Friday, March 6, 2015

Bush Temple of Music
 by: chicago designslinger

 [Bush Temple of Music (1902) J. E. O. Pridmore, architect / Image & Artwork: chicago designslinger]

William Henry Bush had worked hard, invested his money wisely, been lucky, and decided at age fifty-five to retire and enjoy whatever remaining years he had left. His business career began when at the age of thirteen he became an apprentice in a Mechanicsville, Maryland grocery store where he learned the ins and outs of the trade. He came to Chicago in 1857, and by the time he made the decision to kick back and take it easy twenty-five years later, he owned and operated a very successful wholesale commission business and had the distinction of having once moved more lumber through the Chicago market than any of his lumber baron competitors.

  [Bush Temple of Music, 800 N. Clark Street, Chicago / Image & Artwork: chicago designslinger]

William Lincoln Bush didn't follow in his father's commission inclined footsteps. Born March 8, 1861 four days after Abraham Lincoln took the oath of office, William Lincoln's interests lay in musical instruments, specifically pianos. He was just 17-years-old when he left Chicago and went to work in the Boston piano factory of George H. Woods & Co., and returned to the city the following year taking a position as a traveling salesman with the Chicago-based piano maker Kimball & Co. Switching gears, and perhaps under parental pressure, in 1881 20-year-old William left the music business and took a position with a commission firm at the Chicago Board of Trade as a road manager. Apparently young William couldn't get pianos out of his system because in 1885, and with his father's financial support, W.H. Bush & Co. piano manufacturers announced that they were open for business.

  [Bush Temple of Music, National Register of Historic Places, Chicago / Image & Artwork: chicago designslinger]

With a $20,000 capital investment and a partnership with a 40-year-old German immigrant, cabinet maker, and piano fabricator John Gerts, William Henry came out of retirement and William Lincoln had a piano company. Pianos were a hot commodity in the later part of the 19th century, and by focusing your attention on manufacturing instruments for the ever expanding middle income market, there was money out there to be made. The start-up was so successful that when incorporation papers were drawn-up for the Bush & Gerts Piano Co. in 1892, company president William H. Bush, vice president William L. Bush, and secretary John Gerts as secretary, had a company capitalized at $400,000. By 1900, the company's capital stock had grown to over $1,000,000.

  [Bush Temple of Music, City of Chicago Landmark / Image & Artwork: chicago designslinger]

Like many of his peers, over the years William Henry invested whatever extra cash he had in real estate. One property in his portfolio comprised four city lots at the northwest corner of Chicago Avenue and Clark Street on the city's north side. The land had a six-story income producing building sitting on it, but William Lincoln had other ideas. What if his father built a larger, more substantial structure on the heavily trafficked intersection that would provide offices for the Bush & Gerts company, a showroom, with a recital hall, an auditorium, rehearsal rooms and offices available for rent, and have the Bush Temple of Music building serve as a kind of billboard for the company. William Henry agreed and hired architect John Edward Oldaker Pridmore who had come to Chicago in 1883 just before his twentieth birthday and worked in a number of classical revival styles. The architect set his sights on the effusive period of French Renaissance regality as the inspiration for the palatial, Chateauesque temple trimmed in elaborate configurations of molded terra cotta and crowned by an enormous peaked roof lined with metal trim and capped by a tall clock tower. The Temple dominated its corner site.

  [Bush Temple of Music, River North, Chicago / Image & Artwork: chicago designslinger]

William Henry didn't live long enough to see the ebullient project completed in April 1902, and his widow Mary, sons William and Frank, became the owners of the land and the building. In 1904 William and his partner John Gerts made the decision to get out of the retail showroom business to focus solely on manufacturing their annual production 22,000 Bush & Gerts pianos for the wholesale market. Gerts died in 1913 at age sixty-eight, and the secretary/treasurer of the Bush & Gerts Co. left his shares in the business and $1.5 million estate in trust to his wife Caroline, his 32-year-old daughter Emilie and 21-year-old son John, who was named as trustee. Bush now had more partners than he had bargained for, but only John took up a position in the company and took over his father's titles. By the time 75-year-old Caroline Gerts died on June 5, 1920 sales of pianos had started to slump - there were simply too many other entertainment options available in the technologically advancing consumer market. In July of that year Emilie sued her brother in court for mismanaging the estate and sought to have a new trustee appointed. It didn't matter. Two years later Bush & Gerts was sold to the Haddorff Piano Co. of Rockford, IL. and William Lincoln Bush decided to sell the Temple of Music for $700,000. At the time of his death in 1941 William Lincoln was impoverished and died in the hospital as a charity patient. He was survived by his wife who lived in a small room at the Methodist Old Peoples Home on Foster Avenue. In 1922 the Chicago-Clark Building Corporation began to update their recent purchase which resulted in the loss of  the Temple's auditorium, recital hall, marble columned entryways, and flamboyant roof tower and trim. The architecturally edited structure was sold once again in 1945 by the Mutual Life Insurance Company to Eli Herman, president of the 800 N. Clark Street Building Corporation, and the building has changed hands once again. The new owners have plans to restore the exterior while converting the interior into approximately 100, 350 square foot micro apartments.
Henry Rohkam House
 by: chicago designslinger

 [Henry Rohkam House (1887) Theodore Karls, architect / Image & Artwork: chicago designslinger]

In the aftermath of the Great Chicago Fire, "Fireproof" became the buzzword of the post-fire era. Commercial buildings had been marketed as flame resistant prior to the metal-melting inferno, but after seeing brick, stone and iron pulverized by the intense heat, fireproof took on new meaning. Virtually nothing survived the fire's fury, and the handful of structures that did remain standing left few consistent clues as to their survival. The Nixon building was nearing completion when the fire struck and it withstood the intense heat virtually intact. Maybe it was the insulating coatings of concrete and plaster of Paris that helped the building survive. Or maybe it was just the fact that the wood-framed roof hadn't been constructed yet which had played such a large role in fanning the flames of utter destruction. Then a story began floating around town. John Van Osdel, Chicago's first official architect, had taken the plans of the recently completed Palmer House Hotel, went down to the basement and buried the paper drawings beneath two feet of clay and sand. After things had cooled down, he made his way through the hotel's debris pile and recovered the damp, but in otherwise perfect condition set of drawings from their burial place. As history would have it, this urban legend became one of the defining moments when builders began to think that something wrapped in clay, perhaps in its fired form, might produce an ideal fire insulator. It made for a good story. It was common knowledge that terra cotta - Latin for "baked earth" - was fire resistant, but after the Great Conflagration the flower pot and decorative garden market variety of the malleable material took on new forms and an important new meaning as an essential component in the construction of modern commercial structures.

