Skip to content

Canadian Architects of the Chicago School 1880 – 1935

A striking feature of Chicago that amazes visitors and newcomers alike is the ability of taxi-cab drivers to identify city landmarks by their architect.  The Thompson Center? – why that’s Helmut Jahn.  The Loop Post Office? – it’s Mies van der Rohe.  The Pritzker Pavilion at Millennium Park – Frank Gehry!

The part of the story that few seem able to recount is how many of the architects cited are Canadian.  Frank Gehry – from time to time claiming to be Torontonian or from someplace thereabouts – is one example.  But dig a bit deeper into Chicago’s heritage…

While everyone can recite the name of at least one Frank Lloyd Wright building, few realize that the River Forest Tennis Club in River Forest was originally built as a carbon copy of the “Frank Lloyd Wright Pavilion” in Banff National Park.  The Tennis Club was moved and altered in 1910, but many basic parts of the existing building are just as they were built in Banff.  Why Banff, you ask?  In his travels to Japan, a favourite steamship of Wright’s was the Canadian Pacific “Empress of Asia”, which left from the Granville Street Terminal in Vancouver.  In those day, Canadian Pacific sold “through tickets” that accommodated passengers in their ocean liners, trains and hotels in trips around the world.  One of the easiest ways to get from Chicago to Tokyo was to take the Canadian Pacific Railway train through Moose Jaw, spend a couple days at the Banff Springs hotel, and in just a couple steps from your train stop in Vancouver, catch your steamer from the same building.  One of Wright’s protégés – Francis C. Sullivan of Ottawa – introduced him to many contacts within the Canadian Department of Public Works, including the Banff National Park Warden and Superintendant.

Likewise, many marvel at historic buildings in the Chicago Park District or along the Chicago River, or delight in presentations at the Graham Foundation.  When he was sixteen, Hugh Garden was one of three sons of a Toronto family that immigrated to Chicago. For a time, Garden worked in Frank Lloyd Wright’s Oak Park studio before partnering up with other architects to establish a prolific Chicago practice.  As Designer in Charge, he was responsible for projects like the Madelener House and the hotel addition to the former Chicago Athletic Association.  His client relationship with the Chicago Park District produced memorable works such as the Garfield Park Refectory and the Columbus Park lanterns; his last major project was the former Marshall Fields Warehouse complex along the North Branch of the Chicago River.

And meanwhile, several buildings in Chicago – the clubhouse of the Union League Club of Chicago being a good example – are credited to William LeBaron Jenney, despite the building having been built in 1925 and Jenney having died in 1907.  William LeBaron Jenney was a Chicago Architect who invented the steel cage skyscraper frame, for which Chicago became known world-over as the birthplace of the skyscraper. Few recognize that Jenney mentored and appointed a successor Architect to assume his practice – a Hamilton, Ontario native named William Bryce Mundie. A quiet and unassuming fellow, Mundie was never-the-less a professional and social pillar of Chicago. Upon his hiring in 1884, Mundie was given the assignment of being the Project Architect of the Home Life Insurance Building, a landmark building recognized as the world’s first skyscraper. Mundie became a partner in what became Jenney and Mundie Architects in 1891. Louis Sullivan credited Mundie as being the inventor of the “Skyscraper Setback Style” in a treatise describing the Manhattan Building.  Instrumental in the adoption of building code and professional regulation standards, he was appointed Supervising Architect to the Chicago Board of Education in 1898. Here, his personal mission being to bring school construction to high standards of safety, in the aftermath of the Iroquois Theater fire tragedy.  A Board Member of the Canadian Club of Chicago and of the Illinois Saint Andrew Society, he was also the First Vice President of the American Institute of Architects. He donated his services – twice – to build and rebuild the Scottish Home in North Riverside. And, of course, he was a Member of the Union League Club of Chicago, and Architect of its present clubhouse.

So, we all know the architectural landmarks of Chicago, but do you know of the Canadian landmarks here?


