Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Quiz Answer: The Clarke House Oldest in Chicago

Last week, Revel Chicago asked our readers which was the oldest building in our city. Surprisingly or not there were no answers posted which can mean several things. Either no one knows the right answer or no one wanted to take part in the quiz. Worst case scenario: no one visited Revel Chicago during the last week.

At any rate Revel Chicago is stimulated to post even more interesting pieces of news, attract your attention and share news and well forgotten stories about Chicago.

The Clarke House is Chicago's oldest building. Next week, stop by to learn more about the oldest tenant of the Windy City.

Monday, July 21, 2008

When History Meets a Resident.

Like old manuscripts historic buildings have special stories to tell. So do the residents of historic buildings. We study and preserve manuscripts, learn the lessons of life and pass the written treasures to new generations. We cherish manuscripts like a jewel of a crown. Do we value architectural structures as much as we do our written heritage?

National Register of Historic Places indicates 84 celebrated buildings in Chicago 83 of which do not have their duplicate anywhere in North America. This means that there are at least 83 stories to tell and pass along.

When nations were being concurred one of the first things to save were books because those would preserve the history of the nation, culture, time and help build the future. In the case of buildings they stand to watch the progress of humanity and remind of the past and values of the previous generations. We try to preserve historic buildings but very often we fail and succumb to tearing those down. But those buildings affect not only the city but individual lives as well.

Linda Hogopian, Global Account Executive of Marriott International, Inc. spends most of her working day in Wrigley Building where her office is now located. “Every time I walk the hallways in this building I truly feel honored since I know history was made here for several companies and of course the one and only Wrigley Company,” says Hagopian.

The Wrigley Building is one of North America’s most famous office buildings. The construction of the building began in 1920s when Michigan Avenue was still called Pine Street. The building was one of the first tenants of what came to be known as “The Magnificent Mile”.

Charles Beersman, chief designer, combined French Renaissance ornaments and an inspiration of Seville Cathedral’s Giralda Tower in Span to give Chicago the luminous white Wrigley Building.

“There is a barbershop on the 3rd floor. Every time I walk by, I smile, I wonder how many important businessmen got there haircut there during the 20's, 30's. I also think of how many heartfelt stories were shared during a haircut especially during the depression,” says Hagopian.

Elizabeth Archer, Regional Leasing and Marketing Manager for Green Village has been living in a historic Fisher Building for the last two years. Archer confesses that living in a building which was once the tallest building in the world she is set back in time. “Building’s terra-cotta carvings of various creatures get me the sense of history,” says Archer. Eagles, dragons and mythical creatures are guarding the fa├žade of the building.

This tall neo-Gothic landmark building in the Chicago Loop Community area was custom-built by paper magnate Lucius Fisher. The original building was completed in 1896 by D. H. Burnham & Company. The building was added to the National Register of Historic Buildings on March 16, 1976.

In 2000 Kenard Corporation restored the exterior terra cotta and wood windows and converted the office space to apartments, while preserving the lobby and hallways.

“I once met an elderly lady in the lobby who used to lease office space back in the 80s who decided to move back this time as a resident once the building was renovated and turned into a residential building.” In how many buildings can this happen?

“I do not see myself living in a modern type construction,” says Archer.

Not all residents of historic buildings enjoy the unique treasures of old historic buildings as much as Hagopian and Archer do.

Wallie Bracket, DePaul University Graduate Student of Journalism gives a different perspective of living in old, historic buildings.

Bracket has been living in East Park Towers since 2005. The building was part of series of hotel apartment buildings in the Hyde Park built between 1918 and 1929. The East Park Tower is a unique U-Shape red brick building with terra cotta trim. William P. Doerr Designed the Georgian style building which is now listed in the National Register of Historic Places in Chicago.

