Posts Tagged ‘Jane Addams Hull House’

Chicago Preservation Update February 2012

February 9, 2012

Despite appearances to the contrary, I am in Chicago more often than not, and it has been a while since I updated this blog on the key preservation issues in the city and region. The reigning issue for the last two years has of course been Prentice Women’s Hospital, a breathtaking flower of the union of engineering and architecture designed by Bertrand Goldberg in 1974-75 and slated by Northwestern University to become a vacant lot.

The National Trust made it one of the nation’s 11 Most Endangered Sites last June (I made the announcement) and now the trinity of preservation organizations, the Trust, Landmarks Illinois, and Preservation Chicago, are promoting both a series of CTA subway ads for Prentice and a contest to SHOW PRENTICE SOME LOVE for Valentine’s Day! My job is to wear my Save Prentice t-shirt at major sites across the globe and I got a good start at Macchu Pichu last month. Planning on Angkor Wat next month.

The subway ads are cool, especially since they coincide with the L platform ads for the new building at Rush, which focus on its four-lobed shape and the ease and convenience and quality of care this floorplan provides. And it is the same floorplan designed for the same reason at Prentice. What is old is new again. As I said before.

Quibble a bit? Yes the new one is bigger and the lobes more attenuated and the plan more focused on private rooms because that is the way the sick roll in 2012. But the ideation and justification are the same.

Now we just have to get Mayor Rahm Emmanuel’s attention and see if he wants another tax-free vacant lot a block away from North Michigan Avenue.

Speaking of North Michigan Avenue, the Wrigley Building is finally being landmarked after 25 years – I recall collecting petitions from famous architects and historians and urbanists back in 1987 when it was first proposed for landmark status. It took a new non-Wrigley owner to finally make it official.

The Tribune ran an editorial last week about the travesty of the Soldier Field rebuilding in 2003 and used an illustration of Landmarks Illinois’ 2001 alternate plan that would’ve given the Bears a field big enough to host a Super Bowl. I guess we don’t need a Super Bowl, what with G-8 coming and all…nice to know that Landmarks Illinois’ great alternative use plans are still being remembered. Wonder how our plans for Prentice will be looked at years from now?

What else? Tomorrow we are having a discussion on historic preservation “This is not my Beautiful House: Historic Preservation and People’s History” at the Jane Addams Hull House Museum with activist and researcher Roberta Feldman, National Trust Sites V.P. Estevan Rael-Galvez, architecture critic Lee Bey, and longtime preservationist Mary Means. I am the moderator. I will be moderate again this May when New York Times architecture critic Paul Goldberger and Lee Bey (again) hang out in Harry Weese’s 17th Church of Christ Scientist for the Chicago Modern More Than Mies series, also coordinated by the inestimably talented Christina Morris of the Chicago field office. I wrote so many posts on Modernism last year because it is the HOT thing in preservation and shows no sings of slowing down.

even in Lima. Oops – not Chicago…

yum. oh, that’s palo alto..

Speaking of Lee Bey, he posted on the collapse of a fabulous city-owned terra cotta building last week in Auburn-Gresham at 79th and Halsted. I knew the building because it was part of the neighborhood tour we designed down there in 2009 and it ticked a lot of people off that the city owned it for a decade and let it fall down.

Up in Park Ridge they finally have a landmarks ordinance and managed to save the Alfonso Iannelli studio building, after having lost one of the Byrne-Iannelli Cedar Court houses four years ago (blog here.) Here is a photo of the interior of Iannelli’s studio during its heyday, thanks to the unparalleled David Jameson of ArchiTech Gallery.

I visited one of my favorite “mystery” buildings in Chicago, The Forum at 43rd and Calumet. It has a fabulous second-floor theater space that is remarkably intact and is going to be redeveloped by Bernard Loyd, who is doing similar work on 51st Street. The mystery of The Forum, built in the 1890s, is that no one has yet found an original permit or architect for this neighborhood assembly hall, not dissimilar to Thalia Hall in Pilsen or Yondorf Hall in Old Town in inspiration. We have tons of information about its later use as a vital piece of Bronzeville culture, hosting shows by Nat Cole and others and eventually becoming a home to the black Elks. I thought it might be Patton & Fisher and did a bit of research a year ago but no luck. The cool thing about it is that it is almost the ONLY historic cultural venue left on 43rd Street.

