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Monday, July 14, 2014

200 Block of N. Peoria, Chicago

West side of Peoria, North of Lake
Surprisingly, this lucrative blog does not constitute my sole means of support.  I work in the Historic Preservation Division within Chicago's Department of Planning and Development.  Since January I've been working with our consultants to develop a document which analyzes the architectural character of a pending historic district and creates some recommendations on how to best retain that character in light of future changes and new developments. 

This illustration is something I put together in my spare time (mostly over lunch) to be placed on the cover of that document.  I've simplified it significantly, but I think it captures some of the interest of this area. The two buildings on the left are 1890s, while the one on the right is c. 1910.  This area has been in constant use by wholesale food industries since 1850.

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

2328 W. Touhy, 1932

I've always been fascinated by isolated storefronts tucked into residential areas.  Some of these are very successful, but most struggle away from the major commercial corridors and foot traffic.  Chicago has plenty of these first floor commercial spaces scattered throughout the city, remnants of a time when a corner store was a necessity.  The one-story stucco box at Touhy and Claremont has seen better days, but there it remains, looking for a new tenant after that print shop folded. 

Northeast corner of Touhy and Claremont in the West Ridge neighborhood

Many of these areas you can track to the 1923 Zoning Code of Chicago.  When this ordinance was adopted most major streets received commercial designation, but odd little neighborhood intersections were also zoned commercial.  With adoption of the 1957 Zoning Code these were scaled back, but in places which developed according to the earlier code you'll find a variety of enclaves, ranging from odd little strip malls to elaborate Victorian storefronts. Often several of these will be clustered together.

So why would only the north side of Touhy be zoned commercial?  I'm guessing that the map formalized conditions which existed  prior to 1923 as much as it guided future development.  Want to know where to put commercial?  How about where it's already been built? Who's going to complain about that?

On one hand, it's difficult for these buildings to become the focus for a neighborhood.  On the other hand, sometimes they do. Just take a look at the commercial buildings at a typical stop on the Red Line. 

I would hate to see these little neighborhood nodes disappear.  Sometimes they become perfect incubators for unusual businesses.   Areas which are less desirable often have lower rents, and there's where you might find artist's studios, storefront theaters, used book stores, and coffee bars. These are the things which give a neighborhood texture and variety, and make city living a bit more awesome.

Anyone want to start a grocery co-op in an old print shop?

Thursday, June 5, 2014

Metra's 1965 Corridor Between Lunt and Touhy

Metra Overpass at Greenleaf, looking North

I take the UP-N Metra train to work every morning and home every evening.  It may possibly be the best and easiest commute in the universe.  While I'm waiting for the train sometimes I notice things from the platform, like these standard 1960s apartment buildings flanking the west side of the embankment.

Ravenswood is split by the train line, so there's a Ravenwood Avenue on either side south of Lunt.  But at Lunt the west side of Ravenswood ends abruptly.  At that point a series of condo buildings occur between Lunt and Touhy, located in the same strip where Ravenswood would have continued through.


These brick buildings (shown in red above) are nearly identical, with low pitched roofs and simple geometric ornament. Some of them are bigger than others, which basically means that a few more units have been tacked on.   A quick check of the Cook County Assessor's website shows that all of them are dated to 1965. 

I'm guessing it's not a coincidence.  That strip of land had been owned by the railroad (at that time the Illinois Parallel Railroad Company) since its incorporation by the Illinois Legislature in 1851.  Passenger service to Waukegan began in 1854, with service to the North Shore beginning in 1856.  By 1869 there were seven trains each way daily.  In 1896 work began to elevate the tracks above grade in an effort to eliminate crossing accidents.

Sanborn Map above and Chicago Zoning Map below
Public rights-of-way have enormous value, even just from a standpoint of square footage.  Railroad rights-of-way were granted to private industry because they had the capital to develop them for public (and private) benefit.  But what happens when the railroad doesn't have a need for as much land as it was given? Does it return that land to the government?  In this case it appears to have been sold off for residential development.

To the right is a Sanborn Fire Insurance map from 1937, showing the previous ownership structure for the area.  The train platform on the west side of the tracks is clearly outlined.  At first I thought that perhaps the railroad bought this land, but if that were the case the alley would extend through.  Instead, I believe this area was part of the granted right-of-way, and was used to provide access to the Rogers Park station.  It also provided a buffer between the trains and the nearby single family homes.

But sometime after 1937 it was determined that this land no longer served the interests of the railroad.  Perhaps the train platform was reconstructed to take up less space. Or perhaps the railroad needed to raise funds.  Regardless, the areas adjacent to the tracks were developed into multi-unit buildings.  North of Touhy the railroad has retained ownership, possibly because the slightly eastward angle of the route made the lots less viable for development. 

