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Old December 18th, 2006, 11:52 PM
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State Street Showdown 2006 - Part 1
What do you get when you combine Chicago, SteveandAmySly.com, Christmas, and lots of photography of reflective glass? That's right, it's the State Street Showdown, a review of the Christmas windows found on State Street. This is the fourth installment of this yearly feature here on SteveandAmySly.com.

Amy & Steve at it again with the State Street Showdown

To recap, here are the results from the past three years of the Showdown:

1. Marshall Field's (Cinderella)
2. Sears (Wish Big)
3. Carson Pirie Scott (Sparkle)

1. Sears (The Great Big Snow)
2. Marshall Field's (Snow White: The Fairest Tale of All)
3. Carson Pirie Scott (Club Libby Lu)

1. Sears (The Making of a New North Pole)
2. Marshall Field's (Charlie and the Chocolate Factory)
3. Carson Pirie Scott (FAO Schwarz)

It's hard to believe that we've been doing this comparison of holiday windows for 4 years now. And each year, it amazes me how much things have changed when compared to the previous Christmas season. That continues to be true in 2006.

Macy's sucks!
(and so does the person with this bag)

The most publicized change has been the shift of Marshall Field's to Macy's in branding, a topic that makes Chicagoans like myself very, very bitter. Then in August, it was announced that Carson Pirie Scott would be closing its State Street location.

Carson's is moving out of their historic location

Plus, you have Sears which has been having a mess of problems trying to launch new store concepts and not doing very well on State Street. And then there's the Block 37 redevelopment, which has been filled with controversy, slow movement, and its primary developer bailing on the project. No wonder everyone shops on the Magnificent Mile instead! (That's Michigan Ave. for you folks who didn't get that reference.)

Daley Plaza

Frankly, I didn't even know if I wanted to continue these State Street Showdown reports. They are so depressing these days. But the show must go on, right? So let's go take a look at what's going on in Daley Plaza before hitting the pathetic shopping destinations, shall we?

Highlighted areas of the State Street Showdown

The Christkindlmarket returns again!

Daley Plaza is the home to Chicago's official Christmas tree and is within short walking distance to Macy's (grrr), Carson's, and Sears. In recent years, it's also the home of the popular Christkindlmarket, which resembles a small German market packed with shops and food booths.

It was quite crowded in the market

Watch video in Flash (via YouTube):


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Live music at Christkindlmarket
(AVI, 0:28, 50.8MB)

It's here you have a chance for the classic photo op with Santa and the tree, follow your religion any which way you want (but make sure you don't offend anyone!), and drink warm wine out of a mug in the shape of a shoe. How can you turn that down?

Chicago's Christmas tree + Depressing sky

Simple ornamentation

Real pine needles

Chicago's tree hasn't changed much in the past few years. It's actually made of many smaller trees all tied together. The ornaments and style have pretty much stayed the same. In fact, I used a photo I took of the tree last year as the cover for this year's Steve's 25 Days of Christmas Music event in the TannerWorld Junction discussion forums.

Model railroad layout

Leaving the station

Daley Plaza also features a pretty large outdoor model railroad layout that was actually running when we visited. The past few years, we've evaluated the window displays later at night, when many things were closed.

It was a very overcast and foggy day

On the day we went this year, it was overcast and foggy, but attractions were at least in operation.

First up, we've got Jesus

Merry Christmas!

You'll also find the many icons representing different religious beliefs, all carefully handled so that folks don't freak out about all the bogus "church and state" junk.

Next, the Jewish Menorah

Happy Chanukah!

The folks behind the recent film, The Nativity Story, wanted to help sponsor the Christkindlmarket, while also promoting their film. The city put the kibosh on that because they didn't want to offend anyone.

Finally, Muslim crescent

I really don't know what this says

Never mind that Christkindlmarket actually translates to "Christ Child Market". Go figure. Our government in this city is baffling sometimes.

No need to flush...

...Portable John is here for you!

At least we have non-offensive "Happy Holidays" portable toilets to keep everyone happy in their yuletide bowel movements.

Christmas tree dwarfed by Block 37 construction

You'll note that in many of the above photos, construction cranes can be seen behind the Christmas tree and other structures. Things in this area of downtown are hopping with development, including the aforementioned Block 37 (which I outlined in great detail last year).

Block 37 concept art
(Source: The Mills Corporation)

This area has been a mess for quite some time, with many stalled development projects... resulting in the land sitting vacant year after year. Then last year, The Mills Corporation (you know, those guys with all the malls) launched a project that was a mixed retail/office development... with a pointless new CTA transit hub below ground.

Things are happening... we think!

One year later, the financially-struggling Mills folks have bailed on the project, selling their stake to ironically the same folks who are kicking Carson's out of their building (Joseph Freed & Associates). Mills is now up for sale in case anyone wants to buy a company run by retail morons.

