Monday, March 30, 2015

Unearthing Hanford

During the last twenty years, as the Prairie Avenue District has been reborn as a desirable residential neighborhood, bits and pieces of its history have been unearthed as construction equipment disturbs the sites of long vanished houses.  In many cases, the sites have laid undisturbed for decades beneath a thick layer of asphalt for a parking lot, or a concrete slab for a warehouse.  Such was the case of the former site of the long vanished Philander C. Hanford house.

Built in 1883 at 2008 S. Calumet Avenue, the home of the oil magnate and art collector was the largest on that street, and rivaled the finest homes on Prairie Avenue and the entire city.  Designed by architect Henry S. Jaffray, the massive pile was faced in Connecticut brownstone and featured beautifully designed interiors from the hand of Isaac Scott.  But the history of the house was not a happy one.  Just ten years after moving into his palatial home, Hanford committed suicide due to business reverses, and his family abandoned the house and city, leaving a caretaker to care for the property.  After sitting unoccupied for decades, the structure was seriously damaged by fire before succumbing to the wrecker’s ball in 1953. 

Rubble from the structure was used to fill in the basement before the site was paved over for a parking lot for employees of the nearby R. R. Donnelley & Sons printing plant.  But soon after, a section of the parking lot caved in, taking several cars along with it.  It was discovered that the Hanford house had been constructed with a double basement, and only the top level had been filled in during demolition - the added weight of the cars causing the large sinkhole. 

After that incident, the house was largely forgotten until 2001, when the site was excavated in preparation for a development of new townhouses that occupy the site today.  As bulldozers peeled away the asphalt and began digging, they uncovered the thick limestone walls of the Hanford house foundation, still largely intact.  Rubble and dirt was hauled away until the huge footprint of the house was fully revealed.

Jack Simmerling, who had been fascinated with the house since first touring it more than 50 years earlier, was on site, capturing these images.  For the first time since the early 1950s, huge blocks of brownstone saw the light of day, providing onlookers with a glimpse of the former grandeur of the house.  Remnants of chimneys that served the many fireplaces were uncovered as were countless smaller fragments ranging from window glass to tiles, and metal hardware to bottles and china.

An interesting find was a large locked safe brought to the surface – the source of much conversation amongst the demolition crew.  Like all the other pieces being unearthed however, it was loaded onto a truck and sent off only to be reburied as landfill, without ever being opened.  The secrets of any treasures it might have contained going with it.

Simmerling was able to salvage some small pieces as seen in this image and the one below.  One wonders how he must have felt walking amongst the bits and pieces of the house he had known so well, glimpsing the shattered remnants that he thought had been lost to time.  Fortunately, however, these are not the only pieces of the fabled house to survive.  Before the building was demolished, Simmerling, then just 17 years old, salvaged dozens of tiles, carved wood mouldings, and pieces from the elaborate windows, some of which are now displayed in the Simmerling Gallery of Prairie Avenue History at Glessner House Museum.  Viewing these pieces today, along with paintings and building models created by Simmerling, one can get a sense of the exquisite craftsmanship that went into the building of this house.  During 2001, the site of the house was stripped of all traces of the building that once stood there, but we are fortunate that Jack Simmerling had the foresight to rescue what he could so that future generations will always be able to appreciate this home and the many others that made the Prairie Avenue neighborhood the finest in the city.

NOTE:  On Tuesday March 31, 2015 at 7:00pm, Glessner House Museum will host “Unearthing Chicago,” a program of Clarke House Museum featuring Eric Nordstrom, owner of Urban Remains.  He will discuss several recent digs at locations throughout the city including Wolf’s Point and the former site of the c. 1855 John Kent Russell house, explaining what layers of trash and debris from prior generations reveal about the development of the city we know today.  The program is free, for more information call 312.326.1480.  

Monday, March 23, 2015

Glessner - a model house

An interesting object in the museum collection is a large plaster model of the house, crafted in the late 1930s.  On display in the Visitors Center, the model is used as a tool to explain the theory behind the floor plan and massing of the house, especially on days when the weather prevents visitors from getting a good tour of the street elevations and courtyard.