  [Henry Rohkam House, 1048 W. Oakdale, Chicago / Image & Artwork: chicago designslinger]

As Henry Rohkam and Gustav Hottinger signed their names to the documents of incorporation of the Northwestern Terra Cotta Company in 1887, it was hard not to be swept up in the moment and recall with wonder how much they had achieved since forming their clay manufacturing concern in 1877 - less than ten years after first setting foot in Chicago. Natives of Germany and Austria, the pair had found work carving and molding clay into decorative garden products for the Chicago Terra Cotta Company in the late 1860s. Their employers were churning out a line of bird baths, draped classical figurines, and other assorted object d'art for middle class consumers but the company was struggling. So instead of waiting for their employer to go under and lose their jobs as a result, Rohkam and Hottinger each took $1,000 of their savings and joined with fellow employees John True and John Brunkhorst to form True, Bunkhorst & Co. Terra Cotta in 1877. Two years later Chicago Terra Cotta went out-of-business and the partners moved their start-up into Chicago's plant at 15th and Laflin Streets.

  [Henry Rohkam House, City of Chicago Landmark / Image & Artwork: chicago designslinger]

The timing was perfect. Year after year, architects added more and more of the fireproofing material to their buildings as the commercial property market soared higher and higher. Not only were the utilitarian version of the baked earth tiles great for wrapping steel and iron columns and the floor plates of these new skyscraping buildings in a snug fireproof coat, but the ease of working with clay also made exterior architectural decoration a much more cost effective proposition. So why not kill two birds with one stone and fireproof the interior with utilitarian flower-pot-looking red clay tiles while at the same time apply a skin of decorative fireproof protection on the exterior. The idea took off like wildfire, then in 1886 Chicago passed an ordinance requiring all buildings over 90 feet had to be absolutely fireproof, and True & Brunkhorst became one of the largest manufacturers of the fireproofing clay in the city. The company grew, the partners had to expand. They built a new building on property they had acquired on Wrightwood Avenue just east of Clybourn on the north side of town where much of their workforce lived, and by the time True & Brunkhorst became Northwestern Terra Cotta in 1887, the physical plant had expanded to accommodate over 300 workers. Henry Rohkam, Vice-President of the newly incorporated and ever-growing company, built a house not far from the office.

  [Henry Rohkam House, Lakeview, Chicago / Image & Artwork: chicago designslinger]

Oakdale Avenue was out in the sticks. When Henry and his friend and business partner Gustav    bought two vacant lots at Oakdale and Seminary Avenues in 1886 there were a handful of houses on the north side of the street, while the south side's only occupants were wild life that lived in the tall prairie grass. Hottinger took the corner and Henry took the next lot over. He then called on architect Theodore Karls, a fellow German immigrant, to design a large single family home for Rohkam and his family. Karls looked back to 15th century Flanders and Northern Germany for the profile the facade of the 2,100 square-foot house, and threw in a number of decorative exterior embellishments, provided of course, by Northwestern Terra Cotta. The elaborate, ochre-glazed, Oakdale-facing-fence came onto the scene after Henry's death on December 1, 1896, the year after Theodore Karls had committed suicide in his downtown office.

 [Henry Rohkam House, Chicago / Image & Artwork: chicago designslinger]

By 1920 Northwestern's 24-acre complex was firing clay like mad with over 1,000 skilled craftsmen on the payroll - the largest terra cotta manufacturer in the world. Henry's wife Augusta still lived in the house that she and her husband had built decades before. Her daughter Lena, and Lena's husband Sherman Taylor, Vice-President of the Northwestern Terra Cotta Company, lived with Augusta, and after Taylor's death in 1926, mother and daughter soldiered on. Northwestern Terra Cotta thrived until the Great Depression virtually shut down all building construction in the United States for several years. After the Second World War and the advent of new building materials and a new design aesthetic, decorative terra cotta was pretty much done for, but Northwestern managed to hang on until 1956. 
Carbide and Carbon Building - Hard Rock Hotel, Chicago
 by: chicago designslinger

 [Carbide and Carbon Building - Hard Rock Hotel, Chicago (1929) Burnham Brothers, architects (2003) adaptive reuse; Wiss, Janney, Elstner Associates; Lucien LaGrange, architects; Yabu Pashelberg, interior design / Image & Artwork: chicago designslinger]

Change was in the air. Names, places, styles, nothing seemed to be immune from the roar of the 1920s. As the decade opened, women in the U.S. got the right to vote, and flappers with slicked back hair in sleek shift dresses glistening with ropes of bejeweled beading, came to define the look and feel of the age. Artist Tamara de Lempicka's 1925 "Portrait of the Duchess of LaSalle" draped the Duchess in a jazzy tableau. In 1928, as the decade was drawing to a close, MGM released "Our Dancing Daughters" with dance-crazed Joan Crawford Charleston-ing her way through a streamlined geometric world created by the studio's innovative production designer Cedric Gibbons.  That same year two brothers decided that the time had come to let go of a filial obligation to the architecture of ancient Greece and Rome and go for the gusto.

 [Carbide and Carbon Building - Hard Rock Hotel, Chicago, 230 N. Michigan Avenue, Chicago / Image & Artwork: chicago designslinger]

Hubert and Daniel Burnham came from an architecturally royal pedigree. The figure of Daniel   Hudson Burnham, Sr. cast and long and weighty shadow, but even so, both men decided to pursue their father's profession as their own. They joined the firm of D.H.Burnham & Co. and followed in Dad's classical revival footsteps even after his death in 1912. The rejiggered, renamed Graham, Burnham & Co. picked-up where the leader had left-off in a seamless, and to the public and client's eyes, unchanged company. In 1917 the Burnham boys decided to strike out on their own back under the familial mantle of D.H. Burnham & Co., and after over ten more years of producing flourishing neoclassical arabesques, tentatively began to dip their toes into the more geometrically graphic forms of their times.

  [Carbide and Carbon Building - Hard Rock Hotel, Chicago, City of Chicago Landmark / Image & Artwork: chicago designslinger]

In 1928, the New York based Union Carbide and Carbon Corporation- which had figured out a way to make ethylene out of natural gas giving birth to the modern petrochemical industry - maintained a regional headquarters in three separate downtown Chicago office buildings. The scattered office approach was not a very efficient way to conduct business, so the company went out on a search for a piece of property to purchase and consolidate into one location. They set their sights on the aging 6-story building located at the southwest corner of Michigan and South Water Street that had, until recently, been occupied by Chicago wholesaler E.B. Millar & Co. Henry Paschen, a major player in the Chicago's heavy weight construction industry, had recently bought the building and secured a 99-year leasehold on the land from the heirs of the original property owner. A great deal maker, Paschen signed an agreement with Carbide to construct a building for the chemical manufacturer and then sell them his leasehold, the chemical makers could then purchase the valuable lot outright from the heirs. The Burnham brothers were chosen as the project's architects.

