34th and State: It's the corner where one grand Chicago era ended and a new one began. It's the place where modernism took root in Chicago.
The block on 34th Street between State and Dearborn streets was the site of the Mecca Flats, a square-block-size apartment building constructed in 1892 and demolished 60 years later. The exhibition Mecca Flat Blues at the Chicago Cultural Center tells the story of the Mecca in large-scale historic photographs that show the building's interiors and tell stories of the building's residents.
The Mecca Flats exhibit was curated by Tim Samuelson, Chicago's cultural historian. He presented a gallery talk in March about the Mecca and Thomas Dyja gave a lecture last week on the battle to save the Mecca in the 1940s and '50s. (Dyja is author of the cultural history The Third Coast: When Chicago Built the American Dream, now out in paperback. The book won the 2013 Heartland Prize for nonfiction.) Both events had large turnouts.
PBS' current "Masterpiece Classic" series is set a century ago in London but has a strong Chicago connection. "Mr. Selfridge" is an eight-part series about the founder and founding of Selfridge & Co. in London. The program can be seen at 8pm Sundays on Channel 11, Chicago. PBS streams the series too, so you can catch up with most of the past episodes.
Harry Gordon Selfridge, played by Chicago actor Jeremy Piven, was born and raised in Wisconsin. He came to Chicago in 1879 and worked for Field, Leiter & Co., became a director of Marshall Field and later manager of the State Street store. He sold his interest in Field's in early 1904, bought the firm Schlesinger & Mayer (including the famous store building at State and Madison designed by Louis Sullivan) and renamed it H.G. Selfridge & Co. Selfridge sold that business to Carson, Pirie, Scott by the end of that year.
A five minute walk took us down an awkwardly long and winding hallway to Studio One, a 67-seat black box theater and Henry Moore's temporary home. We sat down in the last row of chairs, which were reminiscent of those in an old airliner, and settled in to see a play about which I only knew three things: 1. It was about Irish gypsies; 2. It involved art; and 3. It was based on a true story.
The true story took place in 2005, when one of Moore's bronze statues, Reclining Figure, was stolen from the Henry Moore Institute in Leeds by a group of Irish Travelers. It is believed that the sculpture was melted down for scrap and sold for only a fraction of its estimated value. Seidelman's play brings these events and characters to life in a fast-paced, whiskey-filled, understatedly witty and passionate tale of a young man who loves art more than anything else in the world.
You might think that home economics and political activism are completely unrelated. As it turns out, the first generation of home economists championed equal rights, public health, labor reform, immigration reform, sustainability and other ideas that transformed society for the better and are still relevant today.
126 years ago this month, workers and reform activists in Chicago were reeling from the aftermath of what remains the most influential and memorialized event in American labor history. On the evening of May 4, 1886, a spontaneous protest took shape at Haymarket Square (Randolph and Desplaines, Fulton River District) as labor leaders learned of police and corporate aggression against striking workers at the McCormick Harvesting Machine Company on the previous day. The strikers had every intention of remaining peaceful; few that night had any idea they were marching into history.
The legacy of May 4, 1886, still resonates with labor activists and allies today. Here, handwritten notes and transcripts of condemned strikers' speeches adorn a statue commemorating the Haymarket Affair near the corner of N. Desplaines and W. Couch Place.
Back then, Chicago was acknowledged as the center of the American labor movement. The major issue of the time was the eight-hour workday, which national labor groups had adopted as a cause célèbre two years prior. Horrors! Anarchy might surely reign!
In November and December of 1864 General William Tecumseh Sherman lead 62,000 Union soldiers through Georgia, from Atlanta to Savannah, on what came to be known as Sherman's March to the Sea. As the soldiers demolished everything in their path, refugees collected and joined the march so it became a swelling unit of black and white southerners and northerners, all with no one place to call home.
The history books will tell of General Sherman's campaign, which severely debilitated the south in the Civil War. However, The March, as adapted by Steppenwolf Ensemble Member Frank Galati from the book by E.L. Doctorow, tells the unrecorded chronicles of the individuals that didn't make history. This isn't a story of war; it's a story of people.
Consistent, but malleable, the characters show a sense of duality that allows them to survive. A high-class confederate woman becomes the assistant to a Union doctor; a mixed-race girl and newly freed slave passes as a white drummer boy; a confederate deserter teams up with a man whose loyalty can be swayed in amount of the time it takes to change his coat.
