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March 7, 2009

Of all American cities, you'd think Chicago would be at the forefront of celebrating and preserving its architecture. And while in many ways it does—the Chicago Architecture Foundation hosts tours, exhibitions, and events throughout the year—the city seems to forget that construction continued after its architects had erected the first skyscrapers of the 20th century.

Edward Humrich 1960 house
Edward Humrich 1960 house, Chicago Bauhaus and Beyond
Edward Humrich 1960 house
Edward Humrich 1960 house, Chicago Bauhaus and Beyond

Of all American cities, you'd think Chicago would be at the forefront of celebrating and preserving its architecture. And while in many ways it does—the Chicago Architecture Foundation hosts tours, exhibitions, and events throughout the year—the city seems to forget that construction continued after its architects had erected the first skyscrapers of the 20th century.

In 2004, Joan and Gary Gand decided it was time to administer aid for Chicago's architectural amnesia. The couple, who own and run Gand Music and Sound in Chicago, had purchased a home in Palm Springs in 2003 after attending several of the city's Modernism Week celebrations. "We were blown away with how that city celebrates its modern architecture," Joan recalls. "We came back to Chicago and to our wonderful modern house, designed by Keck and Keck, but found that we don't really have in Chicago anything like the community support Palm Springs has for its modern architecture. We felt we needed to do something."

And do something is exactly what they did. Along with their friend Joe Kunkel, a real estate agent whose site JetSetModern.com helps get modern homes into the hands of loving owners, the Gands launched Chicago Bauhaus and Beyond as a preservation and appreciation group. ""If people don't appreciate what you're trying to preserve, they'll vote against it" says Joan, "Plus there are more ways to act than using strictly legal preservation strategies." Their approach is to generate interest in modern architecture and make sure homes go to modernism devotees—not demolition crews. 

Chicago Bauhaus and Beyond has seen great success. Shortly after the organization was formed, it was featured on the local ABC news channel by Kevin Roy. After reporting on the group, Roy himself became a member, and not long thereafter, he traded his condo in the city for a mid-century-modern home that was for sale, which Joan notes was on the road to demolition had Roy not purchased it.

The members are also watchdogs and advocates. One instance lead to a sculpture designed by Angelo Testa, a Bauhaus-trained artist, becoming part of the collection of the Elmhurst Art Museum, which is built around Mies van der Rohe's McCormick House in Elmhurt, Illinois, just west of Chicago. Kunkel had been driving by a Keck and Keck-designed factory that was being leveled (the group did not know of its demolition until the wrecking ball was through the first wall) and stopped in his tracks. The sculpture was located on one side of the building—fortunately a side not yet felled. Through his connections made via JetSetModern.com and Chicago Bauhaus and Beyond, they were able to save the sculpture and have it sent over to the museum.
 
Later, Kunkel and the Gands rallied the troops to save a house by modernist Edward Dart in Glencoe, Illinois. A couple had purchased the house for its location—right on the waters of Lake Michigan—and planned to knock it down and build a new one. All would have gone as planned had it not been for the Glencoe historic preservation department alerting the Gands that the couple had successfully applied for a demolition permit for the site. After writing letters and showing their numbers (now surpassing 400 members) at planning commission meetings, the group was able to postpone the demolition for one year.

Fortuitously, Kunkel and the Gands were granted a meeting with the couple who had purchased the house. "It turned out that they had never even gone into the house when they applied for demolition!" Joan says. "They were told that the house was just a teardown." The couple, Kunkel, and Joan did a walk-through of the house together and that changed everything. "We basically just ooh-ed and aah-ed: 'Look at this magnificent cabinetry,' 'Look at this wood, the hardware!'" Joan remembers. By the time the foursome made their way back to the front door, the husband was won over. "I told him that the house was just like a vintage car in need of a polish. And they did it!" Joan says. When the renovation, sensitive to the original design, was completed, the members of Chicago Bauhaus and Beyond were invited back for a celebratory party.

This year the founders have had more to celebrate—the five-year anniversary of the group—and they have events planned throughout the year to toast to the 90th anniversary of the German school that started it all: the Bauhaus. To learn more about Chicago Bauhaus and Beyond, their events, or to become a member, visit chicagobauhausbeyond.org.
 

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