  [Carbide and Carbon Building - Hard Rock Hotel, Chicago, North Michigan Avenue / Image & Artwork: chicago designslinger]

It hadn't been that long ago that this section of Michigan Avenue was primarily stocked - party wall to party wall - with a variety of wholesaler commission merchants selling and warehousing their wares. The city's main wholesale district was right around the corner on South Water Street, which ran along the south bank of the main branch of the Chicago River. In 1909 Chicago's Commercial Club published a plan devised by Daniel H. Burnham, Sr. and architect Edward Bennett which called for the demolition of the unsightly, aging, river bank market place to be replaced by a beautiful, Parisian-inspired boulevard. By the time the brothers were chosen to design the new building for Carbide and Carbon, Bennett's 1924 proposal for the area had transformed the dilapidated South Water Street into Wacker Drive, and the Burnhams had begun their transformation from Neoclassicism to Deco. Their Carbide project would take them beyond their first tentative steps into a new decorative design territory, and the Carbide and Carbon Building become one of their most recognized projects. In 1928, with the Carbide commission in hand, D.H. Burnham & Co. became Burnham Brothers, Inc.

  [Carbide and Carbon Building - Hard Rock Hotel, Chicago / Image & Artwork: chicago designslinger]

The sleek, dark green building trimmed in bronze and glistening gold, stood like a massive    exclamation point among its Michigan Avenue neighbors, and garnered national recognition for the architects. The area continued to transform itself into an unrecognizable version of its former self, but by the turn of the 21st century the aging commercial towers in this three block stretch of North Michigan Avenue were on the cusp of outliving their original useful purpose. Modern business required modern interconnected infrastructure technology, and the outdated mechanical systems in these 70-year-old structures couldn't compete. So in 2001 a proposal was put forward to convert the tower from an office building into a hotel. A lot of people thought it wouldn't work. Who would want to stay in this netherland of Michigan Avenue with nothing to offer guests once they stepped out the door other than wishing they had booked on the north side of the river? When the Hard Rock Hotel, Chicago opened for business in  a reconfigured, refurbished, gold-leaf-spired Carbide and Carbon Building on New Years Eve 2003, the hotel was a lone wolf. Today, around the corner the former Chicago Auto Club building is undergoing a conversion from office tower to hotel, just up the street so is the London Guarantee Building, to the south the 101-year-old Federal Life Building is being converted into an Indigo Hotel, while over at Lake and Wabash the Old Dearborn Bank Building will soon open as a Virgin Hotel. 
Theurer - Wrigley House
 by: chicago designslinger

 [Theurer-Wrigley House (1897) Richard E. Schmidt, architect / Image & Artwork: chicago designslinger]

It wasn't that it was a bad house, but Joseph Theurer had lived in the many-roomed mansion at 25th and Prairie Avenue long enough. He'd moved into the large single-family manse in 1880 shortly after coming to work at the brewery of the home's owner, Peter Schoenhofen. Not only was he living in his boss's house, but that same year he married the boss's daughter, and for the next 13 years learned the nuts and bolts of the operation before taking over as company president after his father-in-law's death. That wasn't exactly how things were supposed to have turned out. When Theurer married into the family his wife Emma had four sisters and two brothers, who, as the male siblings, were destined to take over the company some day. But before Peter Schoenhofen breathed his last breath in 1893, Peter Jr. had succumbed to injuries sustained in a freak accident, and in 1891 son George fell victim to consumption. Joseph and his brother-in-law Carl Buehl, who worked for the family firm and was married one of Emma's sisters, were as close as you got to old-fashioned familial primogeniture, so they took over, and  after living at his in-laws for the past 16 years Joseph Theurer decided that the time had come to move on and move out.

  [Theurer-Wrigley House, 2466 N. Lakeview Avenue, Chicago / Image & Artwork: chicago designslinger]

In 1896, with three years of the presidency of the company under his belt, Theurer purchased a vacant piece of property on the north side of Chicago at the northwest corner of Lake View Avenue and Arlington Place just north of Fullerton Avenue, directly across from Lincoln Park. Although located far from the social turf of Prairie Avenue, Theurer was familiar with the the neighborhood and a few of its residents. The commodious abode of fellow brewer Andrew E. Leicht stood at the northwest corner of Fullerton and Lake View just south of the large home of Edward A. Leicht. Theurer had known the Leichts even before coming into the Schoenhofen family fold - he had once worked at the Bartholomae & Leicht Brewery.

  [Theurer-Wrigley House, National Register of Historic Places, Chicago / Image & Artwork: chicago designslinger]

In 1896 Arlington Place and nearby Roslyn Place were lined with elegant stone-fronted townhouses, and a group of four townhouses stood just to the north of Theurer's corner - all occupied by upper-middle-class businessmen and their families. Although Theurer was American-born and bred he was very active in the city's German-American community and in German-American affairs. This may account for his choice of the Bavarian born architect and Chicago resident Richard E. Schmidt, even though Schmidt had come to the U.S. with his parents when he a year old. Schmidt came to Chicago in 1887 after attending the prestigious MIT, and was himself involved in a number of the city's German-based organizations. He had a few residential commissions in his portfolio, but nothing came close to the scale of a house befitting the president of one the the regions largest brewery concerns. Schmidt had recently hired a very talented designer Hugh Garden to join him in his office and the pair got to work on the Theurer residence.

  [Theurer-Wrigley House, City of Chicago Landmark / Image & Artwork: chicago designslinger]

Schmidt and his new hire designer extraordinaire Hugh Garden, looked to Europe for inspiration, primarily the palazzi of the Italian Renaissance. Coming in at around 40-rooms tucked into 15,000 square feet of space, the $55,000 house dominated its corner site. And the Theurers enjoyed their park view mansion for thirteen years until selling the Chicago palazzo to William Wrigley - of chewing gum fame - for $100,000 in May 1910, and William, Ada and their son 16-year-old Philip Knight Wrigley moved into the abundant abode. Ten years of living the high life at 2466 N. Lake View Avenue must have been enough for the the senior Wrigleys because by 1920 they had moved to an apartment in the Blackstone Hotel leaving 25-year-old Philip in the house with his young wife Helen, four maids, a cook, a houseman, and a chauffeur.  The young Wrigleys had a daughter Ada in 1923, but before their son William was born in 1933 the family left Lake View for a large Gold Coast apartment in the recently completed 1500 N. Lake Shore Drive residential tower. Philip and Helen may have opted for the security of high-rise living after an incident in 1930. In November of that year, Philip's sister and only sibling Dorothy and her husband James Offield, received a letter in the mail threatening to kidnap their daughter Betty unless the Offields parted with some of the Wrigley fortune - but nothing ever came of the threat. So, for the next 50 years the house sat lonely and forsaken, watched over by a caretaker and chauffeur or two.

