Saturday, September 18, 2010

Trip 68: A Return to Summer and the Loop

Date: September 12, 2010
Trip: 68
Landmarks Visited: 8
Landmarks To-Date: 188
Landmarks Remaining: 165

After a too early preview of fall, the weather felt like summer again last Sunday and I took the train back to River North and the Loop to pick up a few landmarks that I had missed on earlier trips.

1. Hotel St. Benedict Flats

I learned from the landmark plaque that these buildings were originally built as apartments but were designed to look like four row houses because people were skeptical about apartments at the time. The building is named for the Benedictine church that stood on the site before the fire.

(Jeff, please note the UPS Store in the last photo.)

2. Isaac Maynard Row Houses
These row houses are an extension to the Washington Square District that I visited earlier in the summer.

3. LaSalle Street Cable Car Powerhouse
I learned a couple of things from this building. First, I didn't know that Chicago ever had cable cars. I always thought that cable cars made sense in cities with hills, like San Francisco, where horses or early motorized vehicles weren't capable of pulling loads of people. Chicago is pretty flat.
According to the landmark plaque, Chicago had the largest cable car system in the country at one time. I also learned that their used to be a tunnel under the Chicago River at LaSalle St. This explains the unusual underground parking entrance in the middle of LaSalle. This used to be the tunnel entrance. From a Google search I learned that there was another tunnel at Washington Street. Both tunnels became a problem with the river was reversed and both were eventually abandoned.
Today the building is home to a club--The LaSalle Power Company.

4. Vesemen Building
This building is just south of the cable car building. Its most interested feature is the white terra cotta facade. It is now home to a club/restaurant called English.

5. Tree Studios, Annexes, and Courtyard
Tree Studios is a group of three buildings that wrap around three sides of a block and enclose a private courtyard. The buildings were originally built as artists' studios so the interior is very warm and homey.
The buildings today house high-end retail, The Metropolitan Capital Bank and a lounge called Pops for Champagne. I have visited the Design Within Reach store and the bank, and the interiors of both spaces are beautifully preserved. There are lots of wooden stairways with balconies and of course views of the courtyard. Each space seems uniquely designed as opposed to a repeating design used in most contemporary apartment buildings.
As a salute to the building's history, the bank regularly shows contemporary art in its space and hosts art lectures that are open to the public. That's how I've seen that portion of the building.
As a side note, this is the third building on this trip that currently houses a lounge or a club. And there was also Excalibur at the old Chicago Historical Society that I visited earlier. I can also think of a couple of famous New York clubs located in historic (or at least architecturally interesting) buildings; Limelight in an old church and Tunnel in an old cold storage building. I wonder if anyone has ever studied the role that bars and clubs have played in preserving historic buildings.

6. Trustees System Service Building
The Wells Street side of this building is blocked by L tracks, so it was difficult to photograph.
What I found most interesting about the building is that the main entrance is surrounded by relief sculptures with inscriptions. The inscriptions are so blunt and self-serving that they made me think of Soviet propaganda posters. Examples include "Credit Moves the Modern Business World", "To Safeguard Wealth Men Created Banks", "With Gold Commerce Was Carried Overseas", and "Exchange by Barter Marked the Dawn of Trade".

7. Washington Block
This building was another photographic challenge because it is also blocked by the L.
For some reason this building makes me think of the old west. There is an interesting wooden spiral staircase in the building, but I wasn't able to get a photo through the window.

8. Continental and Commercial Bank Building
This building is pretty typical of the large old bank buildings in the financial district. According to window signage, it's being converted to a JW Marriot hotel. Shawn and I stayed at a JW Marriot hotel in Grand Rapids, Michigan. We were there for a friend's wedding and the hotel was surprisingly nice. So I have high hopes for this future hotel.

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