The Legacy of Daniel Burnham: Architect and City Planner - 9 August 2009

| Aug 09, 2009

Catherine Boland

The Legacy
August 9, 2009

It’s difficult to believe how quickly this tour has gone by! On our final day, we took a look at the legacy of the 1909 Plan of Chicago.

We began our day with breakfast at the SAH Headquarters, the Charnley-Persky House (Sullivan, 1892). I was amazed by the striking interior space and spent a great deal of time exploring the house.

View from ground level

Stairway to second level
Enjoying the balcony of the Charnley-Persky House
From left to right: Kristen Schaffer, Peter Ambler,
Jonathan and Linda Lyons, William Mullen

Then over to the Madlener House for a lecture entitled “Planning Then and Now” by Robert Bruegmann of the University of Illinois at Chicago. Robert traced the development of city planning in Chicago from the 1909 Plan to the Chicago Metropolis 2020 plan. Since Burnham, the efforts moved away from the City Beautiful and became more concerned with housing and transportation in the 1930s and 1940s. Movements against urban renewal grew strong in the 1950s and 1960s. Issues of historic preservation became a concern and in 1968, the Chicago Landmarks Commission was established. The 2020 Plan returns to some of Burnham’s ideas (e.g. transportation) but also tackles issues such as school systems and social reforms. Robert’s lecture led us to think about Chicago as representative of other American cities.

Our next talk was on “urban nature.” Sally A. Kitt Chappell of DePaul University delivered a lively commentary on Burnham’s legacy of the green space in the city. One of the things that struck me was Charles Graham’s renderings of the World’s Columbian Exposition and his focus on the public spaces. I was reminded of something Kristen had spoken about on our first day of lectures – Burnham wanted to make his buildings a wall for the street. With this in mind, it is easy to see just how important public space was for Burnham. Sally highlighted the ways in which green space had a positive effect on the city: wasteland became recreation areas, vacant lots and rooftops became gardens, median strips became places for greenery, etc.

Sally A. Kitt Chappell
Dennis and Sally share a laugh

Following her lecture, we went on a walking tour of Lincoln Park, one of the city’s oldest designated open public spaces (est. 1864).
Entrance to Lincoln Park (from the base
of Saint-Gaudens’ Lincoln statue)

Our first stop in the park was the Chicago Historical Society (Graham, Anderson, Probst and White, 1932) and we admired the ceremonial entrance facing the park. We strolled past the Prairie-style Café Brauer (Perkins and Hamilton, 1908) on the way to the Lincoln Park Conservatory (Silsbee and Bell, 1894).

Lincoln Park Conservatory
Café Brauer

The formal gardens in front of the conservatory contrasted with the informal “Grandmother’s Garden” across the street. The conservatory was another world in itself with ferns, palms, orchids and other exotic flowers (even including a confined Venus fly-trap).

Inside the Conservatory

The final stop on the walking tour was the Alfred Caldwell Lily Pool (Alfred Caldwell, 1937), another perfect example of a green space where one could escape the congestion of the city.

 Alfred Caldwell Lily Pond
Me in front of the Lily Pond

After a few hours of free time (and a few cool drinks to escape the day’s heat!), we reconvened below the Wrigley Building for a River and Lake Sunset Cruise with commentary by Phil Gruen.

Tour coordinator Phil Gruen (with microphone) and members of SAH
Wrigley Building
View from the Chicago River 

Being on the water allowed me to think about the ways in which the relationship between the natural and built environments is such an integral part to the fabric of the city. The city continues to develop, a fact that was evident in the growing number of skyrise developments along the waterfront.

As we glided out onto Lake Michigan and saw the expanse of the city, I thought about the development of Chicago – how far it has come since Burnham’s Plan. The cruise was such a fitting end to our study tour and I would like to thank SAH for the opportunity to be a part of such a wonderful learning experience.

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SAH thanks The Richard H. Driehaus Foundation
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Society of Architectural Historians
1365 N. Astor Street
Chicago, Illinois 60610