  [Theurer-Wrigley House, Lakeview, Chicago / Image & Artwork: chicago designslinger]

After William Wrigley, Jr.'s death in 1932, P.K. as he was known, held on to the old house for sentimental reasons, calling it a family heirloom - but sentiment only went so far. By the early 1970s Wrigley had purchased two of the four 1880s era townhouses just north of the old mansion, tore them down, and it looked like the house would be soon to follow in order to make way for a high-rise apartment tower. Then Philip Knight Wrigley died on April 12, 1977 followed months later by his wife Helen. Now William III and his sister Ada had to decide what to do with the place, and after an aborted attempt to turn the house into the official residence of Chicago's mayors, demolition seemed certain. Through the efforts of local residents, the local alderman, and dedicated preservationists, in 1983 the Wrigleys handed the keys of the house to Nicholas Jannes. The new owner had a massive task confronting him, but he cleaned-out the dusty, deteriorating interior, renovated the entire house, entertained like William Wrigley before him, and sold the elaborately terra cotta-trimmed house in 2004. The preserved National Register and city designated landmark is now the only free-standing, single family home on the Avenue from that bygone era to have survived changing tastes and real estate development.
Union Loop Elevated Railroad - Chicago L
 by: chicago designslinger

 [Union Loop Elevated Railroad, Chicago "L" (1897) / Image & Artwork: chicago designslinger]

"The Union loop will never run in Van Buren street," as far as Levi Z. Leiter was concerned. Marshall Field's former partner was rich, powerful and a Chicago mover and shaker, not someone to mess with. It wasn't that he was against the unifying elevated loop railroad, after all he had supported the construction of the above ground rail line running along Wabash Avenue, but he felt that the southern end of the proposed central business district loop should extend farther south, to Harrison Street. Leiter had a formidable nemesis in New York bond wizard and banker Charles Yerkes who had come to Chicago in 1881 to build another financial empire based in the city's transit system. During the last two weeks of November the two traded barbs in the daily newspapers accusing one another of nefarious deal making to insure that the loop "L" would - or would not - operate 20-feet above Van Buren Street.

  [Union Loop Elevated Railroad, Chicago "L", Wabash Avenue at Van Buren Street, Chicago / Image & Artwork: chicago designslinger]

Frank Parmalee began providing Chicagoans with their first unified public transportation system in 1854 when he secured a franchise to run horse drawn omnibuses along Madison Street from downtown Chicago west to today's Union Park. By 1882 his Chicago City Railway Company was operating the largest cable car system in the world. The cable cars transported people from outlying neighborhoods into the central city, looped around the bustling business district, and then headed back out to the city's north, south and west sides, defining Chicago's soon-to-be world famous loop. In 1888 a group of investors, including Levi Leiter, decided to form a company that would speed up travel times by elevating pubic transit above Chicago's slow moving and overcrowded streets. The South Side Rapid Transit Company began at the south wall of a recently completed Leiter property on Congress Street and run down the alley between State and Wabash to the city's boundary at 39th Street. That same year a company was organized to run above the mess of traffic on Lake Street with a downtown terminal at Market (South Wacker) and Madison Street.

  [Union Loop Elevated Railroad, Chicago "L" - Wabash Avenue, Chicago / Image & Artwork: chicago designslinger]

When the Metropolitan elevated line incorporated in 1892 to serve Chicago's expansive west side its downtown terminal stood on Fifth Avenue (Wells Street) between Van Buren and Jackson. When Yerkes organized the Northwestern line in 1893 to service the city's north side residential population he was hoping to bring that elevated system as far into downtown as Fifth (today's Wells). But none of the lines came anywhere near Parmalee's ground level, centrally located, cable car loop. Yerkes saw a need, and perhaps, the potential to make even more money. So, on November 22, 1894 a group of investors backed by their silent partner Charles Yerkes, incorporated the Union Elevated Railroad Company. The proposed line would not only help alleviate the center city's artery clogging ground level traffic problem but would deliver the "Alley," "Lake," "Polly," and future Northwestern lines directly into the heart of the business district before looping around and heading back out to their respective neighborhoods.

  [Union Loop Elevated Railroad, Chicago "L" - Quincy Street Station, Wells Street, Chicago / Image & Artwork: chicago designslinger]

The Union loop company would lease their tracks to the elevated rapid transit lines for a set fee and a percentage of their yearly receipts. There were grumblings from business and property owners along Lake, Wabash and Fifth (Wells), but no one raised their hackles as much as Leiter and a vocal group of businessmen who not only used the popular press to make their case, but sued in court to stop the Van Buren segment of the loop from being constructed. They lost, and on October 4, 1897 the Chicago Tribune ran a banner headline proclaiming that the unifying elevated loop was complete and open to the public. Although unsightly, the boundary defining steel structure of the "L" caused property values within the central business district to soar, just as the banks of the Chicago River and Lake Michigan had done a generation before.

  [Union Loop Elevated Railroad, Chicago "L" - Wells Street at Jackson / Image & Artwork: chicago designslinger]

Downtown Chicago, like many American urban cores, entered into a decline in the early 1970s, and as a part of revitalization efforts there were a number of proposals to finally rid downtown of its unsightly steel loop, but the transit way held on and became a defining symbol of the city. Known as an eyesore through much of its history, during the 1980s the Chicago Transit Authority - which had taken over the entire private transit system after the Second World War - undertook a restoration and rehabilitation of the elevated structure. One of the oldest intact "L" stations in the Loop at Quincy and Wells was closed down, extensively renovated, and reopened to the public in 1988. Soon the aging stations at Randolph and Wabash, and Madison and Wabash, will be joined into one 21st century stop at Washington Street. And in one of the more interesting concepts featuring this 117-year-old Chicago landmark, Jack Newell and Seth Unger are proposing a visually interactive experience with The Wabash Lights project.
Auditorium Theatre - Roosevelt University
 by: chicago designslinger

 [Auditorium Theatre - Roosevelt University (1889) Adler & Sullivan, architects / Image & Artwork: chicago designslinger]

December was probably not the best month in which to debut a new theater in Chicago. The stockholders and promoters of the stately 1,900-seat auditorium were keeping their fingers crossed that the formal dedication of the Central Music Hall on December 8, 1879 would not go down in history as one of the city's snowiest or coldest but instead as one of the most brilliant theatrical debuts the city had ever seen. Their wish was granted. The weather cooperated and Carlotta Patti's mellifluous voice resonated majestically into the upper most reaches of the vast room. The isacoustic curving, "democratically" designed Music Hall was a triumph, and the venue's architect Dankmar Adler became the talk of the town.

  [Auditorium Theatre - Roosevelt University, 50 E. Congress Parkway, Chicago / Image & Artwork: chicago designslinger]

One of the stockholders in the Central Music Hall sitting in the audience that night was a wealthy Chicago real estate heir and patron of the arts. Ferdinand W. Peck and his brothers had come into a substantial inheritance upon the death of their father in 1871, and the Peck boys grew  their patrimony into an even larger and more substantial fortune in the years following the Great Fire. Ferd Peck was a big fan of grand opera, and by the mid-1880s the major domo of the Chicago Grand Opera Festival began a campaign to construct the largest and most acoustically perfect auditorium in the world in his hometown. He enlisted the help of his wealthy friends and fellow Music Hall investors like N.K. Fairbank, Marshall Field, Edson Keith, Levi Leiter, George Pullman, and began talks with Adler.

