Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Everyday Sightseeing: Ravenswood Baptist Church

(This is part of a new series I'm doing, mostly to get back into the habit of blogging, where I post photos and write-ups of interesting Chicago things I see on a regular basis here, when out doing just my usual ho-hum neighborhood chores.)

Over near Montrose and Damen, nestled in the middle of an unending series of upper-middle-class 19th-century mini-mansions (originally built for the first wave of German and Swedish immigrants in this neighborhood, who slowly over a century turned this from a lower-class to an upper-class area), is the charmingly bizarre Ravenswood Baptist Church. Built right at the end of the Victorian Era, it shares that period's fascination for "Oriental" touches -- it's hard to tell in these photos, but the building is basically an octagon fit inside another octagon and then twisted a bit, with double mini-octagons serving as its front and back foyers, already joyfully strange for this being essentially a Midwestern Protestant church, then doubly wonderful by it being built with those chalky red and brown bricks that were so favored in this neighborhood back then, and that Chicagoans usually associate in their mind with much more European, Christian-looking structures.

The specific street this is on is Sunnyside, two blocks north of and parallel to Montrose, which is my preferred street for bicycling between my home of Uptown and the neighborhood of Lincoln Square where I spend a lot of time. This street is just loaded with interesting things, so I'm sure I'll be posting more from here in this "Everyday Sightseeing" series before too long.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Everyday Sightseeing: Logan's Run house, Rogers Park

(This is part of a new series I'm doing, mostly to get back into the habit of blogging again, in which I shoot pictures and do a little write-up about interesting things that I see here in Chicago on a regular basis, during my usual ho-hum daily errands.)

Before the rise of postmodernism as the industry standard, and happening at the same time as the daring organic architects of the 1970s who got all the attention, there were also a series of designers who were stubbornly holding on to the Euclidean standards of 1960s Mid-Century Modernism, only were now trying to do funky things with their angles or material in an effort to stay hip in those countercultural times. Objects of scorn when I was growing up in the '80s and '90s, I find myself now with a much more charming admiration for such structures, or at least what few survived the mass destruction of them that occurred after their short-lived height of, say, the Ford and Carter years. Here's a complex of them, for example, right literally at the point where Chicago's massive lakefront bike trail has its official northern terminus, right at Ardmore where you turn west and re-enter the city proper; this is a common route I take whenever doing far-north stuff on my bike, and every time I pass them I think how these were designed in the same years that Logan's Run was filmed, and how that explains everything you need to know about them. There's a part of me (a small part, sure, but there) that thinks sometimes how groovy it'd be to live in one of these chrome-and-brick retro-sci-fi Way-Too-Late-Modernist funhouses, and especially one like this whose back door opens literally onto the beachfront, right here where Lincoln Park ends and the lakefront land reverts back to private ownership.

Friday, August 19, 2011

A loving ode to the crappy Dempster el stop.

So what's officially the crappiest station of the entire CTA system here in Chicago? Well, my money would be on the Dempster stop up in Evanston, part of the purple line that goes up and down that notorious collegetown, one of only three suburbs to have actual urban el stops (the others being Skokie and Oak Park). I've had occasion to go up to Evanston more and more often recently -- several writers I deal with through my arts center live up there, as did my intern this summer -- and I also like bicycling up there quite a bit whenever I'm looking for a day-long excursion, because as a collegetown it's not only very bike-friendly and full of funky shopping, cafes, etc, but also pleasantly reminds me of my own college experiences in Columbia, Missouri, which is never a bad thing to be occasionally reminded of.

The purple line was first established in the Mid-Century Modernist era, back when everyone was overly optimistic about technology and public transit and the like, and so there are just way more stations on the line now than the city really needs to have; and with this one serving the older, poorer southern side of town, and with there being other stops just four blocks north and four blocks south of this one, I suspect that this will be one of the first ones to be closed if the CTA is ever forced to start making decisions like this, which I imagine is why the CTA hasn't bothered to do any kind of major work on the station since literally the mid-1960s or so. It's like a little time capsule, a little crumbling post-apocalyptic Beneath the Planet of the Apes time capsule, which is why I always take such delight in entering and leaving Evanston here.

Plus, I have to confess that I simply like the funky, sorta worn-down section of town that's around the Dempster stop -- you know, that place in every collegetown not actually near campus and full of all the trendy bars and overpriced boutiques, but the quieter one full of the hippies and slackers who were never able to pull themselves away from the town, with that sort of shambling yet antique look that you also see in the Lower Haight in San Francisco. It's always great on a Saturday to start a bike trip around here, do a little sightseeing first, then wind my way through the Victorian mansion district to the east and along the lakefront, up north until hitting the main downtown, then up through the Northwestern University campus, then west to the North Shore Canal Trail and a straight shot all the way back to Lincoln Square, close to where I live back in the city. If I ever was to leave Chicago for some reason, there's a good chance that Evanston is where I'd land next, and very likely in this Dempster area that I've grown to like so much.