Thursday, February 25, 2010

Infrastructure #3

I find myself noticing sign armatures more and more.  Especially in this case, where the signs have long since been removed but the steel supports remain.  These are especially apparent on the 1-story commercial buildings in my neighborhood.  I think there are 3 generations of sign supports in the graphic above.  Since roof signs are now prohibited by the zoning code (with some exceptions) these things no longer serve any purpose whatsoever.  Still, easier to leave them.  At least until they rust away and crash to the sidewalk.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Infrastructure #2

As R. Crumb once said, you can't make up stuff like this.

Every day we're surrounded by the craziest looking structures. Because they’re everywhere they become invisible. I like waiting for trains on the L platform, since it gives you an almost leisurely opportunity to observe stuff like this. There’s a certain artistry even in these step-down transformers.

Infrastructure is not sexy. And generally it's not profitable. That's why government gets saddled with building and maintaining much of it (roads, bridges,  etc). As new technologies require new types of infrastructure the old needs and support systems don't just disappear. That’s what this next set of drawings should illustrate.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Infrastructure #1

Last year I contributed an illustrated article to AREA Chicago, which is a free local newspaper that publishes a variety of articles with a strong activist bent.  Each issue has a particular theme.  The upcoming issue is "Infrastructure."  I'm sure many of the articles will focus on social and political infrastructure, but I hope they won't overlook good old-fashioned built environment, which is my special interest.  So I'm putting together a series of graphics which I'm going to offer for their use. 

For previous issues I submitted drawings I thought would showcase my work.  But a newspaper really isn't the best format for complex graphics.  What works are high contrast images which can be used to break up the text and illustrate broad themes.  So I'm trying to do that. Not my best work, but my best work suited to the medium.  Unfortunately this 1" x 10" format is not at all suited to Blogger.

The image above is taken from Lake Avenue west of the Loop. It's one of those streets that makes me hum the opening to "Taxi," with the elevated tracks overhead. I believe the equipment on the rooftop is for creating concrete mixes. But I may be wrong.

Friday, February 19, 2010

Brief Interlude in France

The other week I was off on Friday for Lincoln's Birthday.  Which actually isn't so unusual in Illinois.  It was a good opportunity to find a Valentine's Day gift for Angela.  In keeping with the "less is more" philosophy, I found an old blank postcard for $1 at an antique store on Broadway, south of Devon.  I picked something that looked kinda romantic and architectural.  I wrote my note on the back and packaged it with a huge bar of chocolate.  That was about as elaborate as I could manage. 

To my surprise, Angela decided to look up the intersection on Google.  And darned if she didn't find it! 
Admittedly, there are some fantastic buildings in Europe.  But there are also fantastic buildings which have been really mucked up.  Could this really have gone from a rusticated limestone facade to a cement parge painted orange?  Any why was the mansard roof eliminated?  Did that really provide a significant amount of space on the third floor?  And look at those aluminum windows replacing the elegant casements...

Thanks, Google Maps.  It's nice to know these things happen all over. 

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

The Fish Keg, 2233 W.Howard

Here's a sign that I actually remember from my childhood visits to Chicago.  I can't help but wonder, when did fish served from a keg invoke a feeling of fresh deliciousness?  But this place is always busy, so they must be doing something right.  The building was built in 1953, and I suspect the sign didn't come too much later.  Could this business have been there for 50 years under the same name?  Worth checking out...

Angela leaves for North Carolina tonight.  It'll just be me and Felix until Saturday.  I found the perfect $2.99 DVD for us at Walgreens- "The Big Plane Show!"  There was also one that featured different kinds of explosions, but I didn't want to go too crazy.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Lorain Sketches

Two or three times a year we drive for 7 hours to visit my parents in my hometown, Lorain, Ohio. I was born in Lorain and lived there until I graduated from college.  I have a lot of fond memories of the place, but it's been a depressed town for decades.
When I'm visiting I'm drawn to buildings that look depressed.  I'm not sure why.  There are plenty of very nice, non-vacant buildings in Lorain.  OK, not an enormous amount of them, but enough. 

Colorado Avenue is a good street to spot vacant buildings.  Some look like they used to accomodate light industry and some look like retail stores fallen on hard times.
Above is the American Legion Post on West Erie Avenue.  This is a complex that's actually grown over the years.  But it doesn't exactly radiate a feeling of prosperity.
This is the old Dairy Queen on East Erie Avenue, now Terry's Dairy.  They didn't bother to remove the old Dairy Queen signage framework. I'm not sure if this is out of business or just closed down for winter.  It looks out of business. DQ used to represent the end-point of our longest family walks in the summer.
And of course, watching over the lakefront is the old Ohio Edison Plant.

I often wonder what my life would be like if I still lived in Lorain.  Someone once told me that no matter where you go you'll only have roots in the place where you were raised.  But can roots outweight a depressed economy and a struggling government?

But I have to admit, I've had a strange Lorain daydream lately.  I dreamed that everyone who left to pursue college degrees, or careers, or families suddenly decided to return.  All of the empty houses suddenly had buyers.  The hardware stores sold-out of ladders and paint.  The doctors and lawyers renovated the vacant storefronts downtown.  An influx of thousands of kids required schools to be repaired and reopened.  It could happen.  Or if it can't, why not?

