Monday, December 29, 2014

Ringing in the New Year - 1900

In a few days, the world will bid farewell to another year and usher in 2015.  In celebration, we take a brief look back at how the Glessners and a few of their fellow Chicagoans welcomed in the year 1900.

The Glessners celebrated with a small gathering in their home which was greatly enhanced by the arrival of their dear friend, Theodore Thomas, conductor of the symphony orchestra, and a few of his musicians.  Frances Glessner related the following in her journal for Sunday December 31, 1899:

“Mr. & Mrs. Philo Otis, Miss Hutchinson, Frances, Mr. Badger, Mr. Hendricks, Mr. Hendrickson came to supper.  Mr. Hendricks and Mr. Hendrickson left at 10.  Mr. Thomas came in between eleven and twelve.  At twelve we were congratulating each other when the most beautiful music seemed to fill the whole house.  Mr. Thomas had brought in eight or more members of the orchestra into the dining room.  The doors were shut into the dining room, and the whole house seemed filled with harmony.  The men played German chorales.  Then the doors were opened, we went out and wished every one a happy new year, after that the men played burlesques on a German street band.  We were moved to tears in the first part, and nearly hurt ourselves laughing over the other part.  We had some sandwiches, champagne, and mulled wine – and a very delightful time.”

Theodore Thomas

From the Chicago Tribune we get a glimpse of how others in Chicago were celebrating.   Midnight masses and “watch night” services were common in many of the churches as indicated below:

“The dawn of the ‘holy year’ in Chicago found the many churches where midnight mass was sung surrounded by great throngs of people.  Every edifice was crowded, the aisles were filled, and many stood in the vestibules, but could hear or see little of the services.  At the Cathedral of the Holy Name, North State and Superior streets, and at the Holy Family Church, May and Twelfth streets, the crowds were greatest.  At both these were special details of police and detectives.

“At the North Side Cathedral the crowd began to gather soon after 8 p.m.  By 11:30 there was a crowd of 2,000 people around the church.  Shortly before midnight a small door was opened, and through this the crowd filed slowly till the church was filled.  Hundreds were turned away disappointed.

Holy Family Church and St. Ignatius

“The Holy Family Church, Twelfth and May streets, which has the largest congregation of any Catholic Church in the city, was crowded long before midnight.  Solemn high mass was sung, and the music and floral decorations were fitting for the celebration.”

Cycling clubs, extremely popular at the turn of the last century, provided appropriate entertainment and activity.  The Board of Trade Cycling Club gave an annual entertainment, consisting of a minstrel show with club members taking all of the roles.  T. J. Cannon, the master of ceremonies for the show, was in Colonial costume and powdered wig; others performers were in black face.

Cyclists on the porch of a Pullman home

The Chicago Cycling Club continued their annual tradition of a ride to Pullman:

“Members of the Chicago Cycling club having an authenticated record of 2:50 for a mile unpaced will start at 10 o’clock this forenoon on their fourteenth annual New Year’s day run to Pullman. . . The annual run has been held in all sorts and kinds of weather in the thirteen years in which it has flourished.  Roads from the consistency of mush to the frozen pathway which will be found today have been religiously whirled over by the pioneers of Chicago cycling every year.  Sometimes they rode in snow, sometimes in rain, sometimes in a combination of rain and snow; but they have always ridden the course and finished up with a big dinner at Pullman . . . Twenty-five or thirty riders have signified their intention of taking the run today.  Probably not more than fifteen will turn out, but these will be the oldest riders of the lot.  The younger generation do not take as kindly to the hardships of the task as do those who first burned the pathway for the bicycle in Chicago.”

The holiday was also celebrated with many parties and receptions including these two on the South Side:

“Two entertainments with which the week closed were given by Mrs. Chauncey Blair and Mrs. Arthur Caton last evening (December 31).  Mrs. Blair gave an old-fashioned farm supper and dance for the young people.  Pumpkins, jack-o’-lanterns, and other novel features were used in decoration.  Mrs. Caton gave a dinner for nearly fifty guests, followed by a vaudeville entertainment.  The program was supplied entirely by amateurs.”

