Chicago || The Carbide and Carbon Building

Aka The Hard Rock Hotel – although that was about to change. We didn’t know it at the time, but a month later, the hotel would close for renovation; it now operates under a new brand, as the St. Jane Chicago. But the exterior, covered in polished black granite, topped by a tower dressed in dark green terracotta with gold leaf ornaments, must surely remain as impressive as it has always been, since the day of its completion in 1929.

Then, there is the dazzling lobby, all bronze and dark Belgian marble and Art Deco features – minus, I guess, the guitars which will have probably found a new wall to grace.

The building was designed by the Burnham Brothers, a commission by the Carbide and Carbon Company to house their regional headquarters.

November 3rd, 2017

Chicago || The Monadnock

The Monadnock was conceived primarily as a business centre; in fact, upon its completion, it was the world’s largest office building. Architects Burnham & Root designed the north half (built 1891); Holabird & Roche designed the south half (built 1893). Names that are becoming strangely familiar, by now.

The ground floor is purely commercial; a café, a restaurant, various retail shops, a ”shoe hospital”, every single one of them oozing old-school elegance. I am sure their interior design, unique yet totally coordinated, is a prerequisite and constitutes a lengthy clause in their leasing contract.

Whatever the cause, the result is the most atmospheric commercial gallery I have ever encountered.

November 2nd, 2017

Chicago || The Art Deco City

There are so many buildings of architectural interest in the Financial District of Chicago, you’d probably need to join a guided tour to visit them all and learn about their history. But if you are a casual visitor – and a first-time one at that, just walk around, spot an interesting-looking building and then step inside its lobby. You’ll soon find out that these lobbies are not simply entrances to commercial or office spaces; they are, in reality, stunningly beautiful Art Deco treasure troves; and they provide excellent shelter from the rain, too.

Walk, for instance, inside the Field Building, built in 1934 by Graham, Anderson, Probst & White; another wonderful example of the Art Deco style:

Or enter the Marquette Building’s hexagonal lobby and be captivated by the exquisite mosaic panels depicting the journey of Father Marquette, a French missionary and explorer, first settler in the area we know today as Chicago,  in whose honour the building has been named.

The mosaics are designed by Louis Tiffany, son of Charles Tiffany, the famous jeweler; and Jacob Adolph Holzer, a Swiss artist who worked for Tiffany as their chief designer and art director.

November 2nd, 2017

Chicago || Board of Trade Building

Built in 1930 by John A. Holabird and John Wellborn Root Jr. (son of John Root Sr., one of the architects of the Rookery), to become home to the world’s oldest futures and options exchange, the Chicago Board of Trade, which had already been established in 1848 – year that the first railroads arrived in Chicago.

From John Storrs’ faceless statue of Ceres, Roman goddess of Agriculture, presiding over Chicago’s financial district from its prominent position at the rooftop, down to its lobby  with the sleek brass elements contrasting blindingly against the darker surfaces, and even further down to its subterranean vault, the Board of Trade Building is one of the finest – and best preserved – examples of the Art Deco style, popular in Chicago in the early 20th century.

November 2nd, 2017

Chicago || The Rookery & the Frank Lloyd Wright effect

The Rookery was designed by Daniel Burnham and John Root, heads of one of Chicago’s most famous architectural companies of the 19th century and, like most of Chicago’s early skyscrapers, it was built to last.

A sturdy structure with a red brick facade, elaborately adorned with elements reminiscent of Moorish architecture and Mr. Root’s open-mouthed crows (or rooks) to which – no, the building does not owe its name*, cast-iron columns and mosaics, upon its completion in 1888 it was considered Burnham and Root’s masterpiece; today, it is the oldest standing high-rise and one of the most recognisable buildings in Chicago.

But it wasn’t the famous rooks, nor the cast-iron columns and mosaics, original parts of which were uncovered during renovation and were left open for comparison that had brought us here; it was what lay inside that we eager to see.

I mean, of course, the central light court with its glass ceiling, two-storey lobby, magnificent spiral staircase, and the unmistakable touch of Mr Frank Lloyd Wright, the architect in charge of the building’s first major renovation in 1905-1907. Although Mr. Wright made some very important changes like, for instance, dressing the original copper-plated ironwork in white marble with gold patterns, he generally respected the original design. The result is an airy, modern interior that breathes, so much different from the heavy art-deco lobbies of other historical buildings in Chicago.

And it is absolutely stunning.

*The Rookery was built on the site of an initial Water Tower later turned into the City Hall. It seems that the building has been called a “rookery” due to the nickname of the former City Hall that had crows on its walls and crooked politicians inside it (according to our guide).

