Chicago, Part Three



Frank Lloyd Wright’s Robie House


Sigh.  I still haven’t finished reporting on that really interesting four-hour Friday afternoon tour of Chicago.  But I’m going to try to do so now.


Chicago is closely associated with Frank Lloyd Wright, whose work I’ve always loved.  So it was fun, on this tour, to drive by the Robie House (see above) and the Heller House (see below).


Frank Lloyd Wright’s Heller House


Then we went to the University of Chicago.  This was a big deal for me.  Despite my many travels all over the world, I’ve only been to the University of Chicago once before, and that was decades ago.


Our tour on Friday took us past the building where business and economics are taught.


Way back before my mission — during, I think, the summer break after my freshman year in college — I visited Chicago with my parents.  I was, at that time, seriously thinking about studying economics in graduate school, and, for me, the only place to do graduate work in economics was Milton Friedman’s University of Chicago.  This was the home of the “Chicago School,” founded by Frank McKnight and carried on by such soon-to-be Nobel laureates as Friedman and George Stigler.


So I had wanted to visit the Chicago campus, and my parents obliged me.  But, approaching campus from (as I recall) the west, we drove through a really, really rough area.  At every red light, young men came out and rocked our car, yelling insults at “whitey.”  (I was already beginning to lose my enthusiasm for Chicago at that point.)  Then, we pulled up in front of Rockefeller Chapel.  It was about 1 PM on a beautiful, sunny day.  But, before I could walk over to see the Chapel, a man came running toward us, screaming “Don’t leave your car!  Don’t leave your car!  They’re stealing car batteries!”  His battery, in fact, had been stolen, and, as we drove him to a gas station to try to get a new one, we counted seven cars with their hoods up.  It was broad daylight.  I lost any and all interest in coming to the University of Chicago.


What happens to a dream deferred? Finally, I’m standing in front of Rockefeller Chapel and about to, yes, go inside.


This time, though, I got to go into the Chapel.  I understand that security is enormously improved at the University of Chicago, that crime has been very much reduced.  Had my visit back then been like my visit on Friday, I might — who knows? — have gone into economics.


We drove a little bit more around campus.  The Chapel sits — and my parents and I parked — on what used to be the Midway of the 1893 Columbian Exposition, one of the pivotal events in Chicago’s history.  (The nickname “Windy City” comes not from its weather but from the complaints of its disappointed rivals in New York about the vocal boosters and politicians who had managed to win the Exposition away from New York for their town.)  The world’s very first Ferris wheel stood thirty-two stories high on the Midway.


Henry Moore, “Nuclear Energy”


We drove past the site, then under the University of Chicago Stagg Field football bleachers, where, on 2 December 1942, Enrico Fermi first split the atom.


My father, assigned by the Army (it was during World War Two), was studying German at the University of Chicago during this time, somewhere near Stagg Field.  He always told me that he and his fellow students knew that something hush-hush was going on but had no idea what it was and certainly couldn’t have imagined its world-historical significance.


Leaving the University of Chicago, we went out to Lake Michigan.


The Chicago skyline from out on Lake Michigan


And then we strolled through Millennium Park, home of the “Cloud Gateway,” or whatever its official title is.  Locals call it, simply, “The Bean”:


“The Bean”


Our guide told us that Chicago politicians (including the fabled, enormously powerful, and eventually criminally-convicted Democratic congressman Dan Rostenkowski) managed to get Millennium Park built entirely with federal money: Locals didn’t pay a dime.


The Bean, up close


This, I confess, irritated me.  Why should farmers in Kansas, factory workers in Cincinnati, accountants in Oregon, and school teachers in South Carolina be obliged to pay for a park in Chicago, while residents of Chicago pay absolutely nothing?  Surely, if there’s anything local at all, it is and ought to be a city park.


The Bean, from underneath


It’s rather like a co-pay with insurance.  If cost and benefit are completely separate, if there’s no relationship between them, those who benefit will be only too happy to impose unlimited costs on those who pay for their benefits.  Normal market discipline has been removed.  Having at least a little bit of “skin in the game” is essential for efficiency, to say nothing of simple justice.


Posted from Chicago, Illinois.



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  • Kiwi57

    There’s a rather prominent feature in the foreground of your “Chicago Skyline” picture that inexplicably didn’t get mentioned in the caption…

  • Kiwi57

    Did you just tell us that Chicago is “The Windy City” because of its propensity to produce political blowhards?

    What are we to make of that…?

  • Raymond Takashi Swenson

    The Bean is prominently featured in the movie “Source Code” starring Jake Gyllenhall. His character has what appear to be distorted visions of a city skyline, but it turns out to be a straightforward view of that unique location in Chicago.

  • Raymond Takashi Swenson

    Wright also designed the Imperial Hotel in Tokyo, which survived the great 1923 earthquake and fire. The entrance section of the hotel was relocated to kind of Sturbridge Village site outside Nagoya called “Meiji Mura” or “Meiji (era) Village”. It is a collection of buildings from all over Japan which were constructed during the transformation of Japan from an insular kingdom that prohibited trade with America and Europe, into an economy the match of the Western nations of its day, epitomized by the Japanese victory over Russia in 1905. It is a fascinating way to learn about that period of transformation, with architecture that blended Western and Oriental traditions, including Wright’s Imperial Hotel.

    Clearly, a lot of the Western design of the late 19th Century was influenced by the esthetics of the newly discovered Japanese designs for buildings, furniture, and clothing, including the Arts and Crafts style that used very rectangular pieces of wood and stone to create surprisingly comfortable pieces of furniture and rooms. Wright strove for a very Japanese blending of buildings with their natural surroundings. You can detect the kinship between the Katsura Imperial Villa (which was reproduced to serve as the Japan Pavilion at the 1980 Osaka World’s Fair) with Wright’s Falling Water.

    • danpeterson

      I really like Japanese domestic architecture, too.

  • Trevor Luke

    I am a big fan of Wright’s architecture. I thought the Imperial Hotel had been demolished. What an amazing building. I would be happy to find out that I was wrong about the building’s destruction.

    On another note, I applied and was accepted to the Committee on the Mediterranean World PhD program at the University of Chicago. My hope was to work with Christopher Faraone. Unfortunately, I discovered that the average time to PhD was nine years, the students I encountered were viciously competitive (stories of squirreling away books were in the air), and my rental car was struck by a Chicago driver pulling out of a McDonalds. Somehow I managed to convince the driver not to flee the scene. Although my wife had a great job offer with a big law firm in town, I was put off by the experience. No Chicago for us. Still, I envy you your time at the meeting. Enjoy!

    • danpeterson

      I still have mixed feelings about not coming to Chicago, though — at that time and, perhaps even more, in economics — it probably wasn’t the place for me.

      I was still flirting with economics at Chicago as late 1976, when I got to spend some time in Scotland with Milton Friedman and even more time there with his colleague George Stigler (who would soon win the Nobel Prize himself), with whom I spent most of one day shopping in used bookstores. But, ultimately, I went a different direction.