According to Bracket you can sometimes hear mysterious cracks. No, the sounds are not associated with ghosts but rather with poorly preserved foundation and flooring. “The elevators are not working well, you get stuck very often. I cannot wait to move into a new building with the state of the art gym and security system,” says Bracket who is terminating his leasing contract in August of this year.

Cracks and modern day amenities can be handled by the management of the building. Costly? Yes, maybe. But worth preserving the history which affects individual lives just like old manuscripts do.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Chicago Quiz

Are you a Chicagoan? A visitor, maybe? Do you know the city you live in or have just visited?

Share with Revel Chicago your knowledge of the oldest construction in the City of Chicago by answering the question at the bottom of the page:

Which is the oldest construction in Chicago?

It is The Clarke House? The Old Water Tower? Or The Fisher Building?

Learn the correct answer next week on July 22nd.

Buckingham Fountain $25 Million Renovation

The 81-year-old Buckingham Fountain located in Grant Park will be renovated for the second time in 15 years to produce even more fabulous water show.

The $25 million renovation will be paid with park, city and possibly state funds. Additional$1 million has been generated from the Lollapalooza music festival and $8 million from an endowment for the fountain.

Details of the project are still in discussion phase. It is known that the officials are considering a more dramatic lighting show that would coordinate with lighting installed along Congress Parkway.

The fountain closes Sept. 2, about two months earlier than last year. Renovation will start after the Labor Day.

While the fountains are working and the weather is fabulous benefit from the Grant Park events.

This rather costly but promising renovation is meant to draw more visitors to the city and impress the panel of International Olympic Committee experts scheduled to visit in the spring.

Friday, July 11, 2008

Q&A: Revel Chicago with Geoffrey Baer

Geoffrey Baer expert of the Windy City, host and producer of well known Hidden Chicago, Foods of Chicago, Chicago by “EL” and many other programs at WTTW11 found time to share his views about our city with the readers of Revel Chicago.

How would you describe Chicago and its architecture?

That is a very broad question!

Chicago has its origins as a boom town. It exploded from a modest frontier trading post into the fast-growing city in the history of the world between 1800 and 1840 as the construction of the Illinois and Michigan Canal brought a flood of land speculators here to the wild interior of the country. Although many modern-day Chicagoans are completely unaware of this history I think the “boom town” mentality informs Chicago’s personality to this day.

It seems to me that Chicagoans generally are more interested in and proud of their architecture than residents of many other cities.

There have been several times in history when Chicago played an important role in the art and science of architecture.

In the late 1800s some of the most important innovations in high-rise (“skyscraper”) and residential architecture were pioneered here, both in technology and design at firms like Adler and Sullivan, Holabird and Roche, Burnham and Root, and of course Frank Lloyd Wright.

In the 1950s and 60s Mies Van Der Rohe and later Skidmore, Owings and Merrill pioneered the stripped-down style that came to be called “Modernism”.

Most Chicagoans are proud of the excellent collection of buildings in our downtown area. And architects generally seem to respect Chicago’s history of fine buildings. Unfortunately the boomtown mentality in our recent real estate market was bad for our built environment. The explosion of condo development on the edges of downtown in recent years has given the city a disappointingly large number of mediocre buildings.

Can you compare Chicago to any other city?

I have heard people say that Toronto has some similarity to Chicago. It’s a waterfront city on the Great Lakes with a dramatic downtown skyline. Cleveland is another example of this.

But with the exception of New York (which is of course much larger) there’s no other American city with anything like the scale of our downtown. L.A. which has a larger population is a sprawl city without a concentrated downtown.

The building boom in some Asian and Middle Eastern cities today in some ways is similar to what happened in Chicago after the Great Fire of 1871. Like Chicago, these cities are trying to assert their greatness with huge urban developments and astonishingly tall buildings that push the envelope of technology. The scale of what’s happening today in places like Shanghai and Dubai dwarfs what Chicago did during its boom a hundred years ago.

You know so much about Chicago, what have you learned/discovered recently that surprised you the most?

