Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Richard J. Daley Center
 by: chicago designslinger

 [Richard J. Daley Center (1965) Jacques Brownson, C.F. Murphy & Associates, architects; Loebl Schlossman & Bennett,  Skidmore Ownigs & Merrill, associate architects /Image & Artwork: chicago designslinger]

The size of government seems to become a particularly contentious issue every time there is an election, especially around the presidential kind. Whatever your politics, every now and again something commendable can result in the expansion of government - like an interesting piece of art and architecture surrounded by a nice bit of open space.

 [Richard J. Daley Center, 50 W. Washington Street, Chicago /Image & Artwork: chicago designslinger]

The Richard J. Daley Center grew out of a need - by two different branches of local government - for more space. Soon after the City of Chicago and the County of Cook moved into their conjoined County/City Hall Building in 1908 and 1911, they were running out of room. So after years of renting, the two governing bodies began looking for a plot of land to build on, and in the late 1950s set their sights on an entire city block, located - very conveniently - directly across Clark Street from the County Building side of things.

 [Richard J. Daley Civic Center, City of Chicago Landmark /Image & Artwork: chicago designslinger]

The problem was that the site was occupied by several buildings with several different owners. Chicago's mayor at the time, Richard J. Daley, saw no problem at all - the city and county would offer the owners fair market value and if they didn't accept, he'd simply take the land through eminent domain. Daley was the powerful chairman of the Cook County Central Committee, and, it just so happened, the chairman of the recently created Public Building Commission, authorized by an act of the state legislature to oversee the construction and maintenance of publicly funded projects in Chicago and Cook County. Prior to this action, any local government building project had to go before voters in a yes or no referendum on the issuance of public bonds for these kinds of enterprises, but with passage of the legislative bill, authorization to issue these bonds now rested solely with the Building Commission - which in reality meant the Mayor.

[Sculpture, Daley Plaza, Pablo Picasso, artist Chicago /Image & Artwork: chicago designslinger]

The block was deemed "blighted," and some of the old buildings had a long history with the city, and lots of people were very emotionally attached to a few of the unkempt landmarks. The most famous of the group was a three building complex along the Randolph Street side of the property owned by Henrici's Restaurant. Philip Henrici opened his first food emporium in 1868, and had been serving-up sides of beef and baked goods on Randolph Street since the 1890s. Thousands of people showed up in August of 1962 for their last meal in the Viennese inspired dining room. June Havoc, Gypsy Rose Lee's sister and the real live "Dainty Baby June" from the musical Gypsy, was one of the last diners to come by and say farewell. She recalled one of many visits to Henrici's when as a six-years-old, she, her mother, and her sister Louise all came to the restaurant to celebrate a three year contract her mother had just signed with the Keith vaudeville circuit. Soon after her visit the Henrici's marquee came down along with the building, and the 32-story, $87 million, 648-foot-tall, Chicago Civic Center building began to rise.

  [Daley Center, Chicago /Image & Artwork: chicago designslinger]

Architect Jacques Brownson led the design team at one Chicago's prominent architectural firms C.F. Murphy & Associates. The building paid homage to Brownson's mentor and former teacher Mies van der Rohe, but the Civic Center tower pushed steel framing and skyscraper construction to new limits. Steel beams, over 80 feet long, the largest ever produced, spanned the openings between the structure's vertical columns. Brownson also moved the building to the site's northern edge allowing for a wide open plaza, hoping to create Chicago's version of Venice's Saint Mark's Square, or Athens ancient agora. Brownson wanted the Civic Center Plaza to be filled with people either marketing or protesting -a gathering place in the heart of the city. But like with many  good architecturally designed intentions owners have other ideas, and soon flagpoles were added, an area was set aside for fountain, and more space was given over to a large outdoor sculpture. And when Picasso's unnamed statue was unveiled in 1967, the response ran from critical acclaim to public hatred. But Mayor Daley loved it, and Picasso gave his facially formed piece of art as a gift to the city. After Daley's death, and his 21-year-tenure as mayor and chairman, the Civic Center he had brought to fruition was renamed in his honor, for Hiz Honor.

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