Tuesday, May 26, 2015

A Portrait by Quentin Massys

"Portrait of a Man with a Pink"
Courtesy of the Art Institute of Chicago

Pasted into the Glessners’ scrapbook is an article from the Chicago Tribune dated December 28, 1913 entitled “Art Masterpiece Discovered Here.”  Written by Harriet Monroe, the article relates the story of an art expert visiting the Art Institute of Chicago and identifying a previously unattributed portrait as the work of the 15th century painter Hans Memling.  The significance to the Glessners lies in the fact that John J. Glessner was the donor of the artwork.  However, the story and true identity of the artist are more complicated.

The portrait, entitled “Portrait of a Man with a Pink” was acquired by Art Institute president Charles L. Hutchinson in June 1890 through the prominent Paris art dealer Paul Durand-Ruel.  Hutchinson and his good friend Martin A. Ryerson (a founding trustee of the Art Institute) had travelled to Europe that summer, returning with an important collection of Dutch masterworks including the portrait, for which he paid 13,000 francs.  It was first put on public display in Chicago on November 8, 1890 according to a Tribune article “At the Art Institute”:

“The old paintings by Dutch masters which were purchased last summer for the Art Institute by Messrs. Hutchinson and Ryerson were shown yesterday afternoon to the members of the press and will be exhibited this evening, at the reception which inaugurates the present season, to the members of the institute, being afterwards accessible to the general public.  

“A view of the paintings confirms the impression of their importance already gained from the inspection of photographs and conversations with officers of the institute.  They are unquestionably the most representative collection of pictures by the old Dutch masters ever brought to this country, embracing many works of the first importance, which the great European museums would be proud to possess and have indeed tried to secure.  They give to Chicago the supremacy among American cities in this department, and open for our students of art a vast field of profitable study.  Thus the thanks of the community are due to the gentlemen who so promptly and with such admirable public spirit availed themselves of a unique opportunity.”

1890 illustration from the Chicago Tribune

The collection of paintings included works by Van Dyck, Hals, and Rubens, as well as the iconic Rembrandt painting, “Young Woman at an Open Half-Door.”  Of the “Portrait of a Man with a Pink,” the article related:

“The last of the portraits to be noticed is also the smallest . . . and the oldest, belonging to the sixteenth century. . . This is the panel by the German master Holbein, which is a good example of the rigid, literal, sculpturesque style of Henry the Eight’s court painter, whose portraits form an intimately faithful historical gallery of that dramatic epoch.  His present subject might have been molded in copper, so dark is his color, or made of leather, so leathery is his skin.  But the face is unmistakably, humanly true; one does not doubt this man’s existence for an instant or miss one note of his rather strenuous character.”

When Hutchinson acquired the portrait, he believed it to be a work of the great German portraitist Hans Holbein the Younger, who by the mid-1530s had been appointed the “King’s Painter” to King Henry VIII, chronicling the English court during that turbulent period.  Hutchinson appealed to his friends to cover the cost of the significant collection of Dutch artworks he acquired and, in 1894, John Glessner retroactively provided the gift for the Holbein portrait.

However, at some point, the attribution of the painting as the work of Holbein was put aside, and by the early 1900s, the painting was described as the work of an “unknown Flemish Master.”  That changed in 1913 when Dr. Abraham Bredius, director of The Hague Museum, visited the Art Institute as part of a tour studying Dutch paintings in American collections, primarily the Rembrandts.  The 1913 Tribune article says of his discovery:

“Dr. Bredius’ opinion enriches the institute collection by a Memling portrait.  The ‘Portrait of a Man,’ hitherto ascribed to an ‘unknown Flemish master,’ which was presented to the institute nearly twenty years ago by John J. Glessner, is declared to be an unusually fine example of the work in portraiture of Hans Memling, the great Flemish master, who died in Bruges about 1492.  The picture is worth, therefore, many times the $4,000 which Mr. Glessner paid for it.”

1913 illustration from the Chicago Tribune

The Memling attribution was short lived.  The painting was photographed by Braun and reproduced by Max Friedlander in the second edition of his volume From Jan van Eyck to Bruegel, published in 1921.  It was Friedlander, generally recognized as the greatest expert of Dutch and German paintings, who identified the portrait as the work of Quentin Massys. 

Quentin Massys (1466-1530) was a Flemish painter and one of the founders of the Antwerp school.  The portrait, an oil on panel measuring 11 by 17 inches, was painted between 1500 and 1510.  As noted in the permanent collection label for the portrait:

“In the early 16th century, Antwerp experienced remarkable growth as a commercial center, and Quentin Massys was one of the most important and innovative of its many painters.  In this relatively early and rather damaged portrait, he followed 15th-century tradition by employing an immobile pose, barely allowing his subject’s hands to appear above the sill of the picture frame.  Yet Massys developed a distinctive and nuanced manner of modeling the face, which here conveys a strong sense of individual character.  The pink, or carnation, held by the sitter could refer to matrimony or to Christ’s incarnation.” 