Caton dining room, 1910 S. Calumet Ave.

NOTE:  The Chauncey Blair residence was at 4830 S. Drexel Boulevard.

Regardless of how you choose to ring in 2015, we wish our readers a happy, healthy, and prosperous New Year!

Monday, December 22, 2014

The Christmas Pie

With Christmas just three days away, we take a look at a Glessner Christmas tradition that delighted George and Fanny in the first years they lived in their home on Prairie Avenue.  The custom was known as the “Christmas pie.”

Glessner house tree, 1888

Frances Glessner references the pie in her entry for Christmas 1888:
“We all hung up our stockings and trimmed our pretty little tree just three feet high.  It stands on the table in the school room.  I filled the stockings.  Christmas morning we were roused by Fanny bringing in our stockings . . . We had a lovely Xmas pie covered with holly and smilax.  The presents were buried in the tin pan in rice.  We had a great deal of sport pulling them out, the labels hung out.  There were rhymes on each one.”

The idea of a Christmas pie was not unique to the Glessners.  The tradition dates back to the early 1700s if not earlier as referenced in the well known English nursery rhyme “Jack Horner’s Christmas Pie”:
Little Jack Horner
Sat in the corner,
Eating a Christmas pie;
He put in his thumb,
And he took out a plum,
And said,
What a good boy am I!

Mother Goose, 1901

The idea was further popularized in a book entitled “Christmas Pie” published in 1879 by Ella Maria Baker.  Many of the references to other Christmas pies indicate that it was a more traditional pie made to be eaten, with toys baked inside.   A story by Mrs. Etta Austin Blaisdell McDonald published in “Rhyme and Story Primer” in 1916 indicates that the main purpose of the pie may have actually been the toys inside, and not so much as a dessert.  She wrote:
“Jack Horner’s grandmother made a big pie for him.  It was a Christmas pie.  She put the pie on the table.  The pie was not good to eat.  It was in a big dish.  Jack’s grandmother put toys in the Christmas pie for the children.”

Some pies were clearly made not to be eaten.  In 1908, the educational guide “Primary Plans” published ideas for a Christmas pageant in which it was suggested that a Christmas pie be made in a large washtub and filled with toys, fruit, and candies.  It was large enough to hold a small child, dressed as a fairy, who would pop out at the appropriate moment.  The pie was covered with heavy brown paper painted to look like the actual top of a pie. 

In 1889, John Glessner wrote a poem about the Christmas pie:
“Dear Christmas pie –
The pie’s the thing
Its praises sing
All you and I.

And song birds in pride overweening
Their poetical plumage are preening
There’s Browning and Whiting and Blueing and Greening –

In depths of rice
Are many things nice
Pray put in your thumb
And pull out a plum
And read what is writ without changing its meaning.”

Glessner cleverly included the names of two poets in his poem.  Browning is a reference to the great English poet Robert Browning (1812-1889) who had died just days earlier.  Whiting is a reference to William Whiting (1825-1878), an English writer and hymnist, who also published two collections of poetry.  He is best remembered today for his 1860 hymn “Eternal Father, Strong to Save” which in the late 1870s was adopted by the U.S. Navy as their official hymn.  Blueing and Greening were simply added in humor as the names of the two poets were also the names of colors.

Today, a recreated Christmas pie occupies a place of honor every year in front of the small table top Christmas tree in the Glessner schoolroom.  Next time you visit the museum, be sure to notice it and reflect on this charming custom from Christmas past.