  [Auditorium Theatre - Roosevelt University, National Historic Landmark / Image & Artwork: chicago designslinger]

The architect's reputation as the sublime supplier of acoustical perfection - and without a bad seat in the house - had soared after the completion of the Music Hall. By the time Peck and his Chicago Grand Auditorium Association came calling in 1886 Adler had acquired a partner, 29-year-old Louis Sullivan. Adler brought Sullivan into his office in 1879, and recognizing the immense talent of his employee, Adler invited Sullivan join him as a full partner in the firm in 1883. In addition to industrial, residential and commercial projects, Adler & Sullivan had reworked the auditorium of Chicago's McVicker's Theatre and had created an operatic performance space inside the enormous shell of the Interstate Exposition Building, but nothing anywhere near the scope of the new Grand Auditorium building had ever come across the architect's drafting tables. Peck's belief in Adler made other Association shareholders nervous, and although the investors agreed to give the pair a chance, all of the drawings produced by the firm had to be looked over by outside experts and given the okay. On January 30, 1887 excavation began on a large piece of property on the north side of Congress Street between Michigan and Wabash Avenues.

  [Auditorium Theatre - Roosevelt University, National Register of Historic Places / Image & Artwork: chicago designslinger]

The property. The Association didn't actually own the land that the largest private construction project ever undertaken in the United States would sit upon. Peck had used his real estate skills and connections to acquire the 363 x 187 x 160 foot plot under long term lease agreements which stretched for a term of 99 years. Long term land leases were not uncommon, but, unfortunately, it was a decision that would cause quite a kerfuffle years later. As for the building itself, although the primary impetus for the entire operation was to provide a top-notch theater for Chicagoans of all stripes, the stockholders were wary that the performance space would ever be able to pay for itself so the design included an income producing hotel and commercial office space. The idea of combining a theater with alternative income generating tenants wasn't exactly new. Adler's Music Hall was fronted on its State Street side with regularly paying office and retail tenants, and the old Crosby's Opera House which had burned down in the fire, had ground floor retail, galleries, and office space for rent. The idea of incorporating a 400-room hotel into a theater project of this scale was untried, but with a number of hostelries already lining Michigan Avenue the Auditorium Hotel would not only join the row but provide visitors with the latest in luxury accommodations.

  [Auditorium Theatre - Roosevelt University, City of Chicago Landmark / Image & Artwork: chicago designslinger]

From the get-go, Peck not only wanted the grand auditorium to host opera for a mass audience, but businessman that he was, the enormous room was also intended to serve as a meeting place for any number of large gatherings - like conventions. The Republican National Party had chosen Chicago as the site for four of its presidential electoral gatherings since nominating Abraham Lincoln in 1860, and the Republican confab in the Exposition Building in 1884 had given an extra incentive to Peck's grand idea. What if Chicago were to become the go-to spot for all sorts of national conventions? The possibilities were endless. The Auditorium's auditorium wasn't exactly finished when the Party gathered together in the summer of 1888 to nominate Benjamin Harrison as their nominee. The brick walls were in place, and the space was covered by a roof and its supporting trusses, so with a few thousand Edison electric light bulbs and many more thousands of yards of bunting to mask the raw interior, the 8,000 attendees would be none the wiser.

  [Auditorium Theatre - Roosevelt University, Historic Michigan Boulevard District, Chicago / Image & Artwork: chicago designslinger]

On the night of December 9, 1889, almost ten years to the day that Adler's Music Hall was revealed to the general public, U.S. President Benjamin Harrison and Vice President Levi Morton joined 4,237 other patrons as they listened to Carlotta Patti's sister Adelina sing "Home, Sweet Home" to a packed house. The massive, brilliantly decorated auditorium surpassed all expectations. Those seated in the upper most row of the upper most balcony of Adler's megaphone shaped room could not only see the diminutive soprano, but could hear her as clearly as if seated within feet of the stage. It marked another triumph for Adler and catapulted Sullivan into the pantheon of one of the world's great, architectural visionaries. Unfortunately not long after the stellar debut, the "luxury" hotel was considered outdated when "in-bath" rooms became all the rage. After the Chicago's symphony orchestra moved to a dedicated performance space in 1904, followed by the opera company 25 years later, office rents were all that the owners could rely on to try and keep the project afloat. The Great Depression clanged the building's death knell. By the time Roosevelt College took an interest in the massive white elephant, the building was crumbling and one of the property owner's estates owed over $1 million dollars in back taxes. Remember the 99-year deals Peck had made when he assembled the land in the late 1880s? Well Roosevelt was able to buy-up almost all of the encumbered ground underneath the building save for one parcel of property. Chicago attorney Abraham Teitelbaum owned 52 1/2 by 170 feet of soil beneath the north edge of the building on its Michigan Avenue side and he wanted $800,000 for his share. The school said no.

  [Auditorium Theatre - Roosevelt University, Auditorium Building, Chicago / Image & Artwork: chicago designslinger]

Eventually Teitelbaum settled for $336,623 and Roosevelt became the owners of the forlorn structure and, for the first time, the ground it stood on. Over the past 68 years, under the University's stewardship, and the support of a dedicated board, volunteers, and the general public, the Auditorium Theatre will triumphantly celebrate its 125th anniversary with a gala performance by Carlotta and Adelina Patti's great-grand niece Patti LuPone in Adler & Sullivan's pitch perfect auditorium.
Archbishop's Residence
 Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Chicago
 Cardinal's Mansion
 by: chicago designslinger

 [Archbishop's Residence - Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Chicago - Cardinal's Mansion (1885) James R. Willett, Willett & Pashley, architects / Image & Artwork: chicago designslinger]

The soil was sandy and somewhat unstable, but with a good stone foundation the house would most likely settle into its site just fine. Architect James R. Willett had learned a lot about such things during his service as an engineer in the Civil War, and after the conflict was over, and landing in Chicago, he set-up an architectural practice. In 1880 who should arrive in the city to take over as Chicago's very first Roman Catholic archbishop, none other an old war buddy, Father Patrick Feehan. Once he settled in, the Catholic prelate asked the architect to design a residence befitting the status of the leader of the recently elevated diocese and chose a site at the northern edge of a new residential subdivision the archbishop was developing in and around the grounds of the old Catholic cemetery.

  [Archbishop's Residence - Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Chicago - Cardinal's Mansion, 1555 N. State Parkway, Chicago / Image & Artwork: chicago designslinger]

James Patrick Feehan was serving as the Bishop of Nashville when the Pope called him to Chicago. The city had been pastored by a Catholic priest since the arrival of Father John Mary Irenaeus St. Cyr in 1833, and by the time the Right Rev. Father Feehan arrived 47 years later, St. Cyr's 32 family parish had grown into a 150,000 family archdiocese. Feehan moved into the episcopal residence on Ohio street when he first got to town, then moved over to North LaSalle Avenue before deciding to build a much larger residence on the piece of land overlooking Lincoln Park - the former City Cemetery.

