Frank Lloyd Wright

The Frederick C. Robie House

The Frederick C. Robie House

If Illinois is the Land of Lincoln, then Chicago must be the Town of Frank Lloyd Wright.  His studio was in one of the Chicago suburbs, and homes he designed are found throughout the area.  In Richard’s Hyde Park neighborhood alone, a casual stroll takes you past two homes created by the famous architect:  the Isidore Heller house, built in 1897, and the celebrated Robie House, which opened in 1910.

On Saturday we took a tour of the Robie House, which many consider to be the pinnacle of Wright’s Prairie-Style Design.  As his work progressed, Wright’s home designs took on an increasingly geometric approach, and the Robie House certainly reflects that trend, with long horizontal exterior lines and crisp angles.  The interior rooms also are geometric and open, with large windows that open out onto second-story balconies that circle the front part of the structure.  The inside of the house feels very open and airy.

I don’t know a lot about Wright’s work, but I was struck by his elegant solutions to some basic home design issues.  He wanted to ensure privacy of the Robie family, so he decided to put the principal living areas on the second floor, where the Robies could look out the many windows but passersby on the ground below, blocked by the bulk of the exterior balconies, could not see in.  He also used wooden screens and beautiful decorative windows to partially shield occupants of rooms from view.  Wright also disliked open radiators and wiring, so he placed the heating and lighting elements behind attractive wooden structures.  His attention to detail included designing special light fixtures, built-in drawers and cabinets to decrease the need for bulky furniture, and a unique dining room table.

The Heller house, which we saw only from the outside, presages Wright’s developing style and is viewed as a key transitional point in his career.  It is marked by some beautiful ornamental work on the exterior but also reflects Wright’s love of geometric design.  According to the sign out front, it is for sale.  Imagine owning a Frank Lloyd Wright house!

Before our tour of the Robie house we watched a short video about Wright and the history of the house.  One point that was made was that Wright believed that America should develop and capture its own style, rather than borrowing the turreted, gothic designs of Europe.  His Prairie Style homes, with their characteristic geometric appearance, and his interest in designing not only structures but also windows, furniture, and light fixtures flowed from that deep belief.  The result is beautiful — but it failed to have the lasting impact that Wright hoped for.  In our subdivision you’ll find many Georgian homes but not many that borrow Wright’s lines or theories.  It’s too bad, but we should all still admire his effort, the sweep of his vision, and his interest in America staking out its own approach.

The Isidore Heller house.

The Isidore Heller house.

The Chicago Skyway Blows

The only bad thing about our short trip to Chicago this weekend was our use of the Chicago Skyway.  Coming or going, it blows.  I thought the inaccurately named Dan Ryan “Expressway” was bad — so bad that if I were Dan Ryan, I’d ask that my name be removed from that sorry, always-under-repair stretch of Chicago roadway — but I would take the Dan Ryan 10 times out of 10 against the Chicago Skyway.

IMG_2373For the uninitiated, the Chicago Skyway and the Dan Ryan Expressway are the two ways to get to Chicago from northern Indiana.  The Dan Ryan is a freeway, the Chicago Skyway is a toll road.  You’d think that would mean that the Skyway would be a better driving experience — better road, faster, and so forth.  That makes sense . . . but it would be wrong.  In fact, the road conditions from Chicago to the I-65 turnoff just east of Gary are miserable.  And, because you have to go through three separate toll stops, it’s clearly slower even than the orange barrel-filled Dan Ryan Expressway — to say nothing of costing almost $8.  What does the money go for?  Beats me!  My shock absorbers would say it’s certainly not used for road repair.

It’s also obviously not used for toll booth employees or upkeep.  Today we were infuriated because only two of six toll booths at the final turnoff were taking cash or credit card.  Three lanes were reserved for E-ZPass — which is irritating in its own right — and one was closed for unknown reasons.  Of course, there were long lines in the two cash/credit lanes, which were made all the worse by the fact that rather than a toll booth employee, we had to pay a machine, and the machine didn’t tell you how much you owed.  It was scrambled, and the screen showed nothing but gibberish, like this:  ###%^**##.  So, what to pay?  Not surprisingly, it took us forever to get past the toll booth.  It was like some satanic trick:  just as we were celebrating escaping the Chicago Skyway once and for all, a final bit of ineptitude trapped us in toll booth hell.  What idiot allowed this to happen?

If Chicago wants to improve its image, the Skyway would be a good place to start.

The President’s Old Neighborhood

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Richard’s apartment in Hyde Park is right across the street from President Obama’s old house. The President’s street is blocked off with barricades, and a Secret Service SUV sits at the narrow entrance. You can’t really see anything, but it’s an attraction nevertheless. During our visit to Richard’s apartment yesterday, At least two tour buses and one group on foot stopped by.

The President seems to be helping the local economy in other ways. As the photo above indicates, one enterprising dry cleaner has staked his claim to presidential commerce, and who are we to dispute it? The colonial strip of America is famous for claims that “George Washington slept here” — perhaps the south side of Chicago will some day be known for claims that “Barack Obama banked here.”

Richard At The Trib

This week Richard started an internship at the Chicago Tribune, on the business desk.  He’s living in Hyde Park, just across the street from the President’s old house.  If you’re interested you can follow his work through the Tribune website, here.

Internships often are derided these days, but they have gotten Richard some wonderful experience.  Between San Antonio, Pittsburgh, and now Chicago, he’s gotten a real taste of what it’s actually like to work on a big-city daily newspaper.  In the process, he’s covered some great stories and compiled an impressive set of clips.  He’ll get a chance to add to that set this summer; Chicago is one of the best business cities in the country.

Richard has always had a strong affinity for Chicago, and now he’s back in the Windy City, working for one of America’s finest newspapers.  This will be an exciting summer for him!

Chicago Gangland

What would it be like to live in an American city where shootings and gun violence are so frequent they have become routine?  You can get your answer, apparently, by asking someone who lives in Chicago.

The statistics about shootings in the Chicago area are breathtaking and frightening.  The Chicago Tribune reports that, in 2013, there were 2,185 shooting victims in Chicago, and 595 shooting victims so far in 2014.  Over this past weekend, 4 people were killed and another 24 were injured in Chicago-area shootings.  Just between last night and this morning, another eight people were shot in Chicago and one of them was killed.

There is a terrible randomness about the incidents, and drive-by shootings are commonplace.  People are outside in the early morning hours, a car drives by, the driver flashes gang symbols, and the shooting starts.  Two men get into a fight on a public street and one is shot multiple times.  A man is sitting in his car, is robbed at gunpoint, and is shot in the head.

The stories about the shootings linked above indicate that many of the shootings are gang-related, and the Tribune piece, which identifies where the shootings occurred, depicts a clear geographic pattern.  I’m sure many Chicagoans rationalize the amount of violence by saying that the gunplay is a South Side or West Side gang problem that can be avoided simply by avoiding the dangerous neighborhoods.  But when gang members and criminals are so emboldened that they shoot dozens of people on public streets over a weekend, how can anyone in Chicago truly feel safe, even on downtown streets?

There’s a certain cavalier and wrong-headed dismissiveness in that attitude, too.  Not everyone who lives on Chicago’s South Side or West Side is a gang member.  People who are trying to work and raise families live there, too.  What must it be like to live in a neighborhood where you regularly hear shoots ring out and then reflexively look for your children, hoping they didn’t happen to be outside when the latest drive-by shooting occurred?  How can kids possibly grow up in such hyper-violent environments without being forever twisted by the experience?

Are the authorities in Chicago losing control?