Monday, December 15, 2014

Frances Glessner Lee and World War I

Great Lakes Naval Training Station

Both today and in 1918, Great Lakes Naval Training Station sailors like to visit Chicago while on leave. During World War I, the number of sailors at Great Lakes increased dramatically. Many of these sailors were young and far from home, some for the first time. Frances Glessner Lee recognized the morale raising potential of entertainment in a private home. With her friends Henry E. Voegeli, Assistant Manager of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, and his wife, Mrs. Lee invited sailors to her home at 1700 S. Prairie Avenue on Sunday evenings for a good meal, music or lecture, and friendship.

In order to assist the sailors as best she could, Mrs. Lee created a file for each sailor that she entertained. The files recorded the dates of their visits, dates of correspondence sent and received, gifts she sent, a physical description, their mother’s address, and her overall impression of the young man. Mrs. Lee also attached letters, postcards, and photos she received from the sailors and their families to her records and marked the records of the sailors she liked best with gold star stickers. Given the large number of gold star records, Mrs. Lee seemed to greatly enjoy her evenings with the Great Lakes sailors.

Notes on Roy Cotterill

After leaving Great Lakes, Mrs. Lee’s sailors scattered across the United States and Europe. Many of the sailors wrote to Mrs. Lee after leaving Great Lakes, but five sailors were particularly devoted correspondents. Charles Young and Talmage Wilson both belonged to the Great Lakes band. After Great Lakes, the Navy assigned Talmage Wilson to play with the U.S.S. Alabama band. 

U.S.S. Alabama band on deck

Talmage Wilson

Charles Young remained at Great Lakes for most of the war as a member of a touring naval band led by John Philip Sousa. He sent Mrs. Lee letters and postcards from the band’s Midwestern Liberty Loan tour stops. 

Charles Young

Herbert Wilson (no relation to Talmage Wilson) sent lighthearted letters from the Naval Radio School at Harvard University. He and Mrs. Lee penned a series of humorous exchanges between “I.M.A. Fish,” “Ananias Johnson,” and “Captain Blowhard.” Joseph McCarthy’s letters were far more serious than the other sailors. McCarthy frequently declared that he loved Mrs. Lee as much as his own mother. He sailed with the U.S.S. Kentucky and wrote Mrs. Lee dozens of letters, several of which detailed the dangers of German U-Boats to Allied Atlantic convoys.

U.S.S. Kentucky

Joseph McCarthy

Fred. M. Wolfe was a particular favorite of Mrs. Lee’s. A Colorado Springs native, Wolfe’s heart trouble and shy nature also concerned Mrs. Lee when they met in 1918. Mrs. Lee corresponded both with Wolfe’s mother and his younger brother Lawrence, a soldier in France. According to the letters, Mrs. Wolfe even visited Mrs. Lee in Chicago in 1918. After Great Lakes, the Navy sent Wolfe to the radio training school at Harvard University. Unlike the other Great Lakes sailors, Wolfe continued his friendship with Mrs. Lee after the war and visited her often at Wendell House in Boston.

Fred Wolfe

Mrs. Lee fell out of touch with many of her sailors during the fall of 1918. Several of her correspondents worried that Mrs. Lee was a victim of the flu epidemic. Mrs. Lee was not ill, but busy with a new endeavor in Boston.

Mrs. Lee wanted to do more for sailors than simply provide them dinner and an evening’s entertainment. She wanted to give them a home away from home. As early as February 1918, Mrs. Lee’s letters expressed an interest in starting a dormitory for servicemen on leave. In November, 1918, this dormitory became a reality. Mrs. Lee accepted the position of Resident Manager at Wendell House, a home for enlisted men and non-commissioned officers in adjoining houses at 31 Mt. Vernon St. and 75 Hancock St. in Boston’s Beacon Hill neighborhood. The Massachusetts Branch for Women of the Special Aid Society for American Preparedness funded Wendell House. Though other servicemen’s homes operated in Beacon Hill at the time, Wendell House was unique as Mrs. Lee actually lived at Wendell House and conducted the house less like a servicemen’s club and more like a private home. The Special Aid Society even furnished Wendell House with used, donated furniture in order to achieve a “lived in” atmosphere. According to Mrs. Lee, the servicemen approved of Wendell House. On December 14, 1918 she wrote to her mother's Monday Morning Reading Class that “the boys all say ‘well ma’am, this is the only place we have ever struck that is just like home.’ They settle down as contentedly as cats.”

