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Grant Park Band Shell
Life Span: 1931-1975 (Rebuilt)
Location: 9th Street and Lake Shore Drive, Grant Park
Architect: E. V. Bucksbaum
Chicago Tribune, July 11, 1931
Ground breaking ceremonies for the band shell, where free band concerts are to be given this summer were held yesterday by the south Park board in Grant park. Mayor Cermak presided and among other witnessing the ceremony were Philip S. Graver, George T. Donoghue, E. V. Bucksbaum, George W. Dixon, Victor J. Grabel, and Robert F. Cart.
Said the mayor:
Good music has a wider appeal and Is entertaining to a far greater number than perhaps ary other form of art or science. This summer as we look forward hopefully and confidently to better times, I feel these concerts will be among the many things which will inspire us and give even more deter- quickly to achieve the wel. fare of all people, which is and should be the normal condition of men In America.
Mr. Bucksbaum, the architect, described the shell, saying it is to be of semi-permanent materials resembling white limestone, and designed with attention to the latest scientific principles of sound projection. Twenty thousand persons seated in front may hear clearly, he said.
A total of $25,000 was underwritten by leading citizens to assure the con- certs before the building of the band shell. In addition over $10,OO0 has been pledged by the Chicago Concert Band association. This however, is only half the money needed.
The original Grant Park Band Shell
Chicago Tribune, August 24, 1931
Chicago’s new concert band will make Its debut tonight between the city s skyline and the lake. In the level stretch of park south of the waterfall of Buckingham fountain seventy musicians wil give Mozart and Wagner, Strauss and Tchalkowsky to all and any who may wish to hear.
The premiere appearance of the Chicago Concert band under the baton of Victor J. Grabel marks the addition of a symphony band to the musical events that already have lifted the city to its high place In the music world.
The band shell was built by the south park board after $25,000 of a desired $90,000 fund had been underwritten by civic leaders. Although of temporary construction, it gives the appearance of stone. A brilliant lighting has been arranged through a series of three arches of lights.
In addition to the concert numbers by the band there, will be a soloist, Rosalinda Morini, coloratura soprano, who will sing arias from Mozart’s two act opera, “Il Re Pastore,” and “Je Suls Titania,” from ” Mignon.” The Ollie Thomas Saxaphone sextet, which played in Roxy’s theater, New York, will also be on the program.
The Chicago Concert Band associatlon is a civic group, organized not for profit but for the pleasure of citizens of Chicago. All concerts are open to the public.
Chicago Tribune, August 25, 1931
BY EDWARD MOORE
It took more than a spurt of rain at 8 o clock to discourage the musicians of the Chicago Concert band from giving their first concert in Grant park last night. For that matter, it discouraged only a few of the audience. The rest camped under umbrellas and newspapers, and when the spurt was over vacant seats and standing room were speedily filled until some 10,000 or 12,000 persons were there.
There Is nothing pleasanter than a good band concert, anyway. Victor J. Grabel, the conductor, has been doing a double service in preparing this band and acting as director of the Chicagoland Music festival of last Saturday night. He was highly competent in both jobs. You have already heard of the festival. The Chicago Concert band is also something in which to take pride.
It has the brilliance and power of a band, which it should have, and it has also a good part of the lightness and delicacy of an orchestra, which a good many bands never attain. In fact, it is partly orchestral in its makeup. It has some cellos and double basses among its players as well as a harp, and when Rosalinda Morini, the soprano soloist of the evening, appeared, she brought a violinist with her for obbligato purposes.
Mr. Grabel has trained his band to excellent effect. The first part of the program was fairly earnest music, Wagner in the “Meistersinger” Prelude and Siegfried’s Death Music from “Die Goetterdaemmerung,” Massenet in the ballet suite from “Le Cid,” and so on. But there were encores, a Brahms waltz, a Sousa march, and the second part went into lighter vein tn both the programmed numbers and the encores. The band has a remarkably suave tone, and it plays with the accuracy, shading, and contrast of an expert and sensitive musical organization.
Miss Morinl displayed a beautiful voice. It has the height and swooping swiftness that one calls coloratura together with the velvet texture that one calls lyric. An aria from Mozart’s opera ” Il Re Pastore”,and the Polonaise from Ambroise Thomas’ “Mignon” were her numbers, and there were encores in additon.
