Midway Plaisance Walking Tour

59th West to Woodlawn / 59th West to Ellis / Cottage Grove / 60th East to Woodlawn / 60th East to Blackstone

Blanik Knight to Woodlawn Avenue along 59th Street

 

The Starting Point

As a starting point, walk to the center of the Midway by the tracks and get a look at the overall sweep of the Midway Plaisance. We'll be walking along 59th Street down to the sculpture that you can see at the far western end and then back to this point along 60th Street to the south. The walk is about two miles long.

We're standing at the statue by Alban Paialek (cast in 1949 and installed in 1955) that is dedicated to Thomas Garrigue Masaryk, the first president of the Czech Republic, and, as the statue says, "Crusader for truth. Teacher. Liberator. Statesman. 'Jesus not Caesar.'" He had taught at the university before returning to Czechoslovakia. The statue is of the Blanik Knight--who, as the plaque explains, lives in the Blanik Mountains and rises up to defend the Czech Republic from invaders. He is stalwartly defending the track embankment from the soccer-playing children and dog walkers--and perhaps also defending it from the Fountain of Time, which he gazes at all day long. This statue is a reminder that Hyde Park was once the home to Bohemians as well as the more famous bohemians.

In the first incarnation of the Midway, the tracks ran at grade level and the view from this point was open to the lake.

Later, during the fair, this was a broad open walkway under the tracks right behind where the statue now stands. Pedestrians could stroll from the Women's Building on the east side of Stony Island Avenue (where the circular perennial garden is now), straight through on a wide level central path to the other entrance to the fair at Cottage Grove. Now the tracks seal the Midway off from Jackson Park, leaving just the busy roadways sliding through the underpasses on either side of the park.

In 1893, after strolling under the viaduct, a visitor to the fair would encounter several small exhibits in this space (and no Blanik Knight). On the north was the Electric Scenic Theatre, which used electric lighting to give the effects of light changing through a day in the Tyrolean Alps, from dawn through to moonrise and the night sky "gemmed with stars" plus thunderstorms. To give it appropriate atmosphere, the light show was accompanied by instrumental music and yodeling. Friend Williams, a teenaged boy from Olean, New York, who spent two weeks at the Fair with his father, recorded his reaction in his school report--"After gazing for a time at a small view of the Alps to the accompaniment of a piano, doors were opened and 'exit' was yelled so that the place could be cleared for duping more people." (3)

To the left was the Colorado Gold Mine. also operated with electricity, showing all the workings of a modern mine in a mountain sliced in two. Perhaps strangest of all in this area was the model Workingman's Home, proving that workingmen could live well on $500 a year--and also proving that a workingman was quite exotic in the minds of the fair organizers.

According to Clara Louise Burnham in Sweet Clover, the first impression emerging from the walkway was that "the Midway was a seething mass of humanity." The second impression was the noise: "Above their village the South Sea Islanders were pounding out their measures from a hollow log, and across the road the daintier Javanese rang muffled music from gongs and tinkling bells....Indian, Turk, and Bedouin passed her by, but she kept eyes ahead on the mammoth wheel, circling with ponderous deliberation....[as she passed through the cries of] 'vera gooda, vera sheep' of the jewelry vendors, the stentorian exhortations to enter the dance houses and theaters, or the incessant 'hot! hot! hot!' of those that offered the thin waffle-like Zelabiah."

 

From the Blanik Knight, walk north to 59th Street. At 59th Street, turn left and walk west.

 

International House

International House

1414 East 59th Street

Holabird and Root 1932

This rather intimidating pile of limestone (9 stories high) is one of four international centers founded by John D. Rockefeller, Jr. The others are at Columbia, Berkeley, and Paris. Its purpose is to be a social and cultural center for foreign students, staff, and visitors.

It's an Art Deco interpretation of the collegiate Gothic style. Under the scaffolding, you might be able to see the carvings over the main entrance, which represent the coming together of people from around the world.

The series of setbacks is designed to disguise the great bulk of a building designed to hold 800 students.

In the original landscape of Hyde Park, a stream flowed through here, and the rest was a series of swales (Wiggers, Geology tour, 2004)

The building barely escaped demolition in 2000. It was saved through a combination of protest and the realization that Rockefeller had dedicated the use of the building to the cause of increasing international understanding.

The scaffolding is part of an extensive renovation making up for long-delayed maintenance.

The front desk can buzz visitors in to take a look around. Inside, the ground floor has gracious Gothic lounges and large dining areas on the east side (and a snack bar). The decorations are meant to represent botanical motifs of various countries.