The other cool thing is that Bernard is employing 21st century heritage conservation in his projects. He didn’t call it that, but I was struck by how he was integrating gastronomy, cultural performance and other aspects of intangible heritage into his programs for revitalizing buildings.

This is the same thing we are doing in Peru and China, and it is the basis for the discussion we are having at the Global Heritage Fund about moving into the next phase of heritage conservation, a multi-level interactive development platform that unites the attractions of past and present cultural expressions to actualize a diversified (sustainable) economy that reinforces existing cultural and social investments while enhancing external attractions. Historic buildings revitalized with programs based on local cultural traditions attract both local and outside investment and tend to be more stable over time. That’s true in Chicago and Pasadena and it is true in Pingyao and Cusco.

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Darn. I was trying to focus on Chicago and no sooner do I get to 43rd Street than I’ve gone global again. But now you know why.

Hull House Again

March 10, 2009

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Well, I took my grad students to the Jane Addams Hull House Museum and Director Lisa Lee did it again – wowed everyone with her enthusiasm and creativity in reimagining what a house museum is. Not that Jane Addams’ Hull House was ever a typical house museum – preserved under duress during the construction of the University of Illinois at Chicago, the house was sort of a shrine to Addams herself and the institution she created, which still exists elsewhere. It was also subject to an absolutely bizarre restoration – you can see my 2003 research on the subject at http://tigger.uic.edu/htbin/cgiwrap/bin/urbanexp/main.cgi?file=new/show_doc.ptt&doc=834&chap=32.
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Addams was all about the radical democracy of speech and free interchange of ideas, and solidarity much more than service. The “residents” of Hull House were people who could live elsewhere but chose to live among working class immigrants, not simply to “help” them but to be with them and learn from them. It was a melding of public and private space and it was an extension of the ideals of a nurturing family to the entire city. I learn something new everytime I go there. They have even started the cell phone tours that will soon be EVERYWHERE
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Anyway, Lisa reported that they recently received an NEH grant to put into practice her radical reimagining of this historic site. They are going to restore Jane Addams’s bedroom while they continue to make the main floor of the house a hybrid interactive museum space that interprets the many stories of Hull House, of the women (and some men) who gave us public health, public schools, playgrounds, parks, child labor laws, universal suffrage and a whole lot of art. Lisa talked about art today and it was a taut reminder that art must be in the everyday because it acculturates the other things we do. I suppose many schools will cut art in the name of the current economic conditions, as they often do, but it is no more separable from the body politic than your left arm. Yes, you can cut it off, but the rest won’t function nearly as well. Lisa also repeated the things she learned about TRUTH in South Africa. There are four kinds of truth: Forensic truth – the provable, scientific kind; narrative truth, which is what each of us tells ourselves about ourselves and our experiences; dialogic truth, which is the truth we share with others and thus not identical to our personal narrative truth; and finally restorative truth, which is the hardest of all because…I think because it requires a reckoning of all three other truths. This is what they were doing at Hull House HISTORICALLY and what they are doing there NOW.
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I have blogged before about the “Rethinking Soup” they do at Hull House every Tuesday that carries not just the MESSAGE of the building but its historic PRACTICE into the present day, fomenting modern conversations about things like food and health and sustainability just as the Hull House residents debated these subjects for generations in the same space.
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This is how historic interpretation should be done; a combination of third person, second person and first person, not one or the other, but all of them. That is the beauty of Jane Addams’ original Hull House – it was experimental and open, it evolved constantly, and it was constantly reinvented and reinvigorated by new blood. Which is what every museum – every institution really – needs to be to be relevant and worth preserving.
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Hull House was saved at a time when house museums were shrines, when they told singular, uninflected and generally SAFE stories. Jane Addams’ Hull House museum is one of the best in the world right now because it is always experimenting, never safe and fueled by the energy of people like Lisa Lee. Half of my students wanted to BE her after the visit. Her energy is that infectious. How do you bottle that? That is the great challenge of interpretation, which if it works, is a constant reinterpretation, and like Einsteinian physics, that interpretation understands that the interpretation itself is affected not only by the interpreters but by the viewers. Hence, it is best if they are both, which they are at Hull House. Go. See for yourself. Better yet, see, hear, touch, taste and feel for yourself. Better yet again, do for yourself. It is the story of transformation, of immigration, of a constant arriving and redefining, of the formation and reformation of self and society.

2010 UPDATE: See my posting on the brand new reinterpretation of the Jane Addams Hull House Museum HERE!


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