Regardless of the controversy over who painted the portrait, it has been recognized as an important work at the Art Institute since the 1890s, and has been included in many catalogues of the collection.  It was part of the Art Institute exhibition at A Century of Progress in both 1933 and 1934, and travelled to exhibits in Antwerp and New York.  Although it is the only work by Massys at the Art Institute, it is not currently on exhibit, possibly due to its somewhat compromised condition.  It is hoped, however, that this significant donation to the collection by John J. Glessner will once again be put on public display for all to enjoy.

Monday, May 18, 2015

Big Bill Thompson and the Prosperity Parade

"Big Bill" Thompson campaigning for mayor, 1915

Today, Rahm Emanuel will be sworn in for his second term as Mayor of the City of Chicago.  Exactly 100 years ago, the city was celebrating the inauguration of another mayor – William Hale Thompson, known as “Big Bill” Thompson.  On April 26, 1915, John Glessner made the following notation in his wife’s journal:

“Monday, April 26 in Chicago was a great parade to mark the inauguration of Mayor William Hale Thompson.”

Thompson served three terms as the city’s mayor, from 1915 to 1923 and again from 1927 to 1931.  He was the last Republican to hold the office and, according to Mark Grossman in his 2008 book, Political Corruption in America: An Encyclopedia of Scandals, Power, and Greed, was one of the most corrupt and unethical mayors in American history. 

William Hale Thompson was born in Boston in May 1869 but arrived in Chicago with his parents less than two weeks later, and it was here that he grew to adulthood.  His political career began in 1900 when he was elected alderman of the 2nd Ward.  He steadily rose up through the ranks, and considered his election as mayor merely a stepping stone to the White House.  That dream ended when he did not receive the nomination at the 1928 Republican National Convention.

After serving eight years as mayor, he declined to run for a third term, but reentered the race four years later, staging a now famous debate between himself and two rats representing his opponents.  He pledged to clean up corruption, but in reality worked hard to undermine the reformers, and relied on Al Capone’s support for his successful reelection to a third term in 1927.  By 1931, dissatisfaction with his leadership and his ties to organized crime led to his defeat by Democrat Anton Cermak. 

In spite of this less than exemplary record, at the time of his inauguration in 1915, the city was hopeful that Thompson would usher in an era of prosperity.  A grand parade, known as the Prosperity Parade, was planned for April 26, 1915 as one of numerous activities to mark the occasion.  Parade participants began gathering in Grant Park at 11:00am that morning and were all in place by the time the Mayor-Elect and his party made the rounds through the park at 1:30pm.  Then followed a “municipal salute of aerial bombs and daylight fireworks” in the park with 35 bombs symbolizing the 35 wards in the city.  The parade began at 2:00pm and proceeded west on Monroe, north on State, west on Randolph, south on LaSalle, east on Jackson and then south on Michigan. 

Mounted police at head of parade

Nearly 16,000 persons participated in the parade, heralded as the largest parade ever to take place in Chicago.  The parade stretched for 11 miles, took three hours to pass the reviewing stand in front of the LaSalle street entrance to City Hall, and was viewed by nearly 250,000 people along the parade route.  It included 1,711 automobiles, 662 automobile floats, and 323 horse and wagon floats.  The cost, estimated at $46,785, was offset by the projected $250,000 of revenue spent by the 50,000 out-of-town visitors who came to witness the spectacle.

Hundreds of businesses and organizations participated in the parade with floats, decorated automobiles, and other assemblages.  The Tribune noted a few of the more interesting displays:

“One unique group of floats has been provided by the Chinese merchants of the city.  The men and women on these will be clad in the richest oriental costumes to be found in America – costumes so valuable that a special guard of six policemen has been detailed to guard the floats.”

Chicago Public School "sewing float"
being readied for the parade

“The public school system was represented in a series of elaborate floats.  One carried girls dressed in white, working at sewing machines, and conveyed the information that Chicago schools teach sewing to 42,407 girls.  Another float bore young men and women working at typewriters and keeping books.  It represented the commercial courses of the schools.  Another carried a complete printing establishment with printers at work, and two others represented manual training and iron working in the schools.  Pupils of the Mozart school were uniformed and performed Red Cross evolutions in front of the mayor’s stand.”

