cities

Tanks and towers

Chicago stop, © 2013 Celia Her City

The John Hancock and a Chicago water tank, © 2013 Celia Her City

chicagostop2

Now dwindling in number, water tanks used to dot the skyline of the city.  These amazing rooftop cisterns came into use in the late-nineteenth century, when on-site water storage was recognized as a necessary fire-fighting measure.

Water tanks continue to be built in New York City for the ordinary purpose of maintaining the water pressure inside tall buildings with the aid of gravity.  In Chicago, however, water tanks are viewed as an anachronism.  It’s likely that these visually charming relics will disappear over time.  For now, I relish the contrast between our sleek but bland skyscrapers and these sturdy rooftop monuments.

Home, where the strange is familiar

Pink haired woman with argyle leggings and pink sneakers walking past a long neglected storefront on a North Clark Street, Chicago

Yes, I’m home, back in the city.  After a good night’s sleep in my own bed, I’m up writing my post in a way that’s customary: propped up in the bed in our spare bedroom, drinking my morning coffee.  I do my best work in the early morning, before starting my day.  I swear I could produce a masterpiece in my bathrobe.  Luckily Mr C sleeps late, which gives me lots of time to compose.

What does “home” mean to residents of a big city?  Driving around the Twin Cities got me thinking about how cities differ, and how I’ve come to think of Chicago as ‘my city.’  Born elsewhere, I came to Chicago in adulthood.  My decision to stay here and make this my home was one I made deliberately.  Beyond my domicile and a network of personal and professional relationships that sustains me, lies a vast population and universe that will always be strange.  Knowing it–and loving it–could take an eternity, especially if you’re a female cat like me.

I chip away at its strangeness, recently with photography and with blogging.  With each post and image, the swath of association and meaning broadens.  The city may never cease to be strange, but its strangeness is now familiar to me.  A pink-haired lady with Fair Isle tights?  She’s my fellow-wayfarer, setting forth with faux-leopardskin pack and pink-sneakered stride.

Acme factory

Acme factory

Driving around a strange city, Celia finds herself near the Acme factory.  Is this the place where all those Road Runner contraptions were made?  The opaque factory, with its peeling paint, unreadable purpose, and everyman name teases us to react, whether with curiosity, amusement, or self-righteous dismay.  Acme has the effrontery to operate in America, thriving on entropy, mystery, and decay.

Acme factory xray (Minneapolis), © 2013 Celia Her City

Chicago’s stone age

Chicago’s stone age

Chicago architecture can be divided into two periods: the period of glass and steel we live in now, and the ‘stone age’ preceding it, which lasted from the Great Fire of 1871 (when Chicago swore off New England clapboard) until the 1930s.  During the stone age, commercial buildings grew taller (‘scraping the sky’) but were finished off in traditional materials and styles.

Chicago 'stone age' stars. © 2013 Celia Her City

Vintage skyscrapers along Michigan Avenue

From the perspective of south Grant Park, the fruits of these two eras of building can be seen.  The old stone skyscrapers lining Michigan Avenue are quaint but massive.  Among our most famous buildings, they are loaded with lore and personality.  Their fronts are covered with ornamentation–fancy glazes and castings, symbols, and special decoration to emphasize the windows, roof-lines, and doorways.  Many have fancy caps, whether turrets or curlicues, special windows, or “beehives.”

Chicago skyline with grey trees, © 2013 Celia Her City

Dwarfing and surrounding them are newer buildings, with their reflective surfaces, bold blocks of color, and greater heights.  While the older buildings may be more interesting, it’s the specific mix of the two types that gives our skyline its particular charge.  Without the soaring glass boxes, we would lose our way.  We’d be stuck in a bad period piece, with a city center badly dated and gloomy.

Modern and vintage skyscrapers crowding Chicago's Michigan Avenue, © 2013 Celia Her City

Modern and vintage skyscrapers crowding Michigan Avenue

Chicago is problem-plagued, but we do take comfort in our buildings.  They are the tangible products of talent and belief, the work of generations, created at considerable risk.  Insensate though they are, they continue to charm, inspire, and guide, supplying everyone who hangs out here with a point of pride.

Click on images to enlarge them.

Cloudburst

Cloudburst

We were at the Mart shopping for a kitchen sink when I noticed that the showroom we were in had a marvelous view.

We continued looking at sinks.  I looked up, and suddenly the sky looked like this:

Cloudburst over Chicago, © Celia Her City

A Chicago rooftop during a cloudburst, © 2013 Celia Her City

Five minutes later.

View of west River North from an upper floor of the Merchandise Mart, Chicago © 2013 Celia Her City

A view from the Mart just after a rain, © 2013 Celia Her City

View north from the Merchandise Mart just after a rain, © 2013 Celia Her City

As I watched, I saw the train that I take to work running through River North.

The Brown Line train, seen from an upper floor of the Mart (Chicago), © 2013 Celia Her City

That was the most exciting part, I think.

Click on images to greatly enlarge.

Crowded river scene

Crowded river scene

The Brown Line trains are running again now that repairs to the Wells Street Bridge have been completed.  It was quite a project!  When I took the train north across the bridge yesterday evening, the river was still crowded with repair barges and equipment.  A tour boat plied the waters, carrying its passengers toward an up-close view of the site.

Busy river (poster), © 2013 Celia Her City

View east of the Chicago River from the upper deck of the Wells Street Bridge.


Images have been ‘posterized.’
Click to enlarge.

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