October 20, 2018

Photo Essay: Glimpses of Chicago, Among the High Rises and High Society

When I'd visited Chicago before, I didn't feel a sense of urgency.

After all, I was living on the East Coast with no intention on leaving, and I figured I'd have plenty of opportunity to return (either professionally or personally).

But this time in Chicago, 10 years later and living on the West Coast, I was on a mission: I needed to see as much of Chicago as I could, just in case I never got back there again.

I took a 7 a.m. flight out of LAX so I would arrive in Chicagoland early enough to get a deep dish pizza lunch before riding the ferris wheel at Navy Pier, a vestige from Chicago circa 1916 and one of the top amusements in the Midwest (though the wheel itself is a replacement, only two or three years old).

I booked a hotel that was a 10-minute walk away from my conference (not a big deal, unless it's 80 degrees, humid, and raining, which it was) so I could stay in the Jazz Age-era high-rise landmark, the Allerton.

Every morning, I walked past the Wrigley Building and the Tribune building, unsure how to get into either. I lamented at the scaffolded, crumbling facade of the former home of Chicago's city newspaper, which vacated the premises earlier this year after 93 years in the neo-Gothic tower.

And after about a day or so, the towers started closing in on me, just as they had after 14 years living in various New York City boroughs and working in Manhattan.

Even the comparatively petite Water Tower complex, one of the sole survivors of the Great Chicago Fire of 1871, felt like a fortress of limestone and shadows.

When I would look up from the streets and sidewalks of Chicago, I'd get tired of seeing stone and brick and terra cotta and spires and elevated train tracks instead of the mountains and radio towers of LA.

So, I brought my adventures inside, to see what the interiors of Chicago had to offer, while other tourists craned their necks outside.

At the Marquette Building, I crossed under the bronze reliefs and past the sculpted kickplates of the rotating door...

...and under the bronze sculpture of Father Jacques Marquette, the Jesuit missionary who mapped the Mississippi River Valley in the 17th century... behold the glittering glass mosaics that tell the story of Marquette's exploration and "discovery" of the Chicago River... depicted by Louis Comfort Tiffany, who also used mother of pearl and semiprecious stones in addition to Tiffany glass.

Built in 1895, the Marquette Building was designed in the Chicago School style by Chicago's now oldest architectural firm, Holabird and Root, also of Chicago Temple and Palmer House fame. Between the three landmarks, I think I've gotten a pretty good indication of what Chicago architecture is like.

But no architecturally-minded visit to Chicago would be complete without gazing up at one of the many stained glass ceiling domes that can be found there.

During my trip, I got to see two of them: the Giannini and Hilgart Studios creation of 1901 at the former Nickerson Mansion, now the Driehaus Museum...

...and the Healy and Millet dome at the former Chicago Public Library, now the Chicago Cultural Center.

It wasn't until I got home that I realized that none of the glass domes I'd seen were by Tiffany—one of those could be found elsewhere in the Chicago Cultural Center.

And I'd missed the mosaic dome in the former Marshall Field's department store (now Macy's) on State Street, though I'd walked by so many times before.

So, while I'd hoped to be done with Chicago, there are still a few things I missed, and there are a few more things I discovered as a result of my return.

But my biggest and best takeaway from this last visit is that I don't want to live in any skyscraper city anymore, though perhaps it's nice to visit for a taste of the architecture and decorative arts.

Just a day or two into my trip, I couldn't wait to get home—and by home, I meant LA.

Related Posts:
Photo Essay: Chicago's Chapel in the Sky (Or, The World's Tallest Church Building)
Pilgrimage to the Birthplace of the Brownie, Upon Its 125th Anniversary
Photo Essay: A Tale of Two Towers in Chicago
Photo Essay: Feast Your Eyes on Chagall's Monumental Mosaic

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