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Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Zion Dome Update

Two weeks ago, I wrote about the dome from the Zion Hotel (built in 1902) that was saved by local citizens in 1979 when the rest of the building was demolished.

Since my post, a Save the Dome Committee has been organized to fundraise money for the much needed repairs to the historic structure. The Committee was formed by Zion Commissioner Shantal Taylor and other concerned citizens.

Anyone interested in this preservation effort can attend the committee's next meeting on February 9th at 4 p.m. at Ariel Fitness and Nutrition, 2719 Elisha Avenue, Zion.

The dome is located at Sheridan Road and 26th Street, on the original site of the Zion Hotel. (Looking south on Sheridan Road at the Zion Hotel, circa 1910 LCDM).

Update! On April 22, 2011, it was reported in the News-Sun that Zion Solutions has donated $40,000 to the city of Zion to restore the dome.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Artist Reima Ratti (1914 - 1945)

In 2004, a collection of work by Waukegan-born artist, Reima "Ray" Ratti (1914-1945) was donated to the museum from the estate of his fiancee, Mary Sadler. During his short life, Ratti produced an impressive amount of sketches and paintings of landscapes and people.

Photo portrait of Reima Ratti, date unknown. (Bess Bower Dunn Museum 2004.19.129)

The son of Finnish immigrants, Ratti's passion for art developed in high school. In 1935, Ratti was appointed the camp artist for the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) at Camp Estabrook near Milwaukee, Wisconsin.

"Driller" by Reima Ratti, oil on canvas, 1935 (Bess Bower Dunn Museum 2004.19.7)

Ratti worked in oils, graphite, ink, pastel, and gouache. He often painted friends and family, and some landscapes as well. The oil portraits were done in the cottage studio he built at the back of the lot of his family's Waukegan home. Since he worked as a baker in the early morning hours before dawn, he was able to paint during the day when natural light was best.

"Portrait" by Reima Ratti, pastel, circa 1945.
(Bess Bower Dunn Museum 2004.19.50)

"Landscape" by Reima Ratti, oil on canvas, date unknown (Bess Bower Dunn Museum 2004.19.9.b)

"Young Man Carrying Pail" by Reima Ratti, pastel, 1945 (Bess Bower Dunn Museum 2004.19.2)

Ratti found inspiration for his art all around him. His connection to the Finnish community of Waukegan, and recognition as an artist gave him access to the Finnish bathhouse where he sketched nudes.

During his lifetime, Ratti's work was recognized locally and regionally. His art was exhibited at the Milwaukee Public Museum and Art Institute of Chicago.

After his untimely death at the age of 31, Ratti's friends memoralized him and his work with local exhibitions and media coverage of a talent gone too soon.

"Self Portrait" by Reima Ratti, ink on paper, date unknown. (Bess Bower Dunn Museum 2004.19.162)

Research into Ratti's life and contribution to art are ongoing by museum staff. It is the hope to exhibit Ratti's work again in the coming years.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

The Zion Hotel Dome

The founding of the City of Zion is a remarkable tale of one man's will. The charismatic preacher and faith healer, John Alexander Dowie (1847-1907) founded the Christian Catholic Church, and the city of his dreams, Zion. John Alexander Dowie, official portrait, 1903 (BBDM)

Born in Scotland, Dowie came to Illinois in 1893 when he preached outside the gates of the World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago. By 1899, his followers numbered in the thousands, and had a Temple in Chicago.

It was Dowie's ambitious plan to create a theocracy—a city of God. He worked with a land agent to anonymously buy 6,000 acres in Benton Township, Lake County. Dowie was savvy enough to realize there might be opposition to his church claiming so much land. The local newspapers were quick to speculate on the flurry of purchases, suspecting one of the railroads or the Armour Meat Packing company.

In July 1901, lots in several of Dowie's newly platted subdivisions were made available for lease, and the boom was on. The caveat, you had to be a member of Dowie's church. Families set up tents to live in while they built their homes.

Early in 1902, Dowie had the large Elijah Hospice "hotel" constructed to accommodate workers who would build the new city. The Hospice was located on Sheridan Road and 26th Street. Above photo was taken on Sheridan Road looking north from approximately 26th Street, circa 1905 (BBDM) (Location updated 4/5/19).

It took 500 workers two months to complete the three-story building, which at the time was the largest wooden structure in Illinois. Painted white, the Hospice seemed to be the very icon of Dowie's message of "clean and faithful living." The bus in the foreground's destination sign is for Kenosha. (BBDM, c 1930).

In the 1950s, the Zion Hotel, as it came to be known, was a residence for senior citizens.

At left is a rare interior photo taken at the Zion Hotel in 1939 at the annual dinner of the Booker T. Washington Club (BBDM 94.26.1)

By the 1970s, the building was in such need of repair it had to be condemned. In 1979, it was razed, but Zion's citizens donated $20,000 to save the dome as a reminder of the city's extraordinary past. Zion Hotel, circa 1965 (BBDM 97.5.1)

Since 1980, the dome has been maintained through private and public funds on the same property where the hotel once stood.

The dome is one of the city's oldest landmarks, and sits prominently along Sheridan Road where it is seen by thousands of people each day. This is the only surviving remnant of Zion's early wooden structures, which were all destroyed by fire or bulldozer.

Two other significant Dowie-era buildings are also preserved in Zion—Dowie's former residence, Shiloh House, and Shiloh Cottage, both brick Victorians. The Shiloh House is home to the Zion Historical Society. Postcard view of Dowie's residence, circa 1907 (BBDM 96.6.4)

In recent months, the dome's deteriorating condition has again caused concerns. There is renewed debate about who should pay for its maintenance.