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6 destroyed Frank Lloyd Wright buildings

By: Matt Hickman on Sept. 27, 2012, 6 p.m.
Midway Gardens Chicago

Photo: Archival Photographic Files, [apf2-05125], Special Collections Research Center, University of Chicago Library.

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Midway Gardens

Location: Chicago

Built: 1914

Demolished: 1929

A true renaissance architect, Wright designed buildings of all shapes and sizes during his long career: homes, hotels, office buildings, museums, schools, churches, chapels and synagogues and even a doghouse. In 1914, he was commissioned by his friend Edward C. Wallar to design a German-style beer hall and entertainment center known as Midway Gardens in Chicago’s Hyde Park neighborhood.

Opened to a huge amount of fanfare on the site of the former Sans Souci amusement park with a performance from the National Symphony Orchestra, Midway Gardens was an upscale, indoor-outdoor complex built in the popular-at-the-time Prairie School style. It served as a venue for concerts, dance performances, fine dining and, of course, heavy drinking. Not only did Wright design the building itself, but he also oversaw the creation of the furniture, interior fixtures, artwork and even the dishes and napkin holders. Perhaps most notably, Wright co-designed a series of concrete sculptures named “sprites” found throughout the massive complex with Italian-born sculptor Alfonso Ianelli (a collaboration that, true to Wright style, ended in a squabble over artistic ownership).

In 1916, Midway Gardens changed hands and became Edelweiss Gardens. Under new ownership, the 600-by-600-foot complex became a touch less highbrow with a new emphasis on vaudeville and cabaret acts. After (barely) surviving Prohibition, the former Midway Gardens switched hands yet again in 1921 and was renamed Midway Dancing Gardens by its new owner, E. C. Dietrich Midway Automobile Tire and Supply Company.

Finally, after 15 years of financial struggle, Wright’s Midway Gardens was razed and bulldozed into Lake Michigan as a breakwater. It’s rumored that the building was so solidly constructed from bricks and concrete blocks that the demolition sent two wrecking companies out of business and a third into bankruptcy.