The Electric Vehicle Manufacturers’ Association placed an advertisement in the Chicago papers encouraging owners of electric passenger vehicles to participate in their section.  The advertisement noted that:

“It is especially desired that there be a great showing of electrics, particularly those driven by women.  Therefore, to induce as many owners as possible to come into the parade, the undersigned will give to the Infant Welfare Society, one of Chicago’s most worthy charities, 50 cents for each electric passenger vehicle in the parade. . . It is hoped to raise at least $1,000.00 in this way.”

Following the parade, Thompson was sworn in at ceremonies held in the Council Chamber at City Hall.  At 7:00pm, motion pictures of the parade were shown at nine theaters operated by Alfred Hamburger around the city, including the Ziegfeld and Fine Arts Theaters in downtown.  A 30-minute display of fireworks took place in Grant Park at 8:30pm after which a series of inaugural and “prosperity” balls were held at various downtown hotels.  At 12:01am, the Mayor and his aldermanic party left for Springfield, bringing the long and memorable day of festivities to a close.

Monday, May 11, 2015

Violinist Joseph Joachim

Frances Glessner made the following notation in her journal for February 10, 1886, while travelling in Boston, “We bought an etching of Joachim – Watt’s painting.”  The reference is to an etching of the imminent 19th century Hungarian violinist, Joseph Joachim, based on a painting by the English painter George Frederic Watts.  It occupied a place of honor near the piano in the Glessners’ parlor, and still hangs in the same location to this day.

Northeast corner of the Glessner parlor, circa 1890;
the Joachim etching hangs to the left of the door at top

The piece was referenced in an article written about the Glessners’ new home which appeared in the Chicago Times on April 5, 1888.  The article referred to the piece as “a superb etching of Watt’s ‘Joachim,’ the celebrated violinist, the original of which is owned by C. L. Hutchinson.”  The Glessners’ love of music is well known, so it is not surprising that they would have had this picture of the great violinist in their home, but perhaps it was also displayed to serve as an inspiration to their son George, who was actively pursuing the violin at the time.  The same Times article goes on to say, “The chef-d’oeuvre of the room, however, is a genuine Cremona violin, given to a great uncle of Mr. Glessner by a member of Marquise de Lafayette’s staff.  The instrument was repaired in 1710 and still retains its delicate tone, being used constantly by Master Glessner.”

Joseph Joachim was born in 1831 in the town of Kittsee (now in the Burgenland region of Austria) to parents of Hungarian Jewish origin.   By the age of eight he was studying at the Vienna Conservatory and a few years later became a protégé of Felix Mendelssohn.  One month before his 13th birthday, he performed Beethoven’s Violin Concerto with the London Philharmonic, Mendelssohn conducting.  His performance was praised, firmly establishing his reputation in London and beyond.  Returning to Europe, he performed with the Gewandhaus Orchestra and then served as concertmaster to Franz Liszt for several years.  In 1853 he met the 20-year-old Johannes Brahms, and highly impressed by his abilities, introduced him to his friends Robert and Clara Schumann.  Brahms, Joachim, and Clara Schumann remained life-long friends following Robert Schumann’s death in 1856 and Joachim and Clara Schumann frequently performed together.

In 1869, he formed the Joachim String Quartet, which quickly earned the reputation as Europe’s finest.   He continued to concertize extensively, and many of the leading composers of the day including Brahms, Dvorak, Bruch, and Schumann wrote pieces specifically for him.  Joachim also composed extensively, although few of his pieces are performed today.  In the last few years of his life, he made several recordings, being one of the first prominent violinists to do so.  He died in Berlin in 1907. 

George Frederic Watts, self portrait, 1864

The etching hanging in the Glessner parlor is based on an oil painting by the English painter George Frederic Watts entitled “A Lamplight Study: Herr Joachim.”  Watts was born in 1817 (on the birthday of George Frederic Handel after whom he was named).  He showed artistic talent at any early age, exhibiting at the Royal Academy by the time he was 20.  In time, he became one of the most popular English painters within the Symbolist movement.  By the 1860s, his work was showing the influence of Dante Gabriel Rossetti in terms of subject and color.  It was during this period that he painted the portrait of Joachim. 

Watts was a close friend of Henry Thoby Prinsep, an English official of the Indian Civil Service, an historian of India, and a significant figure of the cultural circles of London.  Watts had arranged for Prinsep to lease the “Little Holland House,” the dower house of Holland House in Kensington, and he lived there with the Prinsep family for more than 20 years.  As noted in the biography of Watts by Jon Ernest Phythian, published in 1906, it was here that the Joachim portrait was painted in 1868:

“Music must not be forgotten; for it gave us one of Watt’s masterpieces.  The portrait . . . of Dr. Joachim, a lamplight study made at Little Holland House, while the great master was actually playing the violin, is the very soul of music: the face is thinking and feeling it; the fingers that lightly hold the bow, and those that touch the strings, are expressing it.”

