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Second Day in Chicago

November 18, 2008 Leave a comment Go to comments

A Day in Chicago
Saturday, November 15, 2008

In which I describe what we did three days ago, or at least what we did for the morning and afternoon. I’ll save the evening concert for a separate post.

The Berghoff, Adams Street, Chicago

The Berghoff, Adams Street, Chicago

I didn’t explain in my initial Chicago post that I lived in Chicago for most of the 1980-1981 academic year. I was at the University of Chicago and lived in a horrid old building on 56th Street in Hyde Park. It was the lone building on an otherwise vacant block running from 56th St north to 55th St, which is pretty much the north-bounding east-west street of the university neighborhood. To the west were athletic fields. A block east was the northwest corner of Regenstein Library, the main university library, built on the site of the old football stadium — Stagg Field — known as both the home of one of the great teams of the early decades of college football and the site of Enrico Fermi’s first controlled nuclear reaction in 1942.

My building remained standing, as best I understood, through the continuing lobbying efforts of the Department of Mathematics, which found it a useful place to house various junior faculty, postdocs, and visitors. Over half the building was occupied by those of us fitting this description. That left plenty of room for assorted other residents, including the mice and roaches. I was fortunate to live on the top floor, the third. The roaches got smaller as you got higher up. I could tell many stories about life in the building, but not now. My point for now is that during my partial year in Hyde Park, I fell in love with the city. The Art Institute was open late on Thursdays. One of my favorite activities was to drive up to the Loop late on a Thursday afternoon, park under Grant Park by the Art Institute, wander around the museum, then exit, cross over Michigan Avenue, down Adams St a block and a half to Berghoff’s, have dinner, and then go back to Michigan, turn the corner to Orchestra Hall, and hear the Chicago Symphony Orchestra under the guidance of Sir Georg Solti.

My other favorite activity was simply to walk around and enjoy all the architecture. So many magical buildings. So many beautiful details. Stunning juxtapositions. And always, Grant Park and the lake, the open space and the views.

The big change is all the development north of Grant Park — Millennium Park and the many office buildings, hotels, condos, apartment buildings that have been built between the park and the Chicago river, most of which are new to me even since our baseball trips to the city in 1996 and 2000. I remember the old Standard Oil Building, later re-named the Amoco Building, the towering whitish rectangular block rising from the north end of the open space, up against the Prudential Building. It was, as I recalled, the third tallest building in Chicago (after Sears and Hancock) and fifth in the world (after those two plus the World Trade Center and the Empire State Building). I read now that it’s taller than the Hancock, making it now the third highest in the country. Maybe the Hancock is sinking? In any case, it stood out on the skyline, but now the entire space between it and the big black apartment building on Lake Shore Drive to the east is filled in. As is all the space to the north and northeast. In fact, the building just north is the Fairmont Chicago, and what I didn’t realize when I wrote my post about our first evening in town is that it’s the building blocking our view southwards from the Fairmont. We were so close to it in our hotel room that I saw just a few floors of it and didn’t recognize an old friend. And I sure didn’t recognize its current name, the Aon Center. (The Fairmont Gold is the building just to the right of the Aon Center in the shot below.)

Aon Center, Chicago

Aon Center, Chicago

With this as background, my idea for our day Saturday was more or less to reproduce the old days — walk around the Loop, go to the Art Institute, go over to Symphony Center (the inelegant current name for Orchestra Hall) for a concert, and who knows, maybe eat at Berghoff’s. We more or less did this, except that the Art Institute had to wait a day. We began our journey by heading from the hotel over to the intersection of Randolph and Michigan, which is the northwest corner of the giant open space formed by the lake, Grant Park, and Millennium Park. (More background: when I lived in Chicago, Grant Park ran north from the Field Museum, as it still does, and to the north of it were vast train yards, beyond which was the Standard Oil Building, and so on. The train yards are now covered by Millennium Park, which is what we were just north of.) On the east side of Michigan Avenue are the parks. On the west side is that gorgeous line of buildings. And right there, on Michigan, running from Randolph down to Washington, is one of my favorite of all Chicago sites, the Chicago Cultural Center, which opened in 1897 as the site of the Chicago Public Library.

I can never pass this building up. I love to walk upstairs to see the Louis Comfort Tiffany dome. And we were in for a bonus. A major restoration of the dome had just been completed, as described here (with pictures). Plus, there was a fabulous exhibit, Made in Chicago: Photographs from the Bank of America LaSalle Collection. I wish I could link to a sample or two from the show, but I can’t find any on line. It made Chicago come alive: the people, the neighborhoods, the architecture, the music. One Walker Evans photo from the 1940’s looked down the river along Wacker, right at the location where we had dinner the night before.

