New Brochure Available on Prairie Avenue

The museum has just released a revised version of its popular self-guided walking tour brochure of the Prairie Avenue neighborhood.  The brochure begins with a brief history of the area divided into four distinct time frames.  The first, Beginnings, starts with the Battle of Fort Dearborn in 1812 and continues through to the Great Chicago Fire in 1871.  The second section, Glory Days, chronicles the period beginning immediately after the fire when Prairie Avenue gained distinction as the most prestigious street in the city, and one of the most fashionable in the country.  That section ends in 1904, the year the last new residence was constructed.  Section three, Decline, chronicles the period 1905 to 1965 when the neighborhood saw a rapid transformation from residential to light industry, and highlights the major causes of that decline.  The final section, Rebirth, begins with the rescue of Glessner House in 1966 and continues through to the present day, highlighting the revitalization of the area in the last twenty years.

Twenty-seven sites of architectural and historical interest are featured in the brochure as well, ranging from the surviving mansions to buildings constructed for the printing and automobile industries in the early 20th century.  (For a PDF of the brochure, visit the Glessner House Museum website and scroll down the left-hand column to the section “Download the Walking Tour of Historic Prairie Avenue.”)  Three Sunday afternoon guided tours of the neighborhood, conducted by museum director Bill Tyre, will take place on July 21, August 18, and September 15, 2013.  Tickets are $15.00 per person for the two-hour tour.  For more information or to make reservations, call 312-326-1480. 

Following are a few of the architectural and historical treasures to be found in the neighborhood and featured in the brochure.

The oldest site in the area, located at Calumet Avenue and 18th Street, is now known as Battle of Fort Dearborn Park.  On August 15, 1812 during the War of 1812 with Great Britain, the fort was evacuated and the soldiers and civilians began their long trek along the shore of Lake Michigan, heading toward the safety of Fort Wayne in Indiana.  The current park marks the site of a pivotal battle that occurred that day during which more than 75 soldiers, civilians, and Native Americans were killed.  The park, with its interpretive plaque, was formally dedicated on August 15, 2009, the 197th anniversary of the battle.

The Harriet F. Rees house at 2110 S. Prairie Avenue is one of just seven mansions remaining on Prairie Avenue.  In its heyday, the six-block stretch of Prairie between 16th Street and Cermak Road (originally 22nd Street) contained 84 mansions.  Although designated a Chicago landmark in 2012, the future of the Rees house, constructed in 1888 and designed by Cobb & Frost, is uncertain in light of recently announced plans to construct a new stadium for DePaul on the block in which the house stands.

The William W. Kimball house at 1801 S. Prairie Avenue is a strikingly beautiful limestone clad residence built in the Chateauesque style in 1892.  Modeled after a chateau in Brittany, the house was designed by architect Solon S. Beman, best known as the architect for the Town of Pullman (constructed for the Kimball’s neighbor, George M. Pullman a decade before the Kimball house).  Kimball, the founder and president of the Kimball piano and organ company, filled his house with valuable paintings including works by Rembrandt, Gainsborough, Reynolds, and Turner that were donated to the Art Institute in 1922.   Film buffs will note that the house served as the setting for the 1996 film “Primal Fear” featuring Richard Gere, Edward Norton, and Laura Linney.

Second Presbyterian Church at 1936 S. Michigan Avenue was originally built in 1874 from designs by architect James Renwick Jr. (who also designed St. Patrick’s Cathedral in New York City).  Following a devastating fire in 1900, the interior was completely redesigned and rebuilt by Howard Van Doren Shaw, and today survives as an amazingly intact example of the Arts and Crafts movement.  The church was designated a National Historic Landmark in 2013, the only church in Chicago to earn that designation.  A celebration of the Landmark status will take place on Thursday June 20, 2013 at 5:30pm, and is open to the public.  Visit for more information.

The high rise at the northeast corner of Michigan Avenue and Cermak Road marks the former site of the Lexington Hotel, designed in 1892 by Clinton J. Warren.   Built to house visitors to the World’s Columbian Exposition (including President Grover Cleveland, who officially opened the fair), the elegant structure later fell on hard days.  By the 1920s, Al Capone ran his crime operations from a suite of rooms in the hotel.  Many will recall when Geraldo Rivera unsealed Capone’s vault in the basement during a live two-hour TV broadcast on April 21, 1986.  Although the building was designated a Chicago landmark, it was demolished in 1995.

The large loft building at 1727 S. Indiana Avenue was original built in 1905 for the Eastman Kodak Company.  During the 1920s when Indiana Avenue was widened by 35 feet, the west façade of the building was sliced off and a new façade constructed.  The original design of the building survives along 18th Street, and features a doorway with a bellows camera carved in stone above.  In 1993, the building became the first loft structure in the area to convert to residential use.

Historians might have a hard time finding the former Ginn & Company building (later the Platt Luggage Company), now located at 2203 S. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Drive.  Originally built in 1907 at 2301 S. Prairie Avenue from plans by Howard Van Doren Shaw, the building was the center of two major preservation battles as nearby McCormick Place continued expanding west.  Eventually, the building was dismantled and the façade was reconstructed on the current site to conceal a power-plant behind.

The elegant Second Empire style building at 1925 S. Michigan Avenue features a beautiful façade executed in white glazed terra cotta.  Designed in 1911 by Christian Eckstorm, it was one of over 100 buildings constructed along Michigan Avenue in the early 1900s to accommodate the growing automobile industry.  In time, this stretch of Michigan became known as Motor Row.  The large plate-glass display windows were originally used for displays of rubber products manufactured by the B. F. Goodrich Company.  Recently restored to its former glory, the building awaits a new occupant.

The newest “historic” site in the area is the former location of the Chess Records Office and Studio, located at 2120 S. Michigan Avenue.  Originally built in 1911 during the growth of Motor Row, it was remodeled in 1957 to house Chess Records, which remained here for a decade, recording some of the era’s most important blues music.  The Rolling Stones paid homage to the building with their “2120 South Michigan Avenue,” recorded here in June 1964.  The site is now open to the public and is operated by the Blues Heaven Foundation. 

NOTE:  The brochure was printed for the museum by the City of Chicago Department of Cultural Affairs and Special Events.