Michigan Avenue

East Ontario demolition

Demolition on East Ontario, © 2013 Celia Her CityAs I was wrapping up my Christmas shopping, I noticed a demolition crew destroying this building on East Ontario, just off Michigan Avenue.  Not long ago, two or three buildings of just a few stories in height had taken up most of this block.  Since I last noticed, they had quietly vanished.  Now, this last small building was going, too.

Offhand, I couldn’t recall what had been here for so many years; I had to look online to refresh my memory.  On the vacant space to the left stood Bice Ristorante—one of the first “New Italian” restaurants to hit it big in Chicago in the 1990s, attracting the famous and fashionable in droves.

Demolition drama on East Ontario, © 2013 Celia Her City

The fine old residence being demolished was more obscure.  Its tall windows, deep bays, and elegant stonework show it to have been a proud product of the Gilded Age, an urban mansion once the epitome of luxury and grandeur, later dwarfed by the neighboring hotel and eventually cut up inside into flats, with perhaps a tarot gallery or dry-cleaner on the ground floor.  Despite the vicissitudes of time, it had contributed its mite to the character of a thriving yet exclusive urban block.

Certainly, its charm was greater than what will replace it.  Therein lies the sadness of the scene.  Gradually, the idiosyncratic old buildings near the Magnificent Mile are vanishing.  As they go, the special character of the area is going, their modest and hospitable air giving way to one of commercial efficiency.

Developers, biding their time, bought up these several small properties, dreaming of putting something bigger and more profitable on the now-vacant land stretching from Orvis, at 150 East Ontario, to the Red Roof Inn, at 162.  The press reports that another enormous luxury hotel complex may be coming.

How tall might the new building be?  The Chicago Architecture Blog surmises that, if an old plan for the site is resurrected, it could be as high as 50 stories.

Fourth Presbyterian

Fourth Presbyterian Church (before Christmas), © 2013 Celia Her CityAnd now for the sprint toward Christmas!

These days, like this rendering of the Fourth Presbyterian Church, are a bit of a blur.  There are crowds, there is slush, there are lists, there are trips to the post office, there are a few extra drinks.  We will forage our storage for cherished decorations; we will go to Gethsemane for the tree.  We will try valiantly to get our cards out in time.

Whatever we do, the Fourth Presbyterian Church has seen it all, sitting on the corner of Michigan and Delaware for well over a hundred years.  It has watched the crowds grow bigger, the buildings get higher, the Avenue change.  It has watched fashion trend and couples fight.  It has watched tourists pass from all over; families with excited children; homeless people begging.  It has seen decades of brides and grooms, old people gingerly climbing its steps, many funerals, too.

Meanwhile, we see it change, reflecting the day’s light, the blue hours, the sunrises, the lights of man that illuminate the city.  We see its ivy change with the season, growing more sinewy with winter, creeping every year closer to the roof, slowly greening and gladdening with all earth in spring.

We stand at the bus, clutching our bags, waiting; we look at the church, and it looks at us.

Sun and thorns

Sun and thorns, © 2013 Celia Her City

Another, truer photograph of the Art Institute’s South Garden.

I’ve learned more about the garden since posting a photo of it the other day.  It was designed in the 1960s by modernist landscape architect Dan Kiley and is considered to be one of the better surviving examples of his work.  Kiley died in 2004.  You can read more about his life and work here.

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