Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Walking the Windy City - Part 3

This is the third part of a nine-part series.  Click here for the first two.  [1] [2]

The bus rolled away down 61st Street, and the morning grew quiet.  Here was the beginning of the day’s walk, with sixteen miles of adventure ahead.  As I looked up at the street sign, I heard a starter’s pistol go off in my head.

The wind was silent, too, rustling the back of my thin hoodie with its icy breath.  I exhaled, and a cloud of warm vapor mingled with the crisp air.  Time to go!

Directly across the street, a modern, blockish building was painted a bright gray by the morning.  From the outside, I’d say it’s upper class student housing, but I was admittedly going into this portion of the walk a little blind. 

My original plan had been to start from the Museum of Science and Industry, a Chicagoan landmark, about three miles east of here, near the lakeshore.  However, due to the potential for a lack of variety in scenery, I decided to head inland a bit.  The college features several architecturally significant buildings, but its main library, the Regenstein Library, provided a nifty architectural centerpiece, with its post-brutalist concrete design.  A couple months ago, a fellow photographer had featured it on their blog, and I knew I was going to Chicago by then, so this felt like the right choice.

The University of Louisville, where I’m currently in the last weeks of my business graduate degree, is a treasure trove of dated, brutalist structures with harsh angles and textures and innovative placement of architectural design elements.  Based on the modernity of this first building, though, it might be the exception.  I leisurely crossed the first intersection and turned north.

About halfway down the block, my stomach roared.  Truly roared.  I had rationed three protein bars for the walk, and it sounds like it was time for the first one.  I got an assortment of them; one was a particularly high protein-count bar, one was an all-natural bar, and the other was a normal, have-every-morning bar.  I decided to eat the big one first, and it was right tasty and surprisingly filling for basically being an unsweetened Three Musketeers for meatheads.  I stowed the wrapper and came to the center court  of the first building and its neighbor.

This trendy compilation of chain fast food and casual dining outlets was designed to serve the most well-placed students.  The fact that it was so quiet at 9:00 in the morning means two things: it’s a commuter school or it’s a Saturday morning and they are college students who wouldn’t get out of bed that early if the place was burning down.  No judgment: I did the same thing, too.

At the end of the block, the Midway Plaisance spread out; the Plaisance, probably from the French word plaisir, meaning to make happy or please, was an expanse of grassy fields and bushes.  I wouldn’t go so far as to call it a park, as there were still significant roads that cut through the paths every hundred feet or so.  I skipped across 60th and took a right.

No one said March was going to be the prettiest time of year to come; it’d probably be several weeks still until the grass would grow and the trees would bloom, especially if the below-freezing temperatures I was feeling now lingered for any amount of time.  I crisscrossed through the official and unofficial paths wrought in the dirt, and found my way back over to 60th Street, mainly for the architecture it featured.

This glass-walled facility, veiled behind an iron fence, was particularly unusual.  I love wall windows like that, so I’m sure it was quite a view from up there.  Goodness knows there were probably some law students up and about at this hour, reading through case history, texting their BFFs, and looking oddly out at the hooded guy leaning through the fence gaps to get a good shot.

A lawn care worker nearby was walking to his truck; he looked like he’d been working for hours, but he greeted me warmly all the same.

I was already off my prescribed path, but I knew that’d happen.  As long as I found the street I needed on the north side of the campus, we’d be fine.  I took Woodlawn north across the Plaisance, and I heard music to my left.  What looked an outdoor swimming pool, clearly in disuse, had speakers blaring some Motown hits.  I heard a Temptations number ring out and, in transit, it changed to an old Police song.  Once on the other side, I could get a closer look at the huge cathedral that had been visible the moment I cleared the first corner.

It had a manufactured newness to it, similar to the National Cathedral in Washington, D.C., if you’ve ever been there.  A bit of investigation turned up that it was younger than my grandfather: 1928 was the year on it.  I’d wager there was a revival in this style at that time, as there are several Louisville buildings that have this grand, gothic style like cathedrals of Europe.  One particular example is one of our most impressive old churches, but it does admittedly look a bit out of place across the street from an equally famous greasy spoon, Dizzy Whizz. 

A bit farther up the road, though, I got a real treat.

This handsome and contemporary façade contains the Booth School of Business, one of the best business schools in the country.  U of L, my soon-to-be alma mater, is up there, too, but Booth is an undisputed heavyweight.  Most people know where the Booth School is without tying it to the parent university. 

Either way, the building in which the school is housed is quite dashing, maintaining the fresh, contemporary look of the rest of the campus.  I wish I had a minute to walk through and size up my competition, but we’ve got to keep moving.  At the end of the road, I took a left towards the main quad, where’d I’d turn right and find the library across campus.

