Our news is not the only news when it comes to people taking the history of Route 66 seriously. We’ve just learned that the Illinois State Museum recently became the Illinois representative on the National Park Service’s Route 66 Archives and Research Collaboration (ARC), taking over from the Illinois State Library. ARC was founded by 10 institutions from the eight relevant states and the park service’s Route 66 Corridor Preservation Program; one of those 10 founding organizations is the Illinois State Library, which, oddly enough, is part of the Illinois Secretary of State’s office (they do driver’s licenses and vehicle registration, among other things, so in a strange and indirect way, it still all comes back to road trips. If you want to see what resources the state library has about Route 66, look here).
According to the point man at the state museum – Dr. Robert E. Warren, who is curator of anthropology there – one of ARC’s main goals is to collect and preserve historical records about Route 66 and make them accessible to the public. ARC’s most recent annual meeting was held in June at the Autry National Center in Los Angeles, which gave the attendees a chance to see the Autry’s new exhibit titled “Route 66: The Road and the Romance.” (For a look at what that exhibit is about, have a look at a video by Voice of America about the show on Ron Warnick’s excellent blog, Route 66 News, here.)
One of the keys to preserving the route for future travelers is preserving its history. To a great extent, Route 66 – both the myth and the reality – is its history. History is part of the reason people travel this iconic road trip, as are the natural wonders of the landscapes, the unique attractions, the wide-open vistas and freedom of the open road, and the people on the route. To participate in Route 66 ARC is not only a great responsibility, then, but also an honor. Our hearty congratulations to Dr. Warren and the state museum!
By the way, the Illinois State Museum has two locations you might want to visit: a gallery in downtown Chicago on Randolph Street in the State of Illinois Building, about half a mile north of Route 66, and the Lockport Gallery in downtown Lockport, both of which feature constantly changing exhibits of fine and decorative arts produced by Illinois artists and artisans. The Chicago gallery also has a separate Illinois Artisans shop on the second floor of the building. The Lockport Gallery is in the historic Norton Building, the 1850 former warehouse for Norton & Co. that was built of classic Joliet limestone and recently renovated; it stands just south of the equally historic Lincoln Landing on the Illinois & Michigan Canal and the likewise rehabilitated and preserved historic Gaylord Building, which is also built of local Joliet limestone and is operated by the National Trust for Historic Preservation. The Gaylord Building was the original site of the Lockport Gallery. All are part of the much larger Lockport Historic District, which includes 59 buildings and has been on the National Register of Historic Places since 1975. The restored Norton Building is a delight, something that cannot be said of the state museum’s other gallery location.
The infamously mediocre postmodernist State of Illinois Building is better known as the James R. Thompson Center, named for the former Republican governor during whose term the building was commissioned from internationally renowned architect Helmut Jahn (his firm was then known as Murphy/Jahn), whose work the governor admired and who has some rather marvelous buildings elsewhere in the city, including his 1982 addition to the Chicago Board of Trade Building, which is right on Route 66 at 141 W. Jackson Blvd. in the Loop.
Alas, the state office building isn’t one of Jahn’s best: a monument to the vanity of both the politician and his architect, it’s also known in concealed whispers as Jahn’s Folly because the architect insufficiently considered the effects that Chicago weather would have on the building, especially the insolation factor (the total amount of incoming sunlight on a given area and its heat effects) – which resulted in the building’s interior being bitterly cold in the winter during the first years of its operation, when ice formed on the insides of some wall panels, and ridiculously hot during the summers, when inside temperatures reached as high as 90 degrees F., especially in the upper levels of the huge atrium. Consequently, the building required the addition of a much more expensive A/C system that today remains costly to operate and is inadequate on the hottest days.
Although the prohibitively expensive double-paned insulated windows that Jahn originally considered, then dismissed due to their cost (he was working on a state budget, after all) would have helped with protecting against the cold, they wouldn’t have helped with the heat created by all that trapped sunlight unless sufficiently tinted and specially coated the way today’s energy-efficient windows are (which, of course, they wouldn’t have been back in 1985, when the building was completed). Still, there were other choices, starting with reconsidering this problematic public building design and nixing its enormous atrium. Just think: if Helmut Jahn had only been more knowlegeable back then about passive solar energy and its correct application to building construction, he might have avoided this expensive fiasco that the state has been stuck with ever since (and is now permanently associated with Thompson, to his detriment).
Compared to the justly famous pantheon of Chicago architecture, the Thompson Center is at the bottom for good cause. You really have to see and experience this boondoggle in person to believe it; just be aware of the possible, ah, environmental conditions inside, depending on the time of year. We recommend spring or mid-autumn as potentially the most comfortable times to visit. Then you can compare this architectural misfire to Jahn’s elegant and quite appropriate Board of Trade addition – for which, incidentally, the CBOT rejected the initial design. His second effort for CBOT was by far the better design and worth the wait. And that one, fellow travelers, is also worth a visit. Check the Chicago Architecture Foundation website for the latest times and dates of the CBOT building tour; you won’t be sorry. Unlike the state of Illinois …
Until next time,
your tour guide, Marie