Midway Gardens – Frank Lloyd Wright and Alfonso IannelliMidway Gardens (built 1913-1914, demolished 1925) was an outdoor/indoor entertainment complex on Chicago's near South Side in the Hyde Park neighborhood. Midway Gardens was a jewel, a sparkling entertainment center for the decade. 1914-1925 part beer garden, outdoor dance hall with band shell, restaurant and saloons. Not only did Frank Lloyd Wright create an extraordinary architectural composition, but he overlaid the entire complex with intricate and original ornament. With the intricate designs, European influence, and interesting sculptures. Midway Gardens is among the worldliest piece of architecture ever created. An extraordinary architectural achievement of Frank Lloyd Wright, it was his menagerie, filled with FLWs art, architecture, interior design, sculpture, lamps, tables, chairs, furniture, napkins, napkin-holders, clothing, dishes and industry design. Wright also supervised all of the cast concrete sculptural elements he called "Sprites."
Model of Midway Gardens
Wright’s financial backers had asked Wright to expand the original amusement park idea and create an upper class beer-garden. Wright wanted to expand the beer-garden concept and stimulate culture in Chicago. He also wanted to turn the beer-garden into a concert-garden. It was to have all of the arts, such as concerts and gardening, movies and theater. It was supposed to be a German-Styled entertainment building on the South Side. Big dreams mean big money and FLWs financers were on board. The building was to have gardens outside and inside, and the structure would measure 600 feet, in each of the four directions. It was a huge dining and bar complex that took up more than an entire square city block. A totally massive playhouse!
Interior Computer Rendering
Other uses of the structure, was to have rooms for clubs, casinos, bars, dance floors, theaters and concert rooms. Still others were a music stage, an area for eating, and two arcades. As planned, there were lobbies, private banquet halls, cigars and newspaper stands, pools, dance floors, and cantilevered balconies all areas were created to connect to each other easily. Wright designed all of these elements, down to the last chair and napkin-ring holder. Sculptor Alfonso Ianelli worked with him and made the sculptures that were placed in the gardens and these elements carried Mayan influence and design to the extreme. Sketches found in his archives inspired this hand-cast cement garden sculpture and pedestal. Sculptor Alfonso Iannelli also collaborated with FLW on the “Sprite” design as he carved some limestone Sprites as well. The Sprites were based on geometric shapes. FLW loved this and the cube was one; triangle, octagon, and sphere were the others. The Sprites were described this way, "the Winged Sprite stood over the entrance and greeted visitors to the Gardens . . . the Solemn Sprite contemplated occupants of the summer garden . . . and the Maiden of Mud was on the left, overlooking one of the dance floors." They were ultimately the doomed and failed guardian angels. Many of the “Sprite” sculptures have survived however, and have made a comeback in their own renaissance way!Interior décor, everything was decorated, painted glass, designed concrete, and strangely shaped lights. Brightly colored brick, tile, wall and carpet treatments and there were chandeliers on each corner of many rooms. The Gardens were truly a virtual real reality journey through the FLWs creative mind, dripping with life.
Prohibition in America was 1920-1933 and architects Adler and Sullivan completed Midway Gardens. With no liquor and Wright’s constant failing finances, Midway Gardens slipped through Wright’s fingers. On June 27, 1914, the Midway Gardens officially opened. It was a huge dining and bar complex with no alcohol. Prohibition did them in 1925. After two years, Midway Gardens began to decline in quality. It was sold to the Edelweiss Brewery and renamed Edelweiss Gardens. The Gardens crumbled and dried up like a wilted flower and was finally demolished and later as it languished like a ghostly reminder and bombed out relic from some forgotten war, it died. The Midway Gardens was torn down and the ruble was dumped into Lake Michigan as a breakwater. A gas station was planned on the site.
Alfonso Iannelli, an Italian immigrant was designing movie posters in Hollywood when Wright contacted him to work on Midway Gardens with him. Iannelli an accomplished artist by then, a painter, sculptor, professor, stone carver and industrial designer was well known by then. His work designing movie posters led him to design interiors for movie palaces of that era. His art deco style, combined with Native American design in that period was a draw for Wright. Two maverick creators with similar tastes pulled Iannelli like a magnet. He moved his studio and home to the northwest Chicago suburb of Park Ridge, IL. Wright lived in Oak Park and was only eight miles away. Iannelli kept his home and studio here until the early ‘60’s when he passed away.
Prudenial Insurance Building
After the Midway Gardens project he was involved in the Chicago Century of Progress World’s Fair in 1933, designing venues and industrial design, posters and other objects of art. In Park Ridge, IL. 1926, he was interior designer for the new movie palace, the Pickwick Theater, which is still in use today. Also in Park Ridge, influenced by Wright, he designed a series of home architecture on one block near his studio. He also designed elaborate park fountains, cemetery sculpture and marble carvings. One marble carving in particular is the white Carrara marble bust of his infant baby daughter, “Head of Bebe” c. 1925. Other carving commissions was the huge granite facade relief, “Rock of Gibraltar” on the west side of the One Prudential Plaza building in downtown Chicago, c. 1955. Iannelli also carved religious themed sculptures and created bronze decorations at the Adler Planetarium, Chicago, depicting an astrological theme design. The design of astrology symbols did not contain the planet Pluto because that planet hadn’t been discovered yet. Today, some people are confused, but that’s why it’s like that. When Alfonso Iannelli died, he was buried in Park Ridge in an unmarked grave near a cemetery sculpture he was commissioned for by a separate private family.
Frank Lloyd Wright and Alfonso Iannelli, two creative geniuses working together, arguing I’m sure, but respecting what they accomplished. Ultimately though, the lesson is this, nothing man made lasts forever. Midway Gardens’ epitaph: “A Demolished Wonder?”
Architecture of FLW
Alfonso Iannelli: MODERN BY DESIGN biography
Frank Lloyd Wright and Midway Gardens (Hardcover)