The Center for Land Use Interpretation Newsletter

Reflections On Chicago


583Like an interpretive space ship, the “bean” looks back at the city with a clearly distorted view. CLUI photo
Millenium Park
Chicago’s redeveloped waterfront is the most visible face of the city, and the showcase for civic projects that promote Chicago, from the most famous World’s fairs, to the museums, recreational lands, and now Millenium Park, possibly the most dramatic urban public art site in the nation, at the moment. It includes the Pritzker Pavillion, a Frank Gehry bandstand that appears to be frozen in a state of extreme exfoliation, as if from some full frontal blast, facing a huge lawn, covered by a suspended, swooping Tron grid for hanging speakers and lights. Named after the originator of the Pritzker Prize in architecture, and built by a Pritzker Prize holder, the pavillion is a doubly certified landmark in architecture. The Crown Fountain, another popular piece of public art in the park consists of two fifty foot high glass block videoscreens, facing each other, and showing closeups of peoples faces, making various expressions from joy to sorrow to pain. Water flows down the face of these faces, and in the space between them is a shallow fountain for people to walk around in, or not. But perhaps the most popular part of the millenium monument triad is Cloud Gate, a reflective ellipsoid, conceived by British artist Anish Kapoor. Designed and built by Performance Structures of Oakland, California (in a shed next to the former CLUI headquarters), the giant steel “bean” is sheathed in highly polished stainless steel, and makes for dramatic reflections of the city that surrounds it. A great place to take the parents, Millenium Park is like an architectural funhouse, guarded by a fleet of security on segways. Located on Michigan Ave., between Randolph St. and Monroe St.

584The back side of the fire academy building reveals another front altogether. CLUI photo

Pillar of Fire Monument at the Chicago Fire Academy
One of the most famous stories of this celebrated city of architecture is the moment of architectural erasure that occurred in 1871, when much of downtown was lost in the Great Fire. Ms. Oleary’s cow probably didn’t start the fire, but someone did, and it does seem to have started in her barn. There is a statue at the site where her barn stood, the Pillar of Fire monument, but what is especially interesting at the site is the fact that it is now one of the city’s main fire training facilities. In addition to classrooms and displays of old fire equipment is an unusual false-fronted building. On the street side it looks like a wall of flaming red brick. But on the other side, it is a high bay training hall, with an exterior wall facing a paved lot that is a stylized version of an apartment block building, not unlike the notorious public housing projects found around town. The department is pretty open to having people take a look inside the training prop area and to watch rapelling exercises on the false front. Located at 558 W DeKoven St., one block north of Roosevelt Rd.

585Arch enemy of animals everywhere, the Stockyards gate now leads nowhere. CLUI photo

Union Stockyards Gate
What was once the nation’s largest and most infamous packing site has now been turned into a business park. Like many monuments, this one is impressive not for what is there, but for what was there. The Chicago stockyards were the most famous stockyards in this nation of meat. They operated for over 100 years, employing 30,000 people at their peak, processing over a billion animals over the years, leaving the local river rotting with remains. Though Upton Sinclair’s The Jungle, published in 1907, was written about the yards, and the disgusting conditions he described had an immediate effect on food safety, leading to the federal Food and Drug Act a year later, it had relatively little effect on worker’s conditions or on the nation’s appetite for meat. Encroaching urban and suburban development was one of the causes of the demise of the yards, and competition from distribution points closer to the rangelands. In 1955, the stockyards at Omaha surpassed Chicago’s in volume, and the Union Stockyards were finally closed in 1971. Just one of the archways was left as a relic, with a stone carving of a mounted cows head, peering out blankly to posterity. Located at 850 West Exchanger St., just west of Halstead.

586587A piece of the rock, not forgotten by the scavengers from the Chicago Tribune. CLUI photo

Tribune Tower’s Monument of Monuments
This grim gothic tower’s form was inspired by other architectural monuments, like Notre Dame cathedral, but its exterior walls are actually (partially) composed of pieces of other “monumental places” around the world, many visible, and touchable from the public sidewalks around the building. It seems to have been a pet project of one of the newspaper’s more flamboyant owners, Colonel McCormick, who ran the paper for more than 35 years. The Colonel instructed his writers and friends to bring back samples from the exotic places they would visit. Some were collected with permission, some were not. Embedded in the walls are more than 120 examples of this “site sampling,” each identified by an adjacent engraved plaque. They include pieces of such global landmarks as the Pope’s residence, the Parthenon, the Taj Mahal, the Coliseum in Rome, the Great Pyramid of Cheops, and the childhood home of Hans Christian Andersen in Odense, Denmark. Also included are at least one piece of some place in each of the 50 United Sates, including the Alamo, Harvard University, Mount McKinley, William Henry Harrison (9th president of the USA)’s house in Indiana, and a piece of petrified forests in Arizona, and near Calistoga, California. A curious curation indeed, and a deconstructive distillation of the architecture of the World. Located at 435 N Michigan Ave.

588Less is Moore: Nuclear Energy sculpture at site of Fermi's discovery. CLUI photo

First Chain Reaction Site
On this spot, now a plaza in the University of Chicago, was the squash court under the grandstands of Stagg Field, where Enrico Fermi and assistants created the first sustained nuclear reaction, in December, 1942 - the nuclear genie’s first glance at the world outside the bottle. In 1967, 25 years later, Henry Moore made a sculpture he called “Nuclear Energy,” to be the monument for the site. The radioactive remains from the experiment, meanwhile, including pieces of the lab at Stagg Field, were buried in the Red Gate Woods, in Palos Hills, a few miles southeast of downtown. A stone monument there warns people not to dig. The lab site and Moore sculpture are at 5651 Ellis St., between 56th and 57th. The relocated radioactive parts of the lab are near Archer Ave. and 107th.

589The entrance of the abandoned Acme Chicago Coke Plant. CLUI photo

Acme Coke Plant
America’s steel/rust belt extends from south of Chicago and into Indiana along the south shore of Lake Michigan. Here are the great furnaces, sheds, and slagpiles of most of America’s steel production. Though many of these landmarks are visible from public roads, and accessed by dedicated explorers through gaps in fencing, many are still engaged in business, privately owned, and less than friendly to the harmless, curious visitor. The exception is the immensely scenic and visitable Acme Coke Plant, which closed in 2002, with the last intact structures from Chicago’s steel industry. Acme turned coal into coke used by the Acme blast furnace across the river, which was torn down last year. The plant is in limbo, as local preservationists are in the midst of raising money to buy the site. If they are successful, the site will slowly be transformed into a labor and steel industry museum, and probably become part of the I&M Canal National Heritage Corridor, which is expected to cut its interpretive swath through this former industrial zone. But, for now, the place is raw and alive, a partially torn down, but mostly intact monumental relic of industry. Located at 110th Street and Torrance Ave.