Posted in Architecture, History, Speaking Engagements.

Happy Canada Day! … from Chicago…

In connecting two concepts:

July 1 is Canada Day. July 1, 1867 was the day that HRM Queen Victoria signed the British North America Act and officially declared Canada to be a country.

Milt Rosenberg is an iconic Chicago radio broadcaster. Over the years, he has regularly interviewed the likes of Henry Kissinger and Margaret Thatcher. Mr. Rosenberg has a regular show, “720 Extension” that may be heard on Chicago’s WGN Radio. WGN Radio broadcasts on 720AM and at and on numerous social media.

This year, on Sunday, July 1, 2012, Milt Rosenberg will commemorate Canada Day by interviewing Canadians who live in the Chicago area. I happen to be one of those lucky Canadians invited to participate.

“720 Extension” will air Sunday, July 1, 2012 at 10PM Central Time.

Posted in Current Affairs, International Affairs, Speaking Engagements, Uncategorized.

Darrel Babuk presented with Visit Oak Park Award

At the Annual Meeting of Visit Oak Park (formerly known as the Oak Park Area Visitor and Convention Bureau), Darrel Babuk was presented with the “New Member of the Year Award”, in recognition of the Babuk Presentations, Inc.  initiative.

Though Darrel Babuk is a practicing architect – having completed various project and program management projects for clients such as the Chicago Transit Authority, Chicago Public Schools, and West Suburban Hospital –he has always been doing public speaking engagements and other presentations.

It may have started with his presentation to the Royal Institute of British Architects in London that described architectural internship and formal education in the United States, which Darrel was invited to present as part of his tenure as National Vice President of the American Institute of Architecture Students.  The concept of Babuk Presentations took off when Darrel was tapped by the City of Chicago Mayor’s Office of Special Events for a series of presentations about Chicago’s architecture and railroad history for the Great Chicago Places and Spaces festival series.  His address to the Royal Architectural Institute of Canada’s national convention last year was but one of several out-of-town presentations where he has promoted Oak Park; on the flip side, he is constantly delivering customized presentations about Chicago and Oak Park to organized groups visiting from out-of-town and abroad.  

He has always been organizing events – like “Canadian Architecture in Chicago Week”, or the “Scottish Motor Club and British Car Show” at the Illinois Saint Andrew Society Highland Games, or even the “Oak Park Architecture Photo Party” for the North Avenue Business Association. 

Putting all of this together created Babuk Presentations, Inc, a hobby turned into a business that promotes Oak Park. 

In connecting even more of the dots, Babuk Presentations, Inc. provides cross-border US / Canada goods and services trade consulting to clients in the Architecture / Engineering and Construction sectors.  

It’s all great fun to do, and fun to be doing it in Oak Park.

Posted in Architecture, Community Organization, Current Affairs, Speaking Engagements.

It’s a New Year – 2011!

As I keep reminding people, any good Canadian Prairie Kid can tell you that there’s a good three or four days left to celebrate Christmas…

In exchanging Seasons Greetings with my colleagues, the universal response has been something to the effect that “2011 will definitely be better than 2010 because it couldn’t get much worse”.  There are all sorts of dark clouds out there, especially here in the States: an unresolved residential mortgage crisis, a glut of building space in virtually every market sector, perceived tight credit markets…. The list goes on.

Yet, many that I speak to mention that the private sector – in corporations – are sitting on $1.5trillion in cash reserves that sometime soon, under corporate law, they will need to spend.  The three areas the private sector could put these funds towards would be employee bonuses, dividends for shareholders, or capital improvements.  While any of these options will have positive economic ramifications, the latter option – capital improvements – speaks to using money to better one’s ability to compete in the marketplace.