The model was one of thousands created by the Museum Extension Project (MEP) of the Pennsylvania Work Projects Administration, organized in 1935.  The purposes for the MEP were explained in the catalog which accompanied the model:

“In the first year of its existence the Work Projects Administration in Pennsylvania gained the distinction of originating the State-Wide Museum Extension type of Project . . . Pride can be taken in the fact that along its original line of activity the Project has produced approximately one million articles primarily designed for visual education purposes in Pennsylvania’s tax-supported public schools, colleges and libraries.  The maps, charts, models and other devices originated by the Project and put in the hands of children are enabling all young minds more readily to get a realistic grasp of vital subjects they may be studying.

“Operating as a segment of the Federal Work Projects Administration the Museum Extension Project in Pennsylvania for several years has tended to give employment to an average of 1,200 persons who otherwise apparently would have been idle.  Through the systematic development of processes that have combined the varied skills of a considerable number of the workers with the opportunity to train hitherto unskilled personnel, the Project has found it possible to create and to offer to the educational world authentic and comparatively complete graphic presentations of the human race’s evolutionary efforts to house and clothe itself.”

Glessner model, north elevation

The MEP had three main divisions.  The first consisted of the work units in which the items were actually produced.  There were seven work units across the state, including the Pittsburgh unit where the Glessner model was produced.  The models became the property of the schools which ordered them, in order to create Chidren’s Museums.  Since it was not possible to equip every school with all of the materials, the second division of the MEP created regional Children’s Museums.  The third division involved actual museum work – the cleaning, restoring, repairing, and cataloging of objects owned by numerous organizations around the state including the Pennsylvania Historical Commission, Philadelphia Art Museum, Pennsylvania Museum of Natural Sciences, and many others.  The Pennsylvania Project became a model that was copied by many other states.  In fact, the Pennsylvania MEP freely offered to share their blue prints and other plans with any other state MEP who requested them.

The Glessner house model was offered in the third catalog of the MEP, issued in late 1939.  A review of the table of contents reveals the breadth of materials that were produced:
-Costume Plates
-Flags of the Nations Plates
-Benjamin Franklin Plates
-Architectural Models
-Geologic and Industrial Miniature Models
-Native Handcraft and Handcraft Designs
-Lantern Slides
-Fish Plaques
-Decorative Panels
-Pamphlets and Handbooks
-Marionettes and Puppets
-Food Models
-Flash Cards
-Materials for the Blind

Models of the 1810 Nixon Tavern in
Fairchance, PA awaiting distribution to schools

The catalog included a series of 110 plaster architectural models, made to scale and antiqued.  Each school could order up to 15 models.  Categories included:
-Prehistoric dwellings
-Primitive Dwellings
-Early American
-Pennsylvania Historic
-Late American
-Racial & Nationalistic
Glessner house was included in the Late American category along with such examples as an 1860 Victorian Gothic country house, a modern San Francisco town house, and a modern country house “after Frank Lloyd Wright.”

The model bears the official emblem of the WPA.  Instructions for the recipients specifically required that the emblem not be removed or defaced, as they were the “unqualified guarantee of authenticity.”  The Glessner emblem reads “W.P.A. PITTSBURGH PA DISTRICT 15” indicating it was made in District 15, the Pittsburgh office, which was one of the largest and most active in the state.  It was sponsored by the Pittsburgh School Board and occupied a five-story building at 3400 Forbes Street.  A description of the District 15 facility written in 1936 indicated that it:

“employs 880 people, namely: sculptors, painters, architects, draftsmen, teachers, librarians, biologists, researchers, writers, designers, musicians, skilled tradesmen and hundreds of (other) workers. . . Its supervisory staff is 100% college trained.”

The Pennsylvania WPA employed approximately 250,000 workers at any one time and nearly 640,000 during the time period of 1935 to 1942, so the MEP was a very small part of the overall work, employing on average 1,200 persons at any one time.  World War II and the need for workers in war-related industries led to the disbanding of the WPA in 1942. 