Wendell House parlor

Wendell House offered servicemen lodging in dormitories or a private room. A bed in a private room cost $0.50 per night and a bed in a dormitory room cost $0.35 a night. Each bed, dormitory room, or private room was sponsored by an individual donor or branch of the Special Aid Society. Though Wendell House had a capacity for one hundred men, the couches were sometimes rented out and cots put up to accommodate as many servicemen as possible. Breakfast was available for a nominal fee in the Wendell House cafeteria. Mrs. Glessner and the Monday Morning Reading Class provided the necessary funds to outfit this cafeteria. By April 17, 1919, Wendell House hosted 1,212 different servicemen since opening in December 1918. Wendell House had a high number of repeat or long-term guests as 7,733 beds were occupied in this same period.  

A dance at Wendell House

Mrs. Lee corresponded with fewer Wendell House servicemen, but still took an interest and tried to help them when she could. Several letters indicate she counseled soldier Joseph Hemmes throughout his court-martial and helped unemployed veterans secure jobs. In April 1919, Mrs. Lee described the appreciation of a down and out veteran to the Monday Morning Reading Class:
“His clothes were so forlorn & he had such a hopeless, lost-dog sort of look that we decided he would never get a job so long as he looked that way. I have a little fund of $10.00 a month given by the Winchester Branch to relieve any cases of financial distress. So I took a $10.00 bill and gave it to Charlie (one of our guard) & told him to take this boy out & get him new clothes…Then I gave him a dollar & sent him forth for a job. Wednesday he got one & has gone there today. He said ‘I was ashamed to look anyone in the face, but now I’m all right. I’m going to pay you for all dem tings soon’s I get some pay. I don’t see how you done all dis fer me. It sure wuz my lucky day win I come here.’” Mrs. Lee received similarly warm and appreciative thanks in letters from many Wendell House servicemen and their families.

Soldiers in front of Wendell House

According to Mrs. Lee, “Wendell House has the reputation throughout this naval district of being ‘the best place in Boston’ and all the canteens and service houses and hostess rooms know ‘Wendell House Boys’ to be the pick of the three services.” Wendell House was a great success. By July 1919, Mrs. Lee resigned from her position as Resident Manager and returned to The Rocks. Though gone, Mrs. Lee’s hospitality and kindness were not forgotten by the soldiers and sailors she befriended from Great Lakes and Wendell House.

Siobhan Heraty was an intern this fall at Glessner House Museum. She is a master’s student in the public history program at Loyola University Chicago. Siobhan developed an interest in World War I as an undergraduate history major and continues to explore this interest as a graduate student through research projects related to American memory of World War I. Given her research interests, working with the Great Lakes and Wendell House collection was an interesting and enjoyable experience for Siobhan.

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Fire damages Chicago Firehouse Restaurant

Chicago Tribune photo

Fire tore through the landmark structure housing the Chicago Firehouse Restaurant at 1401 S. Michigan Avenue in the South Loop on Wednesday December 10, 2014.  The fire began accidentally about 10:20am by workmen making repairs to the roof.  It quickly spread and the roof eventually caved in.  Everyone was safely evacuated from the building.

Exterior in 1912

The structure was built in 1905-1906 to house Engine Company 104 of the Chicago Fire Department.  Architect Charles F. Hermann designed the distinctive structure in the Romanesque Revival style, utilizing yellow brick and limestone in its construction.   Two bays facing Michigan Avenue accommodated the horse-drawn equipment, and the large second floor provided living quarters for the firefighters on duty.   

Interior circa 1948

The back portion of the second floor was used as a hayloft for the horses.  After motorized equipment was introduced, that space was converted to a handball court.  Portions of the 1991 movie Backdraft, directed by Ron Howard, were filmed in the structure.

