen, France, which was built in the 11th century.”

A few blocks to the east is Wicker Park, the park. It isn’t one of Chicago’s great parks, but it is pleasant on a warm summer Sunday, well stocked with people and their dogs enjoying the warm summer Sunday. The park has some trees, a lush garden sporting flowers and bushes, a field house, a modest water fountain, and some open lawn.

There’s also a statue of Charles Gustavus Wicker (1820-1889), complete with stovepipe hat, heavy coat and broom. It’s been in the park since 2006.
Charles G. Wicker Statue, ChicagoCharles G. Wicker Statue, ChicagoThere’s a plaque at the feet of Wicker that asserts that he was an important figure in the development of this part of Chicago. In fact, it’s a lot like a press release in bronze, this plaque. A sample: “The broom symbolizes his initiative and readiness to take personal responsibility. He, and people like him, established Chicago, where all who truly do their best will continue to make this unique community a place of opportunity with justice, freedom, and equality for everyone.”

About Charles and his brother Joel Wicker, the Chicago Park District says: “In 1870, when businessmen and developers Charles G. and Joel H. Wicker began constructing drainage ditches and laying out streets in their subdivision, they donated a four-acre parcel of land to the city to be used as a public park.

“Fencing the triangular site to keep cows out, the city created an artificial lake in the center of the park, surrounding it with lawn and trees. As the Wickers had hoped, the area developed into a fashionable middle- and upper-class neighborhood.”

Further discussion of Wicker and his brother is at the Chicagoist. A few years ago, the statue fell down — was knocked down — tumbled down somehow, and there’s a story about that as well. The statue was restored, of course. Oddly enough, the sculptor who created the statue of Wicker, and pushed for it to be in the park, was a great-granddaughter of his, one Nancy Wicker, who died just last year at over 90.

In one corner of the park, a troupe called Theatre-Hikes was doing a low-budget version of A Midsummer Night’s Dream. No sets, just costumes. I sat down for a few minutes to watch. I’m no expert on the play — in fact, this is the only live performance I’ve seen of any of it — put I was able (later) to pin down that I’d arrived during Act 3, Scene 1.

Here’s Bottom.

Theatre-Hikes, Wicker Park

Titania and Bottom. Both actors were good, and able to ham it up when the play called for it, to the amusement of all.

Theatre-Hikes, Wicker Park 2017

Titania:
Be kind and courteous to this gentleman.
Hop in his walks and gambol in his eyes.
Feed him with apricoks and dewberries,
With purple grapes, green figs, and mulberries.
The honey bags steal from the humble-bees,
And for night tapers crop their waxen thighs
And light them at the fiery glowworms’ eyes
To have my love to bed and to arise.

The Cathedral Basilica of St. Louis

The Old Cathedral of St. Louis, formally the Basilica of Saint Louis, King of France, is near the Gateway Arch. In February 1990, after visiting the Arch, I took a look at the Old Cathedral, which dates from the 1830s. It’s a fine old church (recently restored, so I suppose I should take another look someday).

A man I met there briefly told me, in so many words, that this one was nice, but you should see the “New” Cathedral of St. Louis, which is a few miles away in the city. He also told me how to get there. So I went, even though I was racing a winter storm to get back to Chicago. (The storm won, and I spent the night in a Normal, Ill., motel room.)

At least, that’s how I think it happened. I’m not completely sure. But I know I went that day. I entered the cathedral, shook off the cold, and let my eyes adjust to the relative dim. I was astonished by what I saw.

On May 26 this year, Lilly and I paid the place a visit en route home. I’ll never be as astonished — I had no idea what I was going to see beforehand — but I’ll always be impressed. Photography barely does the church justice, my photos even less so.

The Cathedral Basilica of St. LouisThe Cathedral Basilica of St. LouisThe Cathedral Basilica of St. LouisAfter seeing the cathedral for the first time, I wrote: “It isn’t necessary to cross oceans to savior the majesty of large-scale mosaic art, vaultingly expressed in a cathedral. You only need to visit the Cathedral of St. Louis, about 10 minutes west of that city’s well-known Arch. Composed of millions of tesserae — tiles of stone or glass — the mosaics of the cathedral dome and walls offer visitors a pageantry of Christian saints, symbols and stories rendered in hundreds of subtle hues. Its architecture is deeply reminiscent of the great Byzantine cathedrals of Italy and points East.”

I based that on what I’d read about (and pictures seen of) places like Ravenna. I thoughtlessly did not go there when I was in Italy, even though I knew about it. Ah, well. The Cathedral Basilica of St. Louis will have to do for now.

The mosaics are especially easy to see in detail just above the entrance.

