24 Hours in Chicago

With occasion to be with a friend in the Chicago area, I dedicated one day to an urban walk on my own. I set a five-mile goal from my hotel through Lincoln Park, that could easily be accomplished over flat terrain.

I started off by studying the hotel map, then stripping off all the adds around the border to a basic 6×8″ image of the streets. My origami skills taught me how to develop this minimalist map. And yes, I find this low-tech method sometimes useful in lieu of fumbling for my Iphone, getting wifi access, and googling the destination. It depends on the circumstances and where the answer to the question is the most reliable.

Beginning from the south end of Lincoln Park, I first headed north through the park past the zoo and Botanical Garden. I smiled as I recognized Schiller and Shakespeare in the Park. I searched for Schiller’s pal Goethe, but he was no where in my line of vision to be found. I noted that the streets named after these venerable German writers show that they are appreciated in this part of the country. (Maybe the admired Midwest American work ethic and unpretentiousness come from the German heritage too?)

It didn’t take long to reach the conservatory near the north end, but only after I stopped to stare at the trees above me for quite some time. I heard some unfamiliar squawking above me, and then a flustered crow flew away. It was being chased by other similar sized, but different birds. I noticed a flock of nests above, housing a colony of fluffy white and grey-topped birds. They were protecting their young from the crow’s home invasion.

I discovered soon after my arrival at the Nature Museum that these birds are black Night Herons, and they are on the endangered species list. My discovery of the birds in the trees peaked my interest and curiosity. Timing for the teachable moment was perfect, so I immediately soaked up the wealth of information about birds in the museum. Like me, these birds like living in the city.

Jared Diamond, one of my favorite authors, studied the Birds of Paradise in New Guinea. These birds were featured in another display at the museum. They developed fancy plumes over millions of years to attract females. Here’s a cute, short, minute-long  cartoon clip explaining how the females were the determinants in the evolutionary process (You can turn the volume off and just read the subtitles to avoid background noise from the gallery):

The display of birds of paradise kept me spellbound. Here are a few explanations and examples:

And there was a mechanical version that demonstrated how the plumes are spread:

The flowers in the Botanical Garden were not quite as impressive as the ones I had just seen in San Diego a week ago, but they were in full bloom and nevertheless a feast for the eyes.
A quick bus ride took me back to the south end where the Chicago History Museum is located. I could barely get out of there alive, after getting mesmerized by the numerous exhibits that not only told the story about Chicago, but about America. I started to appreciate the uniquely good Midwestern values, creativity and ideals that advanced and developed our country. And a pinch of German forthrightness and earnestness didn’t hurt.

The many phases of Chicago history were represented, but for me I had to stop and study the Pritzker family tree. (Pritzker developed the Hyatt Hotels).  I traced the lineage of the Chicago merchant, real estate mogul, and philanthropist and identified a few Bay Area illuminaries. Can you find them?

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Next I learned about the Great Chicago fire of 1871, that killed 300 people and left 100,000 homeless at the edge of Lake Michigan in this stirring panorama:

The Native American Checagoans, the Stockyard and the Stock Exchange, the Railroad, the Automobile, and American Innovation and Creativity were informative and fascinating sections of the museum. Here are a couple of the text panels that include the Chicago Fire of 1871:

An elegant function space showcased stain glassed masterpieces that included those by Tiffany and Frank Lloyd Wright. And a room for Lincoln was beautifully decorated in period style. (see below).

I would be remiss if I didn’t include a few of the immensely beautiful, elegant modernist buildings that speak for Chicago:

Even the low rise ones are good. What distinguishes these from those in American cities like New York and San Francisco? As an architect, I find the classic proportions, clean lines and simplicity of intent so soothing to the eye. The high quality of craftsmanship, appreciation of detail in material, and RESTRAINT all add up. Coming to Chicago is like Mecca to an architect. Buildings are meant to be seen from all sides (thanks to alot of land and $$$) and we have the luxury of time and space to ponder each building’s magnificent presence.

And for those dying to know, I managed to eat some delicious, unadulterated, well-prepared food at Quartino, an Italian classic with an extensive, full page 1/4, half, and full bottle wine selection; and Tanta, a Peruvian ceviche bar (attached photo of tombo/quinoa/avocado salad, Pisco bloody Mary, and essential plantain chips, shown below.) Perfect for a Saturday brunch before heading to the airport!
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