On the way, I passed another handsome, well-kept institute; this is the economics wing of the school, and that campanile is enormous!  I’m not sure why an economics building needs a bell tower, but that didn’t slow U of C down.  The tower is not solid; each of its four sides are mostly unwalled, providing a neat effect as you look up from the ground, looking through the tower’s bones to the other side.  I’d walked about a mile, so it wouldn’t be chiming for a while. 

The quadrangle was, like the rest of the school, impeccable.  New and old buildings lined the grassy square, and each sidewalk had permanent and temporary barriers preventing cars from going up onto the quad.

As was the rest of the university, a variety of colliding architectures mashed shoulder to shoulder along the edge of the common area.  There were a couple students out here reading, even despite the chilly temperatures.  I turned right at the circle in the middle and followed the wide path north again.

I didn’t really feel like I was an institute of learning; I felt like I was in some rich guy’s estate, an interloper wandering about looking for a spot of food or warmth.  Under the stone arches I went to the older buildings of the campus and, soon, to the library that drew me here in the first place.

This looked positively Elizabethan; I think it was probably the covered walkway, but I could just about here the lute and lyre strumming away as period actors walked along its length.  Dried ivy tendrils crawled up the sides and along the base of the building, hinting that soon each building would be delightfully overgrown.

Through the Hull Gate ahead, and there we are!

In stark contrast to the century old stylings I just saw, the brutalist Regenstein Library was a severe behemoth. 

It was tall and very wide.  I couldn’t fit it all in the shot, even at a distance.  The library was older than I thought; built in the late sixties, its smooth appearance is owed to the limestone that comprises it.  That’s right, it wasn’t concrete after all; it was made as the same stuff as the Great Pyramids (after a fashion.)  It had that look all the same, though, and even now, you probably could have fooled me.

The lobby, visible from the courtyard, enticed me inside, but I couldn’t spare too long.  Moreover, I frankly felt underdressed.  Maybe it would just be for students, anyway. Regardless, looking west, I saw something I hadn’t expected, and I decided to make time for it.

This earthbound spaceship was another library, distinct from its neighbor.  It was much smaller than the Regenstein, too; perhaps 20 feet off the ground at its apex, and as I walked around its elliptical shape, I’d say it was maybe 200 feet on its longest side.  It really did look like a spaceship, and I was tempted to approach the edge to peer inside.  The kid in me wanted to climb the outside like a sand dune, but there plenty of signs to dissuade me and drunken college kids from doing so. 

As I walked around its periphery, I realized that it looked familiar.  I glanced in, seeing stacks of books and an array of meticulously organized chairs, tables, and workstations.  Have I seen this before? 

You know, the book series (and, inevitably, the movie series) was set and shot in Chicago.  There was one particular scene in the movie where the Erudite faction (the smarty pants of post-apocalyptic Chi-town) are seen reading, studying, and looking at complex math equations in sharply dressed uniforms.  They appear to be in a glass dome, and there is a minimalist feel to the scene. 

It was actually a pretty good movie, all said and done, but I instantly thought of this building the moment I could see inside. 

A bit of research confirmed my hunch; the shot this scene right here!

So the next question is: how do you get in there?  There were emergency exits built into the glass panels (which would probably be pretty cool to come scrambling out of), but I didn’t see a proper entrance.  I guess you come in it from the bottom, maybe through a tunnel from the Regenstein. 

This is all pretty awesome; wish I went to school here.

North of the libraries, a couple new dorm buildings stood quietly, their occupants still sound asleep from a night of…studying.

Man, even the gym is interesting to look at!  What a campus, huh?  As if on cue, a couple German-accented bikers rolled past me, discussing something just out of comprehension.  I banked right at 55th Street, planning to connect back with University Avenue, which I’d take northeast for a while.

After finally getting a lull from the beautiful campus I’d just traversed, my beautiful wife gave me a call to check on me, and all was well. 

North on University, and I was in another university before I knew it.

What a funny looking seminary building.  The first comparison I could think of?  The underside of a Portobello mushroom; yeah, not the best way to describe a building, but that’s what it looked like.  The arcade at the base of the buildings led to a pleasant courtyard area, with classes, administration, and the library all seemingly confined within this bizarre, vehemently rectangular structure.  Valparaiso, near Gary, Indiana, sometimes gets into the NCAA basketball tournament, but besides that, I knew little about them.  I certainly didn’t expect them to have a Lutheran school.  Turns out they are, in fact, the Lutheran school, with the largest enrollment of any Lutheran-affiliated institution in the country.

Past here, the college campuses ended, and the residential neighborhood of Hyde Park replaced it.  Truly a beautiful campus, but I still like variety.

The townhouses were well-maintained, putting even some of Louisville’s nicest historic neighborhoods to shame.  People of all backgrounds went in and out of them, all off to start their day.  In Louisville, I’d be halfway out of the county as far as I was from downtown, but here, this was truly urban. 