"A Lamplight Study: Herr Joachim"
Collection of the Art Institute of Chicago

Near the end of his life, Watts built a home in Surrey in addition to the Watts Gallery – the first (and now only) purpose-built gallery in Britain dedicated to a single artist.  It opened in April 1904 less than three months before his death, and today contains over 250 oil paintings, 800 drawings and watercolors, 130 prints, 200 sculptures, and 240 pieces of pottery as well as other materials relating to Watts’ life.

Paul-Adolphe Rajon, self portrait, 1884

The etching was created from the Watt’s painting by the French painter and printmaker Paul-Adolph Rajon (1843-1888).  Rajon began his career as a photographer and studied at the Ecole des Beaux-Arts in Paris.  He then focused on etching, creating new works and copying the Old Masters.  He became well known throughout Europe due to his acquaintance with the New York-based dealer Frederick Keppel (who was the primary source for the Glessners’ etchings, although the Joachim piece was not purchased through his gallery).

Charles L. Hutchinson

The 1888 Times article noted that the original Watt’s painting was owned by Charles L. Hutchinson, who was one of the Glessners’ closest friends, and a resident of Prairie Avenue.  A leading Chicago businessman and philanthropist, he is best remembered today for his extraordinary work building up the Art Institute of Chicago as its president, serving from 1882 until his death in 1924.  Two paintings by Watts – “A Lamplight Study: Herr Joachim” (1868) and “Time, Death, and Judgment” (1866) were part of a collection of paintings bequeathed by Hutchinson to the Art Institute; the latter is currently displayed in Gallery 223. 

Today, the etching of Joachim remains one of the most significant pieces in the Glessner collection, both for its subject matter and for the artists and collectors who form its rich story. 

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

Richardsonian Romanesque in Syracuse, New York

Syracuse City Hall

H. H. Richardson’s impact on American architecture was felt for many years following his untimely death in 1886.  Numerous architects around the country attempted to copy his style, which in time became known as Richardsonian Romanesque.  Architect Charles E. Colton designed two distinctive buildings in downtown Syracuse, New York which stand today as a testament to his ability to interpret Richardson’s style.

Born in 1847, Charles Erastus Colton was raised in Syracuse.  In 1873, he entered the office of architect Archimedes Russell where he remained for three years before establishing his own architectural practice.  Except for a brief period in the early 1880s when he was in partnership with James H. Kirby, he maintained his own independent practice throughout the remainder of his lifetime.  Colton was a prolific architect, designing numerous building including churches, business blocks, schools, apartment houses, and residences, most in Syracuse and the immediately surrounding area.  He served as Treasurer of the Western New York Association of Architects and in 1888 was elected a Fellow of the American Institute of Architects.  At the time of his death in 1914, he was praised as the most prominent architect in Syracuse.

Colton is best remembered today for his design of the Syracuse City Hall, begun in 1889.  The massive fortress-like structure at 233 E. Washington Street occupies the entire block bounded by Washington, Market, Montgomery, and Water Streets.  

Faced in rusticated Onondaga limestone, it has been suggested that Colton was inspired by Richardson’s design for the Albany City Hall.  That building, constructed in 1880, was named one of the best ten buildings in the United States in 1885, and would have been well known to Colton.  The buildings both share many features including the arcaded entry porch and the massive corner tower.  An interesting fact is that the north end of the building (at the rear) originally fronted on the Erie Canal as seen in the image below.  After the canal was filled in, it became Water Street. 

The interior of the building retains many of its original features including elaborate balustrades and encaustic tile floors, as seen in these images taken as part of the 1981 Historic American Buildings Survey documentation of the building.  

The most elaborate space was the two-story assembly room on the fourth floor above the main entrance which sat 1,200 people and featured a skylight and stained glass windows.  The pale yellow walls were decorated with a frieze of lilies.  The space was divided into two floors shortly after World War I to provide additional offices and space for mechanical equipment, but was restored to its original configuration as part of a major renovation and restoration project in 1977.  The building was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1976.

Another of Colton’s designs is located just down the street at 121 E. Water Street.  Known as the Robert Gere Bank Building, the structure was completed in 1894 at a cost of $150,000.  In the book Architecture Worth Saving in Onondaga County, the authors call it Colton’s finest work.  Constructed on a narrow lot between two existing buildings, the five-story structure employs a number of Richardsonian Romanesque details, most notably the grouping of floors three through five within tall narrow arcades, just four bays wide.  

Of particular note are the beautifully executed spandrel panels featuring foliate decoration surrounding a basket weave design.  

The ground floor of the building, faced in granite, features a classic Romanesque entry arch to the left, and is the only level with an asymmetrical arrangement.  