The fire house operated until 1999 when the property was sold to investor Matthew O’Malley, who opened the restaurant the following year.  Careful attention was paid to preserving many of the original details of the building.  The restaurant interior retained the tin ceiling, glazed brick walls, and two brass fire poles.  The metal spiral staircase up to the living quarters was removed and reinstalled in the new courtyard, created from the space formerly occupied by the horse stables.  

Simmerling paintings being removed from the building

The sense of history was enhanced by artist Jack Simmerling who created several large watercolor paintings to decorate the dining room.  These included scenes of nearby Prairie Avenue, as well as the Potter Palmer “castle” and the Cyrus McCormick mansion on the city’s north side. 

On October 1, 2003, the building was designated a Chicago Landmark.  The plaque installed on the front of the building reads:

“The design of this firehouse incorporated many innovations aimed at achieving quick departures and providing more comfortable quarters for firefighters.  Its Romanesque Revival-style details also make it one of the more distinctive and handsome firehouses in the City.  Through their history and architecture, Chicago’s historic firehouses show how ideas about fire protection and the firehouse itself evolved over time.”

After the fire had been extinguished

The restaurant was a favorite of former Mayor Richard M. Daley, who lived nearby on Indiana Avenue.  In July 2006, he hosted a dinner for then President George W. Bush, who celebrated his 60th birthday in the private banquet room on the second floor.  

The owners announced almost immediately their intentions to rebuild and reopen as soon as possible.

NOTE:  Historic images from "History of Chicago Fire Houses of the 20th Century 1901-1925" by Ken Little and John McNalis, published in 2000.

Monday, December 8, 2014

The Auditorium and Ferdinand Peck

Tuesday December 9, 2014, marks the 125th anniversary of the opening of Chicago’s Auditorium Theatre.  Much has been written about the Auditorium Building, its magnificent theater, the architects Adler & Sullivan who designed it, and its importance in the history of American architecture.  In this article, the 200th published to our blog since we began in January 2011, we shall look at the home of Ferdinand Wythe Peck, the driving force behind this monumental undertaking. 

Peck’s family was among the earliest to arrive in what would become the city of Chicago.  His father Phillip F. W. Peck, and mother Mary Kent Peck, arrived at the settlement of 250 inhabitants at the mouth of the Chicago River in 1831 aboard the schooner “Telegraph.”  Phillip Peck became a successful merchant in the rapidly growing city, and by the time of Ferdinand’s birth in 1848, was residing in a fine home at the corner of LaSalle Street and Jackson Boulevard, later site of the Continental Illinois National Bank and Trust Company.

Ferdinand Peck studied law and was admitted to the Chicago bar, but with the advantages of a privileged upbringing, devoted most of his efforts to civic affairs and becoming a promoter of his native city.  He was one of the founders of the Art Institute and a major backer of Chicago’s first opera festival in 1885, which led directly to the idea for the new Auditorium.  He incorporated the Chicago Auditorium Association in 1886 and served as its president.  Peck envisioned not just a grand theater, but the largest and most expensive theater in the world.  The complex would include a hotel and office block to help support the lavish productions anticipated for the theater.  Fellow board members included Marshall Field, George Pullman, Edson Keith, and many other business and social leaders who lived on and around Prairie Avenue on the city’s near South side.

As work continued on the Auditorium Building, Peck engaged William LeBaron Jenney to design a new home for him at 1826 S. Michigan Avenue, in the exclusive residential district where many of his board members resided.  The imposing structure, faced in Vermont granite, featured a massive four-story square tower over the entrance way at the north end, balanced by a three-story rounded tower to the south.  The overall design was Romanesque Revival, later known as Richardsonian Romanesque in honor of its chief practitioner, Henry Hobson Richardson.  Richardson had three structures underway in Chicago at the time including the Marshall Field Wholesale Store, and large homes for Franklin MacVeagh on North Lake Shore Drive, and the Glessner House at 1800 S. Prairie Avenue. 