It was not so announced on the program, but the understanding is that this series of concerts will be played on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday evenings until four weeks have been spent in this enjoyable entertainment,
“Night View Band Shell Grant Park”
Oil Painting by Mary C. Peterson (1886-1967)
Grant Park Band Shell
Grant Park Band Shell
Chicago Tribune, June 11, 1978
By Richard Christiansen
Critic at large
AT 7 P.M. SATURDAY, July 24, the 44th annual season of Grant Park concerts is set to begin in the new $2.6 million James C Petrillo music shell at Jackson Boulevard and Columbus Drive—and therein lies the latest chapter in A 47-year-old story
Almost a half-century after the original Grant Park band shell went up at 9th Street and Lake Shore Drive, and more than 30 years after the first of several proposed new structures to replace the old shell was rejected, the City of Chicago has a new home for its series of free outdoor summer concerts
The original shell, built in six weeks for $15,000 and designed to last years, was ready for operation in August, 1931.
Four years later, on July 4. 1935, pushed by Petrillo, powerful czar of the musicians union and a member of the Chicago Park District board, the free outdoor series of music by the resident Grant Park Symphony Orchestra started in the temporary structure
All through the 1930s and the war years of the 1940s. the Grant Park concerts, embellished with famous guest soloists lured by Petrillo to the lakefront played to large audiences who sat on wooden park benches or picnicked on the grass while the music played.
As early as 1946, however the park district, which funds the concerts, was proposing a new $1.5-million shell with a movable canopy that would cover 10,00 seats in case of bad weather.
In the intervening years. various plans came and went, shot down by preservationists who steadfastly fought proposals for bulky, permanent new structures on the lakefront.
The latest, final proposal, which emerged in February. 1977, eventually called for a “demountable” shell in Butler Field of Grant Park. just east of the Art Institute.
The original design, criticized for its squat ugliness, underwent some design revisions. but further complications occurred in October, 1977. when lhe Metropolitan Housing and Planning Council announced an alternative proposal for a $10-mIllion “Lakefront Gardens for the Performing Arts” east of Michigan Avenue between Randolph and Monroe streets
After a series of skirmishes, a compromise measure was passed last November by the Chicago Plan Commission. This approved use of the park district s redesigned temporary structure until that “Lakefront Gardens” permanent band shell advocated by the council could be built.
Last January the park district awarded $2 6 million in contracts for construction of the new band shell on Butler Field. and soon after work began
Robert Wilkins, manager of Grant Park Concerts, swears the new facility will open on schedule “even if we’re screwing in the last bolt when the conductor given the downbeat.”
So what will we get, at long last, for our $2.6 million.
The wedge-shaped shell. built on a steel frame with glass block siding, juts northeast in the direction of the lake from the southeast corner of Jackson Boulevard and Columbus Drive.
It 37 feet high at its front. 7 feet 6 inches lower than the old band shell, with a total width at the front of 92 feet and a depth of 60 feet. According to Wilkins. this takes up less than half the area above ground of the old shell, while allowing 50 per cent more space on stage.
Beneath the shell is a steel reinforced concrete support structure containing dressing and locker rooms, toilets, a lounge area. mechanical and electrical equip- ment rooms, and sound control booth. All these were above ground with the old shell.
The shell’s stage has 20 wood riser platforms for the orchestra s musicians and instruments, plus 28 steel and cedar ceiling and wall acoustical panels.
A motorized curtain can seal off the proscenium opening in case of rain, but, because extensive roofing would clash with the park s “openess,” there will be no canopy to protect audiences from rain.
The sound system. an improved version of a similar setup used for the New York Philharmonic’s outdoor concerts in Central Park. will be “absolutely fantastic, an astonishing experience.” Wilkins says
Designed by Klepper, Marshall. and King, the acoustical consultants who recently overhauled the sound system in the Arie Crown Theater of McCormick Place. the Grant Park system has a capacity for 16 microphone inputs. Exactly how the sound will be picked up. how- ever, depends on experience gained in early concerts.
The sound will be fanned out from speakers mounted in three clusters, one in the shell’s top center and two on steel sound and light towers that flank the shell front.
Seating for 5,022 people will be provided by metal chairs locked in units of three and placed on an asphalt surface that rises in a gentle slope from four feet beneath stage level to ground level 170 feet away
The rest of the Butler Field area, newly sodded, should have room-for about 35,000 people on the lawn.