The interior garden courtyard is one of my favorite places on campus. It's one of the last surviving designs of Beatrix Jones Farrand, an early 20th-century landscape designer, who had been hired to draw up a plan for the university--a plan that was never carried out since the faculty resisted changes to the quads. She's probably most known now as the designer of Dumbarton Oaks outside Washington, D.C.

 

As a social center, I-House is on a propitious site. This is where the original Hotel Del Prado stood, built in 1891 to make a profit off the fair visitors. It was meant to be temporary, but after the fair it turned out to be a great location for long-term residents and short-term visitors of the university. It stayed in business until Rockefeller took over the land in 1930. It wasn't grand like the lakefront hotels such as the Shoreland, but it was convenient. The first meetings of the Quadrangle Club--the exclusive club for faculty at the university--met there in a wood-paneled room full of stuffed big game--looking rather like a location for Jules Verne's Phileas Fogg and the explorers' club.

Aerial view of Irish Village and Japanese Bazaar

During the fair, the Del Prado Hotel looked directly out at the pro-British Irish Village (in contrast to the pro-Home Rule Irish Industries to the east of the tracks) and the Japanese Bazaar on the southeast corner of Dorchester.

The Irish Village included Donegal Castle, 100 feet of round tower, and Irish peasantry. Financial support for the exhibit was given by the Prince of Wales and Gladstone. People lived for the summer in white-washed cottages around the castle, making lace and weaving. There was a concert room in the castle for "the sweet songsters of Erin." The Irish exhibits were especially popular with the large Irish population of Chicago.

The Japanese bazaar had bronze and lacquer work, fans and screens, and bric a brac for sale, but it simply duplicated other Japanese exhibits in the Manufactures building so wasn't much of a hit.

 

Gymnasiums

Sunny and Kovler Gymnasiums

5831 S. Kenwood Avenue

1930 & 2000

These are the athletic facilities for the University of Chicago Laboratory Schools (and proudly bear its seal). The playing fields and tennis courts to the east of the buildings are called Jackman Field. The two buildings look remarkably alike though they were built 70 years apart.

The building to the north is Bernard Edward Sunny Gymnasium, designed by Bulley and Andrews. The walls are masonry but the roof uses steel girders. Bernard E. Sunny was president of the Chicago Telephone Company in the 1920s. He donated the funds for the gymnasium in 1928 during a large building campaign across the campus.

The new Kovler Gym is the southern building and dates from 2000. The two connect with a lovely Gothic arcade best seen from the west in Kenwood Circle. It was designed by NHDKM (Nagle Hartray Danker Kagan and McKay). Though they look very similar, the walls of Kovler are an ashlar limestone envelope and not masonry.

From here to Woodlawn was the homestead of one of the original settlers--Obadiah Hooper--who settled here in 1835, but apparently discovered that he couldn't make a go of it in the poor soil and quickly disappeared.

Extending from Dorchester west to Kenwood in 1893, the Javanese Village--also called the "Dutch Settlement"--was the concession of the East India Company. The entire village was enclosed by a 10-foot fence and included a temple, two shops (selling teas, coffees, spices, sandalwood, ebony, and mahogany items), an orangutan, and a tea house. All the structures were of bamboo and rushes, with whole families living there for the summer and working at handcrafts during the day. It had windmills used on Java to scare away the birds from the rice. These "emitted a volume of harsh, discordant sound," adding to the general racket all over the Midway.

Friend Williams thought "the dark-skinned natives were interesting, especially a very small youngster. And there was an orange-outang at the gate."(3)

The theater featured "dark-eyed willowy dancing girls. With bare arms, shoulder, and feet, but with no unseemly exposure of person, their slender, lithe and delicately rounded forms are decked in embroidered silks and velvets."

The theatre also featured a gamelan orchestra of apparently particularly fine instruments--now located in the Field Museum. One guidebook thought the the music was "simple and sweet." Rockefeller Chapel has been presenting gamelan concerts occasionally. They are quite fascinating--especially if they accompany the shadow puppet plays.

 

University Middle School

University Middle School

Nagle Hartray Danker Kagan and McKay

1993

Before 1993, this view was dramatically different. The middle building of this row of French Gothic Revival buildings (the one with the bright red roof) would instead have been a rather ordinary aluminum and glass front in sharp contrast to Blaine Hall (running east/west along the sidewalk of 59th Street) and Belfield Hall (running east/west halfway up the block). The "modern" had been aging badly between the two limestone facades. Belfield Hall was built when Blaine Hall was and named for Henry Holmes Belfield (1837-1912), who had been head of the Chicago Manual Training School that was absorbed by the Laboratory Schools. That wing held the technological rooms.