Mr. and Mrs. Peck were anxious to host President Benjamin Harrison at their new 30-room home for dinner following the opening of the Auditorium Theater on December 9, 1889; however the house was far from finished as the time approached.  In the three days leading up to the opening, crews worked 24 hours a day to finish painting the rooms, installing furniture and draperies, and making sure everything was in order to welcome the presidential party.  Friend and neighbor Marshall Field loaned furniture, draperies, and rugs from his store.

The dinner party at the house went off as planned, with guests including President Harrison, Vice President Levi P. Morton, members of his cabinet, and Adelina Patti, the opera star who had sung “Home, Sweet Home” at the Auditorium dedication.  An oft repeated story states that when President Harrison arrived at the house and exited his carriage, he looked up at the fa├žade of the house, which did bear a strong similarity to the Auditorium Building, and referred to it as the “Auditorium, Jr.”

"The Exposition Out of Debt"

Ferdinand Peck, known for years as “Commodore Peck” due to his interest in yachting, remained active in civic affairs, although the Auditorium would always be considered his greatest achievement.  He served as first vice-president and chairman of the finance committee of the World’s Columbian Exposition – one of the few world’s fairs ever to make a profit.  Many important guests were entertained at the Peck home during the Fair, including the Infanta Eulalia of Spain.

A few years later came another president – President William McKinley – who in 1900 appointed Peck as the American commissioner-general to the Paris exposition of that year.  In the years following, many European dignitaries Peck met during that Fair were entertained in his home.

Peck continued to live in his Michigan Avenue house until his death on November 4, 1924, even though the character of the street had significantly changed by that time.  In the early 1900s Michigan Avenue saw a rapid transformation from a fine residential street into what became known as “Motor Row,” with more than 100 automobile dealerships lining the avenue both north and south of the old Peck house.  At least one of those buildings, a beautiful Second Empire style white terra cotta clad building at 1925 S. Michigan, was financed by Peck as an investment in 1911, and was leased to B. F. Goodrich.  (It still stands today and is now part of the Motor Row Historic District). 

Photo by Jack Simmerling

Peck’s widow and son, Ferdinand Jr. remained in the house for several more years, later moving to a spacious apartment at 2238 Lincoln Park West.  The house was sold to another family and was eventually cut up into numerous small apartments.  The last mention of the old house in the Chicago Tribune was in November 1967 when the Auditorium Theater was reopened after a major restoration.  Arthur Johnson, a reporter for the Tribune wrote, in part:

“The mansion, massive and majestic, still stands, as tho in defiance of the commercial buildings surrounding it.  Weeds grow in the front and side yards.  Several windows are cracked or broken and a ‘rooms for rent’ sign is nailed to a post on the front porch.  Ghosts must have walked there last Tuesday night, waiting for the President’s carriage to roll up the side drive after the opening performance at the Auditorium.  The night passed, however, with nothing to disturb the pigeons that roost under the canopy at the stately side entrance but a stray dog or perhaps a derelict looking for a place to sleep.”

From an original sketch by Jack Simmerling, 1974

The house fell to the wrecker’s ball two years later, in 1969.  Today the site is part of a large townhouse development known as Michigan Avenue Gardens, constructed in 1998.  Peck’s house may be gone, but his greatest achievement – the Auditorium – is his lasting and enduring legacy to his beloved city of Chicago.

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Simmerling Gallery Opens

On Monday December 1, 2014, more than 100 people gathered in the coach house of Glessner House Museum to celebrate the opening of the John J. ‘Jack’ Simmerling Gallery of Prairie Avenue History.  Three generations of the Simmerling family were on hand to welcome guests, some of whom came from as far as New York to be present. 