The Portage Theater Building at 4050 N. Milwaukee Ave. is built with bricks and history. You can never perfectly record a building's history in an essay or article. You can participate in it, live in it, or sample it, but the building itself can't be presented in words alone. When it's gone; when it's demolished or stripped of presence and purpose, its story is over.
Presently, both the Portage and its story are threatened. Last September, 45th Ward Alderman John Arena was visited by members of the Chicago Tabernacle Church, who asked for his support in pursuing the purchase and conversion of the historic theater. They wanted to remove the theater's snazzy marquee; alter the auditorium for worship services; evict current tenants living or operating out of the building's storefronts and apartments in order to build classrooms and offices; and end all current film programming. Arena declined, and suggested alternate locations. Likewise a large, audible faction of the local community — including the Six Corners Association, the Portage Park Neighborhood Association, and the Old Irving Park Association — said no, thank you, citing the theater's importance to the area as an economic anchor and a cultural landmark. Both alderman and associations welcomed the church to the community...only elsewhere. As yet, and despite mounting opposition, the church seems intent on buying and changing the property.
On April 6, the Commission on Chicago Landmarks gave the theater preliminary landmark status, but the fight isn't over. On Friday, April 20, at 9am, the matter will finally be brought before Zoning Board of Appeals at City Hall. While there's still time, perhaps it's best to revisit the theater's background, and discover what we stand to lose should the church remake the Portage into its own image and likeness.
The American culture is highly visual, and always has been, with the creation of great works of art punctuating some of our darkest days. A joint effort between seven premier cultural organizations in Chicago has resulted in a new website that will connect students to a piece of American history through art, fostering critical thinking and a deeper understanding of our national roots.
The artwork features photos, paintings, prints and sculptures. They invite students to experience the war through the lens of a camera, feel the celebration of the Emancipation Proclamation through the strokes of a paintbrush, and recognize the sacrifices of families and soldiers as reflected in memorials made of stone and clay.
The Second City has a deep vault of material shot over the years that they've posted on YouTube -- including a special made-for-TV show called "The Second City's 149½th Edition" made for A&E. The 48-minute show featured a young Steve Carrell and Jackie Hoffman; Stephen Colbert and Amy Sedaris were among the writers. It's hard to tell whether it ever aired, but it was available on VHS from A&E Home Video. Watch the whole thing, sans commercials, here:
Scientists and history buffs may not realize it, but artists of the Northern Renaissance made vital contributions to the development of science during the 16th century.
Through a collection of rare and treasured prints, drawings, books, maps and scientific instruments, Prints and the Pursuit of Knowledge in Early Modern Europe at Northwestern University's Mary & Leigh Block Museum of Art will demonstrate the active role artists played in facilitating the understanding of new concepts in astronomy, geography, natural history, and anatomy.
Nearing its Chicago premiere at the Metro, 3730 N. Clark St., on Jan. 31st, The People Speak, Live! performance has officially added Academy Award Winner Matt Damon to host the event and compliment a cast of local talent. The supporting cast includes Robert Breuler and Alana Arenas of the Steppenwolf Theater, various local poets and Rick Kogan of the Tribune.
Based off of the 2009 documentary, The People Speak, The People Speak, Live! is a benefit performance that features dramatic readings of written works from people of the past. This month's performance will include readings of a fifteenth century priest documenting Columbus' arrival in the New World, a fugitive slave's scathing letter to a former master, the words of pathbreaking Chicago labor organizers, testimony of civil rights activists and more.
Tickets are available at $11 to $24. Doors open at 6pm. Performance at 7pm.
A boat heads east on the Chicago River through the State Street bridge in 1910.
Independent Chicago publisher City Files Press just relased a new photography book documenting the reversal of the Chicago River. The Lost Panoramas: When Chicago Changed its River and the Land Beyond draws from nearly 22,000 photographs made between 1894 and 1928 for the Sanitary District of Chicago. The result is a gorgeous volume chronicling the development of the engineering marvel, its context and its effects. As Booklist reviewed, "Williams and Cahan profile the players, elucidate the technological innovations, track the politics, and document the beneficial and catastrophic consequences of this massive and hubristic tinkering with nature."
Check below the fold for a video providing an overview of the book as well as some additional sample photographs.
Portage Park's gorgeous Patio Theater opened in January 1927, what was then a mid-sized movie palace, with a mere 1500 seats. Designed by Rudolph G. Wolff in the Spanish Renaissance style, its atmospheric canopy is dotted with twinkling "stars" and projected moving clouds, like the 850-seat Music Box's, which opened two years later.
