You don’t have to be a history buff to love David Witter’s “Oldest Chicago.” You don’t even have to love Chicago, but surely you will after reading the author’s exultant but informative paean and guide to the city’s most enduring places.
By his own account, Witter, an occasional freelance writer for Newcity, began his romance with Chicago history as a child, playing cops and robbers in the shadow of where John Dillinger was killed–the Biograph Theater. This volume is filled with stories of many such familiar haunts, but there are also less-known places, like the Oldest Camera Store (Central Camera Company, 1899), Auto Repair and Body Shop (Erie-LaSalle Body Shop, 1934) and Tamale Shop (La Guadalupana, 1945).
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Aqua/Photo: Steve Hall- Hedrich Blessing
By Ella Christoph
The first decade of the new millennia was a “Dickensian construction zone, in which it was the best and the worst of times,” Chicago Tribune architecture critic Blair Kamin tells me. But his is a tale of just one city, the best and worst impossible fully to untangle. The same city that held the drawings for the original soaring Chicago Spire building now peers vexingly into the pit unfilled by the unbuilt, unsoaring Spire.
But Chicago isn’t just wrapping up a Dickensian decade. We’re wrapping up the Daley dynasty, and Kamin’s prescient reflection on the past decade isn’t just about the new buildings that went up here. Kamin, who earlier won a coveted Pulitzer Prize for his work, compiled a selection of his columns from the last ten years in his new book, “Terror and Wonder: Architecture in a Tumultuous Age.”
Although Kamin didn’t know Mayor Richard M. Daley would be leaving when he put the book together, he knew architecture is about more than I-beams and sheets of glass. While his columns aren’t limited to buildings in Chicago, many of the buildings he looks at are nearby—most of them in the Loop. So the collection of columns is not just about the legacy of a decade. It is also about the legacy of a mayor who centered his efforts on the rebuilding and reinvigoration of the city center. The redevelopment of the Loop drove Daley’s mayorship, earning him praise, and votes, as he turned Chicago from bleak city center to tourism and business epicenter of the Midwest. Read the rest of this entry »
Blair Kamin’s collection of columns (see related story) nicely timed Daley’s exit with an analysis of Chicago’s architecture in the context of the city’s financial, cultural and political climate. But what drove those influences that affected the architecture of the last decade?
That’s the question DePaul political science professor Larry Bennett answers in a similarly well-timed summing-up of the city, “The Third City: Chicago and American Urbanism.” Bennett places Daley, and the city as a whole, into a narrative of a “self-conscious” city whose populace constantly looks back on its history in constructing its image of its present identity. Bennett whizzes through the history of the first, second and third cities—and he’s not talking about New York or Los Angeles. Bennett argues that Chicago can be defined by three distinct eras: from the Civil War to the Depression, from 1950 to 1990, and today.
The analysis of the city’s three stages happens to align nicely with Erikson’s Stages of Psychosocial Development. Think of the infant, whose predominating psychosocial crisis is trust versus mistrust—the natives versus the immigrants during the city’s industrialization. Then the toddler, who struggles to find autonomy amongst feelings of shame and doubt—Richard J. Daley versus declining populations and race problems. If we’re the third city now, we’re preschool-aged, struggling with the question, “Am I good or am I bad?” Read the rest of this entry »