Chicago, the windy city … not sure about the wind, it seemed to rained non stop while I was there. Rainy days are fine for visiting museums, but for walking the streets in search of Egyptian revival architecture they are not fun at all. But search them out I did, not that there were many. Chicago’s Graceland Cemetery has a few obvious examples, but by far the most interesting, and apparently one of the finest examples in the USA, can be found on North Clark Street in the Lincoln Park area.
Colourful and bold, the façade of the Reebie Storage Warehouse is unmistakeably Egyptian in origin. The attention to detail is strikingly remarkable, even on a grey, drizzly day. As one of the finest commercial uses of Egyptian revival architecture in the USA, the building is now rightly listed on the National Register of Historic Places (1979) and is a designated Chicago Landmark (1999).
The storage facility was completed in 1922, only months before the opening of Tutankhamun’s tomb in Egypt. So it was Ramses II was used as the model for the two Egyptian men on either side of the entrance, which represent the two founders of the company John and William Reebie. The building was, however, ahead of its time in at least two respects.
In November 1922 news about the extraordinary artefacts found in Tutankhamun’s tomb spread around the World. This discovery not only reignited a centuries old fascination in ancient Egypt, it also greatly inspired the 20th century Egyptian revival in arts and crafts and architecture. Also, although some trace the origins of the Art Deco to the Universal Exposition of 1900 in Paris (for which the Eiffel Tower was constructed), the movement only really got going by the mid 1920s – certainly in America.
The Art Deco style was itself greatly influenced by archaeology, including Egyptology. Clearly the warehouse was ahead of a trend that went on to become very popular. A trend that resulted in the Egyptian Theatre movement, in which over one hundred cinemas around the US were built and decorated with traditional design elements taken from ancient Egyptian examples.
Reebie Storage Warehouse was designed by the architect George Kingsley, and it was the sculptor Fritz Albert who created the terra cotta decoration.
The statues on either side of the entrance were modelled on Ramses II.
The two heads above the statue and the scarab beetle are based on ancient images of the Goddess Hathor. As the Goddess of Fertility, Hathor was often depicted as a cow, or as a woman with some features of a cow, including horns or ears. Here, besides her characteristic headdress, the representation of Hathor has been quite faithful in including the ears of a cow. Below is a sculptured image of Hathor on one of the columns in the Hathor Chapel at the Mortuary Temple of Queen Hatshepsut, west bank Luxor.
Papyrus plants decorate the base and capitals of the columns. As papyrus reeds grow in water, this details has been added to the base. The ancient column in the photograph below is in the memorial temple of Ramesses III, or Medinet Habu, on the west bank of Luxor. There are no flowers at the top, but there are papyrus reeds at the base.
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