Cathedral Basilica of St. LouisThe basilica’s web site says: “George D Barnett of Barnett, Haynes, and Barnett of Saint Louis designed the entire structure of the Cathedral, including a circular Sacristy on the north end which was not built when the main structure was completed in 1914. The semicircular Sacristy which was eventually built was designed by George John Magualo of Magualo and Quick.

“Barnett also designed the main Altar, the baldachino, and the Lower Sanctuary mosaics. The mosaics were installed by the Gorham Company of New York in 1916. Barnett also designed the Blessed Sacrament Chapel and its mosaics which were installed by Gorham in 1916 and 1917.”

As for the fact that it is now the Cathedral Basilica of St. Louis, which it was not in 1990, the web site notes: “On April 4, 1997, Pope John Paul II honored the Cathedral of Saint Louis by making it a Basilica, a place of worship of special distinction. As a Basilica, the Cathedral displays two special symbols — the tintinnabulum or bell and the ombrellino or umbrella.”

A warm spring day is a better time to take exterior shots. Also impressive.
Cathedral Basilica of St. LouisThe last time I saw the Cathedral Basilica of St. Louis was in 2005 (I think), when I took Ann — and she was small enough to pick up when she didn’t want to walk. I know I took Lilly at a similar age, and showed the place to Yuriko, when we visited St. Louis in 2000. In any case, those visits were too long ago. Good to make it back.

The London House Hotel & The Tower on Top

When I took pictures from high up in the Aon Center, I didn’t know that a few weeks later, I’d be on top of another nearby building. Not as tall, but with also with a terrific view of Chicago. And one (formerly) associated with an insurance company: The London Guarantee & Accident Building, 360 N. Michigan Ave., vintage 1923.

Chicago architect Alfred S. Alschuler designed the Beaux Arts tower for the U.S. branch of a British insuror, and since last year it has been occupied by the London House Hotel. I didn’t know that, probably because I don’t keep track of the Chicago real estate market in detail right now. I still think of it as an office building that was home to Crain’s Chicago Business for a time, and which also used to count the Turkish Consulate as a tenant. Once upon a time, Armenian sympathizers would periodically protest on the sidewalk outside.

There’s a tower on the top of London House, marked with a circle.

Chicago from Aon Center 2017Up close, it looks like this.
London House Chicago cupola 2017The tower is supposedly modeled after the Choragic Monument in Athens. I’m not expert enough to know, but there are visual similarities at least.

The London Guarantee & Accident Building was on the Chicago Architecture Foundation’s Hotel Boom tour, and it was the only property we explored beyond the exterior and the lobby, though those parts are interesting too.
London House Hotel Chicago 2017This is the ceiling inside the Michigan Ave. entrance.
London House Hotel Chicago 2017The docent said that it was original to the building, but had been uncoveraged fairly recently. At some point probably in the 1950s or ’60s, it had been Eisenhowered by a lower ceiling.

From there we looked around the lobby, and then took an elevator to the 21st floor, which is occupied by a bar. On a spring Saturday afternoon, the place was packed. Then, another elevator takes you up to two levels of outdoor terraces. One of which has tables and chains and (on a warm day) people with their drinks.

London House Hotel Chicago rooftop 2017

The views are exceptional. Looking west down the Chicago River.
London House Hotel Chicago rooftop 2017North up Rush St. The building with the clock tower is, of course, the Wrigley Building.
London House Hotel Chicago rooftop 2017Stairs from this level lead up to the Choragic Monument-ish tower, which offers some views of its own. Looking to the east, you get a good view of the upper reaches of 333 N. Michigan Ave., another building of the 1920s.
333 N. Michigan Ave ChicagoI was intrigued by the busts way up.

333 N. Michigan Ave ChicagoWho is supposed to see them? Angels? Even from inside the building, it looks like they would be hard to see. A modern example of painting the back of the statues in a cathedral niche.

About 333 N. Michgan and environs, Blair Kaimen wrote: “Its designers, Chicago architects Holabird & Root, drew heavily from Finnish architect Eliel Saarinen’s influential second-prize entry in the 1922 Tribune Tower design competition. Continuous vertical lines and gentle setbacks mount to a top without a cornice or cupola. The building superbly takes advantage of a bend in North Michigan Avenue to dominate the view as you look southward.

“Together, 333 and 360 join with the neo-Gothic Tribune Tower and the eclectic Wrigley Building to form an extraordinary quartet of 1920s skyscrapers that frame a great urban space around the Michigan Avenue Bridge.”

Hotel Boom

The Chicago Architecture Foundation calls one of its new tours Hotel Boom. “Learn how and why a former athletic club, bank, chemical company, motor club and more were transformed into first-class hotels,” the description promises. I was game. So we (all of us, including Ann) took the tour on Easter Saturday, a warm, pleasant spring day in Chicago.