The Glessner model, labeled “Richardsonian Romanesque, 1885 Glessner House, Chicago” is a fairly accurate representation of the house, although there are some differences, such as the absence of the large hayloft dormer on the west side of the house.  These are probably explained by the fact that the architects and designers working on the model were working off of Richardson plans available in libraries, rather than examining the actual building itself.  The design of the house evolved over time, so elements missing in earlier plans were added later; other elements were later removed or altered before construction commenced.

Glessner model, courtyard

It is not known how many of the original architectural models survive today, although several are owned by the Broward County Library system in Southern Florida.  These include the two models shown below which depict the Palazzo Contarini-Fasan in Venice, and Independence Hall in Philadelphia.  Their website includes additional information on the WPA and the MEP in particular:

Palazzo Contarini-Fasan, Venice, Italy

Independence Hall, Philadelphia, PA

The museum is fortunate to possess this model for two reasons.  For one, the creation of the model indicates the recognition of the importance of Glessner house in the history of American residential architecture.  Secondly, the model serves as a record of the talented individuals who produced these items by the thousands as part of the Museum Extension Project of the Work Projects Administration in the State of Pennsylvania.

Monday, March 16, 2015

Frances Glessner Lee moves to the north side

In May 1926, the Chicago Tribune announced the “latest addition to the skyscraper apartment row on Lake Shore drive” in an article entitled “Blois Chateau Motif for Big Drive Co-op.”  Known as 1448 Lake Shore Drive, the 19-story structure at the southwest corner of the Drive at Burton Place was designed by the architectural firm of Childs & Smith which had just finished working on the Chicago (McKinlock) campus for Northwestern University.

King's bedroom at the Chateau de Blois

The inspiration for the design was the famous Chateau at Blois, France, which, as the article noted would be “familiar to the thousands of American soldiers who passed through that concentration center during the great war.”  Designed in the French Gothic style, the building was steel framed but clad on all four sides with face brick and Bedford stone trim.  It contained a total of 53 apartments, most consisting of six, seven, or eight rooms, with a select numbers of apartments containing twelve or more rooms.  

Main entrance facing Burton Place

A prominent bay projecting from the south side of the front fa├žade, delicately designed brick patterns, and a battlemented balustrade with Gothic pinnacles at the top were among the more decorative features for the exterior.  The apartments contained every modern amenity desired, and in fact the Tribune went so far as to say that “if there is a convenience left out of the building it will only be because it hasn’t been invented.”

Baird & Warner sales office

By August, Baird & Warner, the exclusive agents for the building, had erected a handsome sales office which at first glance appeared to be an attractively designed and constructed two-story home.  Built facing Lake Shore Drive, it was considered a new idea in apartment building construction and sales, and was said to be “as attractive architecturally as some of its more imposing permanent neighbors.”

It was into this sales office that Frances Glessner Lee arrived in early 1928, inquiring about an apartment.  Lee had lived for many years in an elegant Georgian Revival townhouse at 1700 S. Prairie Avenue, designed by Shepley, Rutan and Coolidge.  In 1918, however, she had relocated to Boston, and by the late 1920s once again desired a more permanent address to accommodate her frequent trips back to Chicago.  As had been the case with many of the families she had known on Prairie Avenue, the north side “Gold Coast” was now the place to live, so it is not surprising that she looked at one of the finest blocks along Lake Shore Drive.  In fact, it would have been a block she would have known well.  Prairie Avenue friend George Armour and his mother had built homes just a few doors to the south of the new building site, and at the south end of the block had stood the home of Franklin MacVeagh, the only other house in Chicago designed by H. H. Richardson (demolished 1922).

Baird & Warner would regularly provide the names of new purchasers of the co-ops to the newspapers to encourage additional sales.  Frances Glessner Lee’s purchase was announced in the Chicago Tribune on May 6, 1928.  Although the newspaper did not disclose the sales price, we know that Frances Glessner Lee paid just over $55,000 for her twelve-room apartment on the 12th floor.  It occupied about two-thirds of the entire floor, with a smaller apartment occupying the rear third.  She paid one-half down, with the remainder paid off in two years through a series of four promissory notes.  She also arranged to lease a two-room apartment with kitchenette on the first floor for $100 per month for her daughter Frances, who married Marion Thurston Martin in November 1928. 