NHDKM, the architects, had to link three existing buildings on three levels and had to provide a unified front for the first time. It was the first Gothic-style building added to the university campus in over 60 years and received the Chicago Building Congress "Award of Recognition."

Behind the facade, running east/west between the older structures, is still the 1960 aluminum and glass structure that houses most of U-High.

Behind the schools is a play area called Scammon's Gardens, named for the original owner of the estate that lay between Dorchester and Woodlawn in the 19th century. J. Y. Scammon's summer "cottage"--"Fernwood"--was one of the few buildings along the Midway in the 1880s. Jonathan Young Scammon was a longtime friend of Abraham Lincoln. He was a lawyer, had founded the first railroad west of Lake Michigan, established Chicago’s first bank, laid the groundwork for its public school system, and helped start the Chicago American newspaper. As the first President of the Chicago Astronomical Society, he built the Dearborn Observatory-- which at the time had the largest refracting telescope in the world--and he was also among the founders of the Chicago Academy of Science. He donated much of the land for the School of Education building.

 

University of Chicago Laboratory Schools

Emmons Blaine Hall

James Gamble Rogers

1903

Blaine Hall now houses the Lower School of the University of Chicago Laboratory Schools. It was originally the School of Education Building. The School was founded in 1895 by John Dewey, who wanted a laboratory where he could test his theories of education. He thought children would learn best by doing--for instance, learning math from solving design problems in shop.

Emmons Blaine was the son of James Blaine--Secretary of State in the Harrison and Garfield administrations and a senator from Maine. Emmons married Anita McCormick, youngest daughter of Cyrus McCormick, and died just three years after the wedding in 1895, leaving her with a son to educate. She deeply disliked the schools at the time and sought out Colonel Francis Wayland Parker who was experimenting with "practical learning" on the north side of the city. She was a progressive reformer throughout her life. When Parker's school ran into financial trouble, they hooked up with the University of Chicago, which was looking for a major donor to finance a building for John Dewey. This explains the mystery of why Francis Parker's bust presides over the lobby of the school that John Dewey made famous. She had built the school out of her belief in Francis Parker's ideas of how to reform education.

As of now, there is no school or department of education at the university. The Lab Schools are now a private college prep school.

The buildings of the Education Quadrangle--Blaine, Judd, and Belfield--were the first outside the main quads and led to a lot of debate on how to connect them to the original plan. They decided that limestone, in spite of the cost, was the way to go. Rockefeller helped cover the extra cost of the limestone. James Gamble Rogers, the architect (1867-1947) had studied at Beaux Arts in Paris. The south face is four stories but the east and west wings are three stories so that the prevailing breezes could reach the rooms facing the courtyard. The first floor rooms open up on a raised terrace where children could plant gardens. The kindergarten room on the corner of 59th and Kimbark used to still do that until recently.

Across the street from Scammon's Fernwood in 1893 was the very popular German Village, which stretched all the way to Woodlawn Avenue. There were 36 structures in the village, which mostly reflected the medieval architecture of Bavaria. There were music pavilions and refreshment halls, where Edelweiss Beer was served by "rosy cheeked Bavarian barmaids with bare, well-rounded arms," the replica of the Hessian town hall of 1584, and a castle in the center, with turrets, spires, palisades, and moats.

There were two military bands--one with 48 musicians--that gave daily concerts. The museum continued the martial theme with a wax museum of warriors and heroes of Germany and a survey of the history of German armor, swords, and weapons. The concession was supported by the German government to the tune of $400,000. The armor and arms on display, according to a guide book, were valued at $1 million.

 

Kimbark Avenue

Blaine Hall (to the right), Judd Hall (in the middle), Belfield Hall (to the far left)

Kimbark Avenue marks the west side of the education quadrangle. It is one of the few streets in Hyde Park that didn't get renamed when the addresses were regularized throughout the city. For example, Madison Avenue became Dorchester Street so that it wouldn't be confused with Madison in the Loop.

George Kimbark was a brother-in-law of Paul Cornell and the developer of Riverside, an ambitious planned suburb that was yet another model for Cornell's plan for Hyde Park.

