Dana-Thomas House

The Dana-Thomas House, Frank Lloyd Wright’s 1904 prairie style masterpiece in Springfield, Illinois, is a carefully preserved, architecturally complex treasure.  In addition to its complete restoration in the 1980’s, it has been fortunate over the years  to reaquire more original furnishings than any existing Wright prairie house.   Getting inside to see the wonderment can carry with it so much anticipation that the visitor might miss some of the extraordinary architectural and design details of the outside.

If you haven’t visited the house, I recommend that you do.  And when you do, I suggest that you take some extra time and enjoy the outdoor forms and details.  They are almost as exquisite as the inside decorative details and furniture.

Here are a few pictures:

                                                                                                                                       Main entrance   

                                    

                                                                                                                                             Side entrance (outward)

  

                                                                                                            

Side entrance  (upward)

                                                                                                                                    

Gallery stair windows

  

                                                                                                                  Copper eave detail

  

 Plaster frieze

  

 Columnar window detail

  

    Southeast porch (main entrance left)

  

                                                                              Backyard panoramic sweep  (partial)

  

                                                                                                                             

  Backyard panoramic sweep (partial)

 

                                                                    Backyard panoramic sweep (full)

  

                                                                                                             Walkway (backyard view)

  

  

Backyard

 

East facade (upward and close)

 

Northeast porch

 

Iridescent window glass (east facade)

Illinois State Capitol Photographs WARNING! REAL UGLINESS LURKS.

I have lived in Springfield, Illinois for the past 35 years and, for all its warts, I love it and plan on staying.

Aesthetically, however,  it has its problems – not the least of  which is the area surrounding the Illinois State Capitol Building.  I am not the only one to recognize the visual shortcomings there as well as some adjacent downtown areas.  In the mid-1970’s Springfield’s downtown area went through the same convulsions and dislocations that most all cities experienced when developers started building indoor shopping malls. 

Recognizing the ills that had fallen on central Springfield, there have been an increasing number of merchants, civic leaders, and local governmental people who have made great inroads in revitalizing the heart and soul of downtown.  Their work has not been easy, nor has it necessarily been rewarded.  Nevertheless, a lot of dedicated and stubborn individuals keep trying.  A not-for-profit organization, Downtown Springfield, Incorporated, has also been vitally instrumental in focusing on the central business district of Springfield as the most essential core of our community.  I commend them for their efforts.

Springfield, as the capital city of Illinois, also plays host to much of the State’s government.  As such, the government’s architecture, officials, and employees play an essential part in the day-to-day activities and life of the city.  Its downtown presence and importance cannot be understated.  It is always there, always looming.

The center and seat of State government revolves, of course, around the Capitol Building.  Its stature dwarfs its surroundings, but not overly so.  It represents what it is supposed to represent – the power of the people and their State government.  No problem with that.  Other problems have developed though.

Over time, much of Illinois’ governmental operations have, for political reasons, been shifted away from Springfield.  Much of the work of State government has been transferred to regional offices throughout the State.  Even more work has been permanently relocated to Chicago.  The effect of this decentralization of State government has left much of the infrastructure of the city looking like, in fact being, an abandoned carcass.  This has left the remaindermen of Springfield to clean up the mess.  It’s a pitiful state of affairs, but this is where we are and what we are left with.

I decided to take a half-dozen photographs of the State Capitol Building today to give a sense of what we, as residents, see everyday.  We may not always notice it, or may just overlook it, but there is some big-time ugly surrounding that big-domed building.

I did not try to get artsy with the photos, nor did I try to go overboard to show the worst of things (such as standing aside a dilapidated building or a dumpster and then framing the Capitol building).  However, I have taken the liberty of adding some commentary.  Enjoy!

This picture is from the perspective of the revitalized (?) Capitol promenade, so to speak.  While it may be visually  unappealing because of the overhead railroad structure, it is precisely this overhead track which returns so much affection; it is the only place downtown which enables one to avoid the long waits of Amtrak and other trains rambling through city center.  This underpass is much beloved.

Recently the owner of this track, Union Pacific Railroad, proposed more than doubling the daily number of freight trains rambling through the city  to 45 or so.  It seems that Union Pacific, which is the largest landholder west of the Mississippi River and second largest landholder in the United States (the largest is the United States itself), did not want to be inconvenienced to use its resources to buy new right-of-way landholdings outside of the central city.  Currently, their plan has been shelved while another route through the city is being reviewed by officialdom.

This is on the Illinois State Museum side of the Capitol.  What can I say here that the picture doesn’t?

 Are trees and asphalt mutually exclusive, or do you just have to live with what you get?

Where have all the cars gone?  It’s Monday; it’s a newly surfaced lot; but it’s lonely.

Rough winters require a lot of cold patch, but you do what you have to do.

Even Le Corbusier could not have built an uglier building than the adjacent Stratton Office Building (on right), nicknamed the SOB – the building that is, not the former governor who was nicknamed “Billy the Kid.”

. . .  and the wheels of progress just keeping on spinning.