The second floor introduces the four bay rhythm which continues up through the remaining floors with slender brick piers.  

Perhaps the finest feature is the cornice at the top with a series of nine diminutive blind windows set within rich foliate decoration, reminiscent of the work of Louis Sullivan.  Overall, the beautifully executed design perfectly portrays the concept of base, shaft, and capital which Sullivan incorporated into many of his tall office buildings. 

The interior features original fireproof vaults beneath the sidewalk, and one of the few remaining open cage elevators in the country set within a bronze well screen.  Listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1972, it is also part of the Hanover Square Historic District comprising 17 architecturally significant structures in downtown Syracuse listed on the National Register in 1976. 

Monday, April 27, 2015

Remembering Abraham Lincoln

Lincoln funeral procession in Chicago

The nation was in deep mourning 150 years ago following the assassination of President Abraham Lincoln.  At 11:00am on Monday May 1, 1865 the funeral train arrived at Union Depot in Chicago.  The procession, which proceeded down Michigan Avenue to Lake Street and then on Clark Street to Court House Square, was said to rival New York’s in terms of size and grandeur.  The coffin was placed in the Court House and opened for public viewing at 6:00pm, remaining open through the night and all of the next day.  It is estimated that 7,000 people per hour filed passed the coffin.  At 8:00pm on Tuesday May 2, a hearse carried the coffin to the depot of the St. Louis and Alton Railroad and the funeral train departed for its final destination - Springfield.

One of the most popular objects on display in the house is the bronze life mask and hands of Abraham Lincoln, which occupy a place of honor on the library desk.  The following information relates how the objects were made and how John Glessner came into possession of his set.

Chicago sculptor Leonard W. Volk first met Lincoln in 1858 during Lincoln’s historic debates with Stephen Douglas.  During that meeting, Lincoln promised to sit for the sculptor.  In April 1860, Volk saw a newspaper article announcing Lincoln’s arrival in Chicago to argue a case.  Volk went to the courthouse and reminded Lincoln of his old promise.  Lincoln readily agreed to begin sitting, paying a visit to Volk’s studio each morning for a week.  If he could take a mask of Lincoln’s face, Volk explained, the number of sittings could be greatly reduced.  At the session where the mask was made, Lincoln sat in a chair and carefully watched every move Volk made by way of a mirror on the opposite wall.  The plaster was carefully applied without interfering with Lincoln’s eyesight or breathing through the nostrils.  After an hour, the mold was ready to be removed.  Lincoln bent his head low and gradually worked it off without breaking or injury, although in the process he did pull a few hairs from his temples, causing his eyes to water.  Lincoln continued to sit for Volk for five days after the mask was prepared, Lincoln entertaining Volk with “some of the funniest and most laughable of stories.”

The next month, Volk was on the train to Springfield when he heard the news of Lincoln’s nomination by the Republicans.  He arrived in Springfield and rushed to Lincoln’s house, announcing to the astonished candidate, “I am the first man from Chicago, I believe, who has the honor of congratulating you on your nomination for President.”  Volk insisted that he now must execute a full-length statue of Lincoln, and Lincoln agreed to provide Volk with appropriate photographs of himself, while Volk would take his measurements as well as make casts of his hands.  Volk appeared at the Lincoln’s home on the next Sunday morning and set to work in the dining room.  He suggested that Lincoln should be holding something in his right hand for the cast.  Lincoln disappeared to the woodshed and returned whittling off the end of a piece of broom handle.  When Volk said that was not necessary, Lincoln remarked cheerfully, “I thought I would like to have it nice.”  Volk noticed that the right hand was still severely swollen from the handshaking of Lincoln’s latest campaign – a difference that is visible in the casts.  Volk commented on a scar on Lincoln’s left thumb, and Lincoln explained that it was a souvenir of his days as a rail-splitter.  “One day, while I was sharpening a wedge on a log, the ax glanced and nearly took my thumb off.”  After the casts were completed, Volk set off for Chicago with the molds, photographs, a black suit left over from Lincoln’s 1858 campaign, and a pair of Lincoln’s pegged boots.

Leonard W. Volk

Volk never completed the statue, and later gave the casts of Lincoln’s face and hands to his son Douglas, himself an artist, who later passed them on to a fellow art student, Wyatt Eaton.  During the winter of 1885-1886, Richard Watson Gilder saw the casts in Eaton’s studio and immediately grasped their significance.   