Most of the homes were classic, red brick, and even the surrounding, non-residential buildings strove to match.

Up ahead, a foreign-looking chimney spewed smoke (or steam, perhaps) as the furnace beneath it warmed its keep.  At intersection of Hyde Park and University, and the synagogue that owned the chimney came into full view.  A dog leg onto Woodlawn again, then north along its length.

One of the larger residences I came across had an interesting, albeit primitive, security system.  Each fence section supported a small, silver bell that, when the adjoining gate opened, most likely made a sound as the whole fence vibrated, announcing that someone was home.  At least that’s what I assume the function was.  I waited for a moment, curious if someone would leave or arrive to test my theory. 

Right up the street, a Frank-Lloyd-Wright-ish house popped up to the left. Although admittedly a bit bland for his style, it reminded me of the great architect nonetheless.  I couldn’t tell what the large statue in the lawn was, whether it was an anchor, a breakwater block, or simply an oversized jack (as in “ball and jacks.”)  Maybe this was Truck Show’s/John’s house?

There’s a mosque, just four blocks from a synagogue.  How ‘bout that?  Chicago is certainly a diverse place; the largest mosque (or, as they often call them, “Islamic centers”,) I know of in Louisville is a repurposed residence, smaller than every townhouse I’ve passed today.  Even this one, purpose-built and on a prominent corner, is still quite compact.  All the same, mosques are places of prayer, contemplation, and worship, and you don’t need much space to do that.  Christians have enormous facilities of worships, with even small congregations investing heavily in building a huge temple to God.  Muslims, however, have a different perspective, and I appreciate that.

A quick jaunt across the street, and I was about seven blocks from my next major turn.
More townhouses lined Woodlawn Ave as the walk continued.  One particular one had an owner whose dog sat on the stoop outside the front door.  As I passed by, he ran up to the fence, barking and wagging his tail wildly.

Cute little guy; I love sleek dogs like that, and friendly ones, too.  Maybe the owner wouldn’t mind if he walked with me the rest of the way?  He had the energy for it, that much was clear.

Over the top of a local store, I could see the towering peak of Willis Tower, still several miles away.  It would likely be the lighthouse by which I’d guide my walk when I got lost or simply needed a frame of reference for distance. I’d get there a little bit over halfway through my walk, so it’d also let me get a good judge on how I was holding up, and how well I was using my time.

I knew my turn was coming up, so I started moving east at each block, ready to intercept 43rd Street.

As I crossed over Lake Park Avenue at 44th Street, I passed a woman engaged in a somewhat unusual chant.  I heard “God” and “strength,” and after I passed by, I wheeled around to get a better listen.  She was reciting a prayer, but not as if she was praying at that moment.  Rather, I think she was rehearsing.  Perhaps she was on her way to church or Bible study, and she would be giving the opening prayer.  Maybe she was off to a wedding or funeral?  Either way, I’m sure she’d do great.  Three different faiths, all represented within a mile of one another.  Chicago really is a diverse place.

I turned up Oakenwald Ave, the last street before marching to the lakefront, and it was smattering of houses in all states and conditions. 

On one lot, a well-build and well-maintained single residence sported many colors, while another lot had a condemned husk darkening its acreage.  Still others were flanked by vacant lots where homes once stood.

This lot held two houses, it seems; on the right, the basement lies somewhat intact, the foundational borders just barely visible.  To the left, another house has been gone for much longer, perhaps more intentionally demolished and removed. 

Another few steps and here I was.  43rd Street.  My directions told me to turn right and take the stairs, but this was very clearly a dead end.  A train track lay before me, surrounded by a gravel path and an old, abandoned warehouse with a sketchy-looking van parked out front.  I checked my directions again, but I sure didn’t see any stairs.

I considered abandoning the directions and continuing north; I could see the Willis Tower after all, and that could be my guide.  But it was bright and sunny; surely I could safely investigate the murder warehouse.

My sneakers crunched on the gravel lot, camera still in hand, checking around corners to see if I saw what I wanted to see (stairs) or something I didn’t want to see (literally anything else.)  The van was empty, which was a bit of a relief.  I rounded the hood and – oh!

Although glaringly obvious in the photo, the stairway blended in with its surrounding in such a way, with no signage indicating its existence or destination, that I totally overlooked it.  I clamored up the stairs to the bridge deck above.

The deck was in poor repair; no doubt decades of exposure and incessant vibration from passing trains had fractured the stone comprising it.  Still, looked safe enough.

It was already looking closer; well, that’s what I told myself.  I’d been on the road for just about an hour, but I’d already seen so much; today was shaping up to be a walk for the ages!

Come back next week for part four, and until then, keep going!

- Matt

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