Like This!

_________WIND FARMS_________ Seemed like such a great idea until they showed up near my house

 

Actually, they haven’t shown up near my house — but near enough.  And the place where they have shown up has severely strained my sensibilities.

67 of these monster wind towers have shown up on a beautiful stretch of farmland in Logan County, near Lincoln, Illinois, not far from Springfield, and the view to my eye is sickening.

The best that I can describe them is vexatious to the spirit.

You can see the wind turbines littered along either side of Route I-155 on what has always been a stunning, scenic view.  Ordinarily, there is not much aesthetic value in driving along on the roads of central Illinois.  It is usually so flat and monotonous that  driving any distance at all can be quite tedious.  For example, I have always considered the drive on I-72 from Springfield, Illinois to Champaign, Illinois one of the most boring stretches of land in the Midwest.  The 90 mile trip would put a cup of coffee to sleep.  It is a flat corn-and-soybean-scape that can dull the senses in about 30 minutes. 

The drive from Springfield to Lincoln has always been a little different from the typical road trip around here, and a great deal  more interesting.   For example, there is the fairly dramatic landscape feature of the community of Elkhart, Illinois.   The community is built upon a an unusually large hill that has a distinct visual appeal along with a rich history.  It also sits aside old U.S. Route 66, as most of this section of the newer road does.  The most beautiful part of this 30-mile stretch of road from Springfield to Lincoln, however, is the dramatic fall and rise of the land to a vantage point that is just short of spectacular.  As a child, I always dreamed that someday I would be able to buy a piece of land that would be perched atop this vista and it would enable me to see all the storms and tornadoes approaching for miles.  This description is not to mistake this property for the grandiosity of Yosemite, the Grand Tetons, or Sequoia National Park, but for central Illinois, the horizons don’t get any better than this.

So where is this giant wind farm placed?  It is scattered across the very land that is the most spectacular.  For my money, the sheer number of these wind towers has aesthetically ruined this area.

Surprisingly though, many of the people who actually live in this area, including many that were born and raised on this land, do not share my opinion.  Quite the opposite, it seems that their testimonials are by and large positive.  As described  in a very good February 6, 2010 article http://www.sj-r.com/carousel/x655690726/So-far-so-good-for-people-near-Logan-County-wind-farm by Chris Dettro in the State Journal Register, most people living on or near these wind turbines find them soothing, almost hypnotizing.  They describe them as more quiet than the wind itself.  Stress reduction, problem-free, good for the community, good for the tax base, and on and on . . .  are their narratives.

These land owners are also quite well compensated with payments for use of their land.  I am not sure to what degree the compensation factor influences their opinions, but if they are happy about their compensation, it would be hard to expect them to be negative about the turbines.  After all, so long as the towers are innocuous or so long as they just eventually became part of their almost invisible world, much as a new barn or silo might, it is probably to hard to argue with them.   It is hard to say when you don’t actually experience it like they might actually experience it on a day-to-day basis.

American people are inventive, innovative, and problem-solving people.  Deep down, I believe that most of us want to manage our energy needs in a smarter way that lessens damage to the planet.  I think American people want to embrace new ideas, new technology, and other measures which will continue to sustain the scarce resources that we have.  It’s unclear for our society about what to do next, however.  Should it be solar, wind power, nuclear again, a judicious combination of what we now have, or some other admixture of current resources along with attempting the novel?  The world is definitely at a crossroads now as to what is the next, best development, and how to pay for it?  Perhaps wind power is part of the solution.  Or, perhaps, it is too early to tell.

I continue to wonder, “Are we really thinking these things through, or are we in a frantic, semi-contrived survival mode where, not only now but in the future, we risk looking like a decrepit Siberia?  After all the cellphone towers, mega-watt transmission towers, and giant wind turbines have gone by the wayside for improved power-creating and transmission technology, will we be left with nothing but a horrific landscape?

I hope not.  Green needs to be more than that.

                          Montmartre: the Quarry and Windmills
                                           Oil on board, 1886
                               Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam

Even through the eyes and brush of Van Gogh, windmills are ugly.

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They Paved Paradise and Put Up a Parking Lot

As Joni Mitchell has told it, late one evening she flew into Hawaii where she was to perform in an upcoming concert.  When her plane landed at the airport, a taxi took her directly to her ocean side hotel where she immediately went to sleep for the night.  When she woke up the next day and drew back the curtains to take in her view of the ocean, she was startled by an immense parking lot between her hotel and the water.  Her reaction was the same as yours or mine probably would have been, namely, “Why on earth did somebody decide to do this?”  The next thing she did though was something that you and I would not have done or, rather, could not have done.  She immediately sat down in her hotel room and wrote a song.  It was called, “Big Yellow Taxi,” and the first verse is:

They paved paradise
And put up a parking lot
With a pink hotel, a boutique
and a swinging hot spot
Don’t it always seem to go
That you don’t know what you’ve got
Till it’s gone
They paved paradise
And put up a parking lot

 One of my clients and I used to love to talk golf rather than business.  He was a world traveler and played the great game everywhere he went.  His favorite golfing spots were in Scotland.  He convinced me that I should go with his group on the next trip.  He told me  how I would love Turnberry, Gleneagles, Carnoustie, and the Old Course at St. Andrews.  He said, “Mike, you’ve just got to see Scotland – they never tear anything down!”  Unfortunately, his health deteriorated rather suddenly, and we never made the trip.  However, I often think about the  trip that would-have-been — and imagine playing those old golf Scottish golf courses and seeing all of those old, old buildings that they never tore down.