On February 1, 1886, Gilder, along with his friends Augustus St. Gaudens and Thomas B. Clarke, sent out a letter to a select group of individuals which read in part:
“The undersigned have undertaken to obtain the subscription of fifty dollars each, from not less than twenty persons, for the purchase from Mr. Douglas Volk of the original casts taken by his father, the sculptor, Mr. Leonard W. Volk, from the living face and hands of Abraham Lincoln, to be presented, together with bronze replicas thereof, to the Government of the United States for preservation in the National Museum at Washington.
“The subscribers are themselves each to be furnished with replicas of the three casts, in plaster or bronze.  If in plaster, there will be no extra charge beyond the regular subscription of $50; if the complete set is desired in bronze, the subscription will be for $85 . . .
“Those wishing to take part in the subscriptions will notify at once either of the undersigned.”

Subscriptions were apparently received rapidly.  Frances Glessner recorded the following entry in her journal on May 30, 1886:
Last week we got a bronze cast of Lincoln’s life mask and hands made by Douglas (sic) Volk – a few copies have been made to raise funds enough to give the originals to the government.”
The underside of the life mask contains the following inscription:
The stump end of each hand contains the following inscription:

In December 1887, when the Glessners moved into their new home on Prairie Avenue, the mask and hands were placed on display in the library, where they remain today for visitors to appreciate.

In 1888, the original plaster mask and hands, together with the first bronze casts, were presented to the National Museum (now the Smithsonian Institution) along with an elaborate illuminated manuscript which read in part:
“This case contains the first cast made in the mold taken from the living face of ABRAHAM LINCOLN by Leonard W. Volk sculptor in Chicago in the year 1860.  Also the first casts made in the molds from Lincoln’s hands likewise made by Leonard W. Volk in Springfield Illinois, on the Sunday following Lincoln’s nomination for the Presidency in May 1860.  Also the first bronze casts of the facemold, and bronze casts of the hands.  Presented to the Government of the United States for deposit in the National Museum by Thirty Three Subscribers.”
The list of subscribers includes the name of J. J. Glessner, as well as J. Q. A. Ward, Frances Glessner’s first cousin, a talented sculptor who created the bronze standing Shakespeare on display in the library.  Ward and St. Gaudens were close friends, and it is possible that Ward suggested that St. Gaudens include John Glessner on the mailing list, when the original subscription letter was mailed in February 1886.

Original mask and hands on display at the Smithsonian
along with an original death mask

John Glessner was a Sustaining Member of the Lincoln Centennial Association, organized in 1909, and renamed The Abraham Lincoln Association in 1929.  His library contained over three dozen books and booklets on Lincoln, which he kept on a shelf in the southeast bookcase in the library.  The books include such standards as Carl Sandburg’s two volume Abraham Lincoln: The Prairie Years, as well as more obscure titles, many of which were issued by the Association.  An interesting volume, of which only 750 copies were printed, is Abraham Lincoln in New Hampshire, which recounts Lincoln’s visit to that state in 1860.  The author, Elwin L. Page, was a friend of George and Alice Glessner, and Alice presented the volume to her father-in-law upon its publication in 1929.

John Glessner also owned a photograph of Lincoln.  The cabinet card, featuring an image taken at Eaton’s Studios, carried the following inscription:  “For Mrs. Lucy G. Speed, from whose pious hand I accepted the present of an Oxford Bible twenty years ago.  Washington, D.C., October 3, 1861.  A. Lincoln.”  Lucy G. Speed was the mother of Lincoln’s closest friend, Joshua F. Speed, and had presented the Bible to Lincoln during his visit to the Speed home in August 1841, in the hopes of relieving his depression and melancholia.  The original photograph remained in the Speed family until the 1990s, so apparently copies were made, one of which was purchased by John Glessner.  The photograph was donated to the Chicago Historical Society in April 1940 by Frances Glessner Lee.

Monday, April 20, 2015

The Municipal Tuberculosis Sanitarium

On Sunday April 26, 1915, exactly one hundred years ago, John Glessner made the following notation in his wife’s journal:

“Frances & I drove out to see the new tuberculosis institute belonging to Cook Co. – a large fine institution.”

The Municipal Tuberculosis Sanitarium opened on February 16, 1915 and was owned and managed by the City of Chicago (not Cook County).  At a time when tuberculosis was a very serious health threat and there were numerous sanitariums across the country, the Municipal Tuberculosis Sanitarium had the distinction of being the largest in the country with a capacity of 950 beds.

In 1911, the city bought 158 acres of land from Pehr Peterson, who operated a huge tree nursery on the property.  Peterson established the nursery in the late 1800s, providing trees and shrubs to the World’s Columbian Exposition in 1893, as well as most of the trees in Lincoln Park, and the majority of trees planted on Chicago’s parkways and boulevards.

