In her fun very readable Windy City Blues (Berkley 2017; $16), Chicago author Renee Rosen again takes another slice of the city’s history and turns it into a compelling read.
Rosen, who plumbs Chicago’s history to write such books as Dollface, her novel about flappers and gangers like Al Capone, and What the Lady Wants which recounts the affair between department store magnate Marshall Field and his socialite neighbor, says she and her publisher were racking their brains for her next book which encompassed Chicago history.
“She suggested the blues,” says Rosen, who didn’t have much interest in the subject.
But Rosen was game and started her typical uber-intensive research.
“When I discovered the Chess brothers, who founded Chess Records, I fell in love,” she says, noting that when researching she was surprised about how much she didn’t know about the subject despite her immersion in Chicago history for her previous books. “I thought this is a story.”
“As part of my research, I drove the Blues Highway from New Orleans to Chicago,” she says. “I also met with Willie Dixon’s grandson and with Chess family members.”
Combining fact and fiction, Rosen’s story follows heroine Leeba Groski, who struggling to fit in, has always found consolation in music. When her neighbor Leonard Chess offers her a job at his new Chicago Blues label, she sees this as an opportunity to finally fit in. Leeba starts by answering phones and filing but it soon becomes much more than that as she discovers her own talents as a song writer and also begins not only to fall in love with the music industry but also with Red Dupree, a black blues guitarist.
Windy City Blues was recently selected for Chicago’s One Book project, a program designed to engage diverse groups of Chicagoans around common themes. Rosen says she is very honored to be a recipient.
“I put my heart and soul into this book,” she says. “I think it’s a story with an important message. In it are lessons of the Civil Rights movement, what it was like for Jews and people of color along with the history of the blues and the role of Jews in bringing the blues to the world. After all, as the saying goes: Blacks + Jews = Blues.”
“These places are all about the people who made them,” says Marsh Davis, president of Indiana Landmarks,“and the people who worked at saving them.”
Once a glorious example of Streamline-Moderne architecture and one of only five theaters in the U.S. to premiere “Gone with the Wind,” in 2001 the future of the 81-year-old Fowler Theatre was bleak. No longer open, its owner planned to sell anything architecturally significant including the original marquee. To prevent this, the non-profit Preservation Guild was formed to save the theater, purchasing the theater for $30,000 and obtained a $2000 grant and a $60,000 line of credit from Indiana Historic Landmarks Foundation.
Today, the Fowler Theatre is a marvel, one of many buildings throughout the state that dedicated citizens and the Foundation have worked together in order to preserve Indiana’s heritage and also benefit communities. In the case of the Fowler Theatre, it was a way to keep low cost entertainment available and to help revitalize the downtown.
The theatre is one of 50 success stories highlighted in the recently released Indiana “Landmarks Rescued & Restored,” a lovely coffee table book with before and after photos showcasing what historic preservation can accomplish.
“I want the book to be an acknowledgement of the wonderful people and partnerships that have made Landmarks as effective as it is,” says Indiana Landmarks’ President, Marsh Davis who wrote the forward to the book. “When we take the approach of working together, then we become part of the solution.”
One of Landmarks most well-known projects was the restoration of two grand early 20th century resorts, French Lick Springs and West Baden Springs in Orange County. Returning them to their glory has made the entire area boom economically by bringing in an influx of tourism, creating local jobs and improving property values and instilling a sense of pride and vitality.
Landmarks, largest statewide preservation group in the country, saves, restores, and protects places of architectural and historical significance, including barns, historic neighborhoods such as Lockerbie Square in Indianapolis, churches and other sacred places, schools, bridges and even the Michigan City Lighthouse Catwalk.
Rescued and Restored also highlights other successes in Northern Indiana including partnership with the National Trust for Historic Preservation and the National Park Service in the restoration of the House of Tomorrow in the Indiana Dunes National Park, considered one of the most innovative and influential houses in modern architectural design.
The book, edited by Tina Connor, who worked at Landmarks for 42 years, retiring from her position as the non-profit’s executive vice president in 2018, 144 pages with more than 200 color photos. Hon. Randall T. Shepard, honorary chairman and long-time director of Indiana Landmarks, wrote the book’s foreward.
Statewide, Marsh says that he feels privileged knowing that Landmarks worked with the Lyles Station Historic Preservation Corporation to save Lyles Station Community School. Now a museum and the last surviving building of what was a successful African-American farming community founded by former slaves in 1849.