Back in December of 1969, I remember 2 of my fellow college dorm mates returning from a concert.  They were quite excited  to say the least.  They had been to a Joni Mitchell concert at Symphony Hall in Boston.  This was quite an achievement for one of the guys, George, since he rarely left his room, even to attend class.  But he had an exuberant smile  that night, and something closely clutched under his arm.  The two guys quickly gushed that they were lucky enough to persist in meeting Joni and that the experience was indescribable – at least they were having difficulty in describing it.  However, George was able to entangle himself from his own arms and show me his prized possession, a signed album from Joni.  I don’t remember now whether the album was personally inscribed to George, but I have never forgotten what that signature looked like.  It was a very feminine, graceful autograph and it had a sweet touch that I hadn’t seen for a long time.  She had dotted the “i” in Joni with a little circle, the kind of dotted “i” that I hadn’t seen since second grade.  Right away, I  thought Joni Mitchell’s music might be something that I might want try a little more.  I thought maybe I was a little late to the Joni Mitchell parade.  She was already playing Symphony Hall, and I was just discovering her?  Where had I been?   The guys told me that she going to play at some nearby colleges within the next couple of days, namely:  MIT, Brandeis, and maybe Holy Cross.  I really wanted to see her perform but I didn’t seem to have the time.  Maybe later.  I would be content for now listening to an album.

Regrettably, many years later, I have still not seen Joni Mitchell perform, nor have I been to Scotland.  I guess I have been a little too sedentary.  Maybe it’s just been circumstance.  But lately, I’ve started to think about Joni and Scotland a lot more.  You see, since, “Big Yellow Taxi” was written, they’ve torn down a lot of paradise and put up more than a few parking lots.  I have lived in Springfield, Illinois for the past 35 years and they have paved a considerable amount of paradise since I’ve arrived.  Cornfields, chunks of old neighborhoods, historic mansions , you name it – Springfield has done its share of demolishing paradise.  It also has had a inclination to put up paved lots subsequent to the demolitions.

Springfield, being the State capital, has a requisite number of buildings for conducting official government business.  The State, being the largest employer in Springfield, also has a requirement for parking spaces for its employees.  For reasons too involved and too complex to be discussed here (read entrenched political stuff), parking lots having developed as a big business here.  As a result, the ugly things are all over the place.  Parking lots are not monopolized by governmental employment needs alone, however.  Ubiquitous sitings dot the entire landscape of our community here.  For example, just down the street from my home sits a very large neighborhood movie theater that razed several blocks to build a massive asphalt parking lot.  The problem is that this eyesore has been abandoned for I’m guessing over 10 years, and there sits adjacent to this horrendous vacant shoe-box theater complex, an unused desert of obtrusive, asphalt nothingness.  Not to dwell on just my neighborhood, this sort of urban blight exists all over the city, and the people aren’t quite sure what to do about it.  I know I’m not.

I would like to find some answers though.  I’d like to know where all the urban planners, zoning officials, municipal leaders , planning commissions,  developers, outside corporate interests, and other miscellaneous idiotic bureaucrats are, who planned this urban morass, with which we are now stuck.  I suspect that they are either retired in Gstaad, Palm Springs or, more likely, comatose in Branson.  Wherever they are, no one every seems to step up as accountable.   At this point, I doubt that any of them could care a whit about the mess that we’ve inherited from these community muddleheads.  They got the money, and we got the asphalt.  And in the process, we’ve  lost at a piece of paradise, and we’ve got what we’ve got. 

Totally frustrated, I am going to do what I can.  I am pledging to do what I wanted to do years and years ago.  First, I’m going to Great Britain.  I do not intend to play golf, but I do plan to take in a lot of those old, old buildings.  In fact, I plan to stay for most of my 3 week trip in a university building built around 1265.  I understand that it is a very nice building, continuously occupied now for almost 750 years.  Instead of tearing it down, I understand they intend to keep it up-to-date in perpetuity.  No need to worry, I’ll have a high-speed ethernet connection in my room, although I’m not sure if I’ll have a rainhead shower nozzle or warming bar for my towels.  I’m guessing I will, though.  By the way, almost no parking lots are allowed anywhere near the central part of my destination GB city, which has a population of over 150,000 (larger than Springfield, IL).

Oh yeah, and when I get back home from my trip, I’m going to check out Joni Mitchell.  I don’t think she sings much, if at all, anymore, but I hear she paints.  Maybe I’ll buy a picture of paradise.

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