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Bldg. 51 / Urban Remains Chicago News and Events

Bldg. 51

  • discovering the remnants of bygone tradesmen in a building seems akin to finding the proverbial “needle in the haystack.” it takes patience and sufficient lighting as much as luck to pinpoint objects left undisturbed for many decades. it is all the more gratifying to uncover these rare treasures, largely hidden by an accumulation of dust. as exploration of the congress theater continues, I keep finding workers' possessions along the wooden catwalks, artifacts that have been untouched for the past 91 years. [caption id="attachment_29629" align="alignleft" width="1500"] this 1926 chicago street guide was found approximately two feet away the catwalk surrounding the bottommost...
  • the isidore h. heller house was designed by architect frank lloyd wright and its design is credited as one of the turning points in wright's shift to geometric, prairie school architecture, which is defined by horizontal lines, flat or hipped roofs with broad overhanging eaves, windows grouped in horizontal bands, and an integration with the landscape, which is meant to evoke native prairie surroundings. the house’s design demonstrates wright's shift away from emulating the style of his mentor, louis sullivan. richard bock, a wright collaborator and sculptor, provided the exterior plaster frieze panels and capitals located under the...
  • research continues on a marvelous brick mansion that is in the process of being converted into a pre-school. the structure envelops two city lots, and appears to have been built around 1887.     to accommodate the needs of the developers and satisfy building codes, the interior has been subject to alteration. unfortunately this means the original hand-carved oak staircase was removed. still, the building retains many significant, intact elements – including glass windows, vestibule and entrance doors, and marble fireplaces.   during the two-day salvage of the bissell street mansion it became apparent that the 19th century residence had actually...
  • a rare artifact deserving highlight in the urban remains warehouse is a turn of the century cast bronze plaque designed by edward kemeys and executed by the winslow brothers. the single-sided metalwork depicts the cheyenne diplomat and warrior "chief left hand," remembered for his attempts to negotiate his people's survival during the onslaught of gold rush settlers to colorado. left hand was never photographed and the cast piece was modeled in clay based on sketches or portraits from the western frontier. the winslow brothers fabricated a number of these plaques in a series called "the american west in bronze." edward kemeys...
  • looking over the work i've managed to post, coupled with a seemingly endless list of unpublished "drafts" for 2017 alone, i'm increasingly convinced i'm a good candidate for karoshi. it looks like a sabbatical is on the horizon...  ...
  •     long after the hodgepodge of 19th and 20th century buildings forming the ace hardware on ashland were demolished last year, excavation work finally began. multiple machines dug deep below grade in preparation for the foundation work of a new development, and just a few days later i was summoned to the site when a machine operator stumbled upon a massive pile of antique bottles, including an unusual number of "pictorial" hutchinson bottles featuring deeply embossed animals (e.g., lions, bears, wolves), dating to the turn of the century. [caption id="attachment_29311" align="alignleft" width="1377"] image courtesy of hutchbook.com.[/caption] [caption id="attachment_29310" align="alignleft" width="1404"] image courtesy of hutchbook.com.[/caption] the stretch...
  • the destruction last year of the osborne & adams building (erected in 1872) remains a deeply upsetting affair, and one i remember each time i walk past the three gargantuan keystones housed in the bldg. 51 museum collection. the exterior architectural elements were rescued from the loft building's "cast stone" facade as it was pulled apart behind the cloak of an extensive web of scaffolding.  confirming john mills van osdel as the building's architect (widely considered chicago's first architect) a few weeks after the building's disappearance only added insult to injury. additionally, through demolition, it was revealed that the four-story loft building's...
  • in a previous blog entry i focused on a highly unusual depression-era mayan revival fisher theater seat end - one of several non-chicago based artifacts housed in the bldg. 51 museum collection catalog. the richly colored all original theater seat end reflects late 1920's exotic movie palace architecture in the mid-west, and as an object designed for chicago architects anker graven and arthur mayger, who worked for the pretigious firm of rapp & rapp before leaving in 1926 to establish their own partnership known as graven & mayger. this blog entry features an exceptionally rare and highly detailed architectural rendering (longitudinal section) of the fisher...
  • "...this seething ocean of fire, fanned by a hurricane, and fed by the homes and household treasures of a hundred thousand people, everything dissolved—the flames flashing across a street in tongues, as from a compound blowpipe, would pierce a boasted fire-proof structure, and with the speed of thought cut it from front to rear. iron columns melted at the touch, and flamed away in lava to the basement, followed in a crash by the superstructure. marble crumbled into dust, granite swelled with the heat and exploded. limestone flew into fragments, and the fire-proof theories of years vanished in an hour..." - dr. w.b. may, chicago, november 17, 1872.   as dr. w.b. may's description illustrates, the great...
  • [caption id="attachment_21122" align="alignleft" width="900"] detail of built-up molding on pine wood exterior door. the entry and any and all images first published on may 26th, 2016.[/caption] [caption id="attachment_29214" align="alignleft" width="450"] 1886 sanborn insurance map with red arrow indicating location of the superior street italianate. note: the extant coach house wasn't built yet.[/caption]           th when last year, i read dnainfo's story on the likely demolition of an exceptional 1870's post-fire chicago italianate residence, i was so alarmed that i immediately prioritized documenting it in person. i knew the facade and splended ornament deserved to be photographed before any chance of its demolition had come...

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