Sunday, October 11, 2015

What's cookin' inside that old Schulze Bakery building?

Good to hear long-stalled plans to redevelop the former Schulze Bakery are starting to move forward.

The new venture promises to create much-needed jobs in the Washington Park community; a South Side neighborhood that, for the moment, sits between an unkind past of economic abandonment--and a future uncertain, given that a large private Midwestern university is now expanding its footprint there.

Architecturally, the planned new use is a good thing for one of the city's finest neighborhood commercial buildings. Built in 1914, the five-story, terra cotta clad Art Deco terra cuts a beautiful figure on wide and leafy Garfield Blvd between State and Wabash. It's been on the National Register of Historic Places since 1982.

For 85 years, bread was made in this industrial cathedral designed by architect John Ahlschlager & Son, filling the neighborhood with an warm, unforgettable--and dearly missed--aroma until the place went out of business in 2004.

Ghian Foreman, head of the Washington Park Development Group, owns the building. He let me and my camera inside last week. All of the breadmaking stuff is gone, as you can imagine. What's left? Tons of glorious empty space...and possibilities.

Huge columns line up like soldiers on each floor, holding up the massive building and the equipment that was once there. Still, enough care was taken to give the columns a bit of decoration.

The major machinery is gone, but countless details of the building's past remain.

This stencil is an example of the impromptu art that's popped on on the walls inside the building.

Bandit left his (or her) mark.
Light pours into the south-facing windows on the bakery's upper floor. The building has 700 windows.

Make it to the roof and you're rewarded with this fine view to the north. The downtown Chicago skyline, just seven miles away, is visible.
Foreman has partnered with 1547 Critical System's Realty, a data center company from Matawan, N.J. to get things going. The New Jersey will cough up the dough and data center knowhow. The $130 million project could take five years.

The renovated building will be called the Midway Technology Centre.

Friday, October 9, 2015

Chakaia Booker's 'Brick House' hits the 606

I took a peek at Chicago's 606 on yesterday and wound up meeting artist Chakaia Booker. She was installing her sculpture, Brick House, on the trail at Damen Avenue.

It's the first major piece of artwork to grace the 606, which opened last June. Even in its unfinished state--although it'll be completed in a couple of days--the 26-foot long serpentine work is a powerful, linear piece that compliments the active North Side trail.

Booker's work resembles an uncoiling serpent. It's composed of a stainless steel frame clad in repurposed tire rubber. The New Jersey-born artist has been making sculptures from rubber since 1990. Her work examines industrialization, economic  inequity, globalization and other issues.
By the way, this was my first time walking the 606 since the elevated path opened in June. The trail is a sweet piece of repurposed infrastructure (which makes a sculpture of repurposed tire rubber a pretty clever riff); what had been an industrial rail line atop a concrete embankment is a multi-use linear park with landscaping, texture--and art.

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

The inaugural Chicago Architecture Biennial began this month. And to my great surprise, the event reawakened my urge to photograph, write about and discuss architecture.

So today marks the return of my original blog, The Urban Observer. You might remember my WBEZ 'Beyond the Boat Tour' architecture blog I discontinued two years ago. But like Gilligan's Island, it lives on in reruns.

As part of my reawakening, I'll be giving a presentation October 15 on the historic role of adaptive reuse in black Chicago. Hosted by Landmarks Illinois, the gist of my talk will be this: Converting old South Side and West Side buildings into new uses is hip now--and that is good. But black people have always re-adapted buildings. And not out of trendiness, but out of economic (and sometimes racial) necessity.

One of the buildings I'll talk about is First Church of Deliverance, 43rd and Wabash. My camera and I paid a visit there this week as I prepare for my lecture.

The structure was a hat factory originally.  Then in the 1930s, the congregation bought the building and turned it into a church. Walter Thomas Bailey, the state's first black licensed architect and his pal, black engineer Charles Sumner Duke handled the renovation, which included cladding the outside in terra cotta panels, giving it a streamlined art moderne look. In 1946, the church went a step farther and added those marvelous twin towers--dig that glass block!--designed by Kocher Buss & DeKlerk.
The sanctuary is a knock-out. I'm talking to the congregation now about coming back to take interior photos. I'll put them in a subsequent post if that happens.

Meanwhile, mark your calendars to come check me out Oct 15th from noon to 1:30 at the Auditorium Building, 50 E. Congress. I'll be showing my images of First Church of the Deliverance and other smartly-reused buildings. 

And it's free.