Cattails And Cobras Battle For Supremacy In Logan Square

Cattail Base

Cattails And Cobras Battle For Supremacy In Logan Square

First off, I’m not referring to a Logan Square community theater remake of “West Side Story.”

It’s about streetlights.

The Cattail Streetlight Project is one component of a master plan to balance asthetics, green technology and historic preservation in Logan Square. It was also the subject of an AIA Chicago-sponsored presentation at the Logan Square Comfort Station Tuesday night.

Cattail TopLogan Square is well known for its tree-lined boulevards. The Logan Square Preservation group is doing its best to make sure the neighborhood’s growing popularity doesn’t diminish its beauty and history. It has been a major proponent in establishing the “Emerald Necklace” of boulevards in Logan Square for landmark status.

The work of Logan Square Preservation includes the crown jewel of the area, the Illinois Centennial Column in the center of the square itself. There are two design concepts being considered to renovate the square, said Charlie Keel, special projects chairman for the preservation.

“The first reroutes cars around the square, and allows buses and bicycles to go directly through the square,” Keel said. The second concept is similar, but adds an open community plaza space along Kedzie Boulevard.

Charlie Keel and Edward Torrez

Charlie Keel and Edward Torrez

“We’d like to see Logan Square become a world-class site,” Keel said. “We believe it’s possible with a development that’s well thought out.”

Part of the thought process to enhance the square is to change out the streetlights.

In the early 1900’s, streetlights along many Chicago parks and boulevards typically had curved Art Nouveau cattail style posts. The lamppost had a cast iron base and a wooden mast. Decades of harsh Chicago winters and freeze-thaw cycles were particularly unkind to the wooden middle section.

In 1927, thanks to a $10 million bond issue, the fixtures were upgraded with cast iron replacing the rotting wooden center post. Electrician Thomas Meade came up with the novel approach of burying electrical wire and encasing it in concrete. (Coincidentally, it’s the same Meade electrical contractor currently installing a smartgrid system).

By the 1950’s, the old cattail streetlights had fallen out of favor. They weren’t modern-looking enough—or tall enough—to illuminate city streets for pedestrians and automobiles. Enter the sleeker “cobra head” fixtures. They put out a lot of lumens, but they lack charm. So, Logan Square is looking to the past as it plans for the future. The plan for lighting the square was described by Edward Torrez, principal of Bauer Latoza Studio.

Logan Square“Our goals were to meet CDOT regulations, Department of Interior standards for a historic district, provide both walkway lighting and roadway lighting, AND create a green, sustainable fixture,” Torrez said.

The answer was simple: return to the cattail. The technology is green, using LED lighting with intelligent controls and dimming capability. The look is decidedly retro. The cast bronze finish will be built to last, too.

Phase I of the cattail streetlight project calls for 26 lights in and around the square, at a cost of just over $1 million. Financing is being provided by the Richard Driehaus Foundation, the Donnelly Family Preservation Fund, the National Trust for Historic Preservation and the Logan Square Preservation.

Ideally, Keel and Torrez said, installation of the new lights will coincide with the 2018 Illinois Bicentennial.

Bill Motchan

Author: Bill Motchan

Bill Motchan is a writer and photographer, and a former resident of the West Loop. He can be reached at bill@ChicagoArchitecture.org.

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