Sunday, November 14, 2010

One of the the things that I love about Chicago is that it has history that you can see.  That might sound a little silly since it is definitely not one of the oldest cities I've spent time in, but I once lived in Dallas, and everything there is new - things don't get a chance to get old there.   The architecture is one of the best visible histories of Chicago and the view of the details on many of these old buildings is especially good from the el.  Recently though, on an episode of Chicago Tonight, I saw a clip on ghost signs in Chicago.  These are mostly painted advertisements on the sides of brick buildings that have withstood our harsh winters and now remain up, faded, and no longer advertising anything one can buy.

As an excuse to spend the last beautiful day of the season out enjoying the weather, I traipsed down to the loop to check out some of these signs that were featured in the program and to look for some others that I might not have seen before.  Here are a few of my favorites:

A very cool sign, Lyon and Healy used to deal with "everything known in music" since they opened in Chicago in 1864.  Now, however, they only make harps.  I see this sign every time I go to work!

This sign, for the Harmony Cafeteria, is in an alley just off of Wabash.  Obviously it was in use before the building next door was erected.  There were three of these cafeterias around Chicago and the following picture is a postcard I found online advertising the cafeteria.

The building that holds this Harmony Cafeteria sign was erected in 1881 and designed by Louis Sullivan.  Today though, I had to peer down the alley and squeeze past a truck in order to get the partial picture you see here.

The Century Building, at 202 State street once housed Romas Restaurant, which became Adam's in 1975.  It sounds like this restaurant was around the area since the beginning of the century - possibly closed for a while during World War II, moved a couple of times, and is remembered here in this pretty cool sign!  Apparently the building once held the tallest electric light restaurant sign, which spelled "Roma's Restaurant." 

I found this sign on the Southeast corner of Van Buren and Wells.   It looks like it says Kling Bros and Co, Klingmade, and Mackinaw coats.  Can you see it?  I found a mention of Kling Bros in a list of "manufacturers of union-labeled garments" in a 1903 edition of The Caledonian.  How fun!

 This one was also fun, on the side of a building at 302 South Wells.  It looks like it says "Perfect Soda Cracker" on top, and pictured here, "Uneeda," "biscuit" and the Nabisco sign.  In 1890, American Biscuit Company set up headquarters in Chicago.  In 1910, the company had a huge factory in Chicago to handle it's "uneeda" brand of goods.  Now we know it as Kraft, in the North suburbs.  Here is a link to an excellent blog with pictures of Uneeda Biscuit signs that help make this one more readable.

There are more.  All over Chicago.  Some easily readable, some almost faded completely.  And I must admit, I had a wonderful time, walking around with my eyes squinted down alleys and up the sides of buildings and my gaze on a past that is slowly fading.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

This Season at the Lyric (so far)

I love going to the opera.  I got hooked on it in grad school and try to go to a couple every year.  I find that opera is a touchy subject with most people I.   For those of you who don't like going to the opera, I have prepared a little chart here to help change your mind.  For those of you who DO like the opera, skip the chart and read on!
There.  Now that we know that it is definitely worth it to go to an opera, let's talk about the operas that are currently out this season!  

I have seen two of the several operas out this season so far and they couldn't have been more different!  The first one was Macbeth by Verdi.  As expected, it was over the top in drama, it was pretty depressing, full of madness (thank you Shakespeare) and the music was lush and memorable.  There were only three singing parts and no tenor at all (yay!).  The soprano who played Lady Macbeth completely stole the show.  The sets and the costuming were great with simple, yet effective symbolism that would have made Shakespeare proud.  

A Midsummer Night's Dream couldn't have been more different!  There are so many characters in this story, so many scenes, and so much going on that it only made sense to throw in an entire children's chorus and a dog!  Britten is a 20th century composer, so the music may not be what you expect to hear in opera if you aren't that familiar with it (there are some great cello parts).  In fact, I saw several people walk out before intermission!  However, Britten is hilarious in the ways that he plays with our musical expectations and everyone involved in the show was fabulous.  The actor who played Puck had the audience laughing aloud!

The other operas out this season are Carmen (who wouldn't want to hear the Toreador's Song again??),


a Masked Ball (Verdi is always great for a stunning and moving opera experience), The Girl of the Golden West (Puccini is quintessential opera.  Italian.  You'll love it.), Lohengrin (Wagner.  Oh boy.  I've never seen any Wagner live.  Who wants to go with me?), and Hercules (as much as I'd like to see a Handel opera, this one has a modern take to it that doesn't thrill me).

the only one I wouldn't recommend is The Mikado.  It is a Gilbert and Sullivan operetta and I personally find their work to combine the least likable characteristics of an opera with the least likable characteristics of a musical.  Stay home.  Go to a sporting event.  Play a video game.  OR..... go to the opera and enjoy it and prove me wrong!