Site is right across from Formerly-Marshall Field's

That ugly pink building is a power transformer

It's hard to believe that this prime piece of real estate between the former-Marshall Field's and Daley Plaza has struggled for so long. Many in the city believe that no matter what goes up there, it's cursed to fail. In any case, construction is moving along, with bulldozers, cranes, and the like all doing something on the spot. We'll see what happens.

I don't care what you call it, it's still a Bean

Let's move on to something a little more encouraging, shall we? How about tourist and local favorite Millennium Park. There isn't a ton of new seasonal stuff to report here.

Everyone loves to hangout underneath

Like I said, it was foggy!

"The Bean" (officially known as Cloud Gate) continues to amaze and cause wonder with visitors. This year the city launched "Caroling at Cloud Gate", featuring festive sing-a-longs on Friday nights.

Well, you just HAVE to do this when you are downtown

According to the official website, "each evening, both the choristers and those singing along will be invited to hold holiday candles. The reflections of the candles will twinkle in the stainless steel of Cloud Gate, creating a magical holiday scene in the center of the city." Fun concept.

Nicko, Colleen, and Amy take a break at Millennium Park

We visited Millennium Park with our friends Nicko and Colleen after exploring some other downtown delights (which we'll talk about some other time). It was while we were sitting in front of the Crown Fountains that I noticed something peculiar that has been talked about on some local Chicago blogs as of late.

Crown Fountain seems normal, but...

In the offseason, the water for these fountains is turned off, resulting in just the facial images being displayed. At first glance, it would appear that everything is normal. However, if you look on top of the fountains, you'll note that the city has installed security cameras.

... what's that on top?

Chicago is on this big kick as of late to have cameras pretty much everywhere. Privacy issues aside, I think the cameras on top of the fountains are a big no-no. They just look stupid. You are messing up what was a unique piece of public art. Stupid, stupid, stupid.

Cool "X" lights at the Jay Pritzker Pavilion
(December 2005)

Last year I noticed that a pretty cool set of lights was added to the Jay Pritzker Pavilion, suspended from the aerial supports above the grass. They flickered and changed color periodically. It was something fun to watch.

Amy and Colleen wonder about the lights

Bummer... no lights this year!

This year it would appear that the city went cheap... there are no lights to be found. Just an empty space. What a letdown!

Who doesn't love to skate... and fall down?

Watch video in Flash (via YouTube):


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Skating at Millennium Park
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Finally, there's the ever popular ice skating rink. It's as cool as ever. I really love how it draws folks into a common social place at the park. Add a little Christmas music playing over the loudspeakers, white lights found in the trees, and the awesome view of the Chicago skyline, and you have a pretty fun holiday perspective.

In our next installment: Who wins 3rd Place in the State Street Showdown 2006? Care to wager a guess?

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Old December 19th, 2006, 02:06 PM
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Wow! Not too excited about Christmas in the windy city? I'm off to drink some eggnog (you know the kind ) to cheer me up.
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Old December 20th, 2006, 11:06 AM
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The Chicago Tribune picked up on the camera story yesterday:
Now the giant faces really are watching
Critics say Millennium Park cameras are a blight

By James Janega
Tribune staff reporter
Published December 19, 2006

What strikes you about Jaume Plensa's twin glass towers at Millennium Park are the faces, as big as JumboTrons, that appear to be looking at you.

And since late November, they actually have been.

A $52 million grant from the Department of Homeland Security bought the Chicago area a host of public safety improvements--including an obvious and ungainly camera atop each of Plensa's giant glass towers.

The city that put cameras in crime-ridden areas and at intersections to catch red light scofflaws has planted them atop Crown Fountain, one of its most prominent pieces of public art.

They are partly to keep tabs on burnt-out lights, park officials say. But the cameras are largely for security reasons, and art lovers don't like it.

"Oh my God, look at that. Not very pretty," said Paul Gray, a director at the Richard Gray Gallery in Chicago who has worked with Plensa on other exhibitions, as he looked at a photograph of the cameras online.

"It looks like a Martian sitting there with a little antenna on his head," said art and architecture enthusiast Mike Doyle, whose partner took the photograph.

"It is a temporary fix, so we can get a permanent solution installed next summer," said Ed Uhlir, Millennium Park executive director.

"But it is ugly," he agreed.

A permanent camera will go on a pole west of the fountains next summer, roughly where speed chess players set up their table on the sidewalk at Monroe Street and Michigan Avenue, said Millennium Park spokeswoman Karen Ryan.

Critics say the temporary ones cannot be temporary enough. "That is one of those `What were they thinking?' kind of moments," said James Yood, professor of art history at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago.

"This changes the whole idea of the sculpture, which is that these are our brethren," Yood said. "Now instead of looking at us, they're surveilling us, which I think is not exactly the artist's intention."

The cameras have created a stir since being installed around Thanksgiving, with versions of the following scene playing out downtown:

"We were walking down Monroe towards Michigan Avenue to go for a walk in the park. Then we got to the corner and noticed it," said Devyn Caldwell, a Loop resident and architecture photo blogger.

