Ask Geoffrey: 4/23
St. Ignatius, "I Will" Statue, & Frog Creek
Geoffrey Baer uncovers the origins of St. Ignatius College Prep's building fragments and more in this week’s edition of Ask Geoffrey. View a slideshow of the historic buildings behind the St. Ignatius fragments.
I noticed several architectural fragments from old buildings in the campus garden at St. Ignatius High School on Roosevelt Road in Chicago. Do you know where these are from?
Nancy Thornton, Chicago
In 1991 the school’s president Father Donald Rowe began collecting fragments of historic Chicago buildings that had been demolished and used them to beautify the school’s campus. Rowe said this made sense since the school itself is housed in such an architecturally significant historic building. What’s more, the fragments could be bought quite cheaply in an age when he said “new was in and historic was out.”
The most prominent remnant is the only remaining terra cotta cornice fragment from Adler and Sullivan’s Chicago Stock Exchange, demolished in 1972. It’s 22 feet long and weighs more than 10 tons! It’s now being used as a gigantic flowerbox.
Two art deco plaques came from the Ogden Ave. viaduct bridge houses. They had been scattered around to collectors. This one on the right was donated by Richard M. Daley himself.
The old Chicago Stadium was the original home of these bas-relief sculptures, which are appropriately now adorning the outside of St. Ignatius’ gymnasium.
Over at the southeast corner of the gym, a corn-shaped panel rests on the edge of the wall. The piece came from the Corn Exchange Building at Adams and LaSalle, where farmers from all over the Midwest came there to sell their crops. The piece was one of Rowe’s earliest acquisitions. He was able to buy it for a few hundred dollars because the dealer had trouble selling something this large.
These Art Deco reliefs were originally part of the façade of a building on 47th Street that once housed the Metropolitan Mutual Assurance Company, the largest black-owned company of its kind according to the website Forgotten Chicago.
St. Ignatius itself was completed in 1869, and opened in 1870.
The school was founded by Dutch Jesuit Father Arnold Damen (after whom Damen Avenue was named) as a sort of high school-college hybrid – three years of secondary school, plus four years of college. Damen also founded Holy Family Church, right next door to St. Ignatius.
Eventually the college was spun off as Loyola University, and the school was re-christened as St. Ignatius High School.
I have a metal cast of a woman that says “I Will” at the base. A friend thinks she was from a contest that took place for the 1893 World’s Fair.
Karen Curtin, Hampshire
The figure depicted, and the words “I Will”, represent a rival or alternative to Chicago’s official motto “Urbs in Horto” or City in a Garden, which was adopted in 1837. The figure and slogan were dreamed up by Chicago artist Charles Holloway, who was the first-place winner in an 1891 contest sponsored by The Chicago Inter Ocean newspaper. The contest seems to have been inspired by the city’s zealous preparations for the 1893 World’s Fair although it apparently wasn’t sponsored by the Fair itself. The Inter Ocean challenged artists to come up with “a figure typical of Chicago’s spirit” to represent the city – sort of like an Uncle Sam or John Bull for Chicago. They enlisted a panel of judges that included famed cartoonist Thomas Nast and the president of the Fair’s board of lady managers, Bertha Palmer. She and her husband Potter were a famed power couple in Chicago.
Some three hundred artists submitted entries, and Holloway’s entry of a goddess figure suited for battle came out on top. Reflecting her defiant attitude, she wore a breastplate that read "I Will." With her crown depicting a phoenix rising from the flames, she also seems to symbolize the resolve of Chicago to rise from the ashes of the Chicago Fire, which destroyed much of the city just 20 years before the Inter Ocean contest. For his inspired creation, Holloway was awarded $200!
Although she wasn’t the official symbol of the 1893 Fair, the Inter Ocean did use her image to represent the Fair, as in this cartoon boasting of the Fair’s massive success. Her image, and the motto, also became a success after the fair.
A few years later in 1910, a series of postcards featuring Chicago scenes was issued with the “I Will” motto in the corner of each. And the World’s Fair of 1933 used her image extensively to beckon people to come to the fair. Commemorative spoons featuring the “I Will” woman seem to be an especially popular item.
The “I Will” motto enjoyed a resurgence in popularity during the ‘60s and ‘70s – one item we found was a whiskey decanter featuring Chicago landmarks topped with the “I Will” motto. Another example many people will remember is a stylized “C” logo with four stars and the inscription “I Will – the Spirit of Chicago” on the 2600 series of “L” cars, some of which were in service into the early 2000s.
Sculptor Ellsworth Kelly also picked up on the motto. He said his 1981 minimalist sculpture located at the northernmost extent of the fire in Lincoln Park, is dedicated to the “I Will” spirit of the city. It’s along Fullerton Avenue north of Lincoln Park Zoo.
By the way, you’ve seen the work of Charles Holloway if you’ve ever attended a performance at the Auditorium Theatre. His mural “Symphony of Time” adorns the proscenium arch.
I recall reading about a tributary named "Frog Creek" that flowed from the Chicago River to a location near what is now Daley Center. Is this true?
Dennis Pekar, Clearing
While it flowed the other direction, yes, there was a tributary to the Chicago River named Frog Creek. Back when Chicago was just a muddy frontier village, there were at least three creeks (or streams or sloughs) that flowed into the main branch of the river.
A 1779 illustration shows the cabin of Jean Baptiste Point du Sable, the first settler of Chicago, and the three creeks that fed the Chicago River. One of them was in fact called Frog Creek according to some sources. It was a spring-fed waterway that originated where the Daley Center is now and ran north; emptying into the river at what is now State Street. According to the book Early Chicago, Frog Creek was 60 feet wide at its mouth. Fort Dearborn, which was roughly where Michigan Avenue Bridge is today, fed its drainage ditch into this slough.
The largest of the three streams emptied into the Chicago River at the present site of the Merchandise Mart. It was eighty feet wide at the river and extended north to what is now Chicago Avenue, again according to Early Chicago. The smallest of the three creeks ran north from today’s Loop area between Clark and LaSalle Streets. All of these were filled in as part of the effort to drain the muddy swamp that was downtown Chicago. Check out the map overlay below to see where those creeks would be in modern-day downtown Chicago.
Plat maps from the time show that by 1830, the two southern creeks including Frog Creek were filled in, and by 1834, much of the northern creek was gone, too.
The Frog Creek area was described by early Chicago pioneer Juliette Kinzie as “low wet prairie, scarcely affording good walking in the driest of summer weather, while at other seasons it was absolutely impassable.” Another description from an 1831 traveler remarked: “I passed over the ground from the Fort to Wolf Point, on horseback, and was up to my stirrups in water the whole distance; I would not have given sixpence an acre for the whole of it.” Safe to say that now, that real estate is worth a lot more than a sixpence per acre. Locals generally found it easiest to travel about downtown by canoe – but these days, it’s easier to walk through the concrete jungle that was once a swamp.