A huge landscaping project will place hundreds of shade trees and shrubs around the area to help shield it from the sights and sounds of traffic
Small refreshment stands will be scattered in the area. and, for this first summer. trailers with chemical will have to suffice as comfort stations
Parking, always a vexing problem for the old site. can be handled for a $2 charge at the Monroe Street garage just north of Butler Field and by the Grant Park underground garages on Michigan Avenue.
To help launch the new band shell, the Grant Park Concert Society. a private citizens group, has been formed to raise funds that would supplement the $375,OtO the concerts receive from the park district
Jack Rleardon. the society s president and chairman of the Michigan Boulevard and Wabash Avenue Associa. tion. has set a goal of $75.O0O for this season
Plans call for the new shell to be dismantled each fall and put up again the next spring.
As for the old band shell, It is to be torn down later this summer
For Wilkins. who became concert manager in 1976 after three seasons as assistant manager, the new Petrillo shell has come none too soon.
The destruction of the creaky, rickety old structure will be good riddance to a bad band shell, he, believes, and with fierce partisanship. he states that the Petrillo shell will mark “the beginning of a new era for summer music in Chicago.”
That clearly Is what the park district and city government are, counting on. The move north to the new shell, they hope, will bring more people into the downtown area and the lakefront.
And if that happens, you can bet your bottom dollar that the “temporary,” demountable band shell will become a permanent part of the Chicago scene.
The new James Petrillo Music Shell in Grant Park. Musically and architecturally satisfying.
Chicago Tribune, July 23, 1978
By John Von Rhein
DON’T BELIEVE those discouraging words you may have heard in the aftermath of Mayor Bilandic’s special 4th of July concert at the new James C. Petrillo Music Shell. The sophisticated new $100,000 sound system being used for Grant, Park concerts is doing its job just fine—but don’t the system, as it now stands to duplicate concert-hall quality sound for audiences of 100,000-plus people.
Even if Park District officials can come up with the funds necessary to mount extra sound towers for overflow crowds such as the one that invaded Butler Field last July 3, that degree of quality isn’t likely to be achieved. No outdoor sound system can convince you you re occupying a front-row-center seat in Boston’s Symphony Hall, Amsterdam’s Concertgebouw, or any of the acoustically superb auditoriums in the world.
But a good system can lend an astonishing degree of presence to an orchestral concert—that sense of being close to the instrumental action. And that is what the Grant Park system does in the opinion of this, who has ear-tested it over a month of concerts classi- cal and pop, up close and at the back of the “house.”
Such a judgment might seem absurd to many among the estimated 200,000 who complained they could hear very little of on during that now-famous July 3 “battle of the bands” involving the combined -forces of the Chicago Symphony and Grant Park orchestra.
The basic problem, as David Klepper explains, was, not the equipment as much as the people. Klepper is a member of Klepper, Marshall and King of White Plains, N.Y., acoustical consultants for the Grant Park system. The system. which employs 32 Altec-Lansing speakers mounted on two sound towers and in a central proscenium cluster and driven by 3,600 watts of amplification, can transmit sound without distortion to approximately 40,000 persons. Most Grant Park concerts fall well within that figure, attracting anywhere between 4,000 and 10,000.
Even with the system operating at an overload factor of 150 per cent July 3, there was no way to pump sound out to the outer reaches of Butler Field. To turn up the volume any further would have produced ear-splitting feedback and made the music unbearably loud for those sitting up front. Pianist David Golub began playing softly to compensate for what he assumed was the rest of the orchestra playing louder.
To put the dilemma another way, what we had July 3 was a collision between two basic laws of acoustical science. People absorb sound. The grass surface reflects it, though only if it is firm. On that occasion the was so dense very little lawn area was exposed; moreover, the grass was soft and muddy after the weekend rains.
When people. cannot hear, they become restless and noisy, and this “ambient noise” is what effectively blotted out Tchaikovsky’s “1812” Overture for most of the lawn denizens. As Kiepper observes ruefully, “It was like buying a new ferryboat and inviting the entire city of Chicago aboard.”
Grant Park officials are agreed that what is needed if such monster concerts are held again is a pair of additional sound towers using 28 more speakers linked to the main system via an electronic delay system. The towers would be located about two-thirds of the way back on the sides of the lawn. They would have cost $15,000 to rent or $70,000 to install permanently this year, according to Robert H. Wilkins, Grant Park concert manager. Such an expense would have jacked up the budget on the $2.77 million facility and would have certainly added fuel to the arguments of those who opposed constructing the demountable new band shell in the first place. Besides, no one had anticipated that big a crowd, even on a holiday weekend.