Picasso, Daley Plaza, Chicago

Picasso sculpture, Daley Plaza, Chicago

We headed west down Washington from the center, turning in at Macy’s (Macy’s! Can you imagine? This is what the great Marshall Field department store is, just another Macy’s.) to see the old atrium, back out onto State Street, continuing west on Washington to Daley Plaza and the Daley Center, between Dearborn and Clark on the north side of Washington. The focus of the plaza ordinarily is the Picasso sculpture, but on Saturday the whole plaza was closed off and covered with tents, trees, and workmen setting up some sort of Germanic village for what is apparently an annual month-long festival between Thanksgiving and Christmas. To the south lay the delightful Joan Miro sculpture, between the county office building and another of my favorite Chicago sights, the Chicago Temple Building — the tower with the Methodist church on top. And of course, west of the Daley Center, on the other side of Clark, is the classic Chicago City Hall/Cook County building. Just how many wonderful buildings can be squeezed into such a small space? Every lightpost surrounding the building had a banner celebrating Obama’s presidential victory, with congratulations from Mayor Daley. We walked north on Clark to the next block, to see the Thompson Center (the state office building) with its immense atrium and its own outdoor sculpture, Jean Dubuffet’s Monument with Standing Beast.

Dubuffet, Monument with Standing beast, Thompson Center, Chicago

Dubuffet, Monument with Standing beast, Thompson Center, Chicago

From there, we headed back to Dearborn and southwards, walking around the four sides of Chagall’s The Four Seasons mosaic mosaic at Dearborn and Monroe and then on to Dearborn and Adams and Federal Plaza, in front of the Kluczynski Federal Building. This is where Obama has had his local senatorial office and where the presidential transition team is busy at work. It is as well home to Alexander Calder’s flamingo.

Calder's Flamingo, Federal Plaza, Chicago

Calder's Flamingo, Federal Plaza, Chicago

But on Saturday the flamingo was not alone. Rather, it was surrounded by maybe 2000 people (including us) who had shown up to protest the passage in California days earlier of Proposition 8, banning gay marriage. We arrived just after the program started, in time to hear the Chicago Men’s Gay Chorus sing several songs. We stayed for the emcee’s lengthy opening statement and then for another four speeches, by which time we figured maybe it would be good to get out of the cold and have a late lunch. We would gladly have stayed if there were some particular individual speaker of interest slated to speak, or some other focal point to the event, but in the absence of any, we left. And there we were, on Adams, just 30 yards from Berghoff’s, so that’s where we went for lunch.

The proper name is The Berghoff Restaurant. The lunch menu is inviting. I had the wiener schnitzel: Traditional breaded German veal cutlet with petit asparagus and pepper salad, served with Berghoff chips. Gail had the grilled hanger steak: Sliced hanger steak, grilled stack of polenta, portabella mushroom, eggplant, crispy fried leeks and Madeira sauce. And we couldn’t resist ordering a couple of side dishes: potato pancakes and spaetzles. Plus Berghoff’s own draft beer. Those Berghoff chips might have been the best part of the entire meal. The potato pancakes were great too. Oh, and the soup. We both started with the soup of the day, a cream of potato soup. And we finished with the apple cake. We probably should have had their famous apple strudel, but the cake was good too.

From Berghoff’s, we walked east on Adams to the Art Institute’s steps, but decided to defer our visit to the next morning. Given the line out the door and down the steps, it seemed like a wise choice. There would be a much smaller crowd Sunday morning. And just then we heard a parade of protestors, coming eastwards towards Michigan Avenue a block north of us on Monroe, and then turning northwards from Monroe onto Michigan. Monroe serves as the east-west running boundary between the Art Institute on the south and Millennium Park to the north. So we headed north, in order to kill three birds with one stone: we could follow the parade north along Michigan, we could walk through Millennium Park to see what was in it, and we could return to our hotel a block north of the park. Which is what we did.

Police helped guide the parade north on Michigan for two blocks and then west. There was some chanting, people watching from the side of Michigan, as we did, lots of stuck traffic. Then they were gone, except for stragglers, and we entered Millennium Park. Amidst its many attractive spaces (especially compared to an exposed train yard), we were disappointed by all the commercial naming opportunities the park created. The Chase Promenade. The Boeing Galleries. (Boeing? Oh yeah, they’re a Chicago company now.) The AT&T Cloud Gate. Oh, I see. I got it wrong. It’s the Cloud Gate at AT&T Plaza. What’s a cloud gate? Well, you kinda have ta see it. (Photos at the site linked to a couple of sentences back.) It’s a huge, highly polished, stainless steel structure with an unusual two-dimensional bounding surface. And it’s a star, attracting crowds, every one of us checking out our reflections from various positions near or under it.

From the cloud gate, we checked out the Jay Pritzker Pavilion, designed by Frank Gehry and home to the Grant Park Music Festival, but closed this time of year. Finally, having reached Randolph Street, the east-west street bounding the north side of Millennium Park, we headed east past the Harris Theater for Music and Dance, with the Aon Center towering over us to the north. Once past it, we turned north, crossed over Randolph, and headed up Columbus, past the east side of the Aon Center and on to the Fairmont Chicago to rest.

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