I suspected that I’d been in many of the properties, and I was right. But some of them weren’t even hotels the last time I visited, and it’s always good to hear about a property from a knowledgeable docent, which CAF docents tend to be. In order, we visited the Silversmith Hotel, Virgin Hotel, Hampton Inn (formerly the Chicago Motor Club Building; I got an international drivers license there), London House, Hard Rock Chicago, and the Chicago Athletic Association Hotel.

Mostly we got a look at the exteriors, and then at the lobbies, though at one property we didn’t enter the lobby, and at another we saw the rooftop.

My friend Geof Huth stays at the Silversmith Hotel, 10 S. Wabash Ave., when he’s in town. The exterior is an historic arts-and-crafts facade dating from the 1890s, done by one of Daniel Burnham’s men. I assume that silversmiths were once tenants, since that part of Wabash was Jewelers Row (and still is). When I met Geof there in previous years, the lobby interior — which is not a protected historic feature — looked like this, with brown predominating. Not any more. Now black and off-white is the thing in the Silversmith’s public areas.

Next up was the Virgin Hotel. Virgin as in one of Sir Richard Branson’s properties, and in fact the first hotel with that flag, opened only in 2015. This was a surprise. I used to work across the street, more-or-less, and I remembered the Old Dearborn Bank Building at 203 N. Wabash Ave. being an interesting but aged art deco building.

The exterior has been spiffed up, the better to appreciate some of the details.

Virgin Hotel Chicago 2017Virgin Hotel Chicago 2017We had to skip the interior. One of these days I might take a look.

There’s a Hampton Inn in what used to be the Chicago Motor Club Building at 68 E. Wacker Pl., originally developed in 1928 and converted into a hotel only a few years ago.
Chicago Automobile Club Building 2017Blair Kaiman writes: “All of Art Deco’s defining characteristics are compressed into this fabulous, 15-story package just west of Michigan Avenue: A trim silhouette with strong vertical lines; stylish geometric decoration; and a superb integration of art and architecture, especially in the lobby where a freshly restored mural map of the continental United States reigns with regal understatement.”

Chicago Auto Club Building US Map MuralIt’s a splendid mural. Done by an Illinois artist named John Warner Norton (1876-1934), who favored this kind of large work. More about him here, by a writer that doesn’t understand paragraphs.

I like this detail, too. It’s over the hotel’s main entrance.
 The Hard Rock Hotel Chicago at 230 N. Michigan Ave. is a Hard Rock. With that, you get musical embellishments, such as guitars on the wall and an express checkout station that’s fashioned out of a 45 record player.

The hotel is the Carbide and Carbon Building, yet another fine deco building, finished in 1929, just before the Depression ground building to a halt, deco or otherwise. Burnham Bros. did the original building (Daniel Burnham was long dead by then); Lucien Lagrange Architects did the conversion into a hotel, finished in 2003.

You might even call it noir deco, since carbon black is the motif.
Carbine and Carbon Building 2017Further south, fitting very nicely in the Historic Michigan Boulevard District, is the Chicago Athletic Association Hotel at 12 S. Michigan.
Chicago Athletic Association Hotel 2017The building, a Henry Ives Cobb design, goes all the way back to 1893, so it was spanking new at the time of the World’s Fair. No art deco for him. He was of a previous generation. He also did the Newberry Library, which I’ve always liked, and the fine Yerkes Observatory.

The redevelopment of a posh men’s club into a posh hotel by Hartshorne Plunkard Architecture was finished only in 2015. “Many of the building’s elaborate architectural details were preserved, as the ornate millwork and tiled floors throughout the interior and the stained glass and cast-iron exterior relief have all been restored,” says Curbed Chicago. “However, one of the greatest highlights of the new hotel is its rooftop restaurant’s deck space that offers sweeping views of Michigan Avenue and Millennium.”

On a pleasantly warm Saturday, the line to get to the elevator to the rooftop was long indeed. Some other time, maybe.

We did see the large bar on the first floor. It features a lot of games and a sports theme on the walls. Sports of an earlier time: leather football helmets, baggy golf knickers, and medicine balls.

The space also included a bocce ball court. People were playing it. I’d never seen anyone play bocce ball.
Chicago Athletic Association Hotel 2017 bocce ball courtGuess I don’t hang around enough Millennial bars. Or any bars, come to think of it.

Model Chicago

Most Chicago Architectural Foundation tours begin at 224 S. Michigan Ave., where the foundation is located and which is also known as the Santa Fe Center or, originally, the Railway Exchange Building. It’s a handsome structure by Daniel Burnham, dating from 1904.

