jeudi 3 mai 2012

Chicago, The Devil in the White City

"The Devil in the White City: Murder, Magic, and Madness at the Fair That Changed America"

1893: toute une ville (et presque un pays entier) se mobilise pour organiser le plus grand rassemblement de tous les temps. 4 ans après l'exposition universelle de Paris, le nouveau monde et la ville de Chicago vont s'exposer aux yeux du monde et s'affirmer comme des puissances majeures du XXeme siècle qui s'annonce.

Dans ce roman extrêmement documenté, Erik Larson ressuscite les contemporains de cette époque charnière : Daniel H. Burnham, George Washington Gale Ferris, Louis Sullivan, Frederick Law Olmsted, Walt Disney, Frank Lloyd Wright ou le terrible Docteur H. H. Holmes.
D'invention technique en dispositif urbain, de création architecturale en concept commercial, d'attraction à thème au tout premier tueur en série, c'est un morceau de la modernité qui s'invente ici.

"THE FAIR HAD A POWERFUL and lasting impact on the nation’s psyche, in ways both large and small. Walt Disney’s father, Elias, helped build the White City; Walt’s Magic Kingdom may well be a descendant. Certainly the fair made a powerful impression on the Disney family. It proved such financial boon that when the family’s third son was born that year, Elias in gratitude wanted to name him Columbus. His wife, Flora, intervened; the baby became Roy. Walt came next, on December 5, 1901. The writer L. Frank Baum and his artist-partner William Wallace Denslow visited the fair; its grandeur informed their creation of Oz. The Japanese temple on the Wooded Island charmed Frank Lloyd Wright, and may have influenced the evolution of his “Prairie” residential designs. The fair prompted President Harrison to designate October 12 a national holiday, Columbus Day, which today serves to anchor a few thousand parades and a three-day weekend. Every carnival since 1893 has included a Midway and a Ferris Wheel, and every grocery store contains products born at the exposition. Shredded Wheat did survive. Every house has scores of incandescent bulbs powered by alternating current, both of which first proved themselves worthy of large-scale use at the fair; and nearly every town of any size has its little bit of ancient Rome, some beloved and be-columned bank, library or post office. Covered with graffiti, perhaps, or even an ill-conceived coat of paint, but underneath it all the glow of the White City persists. Even the Lincoln Memorial in Washington can trace its heritage to the fair. The fair’s greatest impact lay in how it changed the way Americans perceived their cities and their architects. It primed the whole of America—not just a few rich architectural patrons—to think of cities in a way they never had before.

If Christ Came to Chicago, a book often credited with launching the City Beautiful movement, which sought to elevate American cities to the level of the great cities of Europe. Like Stead, civic authorities throughout the world saw the fair as a model of what to strive for. They asked Burnham to apply the same citywide thinking that had gone into the White City to their own cities. He became a pioneer in modern urban planning. He created citywide plans for Cleveland, San Francisco, and Manila and led the turn-of-the-century effort to resuscitate and expand L’Enfant’s vision of Washington, D.C. In each case he worked without a fee. While helping design the new Washington plan, Burnham persuaded the head of the Pennsylvania Railroad, Alexander Cassatt, to remove his freight tracks and depot from the center of the federal mall, thus creating the unobstructed green that extends today from the Capitol to the Lincoln Memorial. Other cities came to Daniel Burnham for city wide plans, among them Fort Worth, Atlantic City, and St. Louis, but he turned them down to concentrate on his last plan, for the city of Chicago. Over the years many aspects of his Chicago plan were adopted, among them the creation of the city’s lovely ribbon of lakefront parks and Michigan Avenue’s “Miracle Mile.” One portion of the lakefront, named Burnham Park in his honor, contains Soldier Field and the Field Museum, which he designed. The park runs south in a narrow green border along the lakeshore all the way to Jackson Park, where the fair’s Palace of Fine Arts, transformed into a permanent structure, now houses the Museum of Science and Industry. It looks out over the lagoons and the Wooded Island, now a wild and tangled place that perhaps would make Olmsted smile—though no doubt he would find features to criticize. "