While it was posted some time ago, I still stand by one of my first posts to The Babuk Report “The Rise and Fall of the McMansion and Other Midwestern Housing Trends”, with a couple updates.  As predicted, the era of the mega house has come to an end.  Even the practice of building more and more on the outer limits of existing urbanized development seems precariously endangered – virtually every US city is surrounded by miles of partially developed land packed full with empty building sites and partially completed houses, usually sited along streets finished with pavement and sewer systems.  It all came true.  Here’s what’s next:

While we may have a glut of existing building stock, we are a growing population that will need to be accommodated with building space.

Of the existing space that’s out there, some will simply become obsolete, having lived well beyond its serviceable lifespan.  Without a strong historical or emotional reason to preserve it, this type of building space will be demolished and either replaced with new, or the site vacated.  Entire sections of Detroit are seeing this – it made more sense to abandon entire sections of Detroit: relocate what few residents were left, abandon streets and municipal services, focus on areas with sustainable populations and return the rest of the city to agriculture.

The same may happen to buildings that lack the “location, location, location” mantra of the real estate industry, or are of a highly specific configuration that won’t lend itself to different uses – like trying to stuff a large public space into something with a small structural grid and low ceilings. This too may be replaced.

Of other building space that’s left in good shape, we’ll see more of it being renovated and updated, perhaps even being put to adaptive reuse.  The proposed Children’s Museum at Millennium Park in Chicago is a highly creative adaptive reuse of what would otherwise have been an abandoned parking garage.

Moreover, this development – more appropriately “re-development” will occur in areas that are already part of an established built up area.  As predicted, the areas inside cities closest to convenient public transit are more desirable than others, as the Chicago Tribune reported in an article describing suburban Palatine and it’s Metra Commuter Rail station.

As for financing – there’s money out there to be lent. It’s just that everyone is too squeamish to step up to the plate.

All said, here’s the opportunity: existing buildings and building sites well located inside existing desirable communities, close to transportation.  One might even start considering the sort of municipal debt and local tax burden, that can be discussed in a future post.   Start looking, and remember that there’s still a few days left to celebrate Christmas.

Posted in Architecture, Current Affairs, Real Estate Development, Urban Planning.

An Expanding Role for Babuk Presentations

The relationship enjoyed by Canada and the United States is a model to be envied around the world.  While the cross border relationship thrives in many ways, the intertwined nature of both countries’ economies is fascinating:  not only are both countries each others’ largest trading partner, but the value of exports from one virtually equals the value of imports from the other.

The premier of Saskatchewan once made a presentation in Chicago about hot dogs with mustard and Chicago Cubs baseball at Wrigley Field. The United States exports baseball as a national past time and cultural phenomenon, Canada exports virtually every bit of mustard consumed in the States that supports baseball. It’s that entwined.  In another presentation I recall, the Canadian Minister of Industry once recounted travelling with the materials of an automotive part – from the extraction of raw materials to the completion and installation of the manufactured part.  He crossed the border between Detroit and Windsor seven times.

Naturally, I go back and forth quite a bit between the two countries, and I’ve made extensive presentations on both sides of the border.  For some time, through an outgrowth of public presentations, I’ve helped companies understand the markets on the other side of the border.  It just never occurred to me to formalize that as part of Babuk Presentations, Inc.

Until now.

Linking international connections with professional, architectural knowledge to the cross border import / export Architectural / Engineering and Construction communities of Canada and the USA.

That’s us.  It’s just a natural extension of what’s been happening all along.

Posted in Architecture, Current Affairs, International Affairs, Real Estate Development, sustainability.

It’s been a while, folks….

…and a whirlwind of activities it has been.  Just to name a few of the distractions that came over me:

Leading a program for the National Meeting of the Society of Architectural Historians that was held in Chicago.

Delivering a presentation of “Canadian Architects of the Chicago School 1884 – 1935” to the National Festival of the Royal Architectural Institute of Canada, and delivering abbreviated versions of this presentation to the Racquet Club of Chicago, and to the Cliff Dwellers Club.

