June 12, 2016
BY JUDY CARMACK BROSS
David Garrard Lowe’s book, Lost Chicago, rescued for all time the architectural treasures lost to wrecking balls across our city. Through incredible photos and moving text, he so movingly captures what once was ours. HisChicago Interiors invites readers to look inside the chicest residences and public spaces.
On a recent visit to speak on Art Deco Chicago at the Arts Club, David presented to the Art Institute a collection of one thousand of his photographs of Chicago. Now living in New York as head of the Beaux Arts Alliance, David was born in Kentucky but moved to Chicago following the early death of his mother.
“My mother was a French Huguenot and the Garrard family’s 1786 house was filled with history. My parents had separated and I came to live with my father in Chicago, following my mother’s death. His family owned a wonderful house at Indiana and 23rd Street during the Prairie Avenue days. He purchased a movie pass when I arrived, and I used it to visit all the great movie palaces around town. One of my favorites was the Paradise Theater in Garfield Park, a Balaban and Katz masterpiece torn down in 1956. I remember its opulence and vast domed ceiling – a perfect movie palace.”
On a recent Chicago visit, David stayed around the corner from the location of the old Pearson Hotel, a landmark he mourns.
“It has a great marble lobby that looked like one of those ocean liners where Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers danced. How wonderful to be in that Streeterville neighborhood and walk over to the great Esquire Theater which always showed ‘the news of the world’ before a great feature.”
For the catalogue of rare photos he wrote a moving introduction about the city he loves:
“It is not too much to say that I have had a love affair with Chicago all my life. I remember, as a very small child, going through a doorway surrounded by astonishing metallic swirls and hearing the words Carson Pirie Scott. Later, I would know that the doorway and the entire structure was the creation of the seminal architect Louis Sullivan. My romance with the Windy City was always fueled by a youthful absorption of its physical presence, and later, by an intellectual understanding of its greatness. I remember the delicious sound of music wafting from the loudspeaker of the Club House at Washington Park and the Oriental glory of the Paradise Theater on Crawford Street.
“As an only child with few friends, I was allowed to wander through the city’s streets, boulevards, and avenues almost at will. I began to search for structures by the men whom I had read about: Sullivan, John Wellborn Root, Frank Lloyd Wright, Daniel Burnham, and Henry Ives Cobb.”
As an adult, he moved to New York to edit the prestigious American Heritage Magazine, but always kept his eye on beloved Chicago landmarks.
“I watched so many of the buildings that I loved disappear like sandcastles. When Joyce Hartman, editor of ‘Lost New York,’ asked if there were enough lost buildings in Chicago to make a book, and would I like to write it, I answered yes immediately! My books’ rare photos came from photographers, families, and companies who allowed me access to their collections.”
His publisher Houghton Mifflin, who had no idea that Lost Chicago would be so highly sought after for over four decades and counting, printed only 2000 copies at first. Released at the time of the rallying cry of preservationists in the early 1970s, when architectural photographer Richard Nickel died while photographing the destruction of Sullivan’s Stock Exchange Building, Lowe’s book was an immediate bestseller.
Among his other books is Art Deco New York. David feels that Chicago is a place to see architectural treasures of that period, both lost and those remaining. For his recent Arts Club lecture, David created an imaginary couple, The Bridges from Westchester County, who visit Chicago and stop at many Art Deco sites.
“They took in a Sonja Henie skating performance on the large ice stage at the Stevens Hotel, which became the Conrad Hilton. He attended meetings at the Board of Trade, while she shopped at the marvelous Art Deco shops created on a smaller scale, like Shaxted’s and Bes-Ben, next to the fabulous 900 North Michigan building, where she lunched at Jacques, Chicago’s first French restaurant, in the central courtyard with a lovely fountain. The Bridges fell in love with Chicago.”
And Chicago loves David Garrard Lowe, a scholar and social connector who continues to celebrate his lifelong love affair with our city.