Next to him, Doyle looked up and saw it too.

"The first thing I see is these little black things sticking out," said Doyle, also a blogger. Their Sunday walk screeched to a halt as they stared. "I said `What in the world is tha--?' But as soon as the question was out, we knew right away."

Chicago is dotted with cameras. They roll near public housing complexes and videotape dangerous intersections around the city.

Mayor Richard Daley announced in October that he wants to add 100 police cameras to high-crime streets, expanding a camera system the city credits with 30 percent drops in local crime. There are already 200 cameras on the street, many with large, blinking blue lights.

The cameras at Millennium Park are almost as obvious but at least do not blink. And they haven't recorded anything unusual yet, said Ryan.

Though they will be relocated, setting them up on the sculpture was easier than putting in a new pole for them, she explained.

"This was a way to get them up there," she said.

Plensa, who is in Spain, could not be reached for comment Monday. Uhlir said Millennium Park cleared the cameras' addition with the architects who worked with Plensa on installing the fountain. The final cameras, assured Uhlir, "will be much less intrusive."
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Old December 20th, 2006, 11:07 AM
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And then, just like that... the cameras have been removed. Again from the Chicago Tribune:
Millennium Park cameras removed after outcry

By James Janega
Tribune staff reporter
Published December 19, 2006, 6:26 PM CST

As suddenly as a pair of security cameras had appeared last month on Jaume Plensa's brightly lit glass-block towers at Millennium Park, they were gone Tuesday.

Anxiety over national security saw them installed atop one of Chicago's most visible public art installations. Uneasiness over their aesthetic impact had them removed.

The turning point came over the weekend, when a pair of architecture enthusiasts complained on blogs about how evident and unattractive they were. The complaints multiplied online Monday, then found their way to Millennium Park offices that afternoon across the street from the installation.

A day after the Chicago Tribune asked about them, park officials removed them early Tuesday, saying they had been placed there temporarily anyhow.

"When we found out there were so many people who found it more obtrusive than we expected, we took them down," said park spokeswoman Karen Ryan. "We looked around for [criticism], and we found it."

The cameras were part of a $52 million Department of Homeland Security grant given in the springtime to the Chicago area, and the cameras atop towers of the Plensa-designed Crown Fountain were only two out of several installed in Millennium Park alone, city officials said.

The others are tucked away in the park. The two in question leaned from the tops of the towers on curving arms, where they hung over the JumboTron-sized faces of the art below.

They were not intended to be secret, park and city officials said. Neither were they intended to be garish.

"Most of the cameras that are visible throughout the central business district, they're not hidden. But we try not to make them obtrusive," said Kevin Smith, spokesman for the city Office of Emergency Management and Communications, whose command center receives their video feeds.

Another source of security in the park comes from highly visible private security guards on foot and riding Segway scooters. It was unclear whether the recent addition of more cameras would affect the mix of video surveillance and foot patrols.

"We will continue to re-evaluate our security plans and make adjustments as needed," Ryan said in an e-mail exchange. "That includes variations in the number of staff."

But over the last month, the central concern to city art lovers and park officials was how the cameras unintentionally altered the message behind what is intended to represent Chicago's public face.

"It was supposed to be symbolic of the people, of the city," said John Manning, former technical director for video production of the fountain and vehement opponent of the cameras quietly added to it in late November.

"To me, it's symbolic that the people can't get together in a tiny, 150-foot-long piece of pavement without being spied on," he said.

Over something as innocuous as a temporarily placed video camera, Millennium Park early this week became an unlikely battleground in a culture clash over security in post-9/11 America.

Completed in 2004, the park has become a showpiece for Chicago. In a city devoted to its architecture and public art, the park is an internationally recognized gem anchoring the downtown area to Grant Park and the lakefront.

The Crown Fountain stands in one of its most visible spots, across the street from the Art Institute of Chicago and near Monroe Street and Michigan Avenue.

All year long, giant video screens facing each other across a wide plaza show recordings of the diverse, smiling faces of the city's people. In the summertime, water falls from the towers, delighting children.

Suddenly, cameras glared down above the smiling faces. People like Manning and blogger Devyn Caldwell got unnerved if they thought too hard about the possible artistic message behind it.

Complaints had grown loud enough Monday evening to reach a disquieted Plensa in Europe, said his Chicago gallery contact, Paul Gray, of the Richard Gray Gallery on North Michigan Avenue.

The artist was relieved when they were removed, Gray said Tuesday. The problem was not with cameras, he explained, only where they were located.

"He and I have both worked in the public space a lot and are aware that when you put art in a public space, it does belong to the public," Gray said. "He's happy that they've decided to seek a better long-term solution—and he understands the need for security in a public space."
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Old December 24th, 2006, 07:31 PM
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Steve Blog Changes Things!
I bet they saw your blog too!
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