I rode a tugboat up the Illinois Waterway from Joliet into the South Loop. I had absolutely no idea there was so much maritime activity still surviving here. Huge barge tows, amazing shipping terminals, a lock almost as big as those on the Panama Canal and a hydroelectric dam built in the early 1900s. I was astonished.

How do you see Chicago (its architecture) in the 21 century? Is there a particular trend you have noticed Chicago architecture is following?

Chicago may have clung a little too tightly to its history of great buildings and so it was slow to embrace international architects and new, avant-garde design.

But recently international architects have been getting lots of commissions here. So we now have (or soon will have) excellent buildings by architects like Rem Koolhaas, Frank Gehry, Santiago Calatrava, Renzo Piano and others.

There have also been some excellent new buildings from locally based architects including Helmut Jahn, Studio Gang and Krueck + Sexton.

In all of these projects architects have embraced technologies that allow them to create forms that would simply have been impossible before the era of computer-aided design. New technologies in the engineering of glass and framing also allow new artistic possibilities.
As everywhere else, the interest in sustainable “green” architecture has firmly taken hold here.

Having explored all the possible and impossible tour routes in Chicago what would you recommend Chicagoans as well as visitors to see in the city?

Take the “L”! Follow the Brown Line and Orange Line all the way to the end. Amazing journeys. The Blue Line out through Pilsen, the Red Line through the North Side and the Green Line through the West and South Sides are also fascinating trips.

The lakefront and river tour boats are also wonderful ways to experience the city.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Jim Peters Landmark Illinois' new President

Jim Peters, urban planner and academic is named the President of Landmark Illinois, a Chicago-based non-profit with a mission to preserve state historical heritage.

With a staff of 12 and an annual budget of about $2 million the group has been fighting for the preservation of such historic buildings as Soldier Field, Cook County Hospital and Mies van der Rohe's Farnsworth House.

Peters will assume his responsibilities on July 15Th.

Peters has a rich input the preservation of the historic buildings.
He has been Landmarks Illinois' director of preservation planning since 2001 and has taught historic preservation as an adjunct instructor at both the School of the Art institute of Chicago and the University of Illinois at Chicago.

He will leave both academic positions because of the responsibilities of his new job. He will also be Landmarks Illinois' chief executive officer.
Peters plans to give renewed attention to the group's statewide efforts. Among the scope of his attention will be the saving of mid-20Th Century modern buildings and the move toward "facade-echtomies," in which developers save only the facades of historic buildings--often with government approval.

Peters prefers "behind-the-scenes persuasion" to fight for property rights movement that has stymied efforts to create suburban landmark districts.
From 1990 to 2001 Peters worked in the city's planning department and a Deputy Commissioner for the Landmarks Division.

It will be interesting to follow Peters' initiatives in regards to Chicago Athletic Association and Chicago Tribune Towers fate now that developers and real estate agents are targeting these two historic buildings as their next victims in the race for more profit.

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Millennium Park at a Glance

"Urbs in Horto" translated from Latin means "City in a Garden". Chicago has adopted this motto since 1937 and today the Chicago Park District consists of 552 parks with over 7,300 acres (30 km²) of municipal parkland. Millennium Park is one of the most famous gateways for Chicagoans and city visitors.

Revel Chicago hopes this short preview will stimulate you to go out and enjoy your city in a garden. There is a lot to do in the park. Take a look.

Friday, July 4, 2008

Zola’s 21st century green Chicago

Zoka Zola Architects + Urban Designers propose three to eight changes to the current Chicago Zoning Ordinance to make the city more environmentally friendly, energy efficient and affordable.

“It may take you a lifetime to see the plan come to life,” Zola’s friends would tell her when she was just starting on the plan.

Zola, award winning architect and lecturer with an international experience thought about this project when she moved to the United States in 1997.

“Why do this houses need side yards?” wondered Zola.