At the time, the Chicago movie theater business was largely controlled by large, national chains Lubliner & Trinz, Balaban & Katz and Essaness, but the Patio was started by three Greek immigrants — William, John and George Mitchell (originally Michalopoulas) — at a cost of $750,000. Its first film was The Blonde Saint, an adaptation of a Stephen French Whitman novel.
The Patio flourished for decades as a first-run theater, until television started to eat away at the movie business. John Mitchell, who took over in 1942 after his brother William died, reluctantly allowed the building to fall into disrepair. To save on taxes, a vertical section of the marquee — like those seen on the Music Box or the Davis — was removed. In 1970, the Patio turned into a second-run movie house. In 1976, after the death of George Mitchell, the Patio was turned over to outside management. After John Mitchell passed away in 1981, the Mitchell family put the theater (along with the rest of the building) up for sale.
Last week marked the 50th anniversary of the groundbreaking for Marina City. As part of the celebration, a 19-minute promo reel, This is Marina City, was digitized and presented. It's now online in two parts:
Most Chicagoans who work in the Loop have some familiarity with the Pedway, Chicago's network of (mostly) underground passages and tunnels that transports pedestrians from the E,l to shopping, to work, without having to step foot out into the snow or rain. Many of us, however, use it purely to get to work and back, without ever bothering to find out just where the mysterious bends can actually take us. Let's face it--the Pedway can be downright intimidating. So, both locals and tourists will be interested in local improviser and tour guide, Margaret Hicks', reprisal of her Pedway Tour. The intriguing, 90-minute tour begins again this month, and features some of Chicago's most famous buildings, without stepping outside.
"The Pedway is such a weird and wonderful place," says Hicks. "It's like a whole other world down there. Parts of it are scary, parts of it are beautiful but all [of] it is pretty warm - and that's a big plus," says Hicks.
Approaching the marquee at 175 North State Street at noon, 2500 light bulbs await dusk to emblazon the façade of The Chicago Theatre. A group of tourists pauses for pictures. The iconic structure, once home to silent films and impressive organ concerts, persists as one of Chicago's most-recognized landmarks, continuing to draw crowds, even during hours when the stage is quiet.
A few steps into the main lobby quickly begins to confirm for visitors why this iconic building was dubbed "the Wonder Theatre of the World" upon its opening on Oct. 26, 1921. The lavish marble interior, intricate moldings, and grand chandelier provide the air of a luxurious and bygone era. The windows above the doorway boast the coat of arms of theatre builders Balaban and Katz in Tiffany stained glass. Visitors of the 1920s would have been greeted by professional ushers, trained at the Balaban and Katz School for Ushers, as well as local beauties, costumed in white coifs and elaborate gowns matching the French Baroque interior. Standing at the bottom of the grand staircase today, these details are not difficult to imagine.
Margaret Hicks of Chicago Elevated loves Chicago and its many unique neighborhoods, and if you've ever been fortunate enough to take one of her walking tours, you no doubt agree. Sunday evening, I joined her Boystown tour, eager to learn more about a neighborhood I've known to be chill yet vibrant; full of unique restaurants, bars, and shops; and, most importantly, bursting with people who can and do express their individuality with abandon. There's no denying that I was already a fan of Boystown, but there was an awful lot I had yet to learn about the neighborhood. And that's where the Chicago Elevated Boystown Tour comes in.
Appropriately, Hicks kicks off the tour at Roscoe's, the neighborhood's first gay bar to open up its windows over two decades ago. From here, the tour migrates down Halsted, incorporating such spots as the Leigh Gallery, the former Mandel Bros Warehouse, and down to the Playground Improv Theater. Heading back northward along Boystown's primary thoroughfare, Hicks describes the history of the gay movement in the U.S., how the movement manifested in Chicago, and even how Nixon--yes, Nixon--played an integral (though inadvertent) role in the extended lifespan of gay bars in Chicago.
Thirty people were killed and 100 injured when a mob clashed with Chicago police at Maxwell and Halsted streets Sunday afternoon. The melee formed south of Maxwell at 16th Street and traveled north to the site where the crowd exchanged flying bullets, hurled rocks and swinging clubs.
You can quit Google Newsing now. Sure, the rocks were made of sponges. And OK, the guns were filled with water. And you're right. Even the police mustache's were fake, and no one was hurt or killed. But I wouldn't have messed with this mob.