The tract of land was located in the extreme northwest section of the city, running east from Crawford Avenue (now Pulaski Road) and south of Peterson Avenue.  The beautiful natural setting was considered ideal for the treatment of the disease, and well-known landscape architect O. C. Simonds was responsible for the landscape design.  A large section of the land was reserved for farming and gardening.  Architects Otis & Clark designed the buildings, many with a strong Prairie School or Craftsman feel to them.  Jarvis Hunt later designed the auditorium.

The grounds were divided into two main sections - the south section containing cottages for women, the north section for men.  There were originally 28 cottages of which 20 were used for adults and eight for children, with a total capacity of about 380 beds.  Twelve additional cottages were built later.  

To the east of the main administration building were two dining halls, one each for men and women.  For those patients requiring more extensive care, a group of infirmary buildings had a capacity of about 300 beds.  At the far east end of the property were the service buildings including the power house and a laundry.  Other buildings located on the grounds included the nurses’ building, a garage, and a farmhouse and barns.

Vaccines, drugs, and improved public hygiene greatly reduced the incidence of the disease during the 1950s and 1960s, and the last patients were housed at the facility in the 1970s at which time it was closed.   After sitting unused for several years, plans were announced to raze the buildings and construct condominiums and strip malls on the land.  Neighborhood activists rallied support to preserve the property and were successful, leading to the creation of what is known today as North Park Village.  

The property was redeveloped reusing many of the original structures which now provide senior citizen housing and a school for the developmentally disabled, as well as a nature preserve, and parkland.  In 1989, an easement was enacted to prevent any development of the property and to ensure the preservation of the natural landscape for 75 years.

The Chicago Park District began leasing and redeveloping the site in 1977, and in April 2004, it officially became part of the CPD.  Today visitors can experience everything from a forest to a prairie, and a wetland to an oak savanna, in addition to numerous public programs including a Maple Sugar Festival, Harvest Festival, and City Wilds Fest.   It has proven to be a wonderful example of adaptive reuse, preserving the architecture and natural setting of this hidden gem in the city of Chicago.

For more information on the North Park Village Nature Center, visit:

Monday, April 13, 2015

The Marshall Field Wholesale Store

The Marshall Field Wholesale Store, although gone for 85 years now, is still considered among the most important commercial structures constructed during the last half of the nineteenth century.  Virtually every book dealing with American architecture makes reference to this Chicago edifice, both for its own design and for the impact it had on later buildings in the city and across the country.  

By the time of the Great Chicago Fire in October 1871, Marshall Field had established himself as one of the giants of commerce in the city of Chicago.  His company was known for its innovative and groundbreaking policies, and consisted of two divisions for retail and wholesale.  The building which they shared was destroyed in the fire, giving Field the opportunity to construct new buildings for each.  In 1872, he completed a five-story structure at Madison and Water (now Wacker) to house the wholesale division, but within a decade, the division was already outgrowing its space, as Field continued to add new product lines.  By May 1881 he had purchased all the lots on the block bordered by Adams, Fifth (now Wells), Quincy, and Franklin. 

In 1885, Field contacted architect Henry Hobson Richardson with the proposition of designing a new building on the site.  Richardson completed preliminary plans by summer and in October travelled to Chicago to unveil the finished plans and sign the contract.  An article in the Chicago Tribune said in part:

“Beauty will be one of the objects aimed at in the plans, but it will be the beauty of material and symmetry rather than of mere superficial ornamentation.  H. H. Richardson, the famous architect . . . has long had certain ideas which he wished to embody in such a building . . . It will be as plain as it can be made, the effects depending on the relations of the ‘voids and solids’ – that is, on the proportion of the parts . . . The structure will be a distinct advance in the architecture of buildings devoted to commercial purposes in this country.”

By December 1885, the foundation was in and the stonework was underway, but the building did not even begin to approach completion before Richardson’s untimely death in April 1886.  This saddened him greatly, as evidenced by the following account of his final days written by his first biographer, Mariana Griswold Van Rensselaer:

“The two weeks which passed before he died were weeks of infinite restlessness and pain; but he never complained and never lost his spirits, his hopefulness, or his keen interest in the work that was going on in the offices below.  The day he died he talked confidently to his doctor about his tasks and aspirations, and declared once more that what he wanted was ‘to live two years to see the Pittsburgh Court-house and the Chicago store complete.’  These, he said, were the works he wished to be judged by.”

The statistics for the building were staggering for the time.  The completed structure stood seven stories high, with full basement on spread foundations.  It fronted 325 feet on Adams and 190 feet on Franklin and Wells, and was 130 feet tall.  The plan encompassed 61,750 square feet per floor, totaling almost twelve acres of floor space, which could accommodate 1,800 employees.  The final cost of $888,807 was an enormous sum of money at the time, but just a fraction of the sales of the wholesale division for 1887, which were over $23,000,000.  Marshall Field owned the land and the building personally, and leased it back to his company.  The Wholesale Store opened on June 20, 1887, amid little fanfare in comparison to the opening of the retail store. 

