Lee Bey's "Beyond the Boat Tour" column for WBEZ is known for taking on intriguing architectural stories. Even so, this is one of the neatest off-the-beaten-path examinations we've seen in a while. Anyone familiar with the Bronzeville's long-gone Mecca Apartments? Built in 1891 and billed as "the largest apartment building west of New York", the full-block structure contained 96 luxury units. Or at least that's how they started out. According to Bey, the building, with its signature twin multi-level skylit interior courts, fell into a deep disrepair in the 1920s from which it never recovered. IIT bought it and spent 15 years trying to raze it, against the outspoken objections of the Black community which needed quality, affordable post-WWII housing in a bursting South Side. Needless to say, IIT won the day and Mies' landmark Crown Hall now sits where the Mecca once did. No one's complaining about that influential masterpiece, but it's certainly a pity it came at the loss of another. One more thing: Is it just us or do the interior courts, as ornate as they are, look a lot like prison atriums of a certain vintage? Head over to Bey's blog for more history, and LIFE's archives for the rest of the startling 1951 photo set.
·The storied Mecca Apartments live again, thanks to 'Life' magazine archives [WBEZ]