Floorplan for Frances Glessner Lee's apartment
Lake Shore Drive is to the left

Frances Glessner Lee’s apartment was accessed by way of an elevator from a separate lobby which opened directly into a small foyer and then into a grand gallery measuring 7’-7” by 25’-6”.  Directly beyond the gallery was the largest room in the apartment, the lake facing living room, which measured 20 by 30 feet, and contained the only fireplace (wood-burning) in the unit.  To the south of the living room was the dining room measuring 15’-6” by 30’, and to the north was the library measuring nearly 14 by 19 feet.  

Library floor plan, showing Lee's penciled notations
indicating placement of furniture, including a grand piano

Along the Burton street side of the apartment were four chambers (bedrooms), and four full bathrooms.  The south side of the unit was occupied by a kitchen, service hall (butler’s pantry), dry pantry, silver safe, servants’ dining room, and three maids’ rooms which shared a single bathroom.  There were numerous closets and storage rooms throughout the unit. 

The most spectacular feature of the building was the lobby with its rich oak paneling and floors laid with exquisite faience tile.  

The painted beams of the lobby in particular bear a strong resemblance to those in the King’s bedroom at the Chateau at Blois.  

Perhaps the elaborate tile work appealed in particular to Lee, who grew up in a home with fine DeMorgan and Iznik tiles that she would later remove after her parents’ deaths and reuse in her New Hampshire home.  The lobby has been well preserved and still looks exactly as it would have when Lee was in residence.

It is not known exactly how long she occupied the apartment, but by 1935 she was leasing it for $325 a month.  She was back in residence for a time in 1940, but by 1942 had left the apartment for good, encountering no small amount of difficulty in selling it, due to the particular details of the co-op ownership arrangement. 

Today, the building at 1448 N. Lake Shore Drive is still considered among the finest vintage buildings on the Drive, and the unit remains intact although it has been remodeled and updated several times through the years. 

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Kodak plant demolition begins

On Monday March 9, 2015, demolition began on the former Eastman Kodak Company plant at 1712 S. Prairie Avenue, in preparation for construction of a new townhouse development.  The building, which would have celebrated its 75th “birthday” on April 1, had sat vacant for several years following the 2010 failure of a 479-unit twin-tower condominium development known as X/O, designed by Lucien Lagrange.

Eastman Kodak came to the Prairie Avenue neighborhood in 1905, when they engaged architects Hill & Woltersdorf to design their first building at the northeast corner of 18th Street and Indiana Avenue (now a residential loft development known as Prairie District Lofts).  One of the first commercial loft buildings to invade the exclusive residential district, it foreshadowed the transformation of the area over the next twenty years. 
Eastman Kodak’s business continued to expand through the 1930s leading to the purchase of several lots on Prairie Avenue east of their building for a new plant. 

The company engaged architects Schmidt, Garden & Erickson to design the new five story structure in the Art Moderne style.  Detailing included the extensive use of stainless steel trim, and bands of black and rust colored brick.  

The overall plan reflected the use of the plant for the processing of film, as noted in an article which appeared in the Chicago Tribune on December 24, 1939:

“Dirt is the most active enemy to the film business and every effort will be made to keep the air clean throughout the building.  There are few windows and they are immovable.  An elaborate ventilating system is being installed, so that all air in the building will be washed and filtered.  Some parts of the building will be artificially cooled in summer months.

“The new unit will be used for film processing now carried on in the Kodak Company’s four story plan at 1727 Indiana Avenue.  It will be connected with the present building by a steel bridge across the alley between Indiana and Prairie avenues.”

The new plant, which cost $750,000 to construct, was completed on April 1, 1940.  The address “1712 Prairie” became well known throughout the region by the thousands of people each day who shipped their rolls of film to the plant for processing.  An interesting article, which appeared in the Chicago Tribune on August 9, 1951, followed a roll of film through the plant from beginning to end, which typically took two to three days.  The article stated that the plant was believed to the largest of its type in the world and summarized the 15 steps that each roll of film went through in the process.

