Saturday, March 30, 2013

Midway Gardens, Lost Chicago Frank Lloyd Wright and A Wright Murder Story

 Washington Park on Chicago's southside. Located between 50th & 61st and seven blocks wide it serves as a large buffer. On the west is the Washington Park neighborhood which is racked with violence recording 55 murders since 2007 including six along the parks western boundary Martin Luther King Dr. Which is how many were recorded in the entire neighborhood to the east of the Hyde Park. Home of President Obama and the University of Chicago.

It is also the site of the 1893 Columbia Exposition that serves as the backdrop to the Devil In The White City. At the corner of 60th & Cottage Grove is the parks southeast corner where stands the massive sculpture“Fountain Of Time” which we showed in a previous ChiTownView video. Anyway right across the street once stood Midway Gardens. And by all accounts it was a fantastic piece of eye candy. A real gem that was designed & constructed by Frank Lloyd Wright . What few photos and surviving relics there are hint at the delights offered at this home for the arts that was a work of art.

It was a complex offering taverns, cigar stores, beer halls, dining, dancing, concerts, movies and more. This multi-level in and outdoor facility was built on the site of one of Chicago's first amusement parks. It opened on July 27th 1914 with a performance by the National Orchestra. For the first couple of years Wright booked the entertainment and over the years entertainers from Benny Goodman to Russian ballerina Ana Pavlova entertained there. For awhile the place was a success but the owner of the business Edward Waller fell into financial trouble. In 1916 the Midway Gardens was sold to the Edelweiss Brewery and was renamed the Edelweiss Gardens.

A combination of the first world war then prohibition kept the Gardens from succeeding and it was sold a couple of more times before being demolished in 1929 just fifteen years after opening. As testament to the sturdiness of Wrights construction two companies went out of business and a third took a huge loss destroying the concrete structure. It it's debris were taken to the lake to become break wall.

Not all though as some of the famous “sprite” statues were saved from destruction. They were saved by someone and eventually were discovered in pieces in a farmers field in Wisconsin. They found there about twenty years later and restored and returned to the Wrights and they ended up in Arizona and now stand guard over the Wright designed Arizona Biltmore Resort & Spa.

And a not part of the video bonus

A Frank Lloyd Wright Related Grisly Murder Story

At the same time as the Gardens opened Wright's life had been going through a series of personal setbacks that was capped less than a month after Midway gardens opened. While Wright was in Chicago working on the project an insane employee at Talisman Wright's Wisconsin retreat set fire to the house and slaughtered seven people with an ax when they tried to escape.

Julian Carlton was the name of the man who killed Wright's mistress Martha “Mamah” Borthwick Cheney her two children and four other Wright workers. Wright had created a huge scandal by having an affair with this married woman who was also a feminist intellectual. Once the affair became public in 1911 he had virtually stopped receiving commissions for new work. Midway gardens was Wright's first big project since he's been blackballed.

The true motive for the murder was never discovered Carlton tried to commit suicide, survived a near lynching only to die of self inflicted starvation after two months without revealing a motive.

For more information about this murder and news of a film about it click here.

Photos are from the National Archive. 

For more photos including a rare look at the Sans Souci Chicago's first amusement park whose entrance was located on the site of Midway gardens as well as a layout of the Gardens check out this post.

Check out our Wright playlist where you find an extensive collection of Wright designed buildings and other Wright related videos.

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