Being a Docent for the Pleasant Home Foundation’s annual “Pleasant Homes of Oak Park” fundraiser.

At the request and sponsorship of Visit Oak Park, planning a program describing the art and architecture of Oak Park’s churches to be given during the Oak Park Arts Council’s “ArtRageous! Oak Park” Festival, to which the kind folks at Porter Airlines generously donated a pair of roundtrip airline tickets as a silent auction item.

All of the speaking engagements have lead to some fascinating research, like finding meeting minutes of the River Forest Tennis Club first approving the membership applications of Mr.  & Mrs. Frank Lloyd Wright in 1907, only to be succeeded by Board Meeting minutes in 1912 or so, rescinding the memberships of Frank Lloyd Wright and Mamah Cheney, for reason of “Philandering”.

There’s been lots of travel, including some time on the west coast (prairie kids always want to wind up on the coast).

And a trip to speak in Saskatoon (it’s a city in Saskatchewan), where I found that not only was the person in line behind me at the airport the Senior Advisor to the Premier of Saskatchewan going away on a quick vacation of sorts, but that the incoming flight was grounded due to a bird strike and ensuing engine flame out.

But that if that wasn’t enough for careening into famous political figures, I bumped into Paul Martin (former Prime Minister of Canada) at the Island Airport in Toronto – he actually took a seat next to me in the Departures Lounge.

And many volunteer activities:

Volunteering to give impromptu Canadian geography presentations during the Tall Ships Festival.

Chairing the British Car Show at the Illinois Saint Andrew Society Highland Games.  I had planned to enter the Caber Toss event and even contacted the Heavy Athletic Chair to enquire; I just didn’t get around to attending the training sessions held in a far western suburb of Chicago. 

Assisting various community groups organize various car shows or British, Italian and German themes, complete with entertainment by the Thistle and Heather Highland Dancers, and various bagpipers.

Oak Park Architecture Photo Party, which even extended into the Galewood neighbourhood of Chicago, an area rich with mid-century modern architecture.

And I’ve started to develop manuscripts for books, including “Canadian Architects of the Chicago School 1884 – 1935”, “First Railroads, Then Skyscrapers”; and the one closest to publication “Art Deco Oak Park”, for which there is a hard bound draft copy lurking about.

Whew!!  Perhaps I ought to simply get back to writing The Babuk Report…

Posted in Architecture, Community Organization, Current Affairs, Speaking Engagements.

The North Avenue Architecture Photo Party

North Avenue, the border between the north side of Oak Park and the Galewood neighborhood of Chicago, is relatively newer than many surrounding neighborhoods. While the buildings along North Avenue post date Frank Lloyd Wright, he golfed here with friends and clients. Many used the area as a place to get away and hide from the City.  It was one of the first automobile oriented commercial strips in the Chicago area. A favorite location for drive-in restaurants, the road west of Oak Park and Galewood – known as State Route 64 – was a renowned teen hangout for street races. 

Architecturally, the area is rich in 1920’s storefronts with highly decorative terra cotta cladding and details. Later buildings were exuberantly mid-century modern. 

Experience the world renowned architecture of our town, which is just a scant eight miles / twelve kilometres from another equally world renowned and architecturally significant place, the Chicago Loop.  

And besides –North Avenue has lots of great restaurants, stores and cultural attractions to discover and enjoy once you’ve completed the North Avenue Architecture Photo Party.


By walking along public sidewalks and right-of-ways contained along North Avenue between Austin and Harlem Avenues, and for an area one block north and south along Harlem Avenue; locate these architectural features and details, noting their location. 

Oak Park is a living museum containing many private homes that just happen to be world renowned masterpieces.  No private residences are featured in the North Avenue Architecture Photo Party.   However, please respect the homeowner’s privacy and remain on the public sidewalks for the hunt.