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Michigan Avenue Bridge

Built: 1920
Edward Bennet, architect
Thomas G. Pihlfeldt, engineer
Hugh Young, engineer
Time to revisit the Michigan Avenue Bridge.  Earlier I posted a detail of one of the bridge houses.  I could probably fill up a sketchbook with details from this, sculptural and structural.  Here's the previous post.  This just went through a multi-million dollar renovation, complete with new, historically appropriate, railings.
This bridge required four bond issues for funding, but it's worth it. Thanks, 1920s Chicago! Eventually the Riverwalk below will be lined with restaurants and mimes.  I guess.

I have two holidays coming up.  Lincoln's birthday tomorrow and Washington's birthday on Monday.  We take birthdays seriously around here.  Actually, last year these were holidays.  This year they're unpaid days off.  Yay recession!

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

State Street Bridge

Built: 1949
W.E. Lofgren, engineer
Stephen Michuda, engineer

This bridge was originally designed in 1930 but was postponed until the State Street subway project began in 1939.  Apparently the subway tunnel beneath the river and the bridge were built simultaneously.  Work stopped at the order of the War Production Board in 1942 and didn't resume until 1947.  You can see a section of the recently extended Riverwalk in the foreground.  And of course the corncobs of Marina City in the background.

Looks like Chicago is finally getting some snow today.  It took long enough.  I thought we might go the whole winter without some decent sledding weather.   Come Sunday you may find us at the hill at Warren Park with our daredevil 4-year old.

Monday, February 8, 2010

Wabash Avenue Bridge

Built: 1930
Donald Becker, engineer
Clarence Rowe, engineer
Paul Schioler, engineer
This bridge was dedicated to longtime Sun-Times columnist Irv Kupcinet in 1986. Apparently it was featured in the opening sequence of "Perfect Strangers."  I haven't had the nerve to try and check this on iTube.  You can see the new Trump Tower (which replaced the Sun-Times building) in the background. 
On Sunday we took Felix to Garfield Park Conservatory.  Always a good way to spend a winter morning.  Later in the day we gritted our teeth and bought a new iMac at Old Orchard. 

Our old Mac was approaching 10 years old, and had been working more and more slowly.  We (okay, I) had put this off for months for no good reason.  If Angela ends up working part-time from home after the new baby we'll need a good computer.  Amazing to see the huge improvement in design and speed after 10 years.  I just hope we get it to work with our printer/scanner.  And our ancient version of Photoshop.  Otherwise it may be a while before I post new drawings. 

Friday, February 5, 2010

Some Signage on Clark

6404 N. Clark

This old sign now hangs above a taqueria, which I think is a good symbol for the demographics of my neighborhood.  I'm pretty sure you can't get chili or hamburgers there.  Why don't they take it down?  First of all, it's massive.  It's probably been attached directly to the structure of the buildling.  Those little chains you can see just keep it from swaying in the wind.  Also, I'm not sure zoning will allow a sign like this anymore.  It projects maybe six feet into the public right-of-way.  The owner may have decided that they can repair and reface it more easily than apply for a new sign.  Unfortunately, most of the old neon has cracked off.

6701 N. Clark

This storefront used to be Dennis' Place for Games, a video arcade. Now it's a liquor and convenience store.  I can't say I'm a big fan of the internally illuminated cabinet sign, but the amount of lighting on this one approachs theater marquee status. 

We have an amazingly open weekend. Felix has his swim class at the YMCA on Saturday, but as far as I know there are no other commitments.  That's a very nice feeling after the last few weekends. Maybe we'll go to the Shedd Aquarium, or something. 

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Dearborn Street Bridge

Built: 1963
Stephen Michuda, engineer

Dearborn has the distinction of being the location of the first moveable bridge in Chicago, built in 1834.  This bridge is the fourth incarnation and it's faced with polished granite with stainless steel mullions.  In 1963 this received an award of merit by the American Institute of Steel Construction.  Maybe for using plenty of steel?  You can see the edge of Marina City to the right, which was being constructed at about the same time.
Today is the meeting of the Permit Review Committee of the Commission on Chicago Landmarks.  For this first time in months I have no projects to present.  This means next month I'll have half a dozen, so I'm trying to appreciate the moment.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Larry's New Blog

This entry marks the beginning of my new blog. Mainly it consists of drawings, a little bit of history, and brief personal updates. Most of these were posted to my old MySpace blog, so there are some odd formatting changes between the two. Sometimes you may need to click on a graphic to see it at the appropriate size. Anyway, I thought this would be a good non-intrusive way to keep friends and family updated about what’s going on with me, Angela and Felix and share some of the projects I've been working on.

Ultra Local Geography refers to the infrequent publication I put together to explore under-appreciated architectural features in my neighborhood. Although occasionally I branch out into the rest of Chicago.  Sometimes I contribute illustrations to locally produced newspapers or magazines, and most of these will get a test run here first.