Puzzled with the question Zola took upon developing the plan of 21 Century Chicago. This project has very little to do with her main specialty as an architect. Still the temptation to see Chicagoans enjoy bright, warm, green houses was stronger than the conventional scope of her specialty.

When in 1904 Daniel Burnham and the Commercial Club of Chicago were planning the city among the issues they intended to solve were the growing population and the improvement of the city’s commercial well being.

After more then a century Chicago is facing different issues: environment preservation, further population growth, energy preservation, lack of architectural creativity in town house design. Most resent is the rise in gas prices which is going to affect our lifestyle.

Zola sees the solutions to modern life challenges through altering city’s planning regulations.

Zola envisions 21 century Chicago as green, bright, energy sufficient and architecturally various city.

Among the suggested changes are:
  • Green houses on top of garages
  • Yards with trees (new houses will have to have trees for the new tenants)
  • Brighter basements (with a floor no more than 2-6 ft below the ground) with an allowance to be used as separate residences
  • Front yards, on the other hand will be reduced to 10 ft.
  • Side yards will no longer be a must

The range of benefits these changes can bring is wide.


  • Chicagoans will lose less heat
  • The houses will be better lighted with natural light
  • This will lead to energy savings in summer and winter seasons
  • Houses will have better views
  • The city will have twice as many trees which mean fresher air

This plan will provide better fire safety and easier rat control

Ac According to Zola’s plan the units will be more affordable as a result of increase in the allowance of shallower basement units and parking spots per building. The City of Chicago can thus save substantial amounts of money and use if for affordable housing and further improvement of the city.
Edward Kus, former Executive Director of the Mayor’s Zoning Reform Commission sees Zola’s plan environmentally responsible. Despite of that Kus predicts a lot of resistance from both the developers and neighborhoods due to certain habits people are reluctant to give up.

This plan has a lot of benefits, but it is unrealistic,” said Kus.

When Kus was working on the amendments to the 1957 Chicago Zoning Ordinance his team met with neighborhood representatives, architects and developers to find out what the city needs were.

“C Chicagoans want side yards to have relative privacy. People want parking spaces, they do not want to park on the streets,” explained Kus who was the Zoning Administrator of the City of Chicago in 2001.

ZolZola's plan satisfies these needs with the availability of garages. Her plan foresees more flexibility on side yards thus giving the developers and inhabitants a choice between wider houses and side yard availability.

Zola’s studio-house is live example of her project. This self sustainable, ecological and aesthetic building is located on 1737 W. Ohio Street. Known as Pfanner house it represents the philosophy of openness to one another. Zola compares the openness of the space with healthy lungs where the breathing is pleasant and smooth.

Zola’s city plan has been presented to all possible instances from Chicago Mayer Dailey’s office to individual developers.

Thus far two individual clients have expressed interest in developing their project following Zola’s model. This precedent gives Zola a hope that little by little individual interest will grow into a future city zoning vision.

Thursday, July 3, 2008

Chicago: Best Architecture and Design City

Chicago is named the best city for architecture and design according to an independent study conducted by RMJM Hillier, the North American division of the worldwide architecture firm RMJM.

The study looked at 10 criteria. Among them:
  • architecture awards
  • “green” design and
  • public transit systems

RMJM selected 10 cities to draw comperisons. Zogby International in its turne interviewd 1000 residents of those cities on architecture and design. Chicago came out on top giving New York and Boston second and third places.

The Top Ten Cities for Design:

1. Chicago, IL
2. New York, NY
3. Boston, MA
4. Los Angeles, CA
5. Portland, OR
6. San Francisco, CA
7. Seattle, WA
8. Denver, CO
9. Philadelphia, PA
10. Washington, D.C.

The study found that Eighty-seven percent of Chicago residents think that the architecture in their city is excellent or good, versus 63% of New Yorkers and 64% of Bostonians.

The study also names three “Cities to Watch:” Minneapolis, Minnesota; Baltimore, Maryland; and Phoenix, Arizona.