Graduate School of Business

Raphael Viñoly

2004

The Graduate School of Business (GSB) building, not officially on the Midway, does dominate the view as it engulfs one of my favorite buildings, Ida Noyes. It's 415,000 square feet and serves the 3,000 MBA students and faculty. It occupies the site where Erno Saarinen's dormitory complex, Woodward Court, once stood and expands south, filling the "L" of Ida's neo-Tudor architecture with a concrete block that walls out the passer-by. For the business students behind the concrete, there is a pleasant courtyard connecting to Ida Noyes, appropriate since the GSB has commandeered Ida for its recruiting sessions. This explains why they were calling this the Business Quadrangle. If you walk up Kimbark and into the side of the building, there's a cafe run by the University's food services. A short stroll through the 6-story Winter Garden, which is supposed to remind one of the Gothic arch, will lead back out toward Ida Noyes and Woodlawn. The vaults of the arches are lined in glass, creating an interesting look and a place for drains from the roof. There are two levels underground--classrooms and a parking garage--which is a bit of a trick in a marsh with a high water table. The upper stories are faculty offices. It is supposed to echo both the Robie House to its north and Rockefeller Chapel to its west, and does look better from Woodlawn and 58th. It's nice for the GSB and could have been worse. The parking garage is accessible from Woodlawn and has a few spaces available to the public. All told, it cost the GSB $98 million.

Before even Ida was built, across the street at Kimbark Avenue was the 1893 Persian Palace--supposed residence of the Shah of Ispahan during the fair. It had a restaurant and tea house on the second floor--where they served lemon in the tea "as in Russia." Weavers lived there, along with a number of dancing girls. There were also entertainments of "a questionable character"--magicians, jugglers, and sleight-of-hand men.

 

Ida Noyes Hall

Ida Noyes Hall

Shepley, Rutan, and Coolidge

1916

 

Ida Noyes is one of my favorite buildings on campus, built in English Tudor Revival style. It was deliberately intended to seem domestic in contrast to the quads since it was for athletic activity, recreation, and social occasions for the women students. There are lots of myths that I've heard over the years about who Ida Noyes was, the most persistent is that she was a student here who committed suicide because social life for the women students was so dreary, so her grieving parents built a place just for women.

In reality, Ida Noyes was the wife of La Verne Noyes (1849-1919), who had made a fortune building windmills for Western farmers--or rather the akromotor, which converted wind to electricity--and wire unabridged dictionary holders, invented because Ida had trouble holding hers. He and Ida had moved to Chicago from rural Iowa in 1879. As they became wealthy enough for leisure, Ida began to pursue a cultural education--traveling extensively in Europe, where she died suddenly in 1912. Crushed, La Verne sought a way to honor her, deciding that a women's center at the university would honor her pursuit of self-development. The women students had had no place to go other than the classroom and their dorms. They were not allowed to use Bartlett Gym and the Reynolds Club, so now they had their own facility with a gym, bowling alley, dance studio, swimming pool, lounges and libraries, and a theatre. When La Verne died, he left all of his property--worth about $2.5 million in 1919 dollars--to the university to set up a scholarship for veterans of World War I and their descendants.

The carvings on the outside show women in various activities such as playing instruments. My favorite is the woman reading with a box of chocolates by her. I'm not so sure what the knights in shining armor on the corners are doing. The tough-minded women in the early days of the university weren't waiting around for one to show up.

It's worthwhile to step inside and look around--the building is generally open when the university is in session. The gracious Gothic rooms on the ground floor are the Cloister Club to the right, and the Lounge and Library to the left. Straight ahead, where the women's gymnasium was, is the Max Palevsky Theater, home of Doc Films, which shows a wonderfully eclectic mix of films nearly every night of the quarter in a facility as good as most cineplexes. Max Palevsky is a graduate of the university and one of the founders of . His passion is film so he financed a center for Doc. Going up the stairs, note the monkeys on the handrails and the portrait of Ida on the landing. Photos of Ida show a beautiful woman.

This portrait hangs on the first landing. Another portrait by Oliver Dennett Grover that hung in the library was stolen on Saturday, January 21, 2005. It was cut out of its frame sometime after the Pub, the bar in the basement closed. While other portraits on campus were stolen as pranks, none of them were vandalized like this one.

All the way up, there is a theater on the third floor, complete with a mural of a pageant of women students on both walls--with the images of real students. It was part of the celebration of the 25th anniversary of the university--led by the Spirit of Gothic Architecture--called the Masque of Youth. It was painted by Jessie Arms Botke.

In the late 1970s/early 1980s, this whole building was the site for the legendary Lascivious Costume Balls--renowned for their imaginative absence of costume and raucous good times.

The Masque of Youth, for the dedication of Ida Noyes 1916

In the back of Ida Noyes is a wonderful pool, with Gothic windows that open to the fresh air. Though small, it was a great place to go for women's only swim. With the opening of the Ratner Athletic Center, the university has plans to close it down.

Midway Tour Introduction

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