More crucial to the artistic success of Grant Park concerts over the long haul, however, is the sound mixer who operates the console in the control booth located just behind the seating area. It is he who determines what most of the audience hears of a given piece of music on a given night. It is he who decides when to add a bit more reverberation to a solo instrument or when to up the volume to compensate for such variables as crowd size, wind level, and the traffic noise from nearby Lake Shore Drive.
The man in charge of this at Grant Park is Don Miller. He is a veteran of 18 years of these concerts. Taste and discretion seem to have marked his work so far, though It must be admitted Miller is not musically trained.
Despite Miller’s apparent expertise, it seems apparent that Grant Park should engage a sound mixer for future seasons who not only is versed in every aspect of electro-acoustics but who knows the score as well. There
is a sizable musical investment as well as dollar investment at stake here.
KM&K have been checking out their baby’s performance at last week’s concerts, and will be a preliminary written appraisal to Park District officials next month. So precipitously did the new facilty open that roughly 20 per cent of the work on the soud system had to go unfinished as of opening night none of it was apparent to the general public. Now most of these minor adjustments, including the phasing of certain speakers and improvement of malfunctioning tweeters, have been accomplished.
As for the natural, acoustical sound of the music shell, everyone is pleased with it. This is the sound experienced by people in the first 10 or so rows, after which point amplification takes over. The Grant Park musi- clans, unaccustomed to being able to hear each other, all find the live sound onstage a revelation. The boxlike surfaces reflect sound beautifully. If some people up front are conscious of a certain dryness of sound, that is because they actually are facing the “projecting end” of a concert hall—i.e., an auditorium without an enclosed space to enrich and warm the musical mix.
So now the responsibility of Grant Park Concerts is maintaining the sound system at its present level of efficiency and making sure it does not falsify the musical intentions of conductors or performers. Worrying about where to find the money to erect extra sound towers for popular events can come later.
Chicago Tribune, July 23, 1978
By Paul Gapp
THE NEW James Petrillo Music Shell in Grant Park must be judged on two counts: how well it serves its evening audiences, and how fits its setting in the daytime.
Happily, the shell is satisfactory in both respects. And when one considers that it had been the controversy for 15 years, its mere existence is practically a triumph.
Approaching the facility at dusk on a concert night, one is only partly aware of how structural and landscape architects met the design challenge, and visual details are further blunted as full darkness descends.
But what one experiences is pleasant enough. The seating is reasonably comfortable. Sight lines are decent (the seating area slopes upward from 4 feet below grade at the stage to ground level, about 170 feet back). To my ears, the sound quality seems more than adequate.
The shell itself, clad with panels of white fiber glass overlaid with a black grid, takes on a glowing quality front interior illumination and proves an acceptable background for performers;
It is in the bright light of daytime, however, that the concert facility must pass even sterner tests imposed by the old controversy.
Citizen groups—most notably, the Metropolitan Housing and Planning Council—long opposed the construction of any new shell in Grant Park on grounds that it would mar the openness and greenery of the space.
They dropped their opposition only after Park District and other architects came up with a minimal, unobtrusive shell designed to be disassembled and stored each year after the concert season.
So what one sees at the corner of Jackson Boulevard and Columbus Drive is not “architecture” in the usual sense. It is a deliberately neutral and even self-effacing structure that makes no statement about itself. The shell is simply an assembly of components put together to do the job. In that context, it is no better or worse than anything we might have expected.
From a standpoint, its most obvious deficiency is the lack of an overhead canopy to protect audiences from rain. Prpvision of such a roof might hive led to a structure of more character (we are reminded of the rejected shell designed some years ago by architect Gene Summers). But the opponents were against anything so bulky; so what we got is a little wedge flanked by two loudspeaker towers.
The wedge almost seems to shrink in embarrassment at its own simplicity. Its diminutive scale is brought down further by the taller and more elegant Art Institute buildings just across the street.
In daylight (some noontime concerts are offered, by the way), it becomes clear that Park District designers spared no effort to minimize the shell s impact on its surroundings. From the gray metal audience chairs to the generous plantings of trees and shrubs, it Is a place that almost does a disappearing, act (or will, when the trees grow taller).
