Monday, March 25, 2013

Second Presbyterian Church Designated a National Historic Landmark

On March 11, 2013, Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar and Director of the National Park Service Director Jonathan B. Jarvis announced the designation of 13 new National Historic Landmarks, including Second Presbyterian Church located at 1936 S. Michigan Avenue in Chicago’s South Loop neighborhood.  National Historic Landmarks are nationally significant historic places that possess exceptional value or quality in illustrating or interpreting the heritage of the United States.  The program, established in 1935, is administered by the National Park Service on behalf of the Secretary of the Interior.  Currently there are 2,540 designated National Historical Landmarks, of which 85 are in the State of Illinois.

Second Presbyterian Church, already listed on the National Register of Historic Places and a designated Chicago landmark, is one of only three churches in the state to be elevated to this highest landmark status.  The others are Unity Temple in Oak Park designed by Frank Lloyd Wright, and the Church of the Holy Family in Cahokia, a 1799 log structure and the oldest church building west of the Alleghany Mountains.  Other significant National Historic Landmarks in Chicago include the Auditorium Building, the Carson, Pirie, Scott and Company Store, the Charnley-Persky House, Glessner House Museum, Hull House, Orchestra Hall, the Pullman Historic District, the Reliance Building, the Robie House, the Rookery Building, S. R. Crown Hall, and the Site of the First Self-Sustaining Nuclear Reaction.

The official press release issued by the Secretary of the Interior noted that “Second Presbyterian Church represents the visual and philosophical precepts of the turn of the century Arts and Crafts design movement.  Its interior, the masterwork of noted architect Howard Van Doren Shaw, presents some of the finest examples of Arts and Crafts mural painting, sculpture, stained glass and crafting in metals, fabrics, wood and plaster.”

The sanctuary of the church is widely regarded as one of the largest and best preserved Arts and Crafts interiors in the nation, created in 1900-1901 following a devastating fire which destroyed the original sanctuary but left the exterior limestone walls intact.  Shaw, a highly-regarded Chicago architect studied the emerging English Arts and Crafts movement extensively and used its ideals to create an American version of the style in buildings ranging from private residences to factories.  He enlisted other leading Chicago craftsmen to help design the interior of the church including muralist Frederic Clay Bartlett, stained glass artisans Giannini & Hilgart, and lighting designer Willy H. Lau.  The sanctuary also contains a wealth of important stained glass windows including nine by the firm of Louis Comfort Tiffany, and two rare English windows designed by Sir Edward Burne-Jones and manufactured by Morris & Company.

Second Presbyterian Church, founded in 1842, has been an important cultural institution and community center since it opened at its present location in 1874, serving a multi-cultural congregation, and providing programming including After School Matters, a concert series and much more.  Friends of Historic Second Church, a separate not-for-profit organization formed in 2006, has as their mission to “preserve and restore the internationally recognized art and architecture of Chicago's landmark Second Presbyterian Church, educate a worldwide audience about its historical and cultural significance, and share those resources with the community.”

The church has become a valuable partner with Glessner House Museum, offering visitors the rare opportunity to see some of the finest examples of Arts and Crafts design in both ecclesiastical and residential settings.  Tours of the church are offered by Friends on Wednesdays and Saturdays from 1:00 to 3:00pm and on Sundays at 12:15pm.  For further information on tours and the art and architectural treasures of the church, visit or call 800-657-0687.

Below are images showcasing just a few of the many extraordinary features of the church.

Pre-Raphaelite mural by Frederic Clay Bartlett

Original ingrain carpeting purchased through Marshall Field & Company

Organ loft drapery detail

Pulpit chair designed by Shaw

Pulpit candelabra (above) and detail (below)

Globe light fixture, recently restored

Plaster detail on ceiling

Decorative plaster panels on face of balcony

Baptismal font, carved from a solid block of limestone

St. Cecilia window, designed by Sir Edward Burne-Jones,
made by Morris & Company

Pastoral Window by Tiffany Studios

Ascension Window, designed by William Fair Kline,
made by Calvert and Kimberly for the
Church Glass and Decorating Company

Monday, March 18, 2013

The Potter Palmers and their famous castle

The Potter Palmer “castle” which stood at 1350 N. Lake Shore Drive for more than half a century remains one of the most legendary houses ever built in Chicago, despite the fact it was razed in 1950.  Likewise, the builders, Potter and Bertha HonorĂ© Palmer, are names that remain well-known to anyone with even a passing interest in Chicago history.  This Sunday, March 24, 2013 at 5:30pm, WTTW Channel 11 presents a 30-minute documentary entitled Love Under Fire: The Story of Bertha and Potter Palmer. 

The Palmers, in completing their mansion on Lake Shore Drive in 1884, established the North Side Gold Coast which eventually drew many of the families away from Prairie Avenue and the South Side.    Their decision to build where they did was bold – when Potter Palmer purchased a half mile of undeveloped lakefront property north of downtown, many considered it of little value and not worthy of development.  But Palmer saw the potential and soon acquired additional property, eventually amassing an impressive portfolio of real estate upon which he built dozens of homes that he resold to members of Chicago’s social elite, establishing the character of the neighborhood. 