“A building around a light well, a form common to Daniel H. Burnham’s work from the mid-1880s onward, received an undulating white-glazed terra-cotta skin, oriel bays, and a top floor of distinctive porthole windows,” notes the AIA Guide to Chicago. “As in the Rookery, there is a two-story covered court at the base of the light well dominated by a grand staircase.”

The view from near the grand staircase.
Railway Exchange BuildingNote the model of Chicago taking up much of the floor. At 25 by 35 feet, it’s an exact model of every building in more than four square miles of the city, or more than 1,000 of them. The obviously skilled Columbian Model & Exhibit Works created it for the Chicago Architectural Foundation in the late 2000s.

The Tribune reported in 2009 that the “model buildings came from Columbian’s workshop. The exhibit is broken down into 400 city blocks, in squares the size of dinner plates carried in food caterer’s serving carts. With the buildings already glued in place, the blocks were placed into the exhibit like waiters carefully placing food plates into a buffet table.

“[Foundation VP Gregory] Dreicer said the first step in the process was creating a digitized three-dimensional computer model of the city that could be manipulated on a screen. The designers did it using architectural drawings or drawings purchased from commercial firms that collect such information.

“To make each building, they went to firms that use the three-dimensional printing process called stereolithography, used to make design prototypes of various products like plastic containers for food, cleaning or pharmaceutical products.”

Wow. That’s impressive. And right there, for anyone to walk in and see, no charge. It’s not a static display, either. I’ve read that the CAF updates it periodically, as buildings come and go in Chicago.

Two Churches & One Temple in Old Town

Towering over N. Cleveland and W. Eugenie Sts. in the Old Town neighborhood of Chicago is St. Michael’s, a Romanesque Catholic church dating from just before the Great Chicago Fire. Not good timing, since the building was thus in the path of the conflagration.

“As the fire moved past Holy Name Cathedral, religious from nearby institutions rushed to St. Michael’s for respite, but they knew that the fire was just a few hours away,” the church tells us at its web site. “Priests, brothers, and nuns, helped by parishioners, packed parish treasures onto an oxcart and fled. Soon, flames tore into all the parish buildings, leveling all of them. Only the walls of the church remained standing.”

By 1873, the church had been rebuilt, though various modifications have occurred since then.

St. Michael's, Old Town, Chicago St. Michael's, Old Town, ChicagoLook closely up there and you see the Archangel Michael, sword drawn, ready to do battle with Old Scratch and his minions.
St. Michael's, Old Town, ChicagoThe interior looks like this: Bavarian Baroque, according to the AIA Guide to Chicago.

The archangel is also depicted outside on the plaza, facing the church. His sword is at his side, after vanquishing Old Scratch (at least, I assume that’s Satan underfoot). Good thing none of the nearby telephone wires were damaged in the struggle.
St. Michael's, Old Town, ChicagoThe plaza itself is a pedestrian zone that cuts the flow of cars on that section of Eugenie St. That’s unusual. I can’t think of another church in Chicago that has one. It helps make that part of Old Town distinct.

A few blocks to the north, at Wisconsin and Orleans, is the less distinct — at least as a building — Church of the Three Crosses, which is affiliated with both the United Church of Christ and the United Methodist Church.
Church of the Tree Crosses, Old Town, ChicagoAround back, however, is a sign of the times.
Church of the Three Crosses, Old Town, ChicagoRoughly between St. Michael’s and the Church of the Three Crosses, on W. Menomonee, is the Midwest Buddhist Temple, a temple of the Jodo Shinshu school of Buddhism.

Midwest Buddhist Temple“Jodo Shinshu, also referred to as Shin Buddhism, was founded in Japan by Shinran Shonin (1173-1262),” explains the temple’s web site. “It was Shinran Shonin who made Buddhist teachings accessible to people of all walks of life — in contrast to the traditional, primarily monastic practice of Buddhism.

“Between 1900 and 1940, many Jodo Shinshu temples were founded along the West Coast of the United States. But it wasn’t until 1944 that the Midwest Buddhist Temple was founded in Chicago by Rev. Gyodo Kono — its beginning linked to the ‘resettlement’ of many Japanese-Americans who moved to the Midwest to start new lives as World War II came to a close.”

At the edge of the property is a small but lovely garden, designed by Hoichi Kurisu of Portland, Ore., who also did the Anderson Gardens in Rockford.

Midwest Buddhist TempleMidwest Buddhist Temple“The boulders, set into place by a 30-ton crane, were especially important in representing the topographical features of Shinran Shonin’s walk from Mt. Hiei to the people in the Japanese villages as he spread the teachings of Shin Buddhism.”

Luckily, these days there are funiculars connecting Mt. Hiei with the rest of Japan.