Archive | February, 2012

“Strike!” – Preservation Snapshots Lecture March 15th

13 Feb

There are several academic and advocacy organizations in Chicago that do great architectural history programming throughout the year.  I’m a big fan of the monthly Nickerson Lectures at Chicago’s Driehaus Museum that present talks and slideshows on turn-of-the-century architecture and design (visitors also get a chance to take a look at the Nickerson Mansion’s fantastic Gilded Age interiors).  AIA Chicago, the Chicago Architecture Foundation, and the Historic Preservation Program at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago do some great programming on architectural history topics (SAIC has been doing some great international talks recently).

Probably the most-accessible and well-attended events geared toward architecture nerds are monthly Preservaton Snapshots Lectures presented by Landmarks Illinois in the Chicago Cultural Center’s immense Claudia Cassidy Theater.  The talks have always been informative, fun, and, best of all, they’re free!  This coming Thursday, Richard Sklenar of the Theatre Historical Society of America based right next door in Elmhurst, Illinois, will be speaking on the fate of some of Chicago’s best showhouses.

Leo A. Schueneman's West Town Recreation, completed in 1924, today the site of the Teamsters' headquarters. Image from Billiards Magazine

Next on the schedule is none other than yours truly.  On Thursday, March 15th, I’ll be giving what I think is going to be a really fun talk on Chicago’s commercial “recs” from about 1900 to 1930.   These unique buildings have been the subjects of a few of my posts and I’m excited to get the chance to give everybody attending the chance to see some of Chicago’s better examples of purpose-built bowling and billiard halls.

For the past two years, I’ve been really intrigued by these indoor sports facilities and am more convinced now than ever before that they deserve a place in any discussion of American pre-WWII entertainment culture and architecture.  I bet this is going to be the first time most folks in the audience will have even heard of this specific type of entertainment structure – not suprising considering the drop in bowling enthusiasm over the past few decades.  I really hope that my talk can spur some conversations not only on past modes of working class entertainment but also on the fate of some of these difficult-to-reuse buildings.

For more information on Landmarks Illinois’ 2012 Preservation Snapshots Lecture series, visit  See you in March.


Chicago’s Modern Architecture is “More Than Mies”

6 Feb

Chicago architects, historians and preservationists alike, we all love chewing the cud on the big names from the city’s architectural past: Louis Sullivan, Frank Lloyd Wright, Ludwig Mies van der Rohe.  But what about the names and places from years even closer to our own time that have made an impact on the city we see around us?  What about our more recent modern heritage?

Hyde Park Chicago's University Apartments, designed by I.M. Pei and Loewenberg & Loewenberg and completed in 1961. Photo by John Cramer

Enter the new blog Chicago Modern: More Than Mies.  This new project of the Save Prentice Coalition (mentioned in a past post) will focus on design and architecture from the 1960s and 70s and will take a closer look at the Chicago most history buffs like me think of as too new to celebrate.

In fact, it’s not only time to start celebrating mid-century architects like Bertrand Goldberg, Edward Dart and E. Todd Wheeler.  It’s time to start really worrying about the future of their surviving work.  Conventional wisdom observes “the fifty year rule,” i.e. buildings aren’t really “historic” – and don’t deserve landmarking consideration — until they are at least fifty years old.  I know lots of folks today will shudder at the thought but we have now entered the decade when buildings from the 1960s will be considered historic. It’s time now to start revisiting the masterworks of mid- to late-twentieth century American architecture and to start talking about the important legacies their architects have left us.

What’s fantastic about the new blog is the community of modernism-lovers it’s already creating.  The Save Prentice Coalition has begun assembling a stable of preservationists, architects, historians, photographers, and enthusiasts (me included) to post regularly on the region’s 60s and 70s design heritage, current issues that affect that heritage, and efforts to protect it.  Go take a look at More Than Mies and if you know of a building that deserves some attention or is in danger, drop a line in the comments section.