An interesting new book is out called 111 Places in Chicago That You Must Not Miss. Six of the places are pretty much out my door in the South Loop.
Like any list, I think there are certain places in my neighborhood that the author, Amy Bizzari, left off her list that she shouldn’t have: like the historic Dearborn Station at Polk and Dearborn, where cross country trains passed in and out for 91 years, and is now home to offices, a medical center, a bank, various classes and community groups. And the Blues Heaven Foundation, an iconic museum at 2120 S. Michigan–ensconced in the former Chess Records recording studio and office where some of the most iconic stars did their thing from 1956 to 1965: from Willie Dixon to Muddy Waters to Chuck Berry to the Rolling Stones.
Other places in the South Loop that should have been on the list? The former Chicago Defender building at 24th and Michigan that was home to that newspaper for over 50 years; and Dearborn Park, an urban renewal project on former railroad track land, full of lofts, condos, townhouses and single family homes running from Congress to 16th Street, and from State to Clark. Not to mention the Auditorium Theater and the Congress Hotel across the street.
So what is on the list from the South Loop? For starters, two landmarks–Clarke House and Glessner House Museum–just steps away from each other at 18th Street, between Indiana and Prairie. Clarke House, built in the mid-1830s, and updated in the mid-1850s, rests at its third location in Chicago (and only a stone’s throw from its original one), and is the oldest house in town. It is owned–and now run by–the City of Chicago and is open for tours.
GHM is a 130-year-old Richhardsonian Romanesque home from the Gilded Age of Prairie Avenue, that draws hordes of tourists from around the country and around the world. It’s that unusual. And in the 1880s, quite despised by many of its neighbors for that reason. Mr. and Mrs. Glessner, he of historic International Harvester renown, and dead since 1936 and 1932, respectively, are having the last laugh.
My feeling? Why not include the entire Prairie Avenue District as one of the book’s destinations not to miss? There are other very historic structures in the neighborhood, tours of same–and much has been built and restored along the streets, giving visitors a pretty good idea of what it was like back in the day!
Two other South Loop destinations in the book are on the Museum Campus: the Doane Observatory at the Adler Planetarium and the Grainger Hall of Gems at the Field Museum. Once again, why not list both museums instead of just a small exhibit from each?
Not that the observatory–which provides a reliable and fascinating opportunity to gaze into outer space and see things you never dreamed you would; or that the gems, the collection of which started at the 1893 World’s Fair in Chicago, and which includes many jaw-droppers in terms of size, clarity and value aren’t one of the best things to see at the Field.
A fifth South Loop destination in the book is one of the few in the tome I’ve never heard of, although I certainly know the building it’s in. Bizzari highlights Selected Works Book and Sheet Music Shop, in room 210 of the landmark Fine Arts building, which was built in 1885.
I know I sound like a broken record–but why not sing the praises of the whole building as a destination, in general. It contains the (now restored) Studebaker Theater and a one-time Frank Lloyd Wright office, for starters.
The walls of each and every floor of this building sing (quite literally, what with all the music lessons taking place) of Chicago history. From the cage, elevator operator-operated elevators to the dim-lit halls, you can’t drink in the past any better anywhere. To be fair, Bizzari mentions much of what I just did in her entry, but why hang the book’s entry on just one business in the building?
Last but not least, in terms of my neighborhood’s must-see locations in the book, also listed is the infamous Smoke-Filled Room at the Blackstone Hotel.
This is the room where, in the wee hours, after a dead-locked Republican convention at the Chicago Coliseum (also in the heart of the South Loop at 15th and Wabash, albeit gone and replaced by a new Buddhist temple), Warren G. Harding was selected by a smattering of United States senators as the Republican presidential nominee on June 11, 1920. A reporter coined the phrase smoke-filled room, apparently, when the doors opened and the announcement was made–and the reporter got a look. And a whiff.
The room, now a suite, according to the book, can still be checked into. And it has an original marble fireplace, a good view and lovely decor. I saw it on a tour of the Blackstone when the hotel re-opened almost 10 years ago, after many years of being shut down. I remember it being very nice, but don’t remember details.
In any case, many a deal in Chicago has been made the same way, under time and political pressure, perhaps not with so much smoke being blown these days, but certainly with as much of everything else that went on that deep, dark night.
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