Hello again, fellow roadies! Have you shaken off the dust of winter yet? It’s Memorial Day weekend, when the Route 66 cruising season here in Illinois begins in earnest, and we have an updated events calendar for you below. Bring out those convertibles and dust off those bikes, because it’s time to hit the road! Even if you only warm up locally to start. Which can be fun. Just remember to buckle up wherever you go, because the Smokies will be out in force this weekend on all the major highways across the nation, making sure you use your seat belts and handing out stiff fines if you don’t. Better safe than sorry, right? Right.
You never know when a relevant surprise is going to sneak up on you and bite you on the gluteus maximus (no, that’s not the name of a fictional gladiator; guess again). While working on tonight’s blog post, I have local public television on and as I’m trying to ignore the boring pledge week promos during the breaks, when I get a big surprise. No, it’s not the news that Pledge Week is over (please God; public television and public radio are well worthwhile investments and important to the community; but the very necessary pitches do tend to go on and on). And what’s the surprise? A WTTW special program about Old St. Patrick’s Catholic Church at Adams Street and Desplaines Street in the West Loop area, right on Route 66. It’s the oldest public building in Chicago, having survived the Great Chicago Fire That’s all they were showing tonight on channel 11 in the Chicago area from 7pm onward, two showings back to back. I just caught it by accident while channel surfing!
Having missed most of the first showing tonight (this is a brand-new program, and of course the station management saved it for the pledge drive, as they often do), I’ve scheduled it to tape to my DVR at 9pm. But what’s really cute is that Father Jack Wall, the former pastor who is mostly responsible for the church’s ongoing renovation that began back during the 1980s, is answering the phones and talking to people who pledge money to the station, as is the current pastor, the much younger Father Tom Hurley. Niiiiiice. Tonight’s volunteers manning the pledge phones are also folks from Old St. Pat’s. Way to go. Meanwhile, the breaks still last too long while the station people make their pitch again and again and again. Yada, yada, yada. Which is why I’ll be skipping all that when I play it back on my DVR. If you wish to donate to Chicago public TV, however, please do call WTTW at 773-588-1111.
Part 2 of 2 (read Part 1 here)
A renovation and restoration of the original interior of Old St. Patrick’s Church, undertaken by Booth/Hansen & Associates and mostly completed by 1996, once again made the interior very similar to the one that artist Thomas A. O’Shaughnessy had envisioned, but not identical. Unfortunately, much of the glorious interior stenciling with its intricate interlace ornament was covered with paint over the years. The paint job supposedly happened 1945-1946 because the pastor at that time, a Father Byrne, thought the interior too dark and wanted to lighten it up and make it more modern. A mistake, in hindsight, at the expense of some of the artist’s work; and in any case, the neighborhood, too, was severely deteriorating by then, and St. Patrick’s itself was in danger of demolition.
In 1993, restorers began carefully scraping away the ill-advised paint and uncovering the stencils. However, they could not repair or duplicate all of the deteriorated stencils accurately without inordinate expense (and the restoration was quite expensive as it was: $9 million, with $1 million of that in matching funds donated by Chicago financier, philanthropist and preservationist Richard H. Driehaus). So, the restorers had to take motifs directly from the source of the artist’s inspiration to replace what they could not reproduce. Now, the design of every individual ceiling panel in the church is taken from a different page of the Book of Kells. The resulting stenciling is in harmony with O’Shaughnessy’s remaining work and the stained glass.
Part 1 of 2
So you’re expecting to attend the 30th annual World’s Largest Block Party in front of Old St. Patrick’s Church on Desplaines Street this weekend on June 27th and 28th, are you? Better make sure you have tickets in advance – it’s quite the shindig. While you’re there, you might want to take a closer look at the church itself. From the street, of course – the church will likely be closed during the block party. But it’s worth coming back in daylight to see the breathtaking Celtic Revival interior. You won’t find such an Irish-looking church anywhere else outside of Ireland. Besides, it’s an invaluable piece of Chicago history, being the oldest remaining church building in the city and one of the city’s oldest public buildings still standing.
St. Patrick’s doesn’t reveal much outside. It was designed by Carter & Bauer, one of Chicago’s earliest architectural firms. The main structure was completed in 1856, the spires in 1885. The exterior is of Cream City common brick, made from yellowish clay found along the shores of Lake Michigan near Milwaukee. The base is of Joliet limestone, a good choice to go with the yellow brick, given the dolomite’s creamy color.
It’s not the original structure used when the parish was founded in 1846 at Randolph and Desplaines streets. That tiny wooden structure was used for a decade and was moved to this block when the parish bought property here in 1853. This was the first English-speaking Catholic parish in Chicago; the first Catholic parish in Chicago, St. Mary’s, was built by the French. St. Patrick’s Parish was created for Irish immigrants – laborers who came to work on the Illinois & Michigan Canal and those fleeing the Great Hunger that followed the notorious potato famine of 1848 in Ireland. St. Patrick’s became a home to Irish culture.