While you can wander about the ground floor freely, the upper level is only open to guided tours. Check for info on the Frank Lloyd Wright Trust website, or in their brick and mortar office/shop, on-site.

November 2nd, 2017

Meet your host, Mr. J. Paul Getty

Fortunately, his legendary stinginess did not extend to his art collection. Which is, by all means, extraordinary. 

1/
Cabinet on stand, Paris ca. 1675-80
Attributed to André-Charles Boulle (1642-1732
Probably made for Louis XIV or as a royal gift. 

2/
Planisphere Clock, Paris ca. 1745-49

3/
The host

4/
Wall clock, Chantilly & Paris, ca. 1740

5/
Pair of Vases & Decorative Figures, China, Kangxi reign, 1662-1722

6/
”Turkish Bed”, Paris, ca. 1750-60
This bed would have been placed against the wall, with a canopy above. The body of the bed may be pulled out on wheels, leaving the back attached to the wall. This separation allowed the bed to be made up more easily by servants. 

7/
Secrétaire, Paris ca. 1770-75
Philippe-Claude Montigny (1734-1800)

8/
Candelabra, Paris, ca. 1775

9/
Bed, Paris ca. 1775-80
A grand bed such as this was meant to stand in a deep niche in the most important bedroom of a private residence, where visitors were frequently received. 

10, 11/
Paneled Room (salon de compagnie). Painted doors (detail)
Jean-Pierre Ledoux (French, active 1753 – 1761)

The painted doors and panels and the gilt plaster relief sculptures in the overdoors in this room come from the main reception room of a house built for Jean-Baptiste Hosten. Hosten, a wealthy planter from Santo Domingo, commissioned the celebrated architect Claude-Nicolas Ledoux to build his Paris residence, the Maison Hosten, starting around 1790. 

12/
Ideal Female Heads, 1769-70
Augustin Pajou (1730-1809)

The Getty Center

July 18th, 2017

Madonna!

Driving south from San Simeon on CA-1 and then US-101, your way will inevitably bring you to another castle of opulence. The High Temple of Kitsch, a Symphony in Pink by the Brass Ensemble, the legendary Madonna Inn. From ”roses are red” to ”think pink” to ”red or dead”, every banality you’ve ever heard or thought of, will come to mind and take on a new meaning. This place has to be seen to be believed –  from its Alpine Swiss hotel exterior down to the lavishly decorated restrooms, everything dressed in all shades of pink, with brass accents breaking the ”monotony”. Seeing ”la vie en rose” has never been easier, no rose-coloured glasses necessary.  And that is only the ground floor; you haven’t even seen the rooms yet!

Mr. & Mrs. Madonna


The Madonna Inn, San Luis Obispo

July 12th, 2017

The Roman Pool

Sheer, mind-blowing magnificence in thousands of tiny smalti, left me speechless.

{The Roman Pool is decorated from ceiling to floor with 1″ square mosaic tiles. These glass tiles, called smalti, are either colored (mainly blue or orange) or are clear with fused gold inside. The intense colors and shimmering gold of the tiles combine to create a breathtaking effect. The designs created by the tiles were developed by muralist Camille Solon. The inspiration for some of these designs came from the 5th Century Mausoleum of Galla Placidia.}

For more about the Roman Pool, please go to the Hearst Castle Pools webpage.

July 12th, 2017

Spotted: The ‘real’ Daily Planet

We were on our way back from a lunch break when my co-worker, who had been in the City much longer than I, pulled me aside:

”Wait, have you seen this?” ”C’mon, you’ll love it!”

In, he dragged me, through a revolving door and before I knew it I was facing a giant revolving globe amidst a stunning art deco interior with just a touch of brass, as if Jules Verne had walked by and left his mark, and I could hardly contain my excitement. For the lobby we had walked into belongs to The Daily News Building, the iconic skyscraper built in 1929–1930 to become the headquarters of the New York Daily News paper, up until the mid 1990s. But it gets better: this, as I discovered by looking at the photographs on the wall, was the very building that served as the offices of the ”Daily Planet”, the newspaper where none other than Clark Kent and Lois Lane, played by Christopher Reeve and Margot Kidder, worked as reporters in the 1978 Superman and its 1980 sequel.

I am still in awe!

Today the New York Daily News has moved on but the building is still home to its broadcast subsidiary WPIX.

The News Building was designed by architects Raymond Hood and John Mead Howells, in the Art Deco style. Other Art Deco designs by the same architects include: the American Radiator Building, Rockefeller Center (Hood) and McGraw-Hill Building (Hood).

The News Building
42nd St., between 2nd & 3rd Avenues

June 22nd, 2017