The landscaping that screens the shell is particularly tasteful. Linden, honey locust, and flowering crab trees are sited in symmetrical rows as an extension of the park s formal geometry. A break was left in the plantings to preserve the sweeping north-south axis of the park. The south- ern terminus of this great expanse is still the old band shell at East 11th Street. The new northern end point Is a trio of flag poles atop the super-structure of the recently opened underground garage just south of East Randolph Street.
But come in for a concert and see for yourself, There’s no more delightful way to spend a summer evening.
June 6, 2003
Grant Park Petrillo Music Shell
The last hurrah
It’s one final party in the park for the city’s venerable bandshell
By John von Rhein
Tribune music critic.
This will be the final summer of the old shell game. Drumroll, please.
A nearly seven-decade tradition of Grant Park Music Festival performances in the northern precincts of Grant Park is coming to an end. The 69th series of free classical music concerts by the Grant Park Orchestra and Chorus, which opens Wednesday night and runs through Aug. 16, will be the last at the Petrillo Music Shell at the corner of Columbus Drive and Jackson Boulevard.
Next summer, the Grant Park Orchestra will move to bigger and posher new digs one block north at the new Frank Gehry-designed Music Pavilion at the city’s $270 million Millennium Park. The new pavilion will become the primary outdoor concert venue in the city, also hosting rock, jazz and blues performers, though Petrillo will be used for some non-classical events.
If all goes as planned, the nation’s only remaining free, municipally funded outdoor classical music festival finally will have a sonically superior home worthy of its fine orchestra and chorus.
Late June or early July 2004 is the target date for the Grant Park festival to take up residence in Millennium Park, now rising in a former rail yard and parking lot at the northwest corner of Grant Park, east of Michigan Avenue near Randolph Street.
Construction is on schedule, according to Grant Park artistic and general director James W. Palermo. Festival staffers are looking to settle into new office space in the $40 million Chicago Music and Dance Theater adjacent to the outdoor pavilion in September, two months before the scheduled gala opening of the1,500-seat theater on Nov. 8.
Architect Gehry’s trademark giant steel ribbons (which will surround the stage proscenium) and the huge trellis canopy that will house the pavilion’s state-of-the-art surround-sound system are still being built, but the concrete support pylons have been sunk, according to Ed Uhlir, project director for Millennium Park. The next stage of construction involves the attaching of aluminum sandwich panels (“rather like a giant jigsaw puzzle,” he says) and a stainless-steel overlay. When it is completed, the pavilion will have stadium seating for 4,000; another 7,000-8,000 can be accommodated on the Great Lawn located behind the seating area.
Meanwhile, audiences and performers must resign themselves to a couple more months of classical concerts at the Petrillo shell, with its mediocre acoustics and vulnerability to the elements.
Perhaps a bit of historical perspective will help make the place easier to live with.
Relatively speaking, the current music shed is a step upward from the dilapidated old band shell it replaced in 1978. Named after James C. Petrillo, the legendary Musicians Union czar who helped launch the concert series in 1935 to provide employment for local musicians during the Depression era, the original band shell near 11th Street provided a berth for Grant Park concerts for 42 years.
The bowl-shaped structure literally was falling apart when the orchestra finally vacated it. Everyone who performed there seemed to have a backstage horror story. A grand piano is said to have fallen through the rotting stage. Not long before the rickety shell was razed, a flamenco dance troupe managed to dislodge hundreds of rats that were nesting beneath the floorboards.
Perhaps the greatest advantage of the new Petrillo shell has been its prime lakefront location, which combines symphonic music with one of the most spectacularly beautiful cityscapes in the nation.
Being situated right in the heart of where a large urban population works and plays has helped enormously to bring new audiences to classical music, attracting tens of thousands of tourists while reaching into every socio-economic pocket of greater Chicago. “The barrier that exists with many other concert experiences simply doesn’t exist with us,” says Palermo, beginning his ninth season as Grant Park’s artistic chief.
If Grant Park is all-embracing sociologically, it also embraces all weather conditions. The former and current band shells and the new Music Pavilion all are open-air facilities. Architects and city planners wrestled with the pros and cons before agreeing: Why spoil a great view by throwing a roof over the heads of concertgoers? Although Gehry’s trellised sound system will span the entire length and width of the pavilion and Great Lawn, it won’t obscure the heavens.
Fortunately, Grant Park audiences are famous for braving occasional monsoon rains even as the orchestra players soldier onward, high and dry in their stage enclosure. (The musicians’ contract says they must continue playing as long as they don’t get rained on; the moment precipitation reaches their instruments, the concert is called off.)