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Midway Gardens (opened in 1914, demolished in 1929) was a 300’ square indoor/outdoor entertainment facility in the Hyde Park neighborhood on the South Side of Chicago. It was designed by architect Frank Lloyd Wright, who also collaborated with sculptors Richard Bock and Alfonso Iannelli on the famous “sprite” sculptures decorating the facility. Designed to be a European style concert garden with space for year-round dining, drinking, and performances, Midway Gardens hosted notable performers and entertainers but struggled financially and was torn down in October 1929.
Midway Gardens was opened on the site of the former Sans Souci amusement park on the southwest corner of Cottage Grove Ave and E 60th Street. Edward C. Waller commissioned Frank Lloyd Wright to design and build the Gardens in 1914. Construction was completed in only three months and the Gardens opened on July 27, 1914.
Although initially business was strong, Waller never had adequate funds to back the construction and upkeep of Midway Gardens and declared bankruptcy in March 1916. At this point, Midway Gardens was purchased by the Edelweiss Brewery and renamed “Edelweiss Gardens”. Frank Lloyd Wright, who generally exerted strong creative control over his completed projects, threatened to sue Edelweiss Brewery for the aesthetic changes that they made to the Gardens. The Edelweiss Gardens continued through the war years (closing briefly in 1918) and stayed open as a dry establishment during Prohibition. In 1921, the building was sold once more, to the E. C. Dietrich Midway Automobile Tire and Supply Company, and renamed “The Midway Dancing Gardens”.
Finally, in October 1929, Midway Gardens was closed permanently and demolished. A testament to Wright's design, the building was so solidly constructed that tearing it down sent the wrecking company into bankruptcy.
Midway Gardens was an indoor/outdoor entertainment center intended to act as a beer hall and concert/dance hall which featured bands including the Midway Gardens Orchestra. The area featured restaurants and saloons as well. This German-style meeting place showcased the arts with movies and plays showing often. This large area (equivalent to a city block) offered entertainment to a wide variety of people. There were newspaper and cigar stands, restaurants, and arcades. Midway Gardens was a facility that ran on entertainment. When prohibition was passed the Gardens lost part of the entertainment value that fueled the center.
When it opened, the Midway Gardens was an upscale entertainment venue that was also affordable to the common person. Max Bendix and the National Symphony Orchestra frequented the concert section because they were the "house band". The ballet dancer Anna Pavlova performed numerous times as well. Frank Lloyd Wright brought in popular acts to sing, dance, and play music, which created a bourgeois environment. In 1916 it was renamed after it was sold to the Edelweiss family. The Midway Gardens was renamed Edelweiss Gardens. The high class atmosphere switched to one of vaudeville, ragtime, and cabaret.
Keeping in line with the idea of an upper-class beer garden, the Midway Gardens was a large, open air central area filled with tables and chairs and featured terraced gardens, pools and a music pavilion and stage. This area was ringed by a series of three story buildings that featured indoor spaces for dancing and other activities, as well as cantilevered balconies with overhanging roofs.
The building itself was made of yellow brick and patterned concrete brick in the Prairie School style of architecture. It featured highly intricate ornament and many geometric sculptures, which Frank Lloyd Wright named “sprites” and were co-designed with Alfonso Ianelli. Some of these sculptures escaped demolition and can be found elsewhere. In keeping with Frank Lloyd Wright's style, the building also featured rows of art glass and hidden entries. The interior was likewise intricately ornamented and filled with Frank Lloyd Wright designed furniture and accoutrements, right down to the napkin rings.
King Oliver's Creole Jazz Band played at the Midway Gardens, King Oliver the trumpeter gave high praise to the acoustics of the building. Frank Lloyd Wright did it right, and the drawings might still exist in the Wright Office. If so it is probably worthy of reconstruction to the original design as an appreciated Art work. I wonder if the massive masonry was an important part of the acoustics. I don't suppose Wright ever heard Oliver and Louis Armstrong playing together in the building he had designed.