“These places are all about the people who made them,” says Davis, “and the people who worked at saving them.”
The celebration of the tenth anniversary of the Chosen One’s victory is overtaken by the tragedy of the death of one of their group. But it gets worse. As they gather for the funeral, they learn the battle may not be over. The Dark One may still live and that means the prophecy forecasting his death wasn’t true.
A decade ago, five teenagers living in Chicago, albeit a post-apocryphal dystopian version of the Windy City, risked everything to confront and defeat the Dark One, stopping him from destroying the world. Now, as adults the world around them has returned to normal but they haven’t. After all, when it comes to second acts, what can beat saving civilization?
“What do you do when you finally obtain what you wanted to do?” says Chicago author Veronica Roth about her first adult novel, Chosen Ones, a continuation of sorts based on the characters from her bestselling Divergent series. “It’s like when you graduate college, you wonder is this it?” Of the five, Sloane, the leader of the group Sloane is having the most difficult time adapting—some say it’s Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, others credit her attitude—but whatever, she’s struggling big time.
“Chosen Ones is about learning that the battles you fought to get where you are aren’t over,” says Roth who grew up in Barrington and attended Northwestern University. “They’re never really over, but you get to fight them differently when next time comes.”
The next time is now. The celebration of the tenth anniversary of their victory is overtaken by the tragedy of the death of one of their group. But it gets worse. As they gather for the funeral, they learn the battle may not be over. The Dark One may still live and that means the prophecy forecasting his death wasn’t true.
Roth’s attention to detail is meticulous. In the book, Sloane submits a Freedom of Information Act to obtain documents about the government’s involvement in what happened ten years ago.
“I wanted to know everything I could,” she says. “It’s my life and they have all these…records of it.”
To make the book realistic, or as realistic as fantasy and magic can be and to understand and recreate the FOIA records Sloane received, Roth studied hundreds of declassified government documents that she found on the CIA website and other Internet sites.
“I read a lot about UFOs, propaganda and Project MK Ultra which is the government’s research on the effects and use of LSD,” she says.
That’s not all that went into the novel. Roth’s characters inhabit an alternate Chicago, one she had to create. It was a complex undertaking to make the unreal seem real.
“World building is very humbling,” she says, noting that her editor encouraged her to deep dive into devising the Chosen Ones’ city. “Chicago’s architecture is such a significant part of the story because architecture reveals history and also, just aesthetically, the skyline is so important to my experience of the city and what I love about it.”
World famous for its
architecture, Chicago boasts works by such greats ranging from the Frank Lloyd
Wright to William LeBaron Jenney, designer of the world’s first skyscraper. No
other city in the world has more Ludwig Mies van der Rohe buildings than Chicago.
Yet for many, the largest landmass in the city is like an uncharted territory
when it comes to outstanding architectural design.
“60% of Chicago is the South Side,” says
noted photographer and journalist Lee Bey. “It’s geographic area that is twice
the size of Brooklyn and the size of Philadelphia. But over the years it’s been
ignored by many Chicagoans as well as the architectural press, architectural
tours and lecturers.”
“You can’t have
anything that big and ignore it,” says Bey who is also a lecturer at the School
of the Art Institute. “Chicago can’t be a world class city if they overlook the
South Side and the West Side.”
Because I grew up in
Northwest Indiana, I am familiar with the South Side and some of its
architectural marvels such as the sprawling Chicago
Vocational High School at 2100 E. 87th Street—the largest Art Deco building
that’s not a skyscraper in Chicago and
the Middle Eastern/Moorish/Persian-style building with a towering minaret at 79th and Stony
Island that’s on the right when turning on to Stony Island from the Chicago
didn’t know about The National Pythian Temple, The Overton Hygienic Building
and The Chicago Bee Building or that there was a Frank Lloyd Wright home that
was over a century old for sale in the West Pullman area. Known as the Foster
House and Stable, it was designated a Chicago landmark in 1996 and can be had
for around $200,000.
house would sell for a lot more in other parts of Chicago,” says Bey, noting
the home is in good condition.
Bey sometimes comes across an unknown find.
caught by surprise when I saw Stony Island Church of Christ at1600 E. 84th,” he
recalls. “It looked like it was designed by Ray Stuermer and I went home and
looked it up and it was,” says Bey.