  [Archbishop's Residence - Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Chicago - Cardinal's Mansion, Gold Coast National Historic District, Chicago / Image & Artwork: chicago designslinger]

It was a large piece of property, certainly one of the largest in the emerging residential neighborhood north of Division Street and east of Dearborn. Feehan's episcopal house plot had been acquired by the city's first bishop William Quarter in the early 1840s. Located at the northeast corner of the Catholic cemetery, the parcel wasn't included in the cemetery's first plat map because in short order the Bishop sold the tract to the Sister's of Mercy for $100. The nuns had considered building a hospital on the site but they eventually sold the land back to the diocese when Bishop Anthony O'Regan paid a bargain basement price of $1.00 for the vacant lot in 1856. O'Regan, not popular with a large segment of the city's Catholics, had recently built himself a new residence on diocese property at the northwest corner of Michigan Avenue and Madison Street which proved to be a perfect foil in a mud-slinging p.r. campaign organized against the cleric. Dubbed the "Bishop's Palace," the house became a symbol of O'Regan's total disregard for his flock and his complete mismanagement of the diocese. The name stuck, and even as future bishops moved from one house to another, no matter the size or location, the Catholic leader's home was there after referred to as his "palace."

  [Archbishop's Residence - Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Chicago - Cardinal's Mansion, Astor Street Historic District, Chicago / Image & Artwork: chicago designslinger]

By the time Archbishop Feehan made plans to build a house the size of a palace, no one batted an eye. Chicago's Catholics were proud of their stature within the larger American community and were happy to show that they had the financial resources to build a house worthy of their new status as an archdiocese. Willett and his new partner Alfred Pashley delivered. The house was one of the largest residences in the city, and featured one of the largest number of impressive brick chimney stacks around. Feehan was able to pay for the place because he was in the midst of grading streets and subdividing the old Catholic graveyard for residential development, and selling house lots at a premium price. On January 15, 1882 the Chicago Tribune announced in their Real Estate column that agent George Rozet had sold over $100,000 worth of property to various individuals including a large swath of land along the "Lake-Shore drive from Schiller to North Avenue" to Potter Palmer for a tidy $90,695, or just over $2 million today.

  [Archbishop's Residence - Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Chicago - Cardinal's Mansion, Near North Side, Chicago / Image & Artwork: chicago designslinger]

When the archbishop moved into his "House of Many Chimney's" in 1885 Potter Palmer's own "Castle" was nearing completion on the Drive. Soon many more homes occupied by members of Chicago's upper crust would line the streets carved out of the old cemetery grounds. In 1924, Archbishop George Mundelein was elevated to the position of Cardinal, and the large red brick house facing North Avenue between State Parkway and Astor Street shifted from "Palace" to the Cardinal's Mansion. And although Mundelein and his successors moved into the residence without giving it a second thought, by the early 2000s the first native born Chicagoan to sit on the cathedra of the Church of the Holy Name decided that perhaps the time had come to sell this very valuable piece of Gold Coast real estate. Although in a prime location, the large house with its substantial lot could prove to be a tough sell. Francis Cardinal George would not only have to find a deep-pocketed buyer willing to purchase an aging structure in need of updating, but also a buyer willing to pay an estimated $14 million for a home located in an historic landmark district.

  [Archbishop's Residence - Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Chicago - Cardinal's Mansion, Gold Coast, Chicago / Image & Artwork: chicago designslinger]

The real estate market collapsed in 2008, and in September of this year Pope Francis announced that Bishop Blase Cupich would be Chicago's next archbishop. On November 18, 2014 upon his installation as the leader of the country's third largest Roman Catholic diocese, for the first time in nearly 130 years, the Archbishop of Chicago will not be living at 1555 N. State Parkway and will instead reside in a small apartment in the rectory of Holy Name Cathedral. While the mansion is used for special gatherings and events, a committee of clergy and lay members will report to the archbishop who will decide on the house's fate within the Chicago church.
425-449 North Clark Street, Chicago
 by: chicago designslinger

 [425-449 North Clark Street, Chicago (ca 1872-1874) Bauer & Loebnitz, Burling & Adler, William Arend, Otis H. Placey, architects / Image & Artwork: chicago designslinger]

"Reborn," "Rebirth," "Rebuilding," three "r's" used repeatedly in headline after headline as    Chicago built itself all over again following the devastating fire in the fall of 1871. Haines H. Magie, one of the city's early pioneers and one of its wealthiest citizens, was caught up in the frenzy of reconstruction investing tens of thousands of dollars to rebuild a property investment portfolio that had been consumed by the fire and been turned to ash. Magie not only lost a great deal of his building inventory in the Great Conflagration, but he had been severely burned while trying to save his north side home from the approaching inferno and had come close to losing his own life. His recovery was slow, but with his son-in-law Lambert Tree on hand to help the former dry goods merchant turned millionaire real estate mogul reclaim his property investment income, Magie and Tree got to work building buildings.

  [425-449 North Clark Street, Chicago / Image & Artwork: chicago designslinger]

Augustus Bauer had arrived in Chicago in 1853 after a stop over in New York City where he helped oversee the construction of the Crystal Palace, and a degree in architecture from the Polytechnic in Darmstad, Germany. Thirteen years later Robert Loebnitz, another Polytechnic grad emigrated to the city, joined Bauer, and established a thriving architectural practice. Post-fire, many former clients and a slew of new ones hired Bauer and Loebnitz to design new "fireproof" buildings on rubble cleared lots, and when the time came for Magie and Tree to rebuild on the northeast corner of Clark and Michigan Street (today's Hubbard) they secured the services of the Polytechnic grads. It was a heady time for the city and its architects. On the first anniversary of the Great Fire in 1872, the Chicago Tribune counted 51 buildings totaling 2,711 linear feet of frontage, costing $2,723,000 having been designed and built under the Bauer & Loebnitz banner alone.

  [425-449 North Clark Street, Chicago / Image & Artwork: chicago designslinger]

Twenty-five feet north of Magie's lot architects Burling & Adler were hired to design a 3-story business block with retail space on the ground floor. The second and third floors were set aside for a two level meeting hall, and soon after the building was completed the large room was being used by the Swedish Singing Society for their weekly gatherings and by the Germania Mannerchor every Tuesday and Thursday evening. Unlike Bauer or Loebnitz, Edward Burling came to the city in the early 1840s with no formal training as an architect, but he used his skills as a journeyman carpenter to find work on one of the the many incarnations of the city's famous Tremont Hotel. After a stint as a general superintendent for real estate tycoon William B. Ogden and his attorney and business partner William E. Jones, Burling was ready to start his own architectural practice. By the time a young Dankmar Adler joined the Burling office in 1871, the former carpenter had established himself as one of the city's go-to architects, and in 1872, the firm could boast of having completed 100 post-fire buildings comprising 8,675 feet of frontage, costing $4,022,000.

