Monday, April 13, 2015

I took the Blue Line... Montrose on Saturday, walked west and then back east on Irving Park. It was time to head to the Northwest Side, although I didn't go as far as Edison Park, Norwood Park or even Jefferson Park. Those will have to wait for another day.

(By the way, why do you suppose so many of Chicago's neighborhoods -- or "community areas," as they are properly known -- are named after parks? I wonder if it's because, like Catholics who used to answer the question, "Where do you live?" with the name of their parish, the secular answer to that question was the name of the closest park.)

According to Wikipedia (where would we be without it?), Portage Park takes its name from the major portage linking the Des Plaines and Chicago rivers along what is today Irving Park Road. And according to the 2000 census, it has the largest Polish community in the Chicago Metropolitan Area.

It was a beautiful, sunny day and, clad in a long-sleeve T-shirt and hoodie, I was almost hot at times and had to walk in the shade. Can you imagine?

I was able to take a number of what I consider cool pictures, including a couple of these giraffes sitting serenely in front of a typical Northwest Side bungalow. What a nice touch!

Irving Park Road was particularly rich with material. There were several neat buildings, such as this one with terra cotta detail.

And I don't recall ever seeing the Patio Theater before, which is just west of Six Corners. (Maybe because I'd never been west of Six Corners.) According to Wikipedia:

The theater originally opened in 1927 with a capacity of 1,500 people. Its atmospheric auditorium was designed in the Neo-Pompeiien fashion, with various Spanish and Italian architectural influences present as well.

Built in the 1920s but not Art Deco? Interesting.

Then there were, of course, the obligatory old neon signs of which I am such a sucker. (I would have taken more but my battery was running out. Hey, Tim Cook: forget about all those new doodads like that watch; just make a battery that'll last me all day!)

But the "crown jewel" of my walk was St. Pascal Church on Irving Park and Melvina in what is actually the far northeastern corner of Dunning, not Portage Park. (It's across the street.) I think I may have even muttered "jackpot!" to myself as I recalled seeing the structure in Chicago Sojourn. (The two photos above, as well as the one immediately below, are borrowed from that post as Robert Powers was able to take better shots than me.) My only knock on the place is that it faces north; is there ever any good light on that magnificent facade?

To be even more precise, the church must be located in Schorsch Village, because according to the church's own website (my emphasis):

As frame houses and brick bungalows spread across the prairie, the parish quickly outgrew the Austin Avenue building. Fortunately, benefactors appeared in the form of the Schorsch family, Saint Pascal parishioners and local real estate developers. At the urging of family matriarch, Marie A. Schorsch, the family donated land along Irving Park Road, between Melvina and Meade Avenues, for a new parish campus. Ground was broken March 17, 1923, and the first phase of construction completed on November 5, 1925. The Irving Park site featured a rectory, a school, and to the east of the school, a temporary, second floor church above an auditorium.

Saint Pascal Parish and the surrounding neighborhood thrived, the population swelling, and as the 1920s came to a close, Father George Heimsath and his flock resolved to complete the plans for the Irving Park site by creating an inspiring monument to their faith, an edifice that would embody the strength of the human spirit and the promise of eternal salvation.

According to Powers, St. Pascal was completed in 1930 in the Art Deco style. Like St. Joseph’s in Wilmette (above), the church is "tall and massive, with a shallow carved entry cove, bearing a massive cross with a rose window behind it." (Unlike St. Pascal, St. Joe's faces southwest and thus affords some better images.)

But "despite all those geometric details on the outside, the inside is pure Mission Style." And while Powers included some shots of the interior on his post, I didn't feel comfortable doing the same on Saturday. Parishioners were beginning to file in for evening Mass, and I didn't think it would be appropriate to run around snapping pictures on my iPhone. ("Excuse me, sir, but could you move your head just a little?")

The church's website describes the structure a little differently. (Was Art Deco considered too ... secular? Too ... materialistic? Too ... Roaring Twenties? Too ... decadent?) 

For this third (and current) church, Father Heimsath settled on a Moorish, or more accurately, a Mudejardesign that would evoke the sixteenth century civilization of the church’s patron. The fa├žade features a shallow carved entry cove that bears a forty-seven foot cross with a half rose window behind it. Terra cotta trimmings adorn the building. Most strikingly, a 116-foot bell tower, approximately eleven stories tall, soars from the structure’s southeast side. Acknowledging contemporary styles, architect Raymond Gregori added symmetrical and rectilinear Art Deco touches to the building’s exterior.

Okay, okay -- there's some Art Deco here, but not much!

Construction on the majestic structure began in 1930, in the shadow of the Great Depression, out-of-work parishioners supplying much of the labor. The church, at the corner of Irving and Melvina, opened for Mass Christmas Day, 1931.

After walking past the entrance to the school on Irving Park, I turned left (south) on Melvina and took some shots of the exterior. (The light was better there.)

I especially liked these side doors.

And this huge cross on the western side of the building.

As I walked around the back, onto West Dakin Street, I began to notice something a little out of place.

What the heck is that, next to the bell tower?

Is that a, a -- minaret?

It is! What's going on here? Is this the stealth work of that fiendish Muslim Kenyan socialist in the White House? Thanks a lot, Obama! What's next, Sharia law on the Northwest Side of Chicago?

Not so fast. Again, from St. Pascal's own website:

The church’s red clay tile roof and faux minaret—a chimney—reflect the Moorish influence, as do the high, yellow-brick outer walls, the quatrefoil windows, the interior multi-lobed archways, and the spectacular horizontal paneled ceiling, crisscrossed by intricately embellished beams in the Alfarje style.

Phew! That was a close one.

My last shot is of that bell tower, which is truly spectacular. (And I don't care what anybody says; it looks strictly Art Deco to me.)

Now that I've been Southwest, Northeast, Southeast and Northwest, it may be time to change it up a bit. I noticed from Powers's post that there's one more Art Deco church on the North Side that I haven't yet seen, St. Ferdinand out on West Barry. Maybe next weekend I'll complete the trifecta.

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