Here’s a sampling of the program:

The Jetsons’ probably get their teeth fixed here.
Terra Cotta TV
A monumental building

An additional feature of the scavenger hunt is the North Avenue Historical Photo Party.  This may be the most enigmatic image of them all:

North Pole Drive In, River Forest, Illinois

While historians agree that this was the North Pole Drive In, located in River Forest, Illinois.  It’s also agreed that its architect was Bertrand Goldberg.  No consensus exists on where this was located.  However, I have my theories….

 The entire program is on display in the lobbies of these banks on North Avenue, who have supported the North Avenue Architecture Photo Party:

ABC Bank, North Avenue, Chicago

Charter One Bank, North Avenue, Chicago

Midwest Bank, North Avenue, Elmwood Park

US Bank, North Avenue, Oak Park

June 2010 North Avenue Architecture Photo Party is a production of:

North Avenue Business Association

Oak Park Architectural League

This edition has been made possible by:

Visit Oak Park

Oak Park River Forest Historical Foundation /

Heitzman Architects

Babuk Presentations, Inc /

Keep following this event anywhere in the world at

Posted in Architecture, Community Organization, Current Affairs, History, Pop Culture, Real Estate Development, Speaking Engagements, Urban Planning.

So your town wants a hotel…

A question that was asked during my presentation of “Canadian Architects of the Chicago School 1884 – 1935” to the Racquet Club of Chicago was about the iconic Canadian railway hotels, and what role they played in the development of Canadian architecture and society during this time period.  The question was probably brought about by my mention of Frank Lloyd Wright’s extended visits to the Banff Springs Hotel, during the execution of his collaborative project with Francis C. Sullivan of the Banff townsite’s Recreation Pavilion.

Banff Springs Hotel

Banff Springs Hotel

I literally grew up in the shadows of Canadian railway hotels.  The waiting room of the Canadian Pacific Railway station in Vulcan, Alberta was adorned with several large travel posters promoting the Chateau Frontenac in Quebec City, the Empress Hotel in Victoria and the Banff Springs Hotel. These were among the hotels built by the CPR.  The competing railway – the Canadian National – had establishments like the Hotel MacDonald (Edmonton), the Fort Garry (Winnipeg) and the Chateau Laurier (Ottawa) in their portfolio.  All have since come to be dubbed “chateauesque”.  The central architect who began this movement – Bruce Price, an American who practiced in New York City – was charged with creating something “Scottish Baronial” for the Banff Springs Hotel, then for the Chateau Frontenac in their original incarnations.  The imagery grew in both physical and cultural proportions.

The Empress Hotel

The Empress Hotel

Godfrey Holloway in his book, “The Empress of Victoria” states:

                “In a very special way The Empress Hotel is Victoria.  The reverse too, is true; Victoria is the Empress Hotel.”

In virtually any Canadian city that had a railway hotel, that establishment set social and etiquette standards for the city in which it was located – the hotel became that city, just as that city became its hotel.

Of note – perhaps coincidental – is that the daughter of architect Bruce Price was Emily Price Post, who was an authoritative author of various books about manners and etiquette.  How appropriate.

Chateau Frontenac

Chateau Frontenac

When the concept was being “visioned” – as we would call it today – then CPR President William Cornelius Van Horne made the comment: “If we can’t export the scenery, we’ll import the tourists.”  Both Banff and Quebec enjoy truly outstanding natural settings.  One might ascertain that any hostelry plopped down in this setting may have been a success: perhaps.  Imagine, if you will, some sort of lodging reminiscent of post-war housing in eastern-bloc countries were plopped in the middle of Banff, or Quebec City, neither of those settlements would have blossomed into what they are today. It could even be that neither of the lodging establishments would have had any sort of longevity.

The lesson here is that if your town is planning to take a prominent site and build tourist lodging, the lodging had better be of a quality your town wants to be; lest your town become the same quality as the lodging establishment.  Inexpensive motel or a sensational place – it’s your choice.

Posted in Uncategorized.

