05 November, 2009

Good Luck Swastika on Chicago Building

Ted and I saw a movie tonight in Logan Square, an old Chicago neighborhood, and while driving down Kimball we spotted a really neat early 20th-century building.

I didn't have our camera with, and besides, it was pretty dark, anyway, so the above image comes from Flickr, and below you can find it on Google maps (you can click the map image to move it around and get a closer view; hit refresh a few times if you need to, as the map sometimes gets stuck loading).

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I was rather surprised to see it. I had heard that, prior to WWII, when the Nazis perverted this ancient symbol, a number of buildings in the City had swastikas in the decorative brickwork. Many had been destroyed or covered up. In any case, I don't recall encountering one before.

I often have trouble trying to convince people that, prior to the 20th century, the symbol actually had a rather positive history. It's thousands of years old, and can be found as a decorative or religious symbol in cultures spanning the globe.There's an interesting history of the swastika at Lucky Mojo, a fun site with an extensive online archive of folk magic traditions. (The postcard below, dated 1907, is from their collection. I have the same one kicking around my office somewhere, but I'm too lazy to find it and scan it.)

I have a few other swastika-as-good-luck items that I've picked up in my travels, including a yak bell I got in Nepal with black-and-white swastikas woven into the collar, a puppet from Thailand who has them embroidered all over his tunic, a hundred-year-old stoneware pitcher I found at an estate sale, and a small Buddha figurine with a swastika carved into its base.

And the Baha'i temple up the road from us has some carved into the facade, amongst other religious symbols:

So now I wonder, does anyone know of other buildings in the Chicago area that still sport good-luck swastikas?

(Image of Logan Theatre courtesy of nonnyV on Flickr; image of swastika building courtesy of JonathanMathias on Flickr.)


Anonymous said...

Is there any significance to which way the arms point? I noticed they are different on the postcard & the building carving in image below it.


Joanne said...

Hi Cheryl,

It really depends on the particular culture and what meaning they've attached to it; sometimes you'll see them clockwise, and other times counterclockwise. As a decorative element, they often alternate.

Check out some various examples on Wikipedia:


Anonymous said...

They are on the landings of the stone staircase in the Social Science Research building at University of Chicago, c. 59th and University. Check it out! I noticed them right away. Great post! :)

Joanne said...

@anonymous 6/Nov
Thanks for the tip! I'll definitely check it out next time I'm at the University.

Anonymous said...

I don't know much about them but have seen them lots in Native American design, especially woven items. Too bad Hitler screwed it all up.

Tonia said...

At the old Shriners/Medinah Temple in downtown Chicago, which used to be where my dad would take me to the circus and kids' shows (and it's now a Bloomingdale's furniture store - sad face here).. the entrance foyer had a tile floor with swastikas in the design.

I was never shocked as a kid (hey, everything is new and strange when you're a kid!), but when I went in there when I first moved back to Chicago in the late 1980s, I was really taken aback.

Given the positive history of the swastika until Hitler, I'm kind of sorry they didn't keep the design when Bloomingdale's took over, but I imagine it would be a little off-putting to customers to see that right as they entered the store.

It might make the Proctor and Gamble/worshippers of Satan urban myth look tame by comparison. ;-)

Joanne said...

Tonia--I'll have to try to find pics of it somewhere. Sounds cool.

Tonia said...

I found an article about a lady who bought some discount wrapping paper, and came home to find it covered with swastikas. Yikes!

Joanne said...

Thanks for the link. My guess is that the paper was made in India; I'd seen that form of the swastika, with the dots, when I was there.

Anonymous said...

Just moved into the neighborhood and noticed this building right away. I knew that the swastika was used as a symbol of good fortune before being adopted by adolf but was interested to hear that it was used on numerous buildings around the city. This backs up my theory to my friends. Thanks for the info!

Steve said...

I'm visiting Chicago and noticed the Crain Communications building at the corner of E. Wacker and N. Michigan has swastikas all over the building, viewable from street level. Look right above the sign for the Corner Bakery Cafe, you can't miss them.

Anonymous said...

The old Continental Illinois Bank Building on the corner of Jackson and LaSalle has Swastikas on it around the whole building. This is directly across the street from the Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago. as well as kitty Corner to the Kluczynski Federal Building.

Anonymous said...

I live in Chicago and never seen one anywhere, but I've seen a ton of these in East Asia, pretty common actually.