  [425-449 North Clark Street, Chicago / Image & Artwork: chicago designslinger]

As the rebuilding boom exploded between 1872 and 1875, a small 3-story structure was squeezed   into the lot between the Bauer & Loebnitz and Burling & Adler buildings. Architect William Arend designed a 3-story commercial building on the next piece of property to the north, and Otis H. Placey's 3-story design on the northeast corner of Illinois Street completed the west facing block. The row may have been brand new but the buildings looked very much like the thousands of facades that had lined the streets of the city prior to the fire. The immediate post-fire architects and their clients weren't interested in pushing the envelope much farther than they had before October 1871. This was no time to gamble, time was money, and other than making sure that the new construction was "fireproof," the innovations that would make Chicago's architecture world famous would have to wait.

  [425-449 North Clark Street, Chicago / Image & Artwork: chicago designslinger]

Magie and Tree were able to lease most of their office space to a number of doctors, including Cook County physician Ferdinand Henrotin and founder of Henrotin Hospital. Eventually the offices above the corner saloon of the Magie Building were filled with lawyers who were just a hop-skip-and-a-jump from the County Courthouse and Jail on Michigan (Hubbard) Street. As the city grew and expanded, the area around the 400 block of north Clark fell into economic decline. Many of the rooms above the ground floor retail spaces became home to a transient population who were able to rent rooms by the day or the week, and the building stock suffered through neglect and disinterest.

  [425-449 North Clark Street, Chicago / Image & Artwork: chicago designslinger]

Originally built by different owners employing five different architects, the cohesive looking facades along Clark Street were still fairly intact when Rick Bayless opened Frontera Grill in the old Burling & Adler building in 1987. Two years later the pioneering restauranteur opened Topolobampo in the same building, and in 2010 Xoco opened on the ground floor at the corner of Illinois Street originally occupied by John W. Stead's fish market. Freidman Properties restored the exterior of the Magie Building, and brought the interior office spaces into the 21st century.  Today the slightly altered but mostly restored row of "Athens Marble" and brick-fronted structures is one of the city's few remaining examples that gives a hint of what a Chicago street might have looked like right after the fire, and is the oldest post-fire commercial group that still occupies its entire original city block.
1550 North State Parkway
 by: chicago designslinger

[1550 North State Parkway (1911) Marshall & Fox, architects / Image & Artwork: chicago designslinger]

The combined vacant lots at the southwest corner of State Street and North Avenue comprised a very generous 98 x 132 feet, providing plenty of room for a dwelling place befitting a multi-millionaire - and it came with a view. To the north the vast expanse of Lincoln Park exposed the parcel to the open sky and fresh Lake Michigan breezes. To the east, the Catholic archbishop's nearly block long piece of property with its landscaped gardens and house of many chimneys, provided a break from the rhythm of the lot-line to lot-line mansions and town homes rising along the streets of this emerging residential neighborhood. But after owning the 12,936 square foot vacant lot for only a short amount of time, Hobart Chatfield Chatfield-Taylor decided not to build, and in 1906 he sold his spacious piece of property for $70,000 to Charles Dickinson who planned on building his own millionaire behooving mansion on the open and airy corner.

  [1550 North State Parkway, Chicago / Image & Artwork: chicago designslinger]

Dickinson's building plan didn't go much farther than Chatfield-Taylor, and in March 1911 architect Benjamin Marshall paid $85,000 for the privilege to maybe, finally, construct something on the prominent site. Marshall however wasn't interested in building a private home, he purchased the lot as an investment and planned on building a sumptuous, income producing, multi-unit apartment building for tenants willing to pay upwards of $8,000 a year (around $200,000 a year today) to live in one of the 8,000 square foot, 14-room apartments. Marshall had introduced luxury living for a luxury loving clientele in 1900 when he designed the Raymond Apartments at the corner of Michigan Avenue and Walton Street, and in 1905 he designed the 8-story, one apartment per floor, Marshall Apartments at the northwest corner of Cedar Street and Lake Shore Drive. That building was one of many in Caleb Howard Marshall's real estate investment portfolio. Benjamin's father had made a fortune in the flour milling business, and after consolidating and merging his company into the National Biscuit Company at the turn of the 20th century he retired. After Caleb's death in April 1910 and with his inheritance in hand, Benjamin would now take on the role of architect, developer and partner/owner of a number of future apartment projects constructed for affluent Chicagoans.

  [1550 North State Parkway, Gold Coast National Historic District / Image & Artwork: chicago designslinger]

The 12-story building at 1550 N. State at the corner of North Avenue, designed by Marshall in conjunction with his business partner architect Charles Fox, would soon be heralded as the city's most elegant and elite address. The elaborately detailed exterior teased and tantalized the eye of the passerby as an indication of what one might expect to find inside if one were lucky enough to pass through the doors of the discreet and tasteful entry. The $600+ per month rental (which would translate to roughly $16,700 today) meant that only a select group of the city's citizenry would be able to afford one of the ten floor-through residences. The idea of giving up your extremely large single family home to live with other people stacked one on top of another seemed like a hard sell. But as the Gilded Age moved further into the 20th century, trading in your 10 or 15,000 square foot mansion for 8,000 square feet on a single floor didn't seem like such a bad idea.

  [1550 North State Parkway, Gold Coast, Chicago / Image & Artwork: chicago designslinger]

Among the first tenants at 1550 were Mr. and Mrs. Frederick Countiss, the John Mitchells, the Albert Dicks, and Marshall Field's nephew Stanley and his wife. The 14-room units included staff quarters, and if your apartment flat didn't provide enough sleeping accommodations for your servants you could always rent additional space in the first two floors of the building which were set aside for such purposes. Among the butlers, maids, chauffers and cooks counted in the 1920 census there were the ten servants each in the William Kelley and David Cummings households, nine serving to the needs of the Albert Dicks, eight for the Edward Moores, and seven for the Frederick Rawsons. Their five other neighbors seemed to do just fine with a service staff of just five or six. Help was required when trying to maintain an opulent lifestyle in an apartment with a 700 square foot "Grand Salon" (or what we would call the living room), a 560 square foot "Chambre" for "Madame," one for "Monsieur" and five more "Chambre a Coucher." Then there were meals to be cooked and served in the expansive 625 square foot dining room.