The load-bearing outer walls were brick covered by rock-faced Missouri red granite up to the second-floor windowsills, and East Longmeadow red sandstone above.  The structure was impressive both for its overall size and for the size of the stones used.  Adjectives such as “enormous,” “palatial,” “Cyclopean,” “immense,” and “mammoth” were used to describe it in contemporary accounts.  These terms are not surprising, given that the stones in the granite base were larger than those utilized in any other building in the city.  The first-floor window sills alone were nearly eighteen feet long.

The second through fourth floors were tied together by the main arcade stretching thirteen bays on Adams and seven each on Franklin and Wells between broad corner piers ornamented with boltels.  The fifth and sixth floors were also joined by an arcade having two arches over every one for the floors below.  Groups of four rectangular openings marked the top floor creating a horizontal band above the vertically thrusting arches.  

Above this was the crocketted cornice in Gothic style “vigorously and crudely cut, to be in scale with the whole mass which it terminates.”  The plate glass windows, set in wood framed double-hung sash were recessed to the inner face of the walls to emphasize the thickness of the stone when viewed from the exterior.

Architectural critics and historians have noted the significance of the building from the day it was completed.  Richardson’s biographer Van Rensselaer said in part:

“No cathedral, however magnificent in scheme or perfect in detail, would be worth so much to us as the Pittsburgh Court-house or the great simple Field Building at Chicago . . . The Field Building is in one way his most remarkable. . . No building could more frankly express its purpose or be most self-denying in the use of ornament.  In short, the vast, plain building is as carefully studied as the smallest and most elaborate could be, and is a text-book of instruction in treatment no less than in composition.”

When Richardson’s work was the subject of an exhibit organized by the Department of Architecture of the Museum of Modern Art in New York in the 1930s, its catalog went so far as to say that:

“The Field Store is Richardson’s most important building . . . Richardson shows in the Field Store that commercial architecture might have its own honest distinction, independent both of the past and of other contemporary types of design.”

The Wholesale Store had a profound impact on other architects of the day.  Perhaps none of them was more affected than Louis Sullivan, who immediately incorporated ideas he gleaned from the Wholesale Store into such projects as the Standard Club, the Walker Warehouse and, especially, the Auditorium.  Carl Condit, in his book The Chicago School of Architecture, stated:

“The decisive change in the plans of the Auditorium came as the result of the influence of Richardson’s Marshall Field Store.  Both Sullivan and (Ferdinand) Peck had a profound admiration for the earlier building; in addition, the board of the Opera Association saw many possible economies in the adoption of its simplicity.  Fortunately, for architects everywhere, Sullivan abandoned his propensity for elaborate exterior ornament and concentrated on the architectonic effect of mass, texture, and the proportioning and scaling of large and simple elements . . .”

In spite of all the praise lavished on the building, it was pure economics that eventually led to its demolition.  By the early 1920s, the wholesale division was in serious trouble.  The railroad and especially the automobile made it easier for rural residents to travel into larger cities to shop; spelling disaster for the country merchants who had been wholesale’s best customers.  Additionally, many of the merchants in the small towns succumbed to manufacturer’s appeals to buy direct at lower prices, and the success of huge mail-order houses further contributed to the decline of wholesale.  In an effort to breathe new life into the wholesale division, plans were announced in 1927 for the construction of a huge new facility, covering two city blocks, and containing 4,000,000 square feet of space.  The new building, known as the Merchandise Mart, served as the death knell for Richardson’s Wholesale Store building.

The Merchandise Mart opened in 1930 and the company engaged Graham, Anderson, Probst & White to draw up specifications for the demolition of the old building.  The massive structure was reduced to rubble by mid-summer to accommodate a parking lot.  Little was salvaged other than machinery and equipment, lighting fixtures, brass rails, gates and revolving doors.  The granite and sandstone, so praised for its visual impact, was used as fill to create a level surface for the asphalt parking lot.  

Two sandstone capitals did survive and were later found supporting the “Horace Oakley Memorial Bench” at the Lake Zurich Golf Club.  They were subsequently moved and are now installed amongst other significant Chicago architectural fragments in the collections of the Art Institute of Chicago and the Graham Foundation.  A plaster casting of one of the capitals has just been installed in the visitor’s center at Glessner House Museum, adjacent to the permanent exhibit on H. H. Richardson.

Ironically, Richardson’s American Merchant’s Express Building was destroyed by fire the same year that the Wholesale Store was demolished.   The residence designed for Franklin MacVeagh had been razed in 1922, leaving only the Glessner house to serve as a legacy of Richardson’s impact on Chicago.  
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