Of particular interest were the lengths that Eastman Kodak went through to find the owners of the film, when the return address provided proved to be incorrect:

“Run Detective Bureau.

“This is an extremely important phase of the laboratory’s work because many rolls of exposed film are received for processing with incorrect return addresses.

Eastman operates a film identification bureau to track down owners who have failed to supply the laboratories with full or correct addresses.  In 1949 the bureau solved more than 10,000 ‘cases.’

“Service men or former service men frequently are located thru army or navy records and doctors can be located with the aid of the American Medical association.  In cases where no address is supplied bureau agents check the pictures themselves for clues.  The name of a cruise ship, the sign on a business establishment, or an automobile license plate usually help bring the film back to the right owner.”

Although Eastman Kodak broke ground for their new Midwest headquarters in Oak Brook in 1961, the processing plant remained in operation at 1712 S. Prairie Avenue.  Business continued to grow and in 1968 a huge five story addition and parking deck were built on to the north side of the original building, bringing the complex to its present size.  

The expanded plant and corresponding parking lot to the south encompassed the original site of 11 houses, including those built in 1901-1902 for the Glessners’ two children, George and Frances Lee, demolished in 1954.  

Glessner townhouses, 1700-1706 S. Prairie Avenue
Shepley, Rutan & Coolidge, architects

The only visible remnants of the earlier residential history of the site are the limestone curbstones which bordered the lots of the James R. Walker house at 1720 S. Prairie and the Hugh J. McBirney house at 1736 S. Prairie.  Those, too, will soon disappear.

Walker curbstone, 1720 S. Prairie Avenue

McBirney curbstone, 1736 S. Prairie Avenue

Kodak moved their operations out of the building in the mid-1980s, and in 1987 a limited partnership acquired the 160,000 square foot plant, leasing space to tenants in the printing, high-tech, and medical services industries.  It was presumably at that time that the broad bands of windows on the south elevation were added.  Before the building was emptied of its occupants in the 2000s, tenants included Central Baptist Family Services, Central Photo Engraving, North Central Dialysis, and a branch of Hull House.

The current project, which will encompass 60 townhouses ranging in size from 2,800 to 5,400 square feet, is being developed by Golub and Company and Sandz Development.  The architects are Sullivan, Goulette & Wilson.  Construction is anticipated to take 18 to 24 months.


The 1700 block of Prairie Avenue, looking northwest,
as it appeared in the 1890s.
Glessner house is visible at the far left.

The same block in the early 1940s.  The new Eastman Kodak plant
is visible at right; the Joseph E. Otis house at 1730 S. Prairie Avenue,
pictured, was demolished in 1946.

The same block, March 9, 2015

Monday, March 2, 2015

Frederik W. Sandberg

On February 16, we began a discussion of Frances Glessner’s training in making jewelry and silver, including information on her teachers Madeline Yale Wynne and Annibale Fogliata.  This week we shall look at her third and final teacher, Frederik W. Sandberg.

It appears that she engaged all three instructors within a short period of time.  Her first lesson with Wynne was in December 1904 and she was working under Fogliata less than a year later.  The earliest mention of her working with Sandberg is found in a journal entry dated February 5, 1905:

“Friday I had my silver lesson.  Then Mr. Sandberg came by appointment.  I had a very pleasant talk with him.  We finished the plate and cover for Mrs. Thomas Longfellow’s wine glass.  In the afternoon we went to the concert.”

The journal entry would indicate that her silver lesson was not given by Sandberg, but by Madeline Yale Wynne, as Sandberg clearly arrived after the lesson.   Together, Frances Glessner and Frederik Sandberg worked on the plate and cover for a wine glass, and their relationship was close enough by that time that they attended the afternoon orchestra concert together.

Exactly when Frances Glessner came to know Sandberg, a native of Sweden, is not documented, however a letter from Sandberg dated January 21, 1905 indicates that she had made purchases of his items from a recent exhibition at the Art Institute.  Writing from his home at 120 S. Grove Avenue in Oak Park, Sandberg said, in part:

“Dear Madame:
On the list of sales from my late exhibition at the Art Institute I take great pleasure in noting your name among my patrons and beg to thank you for your kind appreciation.

