CHICAGO (CBS) — Chicago is a city famously known for its architecture, and author Lee Bey said some of the most beautiful, historic, iconic and fascinating buildings are south of downtown.
From a small Frank Lloyd Wright-designed house to a modern dry cleaning building on a busy Chatham corner, classic and modern designs share the same space that, Bey lamented, is often characterized for crime.
The architecture critic, writer, photographer, and author’s new upcoming book “Southern Exposure: The Overlooked Architecture Of Chicago’s South Side” said that architecture books and journals rarely discuss the South Side. The book is set to be released in early October.
“The book argues that it’s largely because of issues of race. That the South Side of Chicago is where black and brown people live. And when a community turns black and brown, crime and disinvestment becomes the narrative above all. Even above truth,” Bey said.
Bey said that places like Hyde Park and Beverly have been looked at in the past and now the historic Pullman district is getting attention. But they’re the exception. Bey said more places are worth a visit. For example, the Chicago Vocational Career Academy (formerly known as the Chicago Vocational High School.) It opened in the 1940s and could accommodate 6,000 students, making it the largest vocational school in the country. It’s easily seen from the Chicago Skyway going east toward Indiana.
“Chicago Vocational High School, my old high school, the largest non-skyscraper Art Deco building in the city. The book says come off the Skyway, look and see what this building really is. Built in 1941, it has this modern WPA, Art Deco look to it,” Bey explained. The building
Bey, who was born in the South Shore neighborhood and now resides in Pullman, said events like Open House Chicago help to show people the area’s stunning architecture.
“Last year they had something like 50 sites on the South and West sides of Chicago and these are buildings that people outside the south and west sides really don’t see. If you’re going to talk about Chicago architecture, you’re going to talk about the John Hancock Building, you talk about Sears Tower…it puts them on the same playing field, which is fantastic,” he said.
Bey said the 190-page book could have “easily been 10 times that amount.” with all the places that were left out. He hopes it inspires a photographer from the West Side to do the same thing; to document the buildings and stories of their importance.
“It’s time to look at it in a different way. Which isn’t to dismiss the crime and the things that happen here. It needs to be talked about and it needs to be addressed,” Bey said. “But it also needs to be seen where there are people, neighborhoods, landmarks and beauty. (Where) people fall in love and they laugh in the park, and do all those things just like they do in other neighborhoods.”
One reason people are taking another look is because it’ll be the site of the soon-to-be-built Obama Presidential Center in Jackson Park.
“The positive of it is that it’s an asset to the South Side,” Bey said. “The negative is obviously something like that can tend to push up speculators who do what speculators do best, which is come in and see, forecast tomorrow’s prices today.”
Bey said a good place to start to explore the different kinds of architecture on the South Side would be King Drive, home to lots of greystones south of McCormick Place.
“If you like modernist architecture, Chatham was built in the 1920s and 30s. There are 79 buildings from the 1950s that look radically different from the rest of the stuff,” noted Bey, who includes Pride Cleaners with its roof that reaches to the sky.
“These are the kinds of things that the book raises an awareness of and somehow helps those who are trying to keep these buildings all standing,” Bey said. “What it’s really about is that this part of the city is both overlooked and worth looking at now.”