by Eryn Mackenzie
When I was visiting Chicago, a group of us went to Pizzaria Uno. This is apparently a very famous deep dish pizza restaurant. While deep dish pizza would be a worthy topic to write about, there was something else about this experience that piqued my interest. Chicago is not famous only for the aforementioned pie, but also for its architecture. There was an extended wait for our table, so we sat on a bench outside to pass the time. Across the street, in all its splendor, was the most beautiful Bloomingdale’s I have ever seen. Not that I am up on what most Bloomingdale’s look like, mind you, I was just quite struck by the ornate features on this deep red brick building.
The main entrance at 600 North Wabash was surrounded by detailed filigree and tile work, and each corner and the middle sported a rounded dome which looked like greened copper. The domes suggested the building was at one point perhaps an Orthodox Ukrainian church at one point in its history. This is not so.
I made my way across the street to get a closer look. The store was closed for the day at that point, but I asked a passing couple if they knew anything about the building. Lo and behold, it was built by Masons. There were not any apparent and usual Masonic symbols gracing its exterior, such as the compass and set square with the G in the middle. This information was therefore rather surprising. What secrets did the building hold? Were there subtle and not so subtle examples of Masonic symbolism as found here at home in the Manitoba Legislative building? I wanted to know more. So I did a little research.
The building, known as the Medinah Temple, was built in 1912 by architects Huehl and Schmidt. It originally housed a 4200 seat auditorium, with U-shaped seating in three levels surrounding the stage. The auditorium had very good acoustics, and the Chicago Symphony Orchestra has recorded there. The music for Fantasia 2000 was recorded there, too. The Shriners held their annual circus within its halls. The building was slated for demolition in the 1990s, but work began to refurbish and save this unique entity in the year 2000, which later opened as the Bloomingdale’s it is today.
The following day, when Bloomingdale’s was open again, I went in the have a look around. The auditorium has had false floors installed to accommodate the display and selling of wares, but there are sneak peaks of the original splendor of the building still to be seen. All of the original stained glass is still in place, and the domes are still exposed in the ceiling.
There are also two display cases giving patrons of the store an idea of the history of the building. There was a mysterious curtain hiding the entirety of one wall within the space, and I thought for sure that was where the secrets of the Masons would be hiding. No such luck, however. A store clerk informed me that all that was hidden behind the shimmering fall of fabric was storage space. I found out this was in fact true when inspecting one of the stained glass windows on the second level.