While watching a documentary of Eero Saarinen and discovering
they’d left out his buildings for the University of Chicago, Bey knew he had to
rectify the neglect of architect on the South Side.
“If they could leave out Eero, then something needed to be
done,” he says, writing in his book that “for decades
” For decades, most of the buildings in that vast area have Bey writes.
most of the buildings in that vast area have been
flat-out ignored by the architectural press, architectural tours, and lectures
— and many Chicagoans.”
It’s a call to action,
he says noting that Bowen High School would be a city landmark and on the
National Register if it were located on the North Side. After all, the Carl
Schurz High School on the Northside were built the same year and both were
designed by the same architect, Dwight Perkins, chief architect of the Chicago Board of Education
between 1906 and 1909. But Schurz has been a city landmark since 1978 and made the
National Register of Historic Places in 2011. Bowen, located in a mostly black
and Latino South Side community, has neither.
“It’s astounding what’s
there, he says. “There’s architecture on the South Side by architects that
people would immediately recognize. People should care about them and get out
and see them,”
What: Ley Bey talks and
When & Where:
Epstein Global is hosting Lee Bey on November 7th from 5:30 to 7:30 pm. Bey
will be speaking in their offices, 600 West Fulton, Chicago, IL.
Anyone interested in
attending, please contact Noel Abbott at Epstein. (312) 429-8048;
Patricia Schultz and I had only been on the phone together for five minutes before we decided to make the trip to New Zealand—neither of us had been and both of us wanted to go. And no, I haven’t bought my ticket yet but that’s how mesmerizing Schultz, who introduced the concept of bucket list travel when she wrote the first edition of her #1 New York Times bestseller 1000 Places to See Before You Die in 2003. It was so popular that over the years more than 3.5 million copies have been sold.
Now Schultz has updated her book with
a new twist, her words accompanied by mesmerizing and amazing handpicked photos
of some of the most beautiful places in world. The book itself, weighing six pounds with 544
pages, is oversized eye candy—compelling us to pack our bags and head out to
1,000 Places to See Before You Die
(Deluxe Edition): The World as You’ve Never Seen It Before was years in the
making—after all Schultz had to travel to all those places.
Calling her new book, a veritable
scrapbook of her life, she says she became teary eyed when choosing the photos.
In its pages she takes us to destinations so exotic many might have remained
unknown to most of us if not for her writing. One such is Masai Mara, the
world’s greatest animal migration that takes place each May when hundreds of
thousands of wildebeests travel north from the Serengeti in Tanzania to the
grasslands of Kenya’s Masai Mara. It’s a two to three month journey and the wildebeests
are joining by other migrating herds including antelope, zebras and gazelles
swelling the animal population to a million or so. There’s also ballooning over
Cappadocia, a Byzantine wonderland encompassing a natural and seemingly endless
landscape of caves and peaks of shaped by eons of weather with wonderfully
colored striations of stone. Even better, Schultz points out, you can take a
side trip to Kaymakli, an ancient underground city just 12 miles away.
For those less inclined for such
travels or whose pocketbooks don’t open that large, Schultz features closer to
home destinations that are still special such as Mackinac Island where cars
were banned in the mid-1890s, New York City (where Schultz resides when not on
the road) and one of my favorites, Stowe, Vermont. And, of course, the majestic
While Schultz’s parents weren’t world
travelers, they encouraged her to find her way to what she loved. But for her,
it’s not just the road, it’s the people she meets as well. When the first
editor of her book proved so successful, she treated herself to a trip to Machu
Picchu in the Urubamba Valley of the Cuzco Region of Peru often known as the
Lost City of the Incas. Located 7800-feet above sea level, it’s isolated at the
top of a mountain surrounded by jungles and other peaks. There she met a
90-year-old woman who had been inspired by her book to travel there.
“She asked me if I had heard of the
book,” says Schultz. “Peru was the first stamp in her first passport.”
This venturesome woman who had
traveled outside the U.S. for the first time in her ninth decade, offered the
seasoned travel writer a pearl of wisdom that has remained with her for the
“She told me to make sure to see the difficult
places first,” recalls Schultz. “You can see the easy ones when you’re not as
active or energetic.”
Is Schultz burned
out by travel? Has she reached the point of been-there-done-that?
with an emphatic no.