  [1550 North State Parkway, Near North Side, Chicago, Image & Artwork: chicago designslinger]

1550 N. State Street, later State Parkway, appeared regularly in the society columns. On May 29, 1932 however, the Chicago Tribune carried a banner headline proclaiming "Finds Swift Death an Accident." Edward Foster Swift was the 68-year-old former chairman of the Swift meat packing company and had plunged to his death after falling to the ground from his 8th floor apartment window. In the summer of 1920, 1550 made the headlines once again when it was reported that the tenants had obtained 99 year leases on their apartments after buying into a syndicate that purchased the State Parkway building from Marshall for $675,000. Then in the summer of 1943 the Tribune reported that the syndicate sold the building which was being "fashioned into the small suites so much in vogue." With four apartments per floor rather than one, the building underwent another change in 1977 when the rental property was converted into a condominium. Since then a few of the downsized units have been enlarged, but the ratio of staff to square feet has not reached its former peak population.
Edith B. Farnsworth House
 by: chicago designslinger

 [Edith B. Farnsworth House (1951) Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, architect / Image & Artwork: chicago designslinger]

The dinner party was going to be held in one of those charming old buildings built at the close of the 19th century. The Irving had been constructed on the northwest corner of Oak and State Streets in two phases, first in 1895, then in 1898, and Georgia Lindafelt and Ruth Lee's apartment was within easy walking distance of Georgia's bookshop at Delaware and Michigan Avenue. Dinner guest Dr. Edith Farnsworth didn't have far to travel either. She lived with her mother in her parents Astor Street mansion, but if the doctor couldn't get home in time to freshen-up before dinner, Georgia and Ruth's place was just a hop, skip and a jump from Passavant Hospital where Dr. Farnsworth practiced. According to a memoir the nephrologist wrote years later, upon entering the apartment Georgia casually introduced the other dinner guest to Edith, "This is Mies darling."

  [Edith B. Farnsworth House, 14520 River Road, Plano, IL / Image & Artwork: chicago designslinger]

Edith recalled that the German-born architect sat through almost the entire dinner like a massive immobile piece of granite, saying nothing while the women carried on a lively conversation. Edith was telling her friends about a piece of property she had purchased from Chicago Tribune publisher Col. Robert McCormick not far from the tiny town of Plano, Illinois, about 60 miles west of Chicago. It was only 9 acres, but the secluded site along the bank of the Fox River would be ideal for weekend get aways. The Farnsworths and the McCormicks moved in the same social circles. Edith's grandfather George had come to Chicago in the late 1830s, left, and discovered the wooded acreage of Wisconsin and Michigan. After returning to the city in 1868, he went on to became one of Chicago's wealthiest lumber barons. Edith's father, also named George, took over the reins of the family business and after his death in 1941 Edith, her mother, sister, and brother were beneficiaries of the bountiful Farnsworth estate. The house she shared with her mother and two servants at 1448 N. Astor Street was large and comfortable enough, but she told Georgia and Ruth that she wanted a retreat from the city and her very busy medical practice. When she asked the brooding architect if there might be a young man in his office who would be interested in a small house project he replied, "I would love to build any kind of house for you."

  [Edith B. Farnsworth House, National Historic Landmark / Image & Artwork: chicago designslinger]

Ludwig Mies van der Rohe had come to Chicago in 1938 to head-up the architecture program at the Armour Institute. In 1945, when the architect told the doctor he would be happy to design a house for her, his private architectural practice consisted of a handful of young men who were working primarily on the campus buildings that van der Rohe was designing for the recently merged Armour and Lewis Institutes, now known as the Illinois Institute of Technology. When a young architect named Myron Goldsmith came to work in Mies's Wabash Avenue office in 1946, he was handed a pencil and watercolor sketch that Mies had done of Farnsworth's house the year before, and was given the project. It took another three years however before things really started to take off.

  [Edith B. Farnsworth House, Plano, IL / Image & Artwork: chicago designslinger]

Mies, Edith and Myron took many a picnic trip out to Plano, and by 1949 the glass enclosure Mies had designed for his dynamic client was ready to be built. The house was unlike anything anyone had ever seen along the Fox River, the Chicago area, the United States, or anywhere else in the world for that matter. Almost. In 1945 Mies had shown architect Philip Johnson the Farnsworth watercolor but because the project had taken so long to reach construction, Johnson was able to complete his version of a glass house in 1949.  But once the Farnsworth project was completed, critics saw that the glass dwelling in New Canaan, Connecticut lacked the uncompromising clarity of purpose and intense attention to detail that Mies had provided for his doctor friend.

  [Edith B. Farnsworth House, Fox River Valley, IL / Image & Artwork: chicago designslinger]

Early in their discussions Mies had mentioned that the house could probably be built for around $40,000, but by the time construction finally got underway in 1949 the budget had grown to an agreed upon $65,000. Edith's 2,200-sqaure-foot weekend retreat was not exactly small when considering that the average single-family home in America measured 950-square-feet. Slabs of travertine marble and enormous sheets of polished plate glass didn't come cheap, neither did steel or copper electrical wire in post-WWII America. Sorting through every single piece of marble to make sure they were laid correctly, matching the primavera wood veneer to perfection, working side-by-side with welders on the steel joins, the hawk-eyed architect left nothing to chance - which can be expensive. As construction drew to a close in 1951, and the budget climbed above $65,000, tensions rose between the architect and his client. In a 1986 oral history with the Art Institute of Chicago, Myron Goldsmith said that Mies didn't want to discuss the issue with the haranguing Edith any longer, and that from that point on Myron would have to handle the bothersome doctor. Hurt, and feeling cut-off and shunned, Edith stopped sending checks to cover costs.

  [Edith B. Farnsworth House / Image & Artwork: chicago designslinger]

When the house was finished in 1951, Mies was still owed money so he sued for payment. Edith counter sued and said that not only had the architect gone over the original $40,000 budget, but that the house she had paid for was uninhabitable - it was like living in a terrarium. In 1953 Mies was awarded over $12,000 in judgments, and settled for $2,500. Edith retreated to her "uninhabitable" glass container for another 19 years before deciding to sell the property because the county had decided to build a new bridge over the Fox River within 180 feet of her now world famous summer retreat, and Peter Palumbo, a wealthy London real estate developer purchased the property for $120,000 in 1972. In 1996 the five foot above grade platform that Mies had designed to keep the house free of flood level river water proved to be no match for the changing topography of the formerly rural area. Suburban development meant there was less ground surface to absorb rain and after a record-breaking 17 inch rainfall the Fox River rose higher and higher, engulfing the large plate glass windows. Under intense pressure one of them finally gave way, broke open, and water inundated the interior. The platform built in the hinterlands in the early 1950s was no longer a match for 1990s urbanization. In 2003 Palumbo was ready to sell and put the Farnsworth house up for auction at Sotheby's. After a nail biting eight minutes of bidding an offer - put together by Landmarks Illinois, the National Trust for Historic Preservation, and beneficent individual donors - brought the gavel down at $6.7 million. Then in 2008 another record high flood filled Edith's terrarium with water once again. Now there is a proposal on the table to build a system of hydraulic lifts under the house that could raise it as much as nine feet above the ever rising river.