architecture


On Sunday morning I was reading Zebra Sounds, one of my favorite blogs that (for the most part) doesn’t involve news, politics or sports, when I came across a name I hadn’t seen in three years: Amy Krouse Rosenthal.

On Saturday, Judy Clement Wall (who writes the Zebra Sounds blog) posted a video called “The Beckoning of Lovely,” an ongoing film project by Rosenthal. (You can find the video by clicking here. It is worth watching. Bonus: It was filmed in Chicago near Cloud Gate, a.k.a., “The Bean.”) The next day, Judy unveiled her “amazing, wonderful, big fat fun idea,” based on Rosenthal’s film, to “make a bunch of stuff.” It’s an inspired idea, which you can read about in more detail by clicking here.

Anyway, when I came across Rosenthal’s name on Judy’s blog, something clicked in my head. I knew I had seen that name before. I walked into my den and removed a book from the bottom shelf of one of my bookcases. I was right — I have a book by Rosenthal: Encyclopedia of an Ordinary Life, which I was given as a Christmas gift in 2005 by my friend Rich, who is a regular reader of The Bread Line. I read the book shortly after I received it, but hadn’t thought about it since then — until now.

There really isn’t much of a point to this blog post except to say it’s amazing how connected the denizens of my little corner of the blogosphere are — even the ones who don’t know each other in any capacity beyond The Bread Line. Consider that Rosenthal is a Chicago author — local to Rich and I — yet Judy, who lives in California, knows of her and wrote about her film project. It seems Walt Disney was right — it is a small world, after all.

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Glad to see the Majestic Theatre reopened in Streator last weekend. The 102-year-old theater closed at the end of March after struggling financially since reopening in May 2007.

People from Pennsylvania are now operating the landmark theater, and I wish them luck. But I wonder how much more successful they can be than Kyle and Cindy Mitchell, who metaphorically poured their blood, sweat and tears into the Majestic during the two years they ran it. I think they did a great job promoting the theater through contests and other special events, and Kyle in particular was more visibly involved in the community than many other downtown business owners.

Unfortunately, the Majestic Theatre is no stranger to being closed for business. The Majestic has been shut down at least six times since first opening in 1907, and the city condemned the building in the 1950s. Yet it has cheated death again, and I hope the community supports it even more now that it is reopened.

The Majestic Theatre has a storied past, one that I enjoyed researching for a newspaper article as the building’s centennial approached. Before it became a movie house, the Majestic hosted music, comedy and vaudeville acts such as Jack Benny and Groucho Marx.

My favorite Majestic story is that of a couple who married onstage — accompanied by a pride of lions! Here’s how I described it in the aforementioned newspaper article:

An Aug. 5, 1907, story in the Streator Daily Free Press told of Majestic Manager F.H. Cox’s desire to find a couple to marry onstage in a den of African lions. The story concluded with the following quote, essentially daring someone to take Cox up on his offer.

“It requires some nerve to get married and agree to support a woman for life. Where is there a man in Streator or vicinity who will agree to do this with a half dozen lions glaring at him?”

On Saturday, Aug. 17, 1907, Ernest Payne and Kate Thomas were married in a lion cage in front of more than 1,000 guests at the Majestic. The Rev. E.A. Cantrell, minister of the Church of Good Will, officiated and delivered a 10-minute sermon about “marriage in the lions’ den.”

Inside the cage, the trained lions were not more than a dozen feet away from the couple. The couple stood at the back of the cage facing the audience, and the minister faced the bride and groom. Cardona, a French lion tamer armed with a whip, stood between the lions and the others. The minister invoked God’s blessing on the couple, then on the lions.

To read the entire newspaper article, click here.

majestic_marquee

Earlier today my wife and I recalled the weekend road trip we took to St. Louis last summer, which prompts me to share the following travel story I wrote for The Times. I made a couple minor changes to it, adding a reference to the Obama pizza controversy and subtracting a paragraph about a special exhibit that was at the Old Courthouse last summer when the article was published.

* * *

The Gateway Arch. Busch Stadium, home of baseball’s St. Louis Cardinals. The Anheuser-Busch Brewery, where Budweiser beer is made.

Those are some places that immediately come to mind when thinking about things to see in St. Louis. But if a trip to the Gateway City is in the cards, there are some lesser-known places worth checking out as well.

One place I was pleased to discover was Forest Park, which really is one of the city’s crown jewels. Comprised of 1,371 acres in the heart of St. Louis, Forest Park is home to the St. Louis Zoo (which doesn’t charge admission), the St. Louis Art Museum (housed in one of the few remaining buildings constructed for the 1904 World’s Fair), a conservatory, a fountain and lake, the St. Louis Science Center (a planetarium), a memorial to Thomas Jefferson and lots of space for leisurely walks.

Of course, it is impossible to visit St. Louis and not see the Gateway Arch. Even if you don’t want to wake up early to stand in line for tickets for the tram ride to the top, the Gateway Arch is still a beauty to behold from below.