These players were re-enacting a July 1877 clash between blue-collar workers from Bridgeport and Pilsen and Chicago police, federal troops and state militia.
Like workers in other cities across the United States that year, these Chicago railroad, factory, streetcar and train workers refused to allow unfair treatment and stood up for workers' rights through strikes and protests.
The Chicago History Museum has an impressive lineup of events celebrating the 77th anniversary of the end of Prohibition, an era of speakeasies, Al Capone, bathtub gin, jazz, and other iconic milestones defining Windy City history.
The month-long program of events starts April 6 with New Beer's Eve, the anniversary honoring the night before Prohibition was lifted in 1933. The event at Sheffield's will showcase the history behind New Beer's Eve and the resurgence of the craft beer movement, featuring beer from craft beer icon Stone Brewing Company (whose Beer Week in Chicago started April 1).
The History Channel documentary, Rumrunners, Moonshiners and Bootleggers will be presented free with CHM admission on April 18, portraying the "Rum Wars" of the Roaring Twenties, hidden channels of liquor distribution and America's secret bars, clubs and backwoods shacks. Reservations are requested.
If you don't know the difference between a mammoth and a mastodon, this exhibition is for you. If you think it's preposterous that anyone wouldn't know the difference between a mammoth and a mastodon, well it's for you, too.
The Field Museum's newest exhibition, Mammoths and Mastodons: Titans of the Ice Age, opens this Friday and is expected to be pretty popular. The museum has gone all out for this one, creating hands-on life-sized dioramas and virtual experiences for visitors to explore and imagine themselves as cavemen.
Eva Mosez Kor and her twin sister, Miriam, survived the Holocaust and the Auschwitz concentration camp, where about 70,000 people died during World War II. The girls were 10 years old when they entered the camp and spent nine months there before it was liberated. Twins, including Eva and her sister, were subject to cruel experiments, procedures and injections under the direction of Dr. Josef Mengele, also known as the Angel of Death.
Ms. Kor lives in Terre Haute, Ind., and opened CANDLES Holocaust Museum - Children of Auschwitz Nazi Deadly Lab Experiments Survivors.
She visited Anderson's Bookshop in Downers Grove last week to share her experiences in Auschwitz and to discuss how she overcame her pain by forgiving those responsible for the Holocaust, including Dr. Mengele. She recently wrote a book for young adults, Surviving the Angel of Death, and previously was the subject of the documentary, Forgiving Dr. Mengele.
On Sundays, after the main service at the First Free Church in Andersonville has ended and the congregants have filed out and made their ways home down Ashland, or to brunch somewhere on Clark, a smaller congregation files in. They make their way down mostly from the north, from Albany Park and Rogers Park and Edgewater, where they move anonymously among the swarms of Asian immigrants, pushed between the embrace of something universal and the isolation of anonymity. A grinning, thin-framed boy of 17 named Ha Tha Thing hands an outline of the week's service to each as they stream in, one page of printed paper folded back on itself like a book jacket.
This is where the congregation of the Chin Baptist Church of Chicago--in all, about 70 or so of the 150 Chin living in Chicago, Christians of a variety of denominations that fled forced labor and religious discrimination in Burma--meet (under the Baptist banner for the sake of cultural unity and preservation) to praise the Lord. Conspicuously among them this past Sunday was a reporter, whom Ha Tha welcomed as he would anyone, with a smile and a handshake, then walked him down the chapel's aisle insisting he sit in the front row. This was the service following Chin National Day--February 20, the date the Chin people established democracy in the far western frontiers of Burma, though it's been largely ignored by the ruling military junta.
For a guy who doesn't even have a Wikipedia page, Gregory Battcock had a very interesting life, and an equally interesting death. Born in 1937, Battcock was a painter in the early 1960s who found his way into several of Andy Warhol's films (he starred in "Horse" and "Drunk"), and later he became a critic with eclectic interests--he wrote about minimalism and performance and video art as well as the aesthetics of ocean liners. He lived a short life, though, and was found dead on Christmas day in 1980 on the balcony of his San Juan condo. He was stabbed 102 times.