The Scottish Motor Club – 2010 Calendar of Events

There have been some inquiries regarding the Scottish Motor Club’s Calendar of Events this year.  An abbreviated version:

2009 Heartland International Tattoo & 1991 Lotus Exige

Heartland International Tattoo, Sears Center, Hoffman Estates, Illinois

Saturday, 10 April, 2010

This event is being in conjunction with members of the British Car Union, Lotus Corps Chicago and the Rolls Royce Owners Club / Lake Michigan Region.

2008 Highland Games and 1954 MG-TF


Illinois Saint Andrew Society Highland Games, Oak Brook, Illinois

19 June 2010

We will probably make an appearance at the Scottish Home Picnic on Saturday, August 7.

The British Home / Daughters of the Empire have requested that we appear in September, but we’re trying to understand if there are any scheduling conflicts. 

2007 British Car Union & Triumph Herald Cabriolet (timeless)

British Car Union, Oakton Community College, Des Plaines, Illinois  

12 September 2010

2009 Downers Grove "Import Night" & rainstorm

We may also be making an appearance at one of the regularly scheduled car shows in the area when they hold “British Night” or Import Night” if we can round up dancers and a bagpiper.

1957 "Hot Rod" MGA, Oak Park Avenue British Car Show 2009

2009 Oak Park Avenue British Car Show & 1957 "Hot Rod" MGA


Posted in Automobile Design, Community Organization, Pop Culture, Uncategorized.

The Oak Park Architecture Photo Party

Few places anywhere have the sort of architectural tradition found in Oak Park, Illinois. Arguably, Oak Park is the birthplace of the Modern American Residence, and the American Suburb; not to mention architectural figures like Frank Lloyd Wright, George Maher, John van Bergen, William Drummond, Purcell & Elmslie, Tallmadge & Watson….  These days, Oak Park boasts one of the largest per capita concentrations of architects anywhere.  We get back to that “anywhere” word again, because Oak Park is that prominent in architectural history.  Oak Park is overshadowed only by a rather large city that can claim the invention of the modern skyscraper, a city on its eastern border that shall remain nameless.

Nationally, the American Institute of Architects has an initiative for “Architecture Week”, to occur April 12 – 18.   Architecture Week in Oak Park is intended to showcase Oak Park’s architecture and its architects, past and present. It will highlight the significance of architecture and Architects to the cultural and economic vitality of the village.  An in Oak Park, we will be commemorating Architecture Week with The Oak Park Architecture Photo Party.

The Oak Park Architectural League is spearheading and planning community activities during that week in conjunction with Visit Oak Park, Architecture Adventure (a program of the Oak Park Education Foundation) and other local organizations.

The Oak Park Architecture Photo Party will be comprised of three major architectural scavenger hunts.

The Oak Park Architecture Photo Party – Visitor Edition will is a self guided format that starts and ends at the Oak Park Visitor Center, and will extend throughout the week.

The Oak Park Architecture Photo Party – Seasoned Local Edition will occur on Saturday, April 17. 

In both of these hunts, participants will obtain photos and clues of architectural details which have been submitted by village architects and posted on . The task will be to locate the addresses of the buildings whose detail is shown in the photo, and for participants to prove their find by posting their photos to the website. Fabulous prizes from local businesses will be awarded to winning contestants who complete the scavenger hunt, and whose photos receive the most votes on The Oak Park Architecture Photo Party’s website.  All contestants will be recognized on the Oak Park Architectural League web site and at the Oak Park Visitor’s Center.

A third interactive event is being organized by Oak Park Education Foundation’s Architecture Adventure, geared towards families with school aged children.  This event will showcase the work and projects of OPEF’s visiting architects program in District 97 schools. 

Anyone, anywhere in the entire world may view the photos of Oak Park’s world renowned architecture on The Oak Park Architecture Photo Party website at

We wanted to call the “The Oak Park Architecture Polaroid Party”, but that presented a couple problems.




Posted in Uncategorized.