The Palmers’ own house, the largest ever built in Chicago, was designed by Cobb & Frost, and although originally budgeted at “just” $90,000, cost more than a million dollars by the time it was finished three years after construction began.  The opulent interiors were designed by Herter & Company of New York in a variety of styles from Renaissance to Gothic and Moorish to Eastlake, and served as a showcase for the Palmer’s collection of paintings and other art objects.  In preparation for the 1893 World’s Fair, the Palmers hired Henry Hardenberg (architect of New York’s Plaza Hotel) to build a huge art gallery addition to the house.  Famously, the house had no exterior doorknobs or locks, so that entry was possible only when admitted by a servant.

The Glessners, although preferring a far less ostentatious way of living, were guests at the Palmer mansion on a number of occasions and Frances Glessner and Bertha Palmer collaborated on various projects, and were members of various clubs together including the Fortnightly.  The letter below, sent to Frances Glessner in May 1888, is typical of the letters from Bertha Palmer now preserved in the Glessner House Museum archives:

100 Lake Shore Drive

My dear Mrs. Glessner:

I regret very much that I was not at home to accept your kind invitation to meet Mrs. Ashton Dilke.  I am sure it was a charming occasion and that I missed a great treat.

May I ask if you would like to make one of five ladies to open your house for readings by Mrs. Sherwood of New York?  She would be here the latter part of May I think, that has not been definitely determined.

You of course know of the great success she has had in New York, especially this season.  She wishes to have at least one hundred ladies at ten dollars each for the five readings and I think your rooms open so charmingly that they could be accommodated.  Please do not think of saying “Yes” if you are tired out with all you have been doing to give pleasure to your friends.  I would understand fully that there is a limit to human endurance and that you have possibly reached it.

Thanking you again for your kind invitation and begging an early reply to my importunate request – by telephone if possible –

I remain
As always
Your sincere friend
Bertha M. H. Palmer

(Notes:  The letter bears the original address of the Palmer house, 100 Lake Shore Drive.  Mrs. Glessner did consent to host one of Mrs. Sherwood’s readings at her home, which took place on May 22, 1888 with 150 ladies present).

Potter Palmer died in 1902 and Bertha Palmer in 1918.  The castle remained vacant until 1921 when Potter Palmer Jr. moved in, hiring architect David Adler to make significant alterations.  It was sold to Vincent Bendix in 1928 but reacquired by Palmer Jr. in 1933, standing largely unused, and finally succumbing to the wrecking ball in 1950.

Note regarding photographs:  The photo of the castle shown at the top of the article was taken about 1888 by the Glessners’ son George, a talented amateur photograph.  The portrait of Bertha Palmer is a cabinet card given by her to Frances Glessner.  It was taken at M. J. Steffens Atelier, located at the time at the southeast corner of Prairie Avenue and 22nd Street (now Cermak Road).

Monday, March 11, 2013

The Rocks Estate

The Rocks Estate, located in the White Mountains in northern New Hampshire, has been an important part of the lives of generations of the Glessner family since 1883.  Approximately 1,300 acres of the estate was donated to the Society for the Protection of New Hampshire Forest in 1978, and today, thousands of visitors each year come to the site to hike, explore nature, select the perfect Christmas tree, and much more.  The Rocks Estate recently earned its seal of approval from Certified Grand Adventures as detailed in the article below, which appeared in the New Hampshire Union Leader on February 12, 2013.

Touted: The designation means the estate has a unique flavor for tourists
By Sara Young-Knox

Bethlehem – The Rocks Estate, a North Country destination for outdoor family activities and environmental education, has received the seal of approval from Certified Grand Adventures.
The 1,400-acre Rocks Estate, known for its Christmas tree farm and spring maple syrup tours, is home to the North Country Conservation and Education Center for the Society for the Protection of New Hampshire Forests.
In the winter, The Rocks Estate partners with another certified experience – Muddy Paw Sled Dog Kennel of Jefferson offers dog sled rides at The Rocks.
The Rocks joins 14 other Certified Grand Adventures of northern New Hampshire.  To become certified, an experience needs to be:  different, better, first or bigger than other adventures within easy driving distance for people from Boston and Montreal.  They also must have a 3-to-1 ratio of positive comments on web feedback sites, be interactive, endorsed by two regional and one national media outlet, open a minimum of 60 days a year, and clearly communicate safety guidelines.
Pam Sullivan, marketing coordinator for New Hampshire Grand, said the Bethlehem landmark was a natural fit. 
“The Rocks has been described as a modern-day Norman Rockwell Christmas scene, complete with the jingling bells of their horse-drawn wagon rides and roasted marshmallows at the fire pit.”
The Rocks Estate was the seasonal home of the Glessner family, who escaped the heat and stench of summer in Chicago to enjoy the mountain air.  John Jacob and Frances Glessner purchased a 100-acre farm in 1882, constructing the 19-room mansion known then as the Big House in 1883.  That house is gone, but many of the buildings they added remain, and those buildings, and the expanded land holdings, were donated to the Forest Society in 1978 by the Glessners’ grandchildren.
What was a wonderful summer place for the Glessner family remains a wonderful year-round destination for all families.  The trail system is open every day and includes the Heritage Trail.  Springtime guests at The Rocks come to the estate to learn about maple sugaring past and present as part of the New Hampshire Maple Experience.
“The most interesting part of this experience for me is when families come for the tours the parents often think that it’s going to be great for the kids – and short enough so that they don’t get too bored,” said Nigel Manley, director of The Rocks.  “However, by the time they’re midway through, the parents are asking more questions than their children, and are fascinated by the time-honored tradition of maple sugaring.”