“I return to Paris in a few weeks and shall be happy to execute any orders for individual artistic designs in jewelry of gold and silver, precious enamels as well as all kinds of objets d’art in repousse, wrought and hammered silver of distinct artistic merit.  Special attention is given to the securing of rare and curious precious and semi-precious stones.

“I have a unique design for a coffee pot to be executed in hammered silver as well as a number of curious XV and XVI century spoon designs which I think you would find interesting.”

Just a month later, he wrote her a second letter:

“I keenly appreciate the delightful privilege of having made your acquaintance and assure you that nothing would give me more genuine satisfaction than to give you whatever assistance you may need to increase the interest in the work you have begun.  You will find this art full of attractive possibilities and with your discriminating taste and enthusiasm it will become more and more fascinating.”

It is entirely possible that Frances Glessner became acquainted with Sandberg several years earlier.  In February 1898, Sandberg delivered a lecture entitled “Art in Silver” at the Art Institute.  An article which appeared in the Chicago Tribune indicated that Sandberg had just returned from an extensive trip to Europe and “is an enthusiast and exponent of the process known as repousse in gold and silver.”  Although Frances Glessner was recovering from surgery at that time, it seems likely that she was at least aware of the lecture.

In January 1901, Sandberg gave a series of lectures, “L’Art Nouveau as Expressed in Industrial Arts at Paris in 1900” at the Art Institute.  Sandberg had served as a jury expert at the Exposition, and was commissioned to prepare the official report on art industries in silver and gold for the United States government.  The Chicago Tribune noted the following about the lecture series:

“L’Art Nouveau, in which great interest has been aroused by the Paris exposition, will be the subject of a special course of lectures by Frederik W. Sandberg.  Mrs. Potter Palmer’s expressed admiration of the new art, together with its appearance in the furniture and jewelry stores in Chicago, created a demand for some exposition of the art which will be answered by the course of six lectures.  Mr. Sandberg received high honors for his work in silver repousse, jewelry, and decoration at the Paris exposition.”

The first lecture, entitled “Modern Antiques” dealt with the topic of fraudulent antiques and how they were made.  Sandberg had stumbled across the thriving industry quite by accident while in Paris, and decided to make a study of it in order to educate Americans travelling to the continent, who were prime targets for the forgers.  He explained, in detail, how paste and beetles were used to make the surface of leather look old (as shown below), how silver hallmarks were transferred to new pieces, and how the grain of old wood was photographed and transferred to new pieces.  The “new antiques” were usually offered to tourists as rare opportunities to acquire valuable pieces from “embarrassed” families who were forced to sell off their cherished objects as a result of financial reverses.

Sandberg exhibited at the 1904 World’s Fair in St. Louis and spent several months in Paris in 1905 before returning to Chicago later that year.  In early December, he visited Frances Glessner, showing her a clasp he had made for her as well as pieces from his fall exhibition at the Art Institute, which included an elaborate chased bowl resting on the heads of three pelicans.

For reasons that remain unclear, it appears that Sandberg decided to abandon his work with metalwork in early 1906.  A journal entry by Frances Glessner dated March 18, 1906 noted:

“After luncheon Mr. Sandberg came.  He offered me his tools and I have bought them.  Mrs. Goldsmith and Miss Trimingham called and as Mr. Sandberg’s wife was an intimate friend of Mrs. Goldsmith’s, they had a very pleasant visit, especially enjoying our Galle glass of which Mr. Sandberg says we have a very fine collection.”

Later in March, Frances Glessner noted spending two full mornings with Sandberg, who instructed her on the use of his tools, after which he stayed for lunch.  He apparently had a considerable inventory of pieces for sale, as Frances Glessner noted purchasing pieces from him more than two years later.   In the last journal entry in which he is mentioned, dated November 29, 1908, she wrote:

Mr. Sandberg came to see me and brought some pieces of work, some of which I bought.  He told me his wife had fallen heir to part of an estate in New Haven upon which stands the Tontine Hotel.”

Frederik W. Sandberg pursued a career as a journalist until his death about 1920. 

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