29 July, 2013

The Fence

This photo taken by Mildred Mead in 1952 is quite telling; with the Drake Hotel visible in the background. It is a poignant reminder of Edith's last days spent there before her death twenty years earlier.

Not long after I wrote an earlier post, I received a comment from a friend on Facebook that reminded me of a story concerning the wrought iron fence surrounding 1000 Lake Shore Drive. In 1953, as the house itself was entering the final stages of demolition, a buyer was sought for the hand wrought ornamental fence surrounding the property.

The main gates themselves had their own story, in that they were originally a part of the World's Columbian Exposition of 1893. The German Kaiser presented them as a gift to his legation at the Fair, and they were used as part of the German pavilion. After the Fair, the magnificent gates were purchased by Gen. Joseph Torrence, who owned 1000 Lake Shore at the time.

Edith's beloved home is visible in the background of this photo.

To Torrence's specifications, Winslow Brothers (an artistic iron works company) created the additional fence and service gates that would compliment the impressive main entrance of 1000 Lake Shore. When Edith and Harold McCormick purchased the property in 1897 as their first home in Chicago, all was in place. (The house was designed by Solon S. Bemen and built in 1883 by Nathaniel Jones, a commission merchant.)

I have no idea what became of the Columbian Exposition gates, nor do I have any information as to the results of the search "for the highest bidder" with regard to the fence and service gates. I can tell you that the Winslow Bros. commission cost $50,000 not long after 1893, and that sixty years later it was estimated that duplicating such a fence (of this caliber) would require $150,000. An attorney who was a member of the syndicate that owned 1000 Lake Shore at the time of it's destruction considered it to be "quite a bargain" with the highest bid coming in at $4,700.

Making way for a penthouse view. What happened?

All of this was taking place because, in 1953 the fence was deemed unsuitable and "not congruous with the modern 22 story 4 1/2 million dollar apartment building and 2 1/2 million dollar business building to be constructed on the entire block frontage of Oak St. and Bellevue Pl." Those of us who are long time Chicagoans know the history of what was to replace Edith's home.

The corner of Bellevue Place and Lake Shore Drive; now and in 1953.

Much has been said (and written) about what took place at 1000 Lake Shore Drive and the subsequent buildings that inhabit the space. I am not in the real estate profession, nor inclined to write about Chicago's current architecture scenario as there are many other websites and blogs that do an excellent job of covering that - although I have my own impressions and assessment.

I'm quite familiar with the Sidney Morris and Associates designed building that replaced the Edith Rockefeller McCormick mansion, as I grew up next to it in the early 1970s at 1040 N. Lake Shore Drive. By 1987 it was already quite out of date and certainly out of character with it's noble surroundings. I also felt sorry for anyone who had to live in it (or the neighboring 1000 Lake Shore Plaza - also a Morris building) when they had such neighbors as One Mag Mile or our Carlyle at 1040 - plus both buildings seemed a vulgarization to the work undertaken by Mies van der Rohe over at 860-880 Lake Shore Dr.

I've mellowed in my opinion of it over the years, in fact I find 1000 Lake Shore Dr. and the neighboring 1000 Lake Shore Plaza (actually 130 E. Oak, which was Edith's back yard) rather amiable in a kitschy way these days. Every day that I walk past, I remark to myself how peculiar I found it that the sister (circa 1960's) 1000 Lake Shore Plaza had incorporated a few wrought iron elements (since removed with the closing of Nantucket Cove and a re-hab) into the ground floor structure. A tribute to the past?

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