A few blocks from the Gateway Arch is the Old Courthouse, where the Dred Scott case originated. The 19th-century courthouse is no longer in use as a justice center, but is open to the public to see the decorated interior dome and numerous displays covering the history of St. Louis.

About a block away from the Old Courthouse is Kiener Plaza, which features small fountains and a manmade waterfall. A statue called The Runner is placed to appear as if someone is running over the fountains in Kiener Plaza. Here, there is a great photo opportunity. Stand by the waterfall and look back at The Runner to see the statue in front of the Old Courthouse with the Gateway Arch behind it.

There are lots of restaurants to choose from in this area. My recommendation is Caleco’s, which is close to the Old Courthouse and Kiener Plaza. Caleco’s is popular for its St. Louis-style pizza, which basically is the opposite of Chicago-style deep-dish pizza. The crust of a St. Louis-style pizza is cracker-thin and the tomato sauce is sweet, giving the pie a unique taste I haven’t had elsewhere. But if you wish to stick to deep-dish pizza, apparently it is very good at Pi, a Delmar Loop neighborhood restaurant that President Barack Obama asked to cater a White House dinner last month. Being a Chicagoan, Obama surely knows good deep-dish pizza when he tastes it.

Another place worth checking out, especially if out at night in St. Louis, is Laclede’s Landing, simply referred to as “The Landing” by locals. The nine-block area along the Mississippi River once housed various industrial companies that sent their wares across the country via barges, but now it is home to a bunch of restaurants, sidewalk cafes and outdoor beer gardens. There are plenty of gift shops there as well for those who want to visit during the day and avoid the nightlife.

Photos by Craig Wieczorkiewicz
The view from inside the St. Louis Cardinals ballpark has improved since the new Busch Stadium opened three years ago. Now downtown St. Louis, including the Gateway Arch, can be seen beyond the outfield wall.

Saturday was a beautiful weather day in Indianapolis, where I am for a Society of Professional Journalists conference. After the conference ended at 5 p.m., I was pleasantly surprised to learn it was 63 degrees in downtown Indy. I read for awhile in University Park (I’m reading The 27s, which examines the rock & roll myth of death at age 27) before spending a couple hours exploring downtown Indianapolis by foot.

There are a lot of great sites to see in downtown Indianapolis (as evidenced by the 125 or so digital photos I took during my walk). I was most impressed by the American Legion Mall, where there are several war memorials surrounded by attractive federal buildings. Near the mall are University Park and the ornate Scottish Rite Cathedral.

Also worth seeing is the Indiana State House and the Indiana Repertory Theater, which are located near each other. If you like sports, you can walk just a few blocks south to see Lucas Oil Stadium, home of the NFL’s Indianapolis Colts. A few blocks from there is Victory Field, home of the Indianapolis Indians, the Triple-A affiliate of MLB’s Pittsburgh Pirates. You can complete the Indianapolis sports tour by visiting Conseco Fieldhouse, home of the NBA’s Indianapolis Pacers, and the famous Indianapolis Motor Speedway, home of the Indianapolis 500 and other races.

The 100-year-old Murat Shrine Theater is another ornate building worth seeing. It is located across the street from the Athenaeum, where the SPJ conference was held.

One site I won’t get to visit during this weekend trip is the President Benjamin Harrison Home because it closes at 3:30 p.m. on Saturdays and is open on Sundays only in June and July. But I’m sure it is worth your time to visit if you are interested in history and/or politics.

The Chicago Tribune reported Monday that an AFL-CIO pension fund may help pay for construction of the proposed Chicago Spire skyscraper.

More than $11 million worth of liens were filed against the project last October, halting construction on the proposed 2,000-foot-tall, twisting tower designed by world-renowned architect Santiago Calatrava. The recession and down credit markets haven’t helped the situation.

The AFL-CIO obviously is getting involved to make sure the construction project is a 100 percent union job. That’s fine and dandy, but I’m more concerned about not having a giant hole measuring 76 feet deep and 110 feet wide at the Spire site for many years to come.

I’m not necessarily a fan of the Spire’s proposed height, but I think the design would be a nice addition to the Chicago skyline. It reminds me of a drill bit or a screw, which would give the Spire a unique look. Bearing in mind that Chicagoans took it upon themselves to unofficially (and affectionately) rename the Cloud Gate sculpture in Millennium Park “The Bean,” I foresee the Spire being referred to as “The Screw.” That nickname sort of has a Chicago-style ring to it, doesn’t it?

Anyway, I was reminded recently how pleasing Calatrava’s architectural work is to the eye. My wife and I spent last weekend in Milwaukee, where the lakefront jewel is Calatrava’s addition to the Milwaukee Art Museum, the Quadracci Pavilion. The architecture is beautiful, evoking lakefront imagery such as boats, birds and a whale’s tail, depending on the viewpoint and the eye of the beholder.

I always make sure to visit the lakefront and see that museum whenever I am in Milwaukee. I hope someday the Spire will have the same effect on out-of-towners visiting Chicago.