Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Medinah Temple

They put a parking lot on a piece of land,
where a supermarket used to stand.
Before that they put up a bowling alley,
on the site that used to be the local Pally.

Come Dancing -- The Kinks

If there is one consistent in the urban landscape, it is that nothing is consistent. We Chicagoans love to complain about change.

Sears Tower changed its name.

Before that the Berghoff family closed their restaurant then re-opened it with a new agenda.

Before that Marshall Field's became Macy's.

Hey I never forgave Field's for closing their fourth floor toy store 30 years ago!

There have been lamentable changes in Chicago since people destroyed the virgin prairie that once covered the area and began to live here. Once a city stops changing, it stops being a city and becomes a theme park.

I read a post on a blog the other day about Medinah Temple, the wonderfully wacky former home of the Shriners on Chicago's near north side. The blogger noted (in what turned out to be an unattributed quote from the Chicago Landmarks site) "the plethora of Islamic and Middle Eastern ornament" and boasted for what it's worth, that it is "considered one of the nation's finest examples of a Middle Eastern-style Shrine temple."

Again, Chicago, the city of big distinctions.

To me Medinah Temple will forever evoke images of middle aged guys wearing fezzes and shoes with the toes curled up tooling around on motorized flying carpets, but that's just me.

Before Medinah Temple was converted by Bloomingdale's into a home furnishing store, it housed a beautiful hall with magnificent acoustics, so much so that the Chicago Symphony Orchestra recorded there on occasion.

Back in the late seventies I attended a recital given there by Luciano Pavarotti. The concert was an incredible experience. I was just beginning my love affair with opera, was a huge Pavarotti fan who at that time was at the height of his career, and hadn't set foot in Medinah Temple since my parents took me to the circus there when I was a small child.

Both the great tenor and the hall are memories. The Shriners put the building up for sale at the end of the 1990's and it looked for a while that both it and the estimable Tree Studios building just to the west would both be doomed. A local developer stepped in, made a counter offer to purchase the block containing the two buildings, and re-developed the two properties to uses suitable to their new tenants.

The two buildings were designated landmarks in 2001 and together serve as a respite in a neighborhood filled with grossly over-scaled, cookie cutter condominium buildings, two of which are visible in the photo above.

Grudgingly I must admit that a converted Medinah Temple without its great hall is better than no Medinah Temple at all.

Here's to creative re-use!

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