What This City Needs Is a $2 Million Bullfrog

The world may be in crisis, but architect Malcolm Weiskopf can’t do much about that. Instead he’s become the de facto leader of an ad hoc organization called Friends of the Frog, dedicated to the dream of constructing a giant green bullfrog sculpture on a grassy incline in Grant Park. The site was formed when the S curve was eliminated on Lake Shore Drive. “This location is just crying out for a sculpture,” maintains Weiskopf; he believes the frog makes sense because it would appear as if it had just escaped from the Field Museum of Natural History.

In Chicago, of course, few dreams are easily realized, and Weiskopf knows he faces an uphill battle to put his 35-foot-tall and 75-foot-wide green frog where he says it belongs. But he hopes he can find enough friends of this frog to make the sculpture a reality. The architect first detected some interest in his vision after putting a sketch of the frog on his 1989 Christmas card. As the responses flooded in from his curious friends, he decided to leap forward with the idea and contacted a construction company for an estimate. He was quoted a ballpark figure of $2 million, pricey for a bullfrog, but it would be built out of the same materials used to construct swimming pools–concrete sprayed over a steel frame and enveloped with a greenish coating that would last approximately 25 years.

Naturally, Weiskopf doesn’t plan to take the $2 million out of his own pocket. That’s where the Friends of the Frog come in. Those who share Weiskopf’s vision can make a $15 donation and receive a frog T-shirt, a button, a membership card, and a newsletter. Should the money come rolling in, Weiskopf still will have to face his toughest obstacle–the Chicago Park District, which controls what goes into Grant Park and every other park in town. Weiskopf already has discussed his idea with Eric Davis, an articulate Park District planning coordinator. Davis is hard at work developing a Grant Park master plan for the third millennium, and among the things this plan will address is what will go where in the decades ahead. Of course Davis is in no position to green-light Weiskopf ‘s frog; he says the Park District is looking at various options for the location Weiskopf has pinpointed.

The way the Park District bureaucracy is now organized, Weiskopf’s bullfrog would first have to be approved by the volunteer Park Public Art Advisory Committee. That committee, formed last fall, is composed of art professionals from such institutions as the Museum of Contemporary Art, the DuSable Museum of African-American History, and the Art Institute of Chicago. The committee’s mission, according to Park District architectural historian Will Tippens, is to determine what kind of art is appropriate for Chicago’s parks. The committee has only met a couple of times, so there is no track record as yet to indicate what kind of response Weiskopf’s admittedly whimsical proposal might provoke.

While Weiskopf goes about developing grass-roots support and raising dollars for his bullfrog sculpture, he seems to be maintaining a reasonably level head about it. “This is not a breakthrough idea,” he admits. “It’s really intended to be lighthearted.”

No Trip to Russia for Forever Plaid

Plans to take the Wisdom Bridge Theatre production of Forever Plaid to Russia this month have been scrapped, apparently because the theater did not have the money for the project. Kathryn Lamkey, business representative for the Actors Equity union, says she spoke with Wisdom Bridge producing director Jeffrey Ortmann earlier this summer about the need to see a proposal for the venture so the union could work out an appropriate contract to cover its actors working in Russia. “A few weeks ago,” says Lamkey, “there were indications that there was no money for actors’ salaries.” The trip was part of the much-criticized Russian connection forged by Ortmann’s friend Diane Olmen, soon-to-depart executive director of the League of Chicago Theatres. Sources say Ortmann now has a number of airline tickets that he has been offering to cast members and others who might like to see the USSR.

CH&P vs. Payne-Leavitt, Round 2

Shirley Valentine, as it turns out, won’t be going into the Briar Street Theatre this month; the producers, Michael Cullen, Sheila Henaghan, and Howard Platt (CH&P), could not cut an acceptable deal with Briar Street management and announced on Wednesday that they were moving their orphaned show to Wisdom Bridge instead. Meanwhile, it now appears that the Wellington Theatre’s eviction of Shirley was not quite as horrible as some observers were led to believe. Wes Payne and Michael Leavitt, the theater’s operators, cut a rental deal with the producers of Nunsense after CH&P signed an unconditional closing notice for the theater on July 15 in the Payne-Leavitt Group offices. It was only when CH&P sought to rescind that notice that the wrangle between the two sides escalated into an ugly battle.

Nick’s Neighborhood Bank Helps Remodel Fishmarket

In the restaurant and bar business, it helps to have a sympathetic landlord. Rich and sympathetic is even better. The First National Bank of Chicago chipped in more than a few dollars to help cover the cost of remodeling the bar at Nick’s Fishmarket, one of the bank’s restaurant tenants in First National Plaza. “The bank recognizes the importance of ensuring that we are a successful establishment,” says Nick’s Fishmarket managing director Steve Karpf. The new bar now hosts performers such as pianist Russ Long, who management hopes will entice weekend customers who want to linger after dinner and down a few drinks. Like many downtown establishments, according to Karpf, Nick’s wants to offer as many reasons as possible for customers to dine in the Loop. The Phantom of the Opera at the Auditorium has helped Loop restaurant business, says Karpf, and bar entertainment is another option restaurateurs are using to fill out the evening.

Fab Four Photos

The Willie Gallery International at 1800 N. Clybourn has compiled a trip down memory lane for Beatles fans, a show of photographs by photographer turned film director Nicholas DeSciose, who shot the group’s first American tour in 1964. Gallery owner Vince Kamin says the photographs are unusual in that DeSciose had far more freedom than he would be allowed today. “The security then wasn’t anything like it is now on rock tours,” says Kamin. Young DeSciose got to photograph the Beatles because none of the big-shot photographers at the time were interested, says Kamin. “Most of them thought the Beatles would be a flash in the pan.”

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Steven D. Arazmus.