“There are still so many places I
want to visit,” she says, noting that her list remains long. “I doubt if I’ll
get to do them all, but I will try to do as many as I can.”
What: Authors Group Presents Patricia Schultz, 1000 Places to
See Before You Die; Luncheon
When: Tue, Oct 29, 2019 from 11:30 a.m.-1:30 p.m.
Where: Union League Club of Chicago, 65 W. Jackson Blvd.,
Where: Anderson’s Bookshop La Grange, 26 S La Grange Rd, La
Cost: This event is free and open to the public. To
join the signing line, please purchase the author’s latest book, 1,000 Places to See Before You Die Deluxe
Edition, from Anderson’s Bookshop. To purchase please
stop into or call Anderson’s Bookshop La Grange (708) 582-6353 or order
sleek and glorious as any Art Deco masterpiece whether it be the grand Palmolive Building built in 1922 or the much lowlier but still spectacular Bell telephone Model 302 designed not by a noted artist or architect but instead by George Lum, a Bell Labs engineer in 1937, Art Deco Chicago: Designing Modern America (Yale Press 2018; $47.75 on Amazon) showcases 101 key works coupled with more than 300 photos as well as critical essays and extensive research. Altogether, they comprise a wonderful, extensively curated and chronologically organized tome about the many facets–architecture, advertising, household objects, clothing, and food design–of a style that has fascinated so many of us for more than a century.
Robert Bruegmann, a distinguished professor emeritus of architecture, art history, and urban planning at the University of Illinois at Chicago, was first asked to write the introduction to the book
thought I’d knock it out in a week,” says Bruegmann, a historian of architecture, landscape and the built environment.
That was back in 2011 and Bruegmann, author of several other books including The Architects and the City: Holabird & Roche of Chicago, 1880-1918 (Chicago Architecture and Urbanism), quickly realized that it would take much more than that. He ended up editing and shaping this complex book, a task which included overseeing 40 writers and researchers, helping to find and collect photos and defining Art Deco and its impact on the city through design. He would spend the next five years, working 50 to 60 hours a week to do so.
One of the first questions we asked is how do we define Art Deco recalls Bruegmann.
“Should it be narrowly like the French-inspired luxury goods, which is the narrowest to the big tent which we ended up doing,” he says noting that many products (think as blasé as refrigerators, bicycles, radios and mixmasters) created in Chicago by companies like Motorola, Sunbeam and Schwinn, changed the world in a way that other forms of Art Deco didn’t.
It many come as a surprise that the term Art Deco wasn’t invented until the 1960s and came about because of its association with the Decorative Arts Fair Exposition of 1925 in Paris. But in Chicago, Art Deco, even before it was so named, was often about both beauty and usefulness.
“If I had to pick a single object to suggest what we tried to do in Art Deco Chicago, I would probably choose the Craftsman brand portable air compressor sold by Sears starting in 1939,” says Bruegmann about the cast iron aluminum machine which used, as described in the book, “a series of cooling fins that functioned as a heat sink while adding a streamlined visual flair to the product…This product alluded to themes of speed, transportation, and movement while remaining stationary.”
“It was related to the avant garde work of the Bauhaus who thought they were going to save the world through their designs,” says Bruegmann. “But they were too expensive. But Sears on the other hand made things affordable.”
Indeed, Bruegmann says that companies like Sears and Montgomery Ward did change the world.
“Up until the Sears catalogue, a lot of clothes outside of big cities, were handmade,” says Bruegmann. “Because Sears sold so many outfits through their catalogue, they could afford to send their designers to Paris to study the latest design and then come back and change them so they were less expensive, creating one of the most important social and political movements by making designs for the masses. For a $1.99 a woman working in a packing plant or a farmer’s wife could wear a knockoff of a Paris dress.
Art Deco Chicago serves as the companion publication to the exhibition “Modern by Design: Chicago Streamlines America” organized by the Chicago History Museum, which runs October 27, 2018–December 2, 2019. Proceeds from sales of and donations to Art Deco Chicago, which explores and celebrates Chicago’s pivotal role in the development of modern American design, will be used to support ongoing public education, research, and preservation advocacy of this critical period of modern American design.
What: Newberry Library presents Meet the Author: Robert Bruegmann, Art Deco Chicago
When: Thursday, November 29 from to 7:30 p.m.
Where: Newberry Library, 60 West Walton Street, Chicago, IL