For more information on The Rocks, visit

(Note:  The New Hampshire Maple Experience is housed in a structure [shown at the top of the article] originally built as a combination sawmill and pigpen for the Glessner family in 1906.  It was designed by architect and family friend Hermann V. von Holst.)

Monday, March 4, 2013

Lorado Taft, Sculptor

On Tuesday March 12, 2013 at 7:00pm, the museum will host author Lynn Allyn Young, who will present a lecture on her recently published book, Beautiful Dreamer: The Completed Works and Unfulfilled Plans of Sculptor Lorado Taft.  (Tickets are $10 per person and $8 for museum members.  For more information or to make reservations, call 312.326.1480.)

Lorado Taft (1860-1936) was a prominent American sculptor, respected writer and educator, teaching for many years at the Art Institute of Chicago.  His massive Fountain of Time, located in the southeast corner of Washington Park at the west end of the Midway Plaisance is among Chicago’s best known public works of art. 

Taft was born in Elmwood, Illinois and received both his bachelor’s and master’s degrees (1879 and 1880 respectively) from the University of Illinois, where his father was a professor of geology.  Taft later attended the École des Beaux-Arts where he received high praises for his work and twice was asked to exhibit at their annual Salon.  After returning to Chicago in 1886, he accepted a position to teach at the Art Institute of Chicago, a post he retained until 1929. 

During the planning of the World’s Columbian Exposition, Daniel Burnham approached Taft about his concerns that the sculptural decorations on the various buildings would not be completed in time.   Taft suggested the use of a number of his female students to work as assistants to which Burnham famously replied “Hire anyone, even white rabbits if they’ll do the work.”  Several of the female sculptors, who became known as the “White Rabbits,” achieved later fame, and Taft is generally credited with helping to advance the status of women as sculptors.

In 1903, Taft published a comprehensive survey of American sculpture entitled The History of American Sculpture.  The study was revised in 1925 and remained the standard reference on the subject until the late 1960s.  In 1921, he published Modern Tendencies in Sculpture, a compilation of various lectures given at the Art Institute, still regarded as an important work in recording the perspectives on American and European sculpture in the first decades of the 20th century. 

In 1906, Taft moved his main studio to a converted carriage house at what is now 6016 S. Ingleside Avenue, immediately south of the Midway Plaisance (entrance shown above).  The firm of Pond & Pond was hired to significantly expand the building, known as the Midway Studios, to include a total of thirteen studios and dormitory spaces for Taft and other sculptors.  (The complex, designated a National Historic Landmark in 1965, is now used by the University of Chicago as studio and gallery space for its studio art program.)

Taft’s commissions were numerous and not surprisingly several of them can be found today in Chicago.  His Fountain of the Great Lakes, completed in 1913, stands in the south courtyard of the Art Institute of Chicago.  Two prominent monuments at Graceland Cemetery, Eternal Silence (Dexter Graves monument, 1909) and The Crusader (Victor Lawson monument, 1931) remain favorites on walking tours of the cemetery, the latter being used as the cover image of the new guide to the cemetery, written by Barbara Lanctot for the Chicago Architecture Foundation. 

But it is the massive Fountain of Time in Washington Park, 110 feet long and 24 feet high, that remains Taft’s most famous work in Chicago.   (A detail of the fountain is shown on the book cover at top).  It is interesting to note that John Glessner was involved in the planning for this project as noted in an entry in the Glessner journal dated February 2, 1913:

“I have had several meetings with the committee to help place Lorado Taft’s monument, The Passing of Time, on the Midway, in commemoration of 100 years of peace between the U.S. and England, for which the Art Institute gave Taft the commission.  Now the South Park Commissioners must agree to the placing of it.  At least five years will be required to complete the model.”

World War I intervened in the planning and execution of the fountain, so it was not officially dedicated until November 1922.  A $2 million restoration of the fountain and reflecting pool was completed in 2005, returning this treasure to its original glory.
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