Last night was my final West African Dance class of the current session, and we had a recital onstage at the Old Town School of Folk Music. The school is housed in a grand building on Lincoln Avenue that was once a library and retains traces of its bookish past; above the stage is a WPA mural underscored by the words "enjoy toys, the world we live in, making airplanes, boats, books tell us of King Arthur, costume and pioneer days, building skyscrapers, electricity." My fellow classmates and I - six of us in all, got on stage to the rhythm of live djembe drumming, and brought the house down. After spending eight weeks dancing in the studio classroom, it was gratifying to perform in front of an audience, and the group assembled at the Old Town School couldn't have been less judgmental - everyone in the auditorium had to get on stage at some point, making the atmosphere less American Idol and more like talent night at summer camp. We practiced our dance moves in the hallway as a group of musicians rehearsed Will The Circle Be Unbroken, it was a quintessential Old Town School moment.
The six of us stood across from each other on the stage, three on each side, and at the appropriate drumbeat - what our teacher calls "the break," we started moving towards each other in dance formation until we'd found our mark, faced the audience, and moved to the next step. Midway through the dance we formed a circle using dance steps and then moved back to our original spots, a maneuver that wowed the audience. I was standing up front at stage right, and could see the audience - mostly guitar students, with instruments in their laps or in cases sitting next to them. Our dance lasted all of three minutes, and we received a truly raucous round of applause and shouts for our efforts. It was fantastic. Three West African Dance classes performed in a row, ceaseless drumming spurring on one class after the next. After that came the Middle Eastern Belly Dancers in all their jangly, hip-centered self-confidence, the metal disks on their hip scarves bouncing in unison like a school of small, shiny fish.
Still basking in the glow of Lincoln's bicentennial, the Chicago History Museum plans on celebrating two influential presidents struck with the perils of turbulent change--The U.S.'s Abraham Lincoln and Mexico's Benito Juárez. The dual exhibitions, opening October 10, will tell the stories of how the then-contemporaries helped transform and unite their countries during the 1800's.
Lincoln's exhibition, "Abraham Lincoln Transformed," is geared towards his radical steps to end slavery and extend equal citizenship rights, featuring more than 150 original artifacts, including fan and hate mail sent to Lincoln during his time in office. Juárez' exhibition, "The Making of Modern Mexico," on the other hand is co-curated by the National Museum of Mexican Art, displaying more than 25 artifacts never before exhibited in the United States, including a bronze Juárez death mask. Juárez' exhibit will also highlight his devotion to equal citizenship rights and economic development in Mexico, among other accomplishments. Both will have their signature top hats on display.
Editor's Note: Chicago Revenant is a new occasional feature by Gapers Block writer Dan Kelly examining some of the less well-known neighborhoods of Chicago -- or as he likes to put it, "shambling through the Second City." This is the first in the series, visiting Dunning and Schorsch Village on the Northwest Side.
The neighborhood of Dunning is a perfect place for a horror film — and I mean that in the nicest way.
Situated on the northwest side, Dunning (and its next-door neighborhood Schorsch Village), will charm your pants off with gingerbread houses, neighborhood stores and pleasant parks. Simultaneously, the place hosts three graveyards, a mental health facility, a semi-abandoned troubled children's facility and a camouflaged potter's field. It's a pretty place, and I met some nice folks, but it's ripe for a cinematic boogyman.
Naturally, I took my 19-month-old son Nate with me. Blithely unaware of anything beyond fire trucks and giraffes, Nate offered little commentary during the three hours we drove around Dunning. Mostly he babbled in the car seat, or tried to outrun me on his stubby little legs whenever we made a stop. I didn't bother with explanations. I didn't need to. Nate's world consists of home and the playground, with little elaboration. It made no difference to him if the Kentucky bluegrass and dandelions he ran across covered the bones of the insane dead or not — especially if a puppy was nearby.
Dada knew better. Dunning is the name of community area 17, bordered by Cumberland, Irving Park, Narragansett, and Belmont and containing the neighborhoods of Irving Woods, Belmont Terrace, Belmont Heights, Schorsch Village and Dunning proper. The place dates back to when the Northwest Side was still a rural area on the city's outskirts. The name came from Andrew Dunning, a speculator who bought 120 acres of land there not too long after the Civil War. First Dunning built a nursery. Then, assumably fantasizing about naming a village after himself, he set aside 40 acres for future settlers. But Mr. Dunning failed to consider the effect his peculiar neighbors might have on potential homesteaders.
Mallory Sohmer is a freelance documentary filmmaker from Chicago and a Columbia College alumna. She co-directed the new film, Drum Beat Journey, the story of four inner-city youth who travel to Petit Mbao, Senegal, to participate in a drumming workshop. The program used music as a vehicle to capture and connect with the young men in an engaging and original way. But this is not just a film about drumming; it's about stepping into another culture to learn about oneself. Read this feature »