Thursday, March 11, 2010

Legacies Part II

From Nora Erickson's house (see Legacies Part I) , I hurried to get over to the Hyde Park Historical Society lecture and tour about Irving Pond,  architect. David Swan, the architect, had discovered Irving Pond's handwritten autobiography in an archive and realized that here was a legacy that needed to be preserved. The Ponds didn't fit into neat categories, so their work had been ignored.  I was particularly interested in their design for the Studebaker Building--which became the Fine Arts Building downtown, one of my favorites.

 The autobiography is available at the Seminary Co-op Bookstore and you can read about the book here 

Irving Pond was also civic minded--he too thought a lot about community centers and civic spaces 50 years before the Ericksons. His great good friend was Jane Addams and many of his clients came about through connections at Hull House. One of these connections commissioned this house at 5747 S. Blackstone in 1899. James Westfall Thompson, 1869-1941, a professor of History at the U of C and his wife lived there until his wife divorced him and married Harold Ickes (according to the tour). This image is from the Special Collections Research Center, University of Chicago Library, Archival Photographic Files, [apf2-03920]. It shows the entrance tucked away on the side, which I didn't capture in my photos, but it doesn't give the sense of how ornamental the masonry is--playing with textures of brick and limestone and shadows and tiers.
The interior had wonderful details and welcoming spaces. It felt eclectic and comfortable and beautifully restored and loved. 

The next Pond & Pond house, Lillie House at 5801 S. Kenwood, though a National Landmark, has not  been loved. It's been shamefully neglected. The window sills have long ago lost their paint and rotted. The downspout is missing pieces, hinting at water damage. Not even basic maintenance has been done for it.

It's a National Landmark because of Frank Rattray Lillie (1870 – 1947), another connection for Pond through Hull House and the embryologist of his day and founder of the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute. The original nomination  as a landmark is  available online  It was also for awhile where the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists had their offices and published their Doomsday Clock. 

But aside from its historic associations, its radical design, which shines through the neglect, is astounding for 1902. I can see why a cutting edge scientist wanted the simplicity of what Pond called "builded beauty"--a building that forthrightly expressed its construction. From the other angle it's got gables. From this angle, it's down to the bare bones of  streamlined simplicity and the play of brick across the surface. I hope it can find its defender. I shudder to think what's become of the interior after decades of high school students.

The last building I saw on the tour was the American School of Correspondence at 850 East 58th Street. The HPHS just gave the University an award for its restoration and it does look beautiful from the outside. It's a Chicago Landmark. The entry  interior has the original lovely wood and the ironwork in the doors, but a long low hallway leads off where I remembered a staircase. 

Though in the early 1980s the building sighed with the neglect of the decades, and motes of dust from the eons hovered in the air like an office out of Dickens or Bartleby the Scrivener, it was all intact. The offices were light and airy and open and light came even into the interior through the glass office walls. I suspect, given the narrow hall with the modern drop ceiling I could see, that may not be the case anymore. Pond had brought in all the light he could for the people peering over the exams they were grading--bringing professional training or just a high school degree to those without access to an education. It was another example of Pond's high mindedness. 

He hollowed out the masonry walls as much as he dared and bolstered the rest with masonry piers in patterned tiers of brick. It reminded me of the Elizabethan shock over "Hardwick Hall--more glass than wall" with the same problem to solve.

Pond sounded like quite a character. He was a founder of  nearly every club or civic organization in the city in the early 20th century. My favorite photos were of him doing circus tricks!!, and I can't wait to read his autobiography. Thank you, David Swan, for bringing it to light!

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