Chicago People and Places

That’s not the Terra Cotta Head of Thomas Jefferson at Willowbrook High School

I stumbled upon it while I was Googling around, looking for images of one of my favorite, late great works of Chicago architecture - the Schiller theater and office building.

In case you’re not familiar with it, the Schiller - later renamed the Garrick - was one of Dankmar Adler’s and Louis Sullivan’s most renown Chicago structures.  It stood stoically at 64 West Randolph Street from 1892 until 1961.

It was on one of Willowbrook High School’s web site history pages - a photo of a terra cotta head with its nose knocked-off.  

Even without its nose, I immediately recognized it as one of the dozen terra cotta portrait heads which originally adorned the second floor exterior balcony of the Schiller. 

Then, I read the description accompanying the photo:

Willowhistorypic4-4 “The terra cotta head of Thomas Jefferson, stuck in the southeast wall of Willowbrook (and minus its nose), originally ornamented the Louis Sullivan-designed Garrick Theatre in downtown Chicago.  It was transferred to Willowbrook by Mike Venezia (Class of 1963).  Mike’s father and uncle were contractors for the razing of the theatre building (1961), and Mike was able to retrieve the Jefferson head for Willowbrook.”

Fascinating!  And somewhat thrilling - at least to me.  This meant I had located another one of the 12 original heads from the now-demolished theater building.  (One of my meager life goals is to find each of the 12 terra cotta heads from the Schiller/Garrick’s second floor balcony facade, as well as to determine each of their identities.)

But wait, there’s something wrong.  That’s not the head of Thomas Jefferson (minus its nose) stuck in the southeast wall of Willowbrook High School in Villa Park, Illinois.  And I think I can prove it. 

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Who are the Overseers of The Second City Comedy Theater in Chicago?

At first glance, you might think they’re heroes of the American Revolution.

Collage3-1 But why would the terra cotta portrait heads of Revolutionary War heroes be adorning the entrance of The Second City? 

That’s right, The Second City; Chicago’s (and arguably the world’s) greatest comedy theater.  The mere mention of its name evokes thoughts of improvisational comedy (commonly known as “improv” to us Chicagoans and anyone else who hasn’t been living under a rock the past 50 years). 

I should also mention that The Second City is second to none as a training ground for students of improv and sketch comedy.  

What has been described as “American theatrical satire” was officially born at The Second City in December 1959. 

And since then, it has been nurtured and raised to a sophisticated and entertaining “middle age.”

100_0218-1 Although these four guys may have been revolutionary in their fields, they had nothing to do with the American Revolution.  In fact, they’re not even Americans; they’re Germans!

So the question is really more like, “Who are these German guys and what are they doing at the entrance to The Second City at 1616 North Wells Street in Chicago’s Old Town?”

Prior to my completing this story, if you had searched The Second City’s web site, you would have found no mention of them.  If you had asked any of The Second City’s employees about their identities, they may have had guesses, but no one "really knew."

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Where the Famous Congregate in Chicago

I know a place in Chicago where some of the most famous people in the world congregate. 

No, I’m not talking about some celebrity restaurant where a bunch of over-hyped professional athletes and entertainers gather to eat and drink. I'm talking about a place where you can find some of the most accomplished human beings who've ever walked the streets of Chicago (or the world, for that matter).

A Nobel Prize-winning scientist, Olympic athletes, civil rights activists, judges, doctors, soldiers, and politicians.  People of different sexes, races, and ages.

James Cleveland Owens, Ida B. Wells-Barnett, Kenesaw Mountain Landis, William “Big Bill” Thompson, and Enrico Fermi, just to name a few.

Do you recognize any of those names?  How’s your knowledge of recent history?  As you were reading their names, did you say to yourself, "I thought he [or she] was dead"?

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