Simmerling family members in the new gallery

The event opened with a festive reception where guests from all facets of Jack’s life gathered to share memories of Jack, on what would have been his 79th birthday.  Guests travelled from Blue Island where he was born and raised, Beverly/Morgan Park where he lived and owned The Heritage Gallery for more than 50 years, and Ogden Dunes where he maintained a summer resident.  Representatives from the Ridge Historical Society, Beverly Art Center, Smith Village, Smith Senior Living, Historic Pullman Foundation, and the Beverly Art Walk were all on hand, showing the breadth of Jack’s community involvement and the high regard in which he was held by all who knew him.

Bill Tyre, Executive Director and Curator of Glessner House Museum, opened the program, quoting Theodore Roosevelt, who once said “What a man does for himself dies with him.  What he does for his community lives long after he is gone,” noting how the quote could well have been written with Jack in mind.  He recounted how Jack became fascinated with Prairie Avenue when just a young teenager and how he could see beyond the dingy facades of the surviving houses and clearly picture what the street had been in its prime in the late 19th century.  Bill shared stories of R. W. Eyster, a dear friend and mentor to Jack, and Herma Clark, long time columnist for the Chicago Tribune, both of whom were major influences on Jack in his formative years. 

A very special guest for the evening was Tim Samuelson, Cultural Historian for the City of Chicago.  Jack and Tim shared a close bond, and often said that they were twins separated at birth, given their similar passion for Chicago history and trying to preserve it however they could.  He recounted their many visits together and how they were truly kindred spirits.

After Tim spoke, two of Jack’s daughters, Mary and Meg, shared stories of their introduction to Prairie Avenue, with endless Sunday drives up and down Prairie and Calumet, their father retelling all of his favorite stories about the houses and the residents who had lived there.  They pointed out how the event was not really an opening, but a homecoming, as the treasured pieces of these homes that their father had carefully salvaged were finally back home on Prairie Avenue for all to see, along with his incredible collection of paintings and pen and ink sketches depicting all of his favorite houses.

The current gallery is a temporary space measuring just under 300 feet, and containing highlights from Jack’s vast collection.  The long-term vision of the museum is to convert a 1,250 foot space over the coach house into a much large permanent gallery where the full collection can be put on display.  Architects Krueck + Sexton have drawn up plans for the new gallery, projected to cost $422,000, with another $50,000 needed for artifact and art conservation and the construction of custom display cases and mounts.

Architects renderings of the proposed permanent
gallery, courtesy Krueck + Sexton Architects

The fundraising campaign received a welcome boost with the announcement of the inaugural gift to the new permanent gallery.  Jim Blauw and Krista Grimm, long-time friends of Jack, presented the museum with a check for $5,000 in memory of their dear friend, and to help ensure that his collection and memory would always be preserved at Glessner House Museum.

After the presentation was complete, Simmerling family members and selected guests travelled up to the second floor where Jack’s wife of 55 years, Margie, assisted by her granddaughter Eliza, cut the red ribbon officially opening the gallery.  Guests then spent the remainder of the evening marveling at the collection of objects – from tiles and carved wood mouldings to oil paintings and buildings models created by Jack.  One of the items that received the most attention was a hand painted poster announcing talks of Old Chicago to be given by 16-year-old Jack Simmerling in 1952.

The evening came to a close with attendees sharing more stories of Jack as artist, story teller, historian, and friend.  Although Jack is longer with us, the event showed that many continue to carry Jack in their hearts, and the new gallery at Glessner House Museum will ensure that his irreplaceable contributions in preserving Prairie Avenue will always be available for present and future generations to enjoy.

Special one-hour tours of the gallery led by Bill Tyre will be offered at 10:00am on Saturdays December 13, 20, and 27.  Cost is $10 per person, $8 for museum members, with all proceeds going toward the new permanent gallery.  Prepaid reservations are required, call 312-326-1480.  Additional gallery tours will be scheduled on a regular basis beginning in early 2015.


For those interested in making a gift to the John J. ‘Jack’ Simmerling Gallery of Prairie Avenue History, please click here to download a donation form.  
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