To me the front facades look a bit like drunken robots.  The developments also created an uncomfortable relationship between the train embankment and the new buildings.  The area in between is a dark, overgrown strip which frequently fills up with trash.  Perhaps not the best land planning, but a good example of how developers maximum the value of undesirable lots.   As if we needed more of those examples...

Metra posts some history about their train lines here, which I reference for some of the information above.

Thursday, May 15, 2014

View from the Rogers Park Metra Platform, 2014

My view from the southbound Metra platform at Greenleaf and Ravenswood, where I wait for the 7:20 every weekday morning.    In the background is St. Jeromes Church and the International Society for Krishna Consciousness (former Masonic Temple).  Presented here without further annoying commentary. 

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

West Ridge Architecture #7, Modest Modernism on Jarvis

In 1945 a group of architects got together at the editorial offices of Arts and Architecture magazine to develop a program of residential housing that they hoped would define the shape and form of post-war living.  The results were the Case Study Houses, which were published in that magazine from 1945 through 1964.  These were intended to make use of new materials developed during war-time, to be easily duplicated, and of course, to be affordable.
Entenza Case Study House #9, 1949 (Eames and Saarinen)
These prototypes generated a lot of interest.  However, high-style modernist variations on the single-family home never filled the new neighborhoods and suburbs of post-war America.  The building industries didn't instantly adopt new materials and construction methods and the American public reaffirmed its long-time preference for traditional styles of architecture.  Some of these modernist homes were built, but generally they were unique, built for a specific site and client.   That's not to say some builders and developers didn't make periodic forays into what is now considered the mid-century modern style.
3128 and 3130 W. Jarvis, 1957
Above are two homes which make a nod towards the steel and glass aesthetic of the Case Study homes.  But just a nod.  Like you might nod to someone at the bus stop who looks familiar.  Take note of the large windows, the off-set canted roofs, the clerestories, the rectilinear orientation, etc.  But also note that nothing is too far out of line from what is seen on the more traditional-styled colonials of the same period.  The picture windows are just picture windows, not floor to ceiling glass.  The flat roofs are just stick-built roofs with projecting eaves, not steel cantilevers.

The building industries did modernize after WWII, but not in the way proposed by Arts and Architecture.  Instead the industry standardized traditional construction elements (roofs, floors, walls), which could be combined like Legos and cheaply assembled block after block.

As much as I admire the Case Study homes they really seem huge compared to what can be fit onto a standard Chicago lot.  Each of these homes on Jarvis are on a 30' x 124' lot.   But I like how they mirror each other, giving the impression of a much larger, symmetrical home. And their alternating use of brick and permastone make them look unified, but not identical. They probably haven't drastically transformed the lives of the people who have lived there, but I doubt the Case Study houses did that either.


Thursday, April 10, 2014

West Ridge Architecture #6, Cottages on Troy

1900 Block of W. Estes
Gable front cottages may be the oldest housing type in Chicago.  You can find them throughout the city, ranging from simple frame buildings to highly elaborate versions covered with trim and brackets.  Builders never really stopped creating cottages, right up to the present. To the right are some frame cottages built around 1905 by a single builder. Frame cottages were well suited to narrow city lots, and could be easily expanded and remodelled.


As styles and materials changed the cottages changed as well.  Generous steps and front stoops became somewhat narrower and less generous.  As air conditioning became more common full-width porches gave way to projecting bays.  But long rows of similar cottages were still being developed by small builders wherever inexpensive lots could be found.

The area of West Ridge north of Peterson and West of California developed primarily after WWII, and the standard cottage design takes on some mid-century modern details.

Some of my favorites are the cottage which incorporate recent materials (permastone) and 1920s design elements (Tudor Revival entrances).  The projecting bay windows are very common on homes of this era, as seen in previous posts about Georgian-styles homes.  They allowed a maximum of light into the living room and created an interior focal point.

I haven't yet found historic floor plans for these cottages, but I imagine the second floor is well suited for children's bedrooms.  A few cottages dormer out this space, but those could be later alterations.

Most of these homes are unaltered, but the multi-pane colonial windows have often been replaced and many have lost the ubiquitous shutters.  The projecting bay is perhaps the most ornamental element, and this has often changed out the standing seam metal roof for standard asphalt shingles.

These lots on Troy were originally subdivided in 1923 and are a bit wider (33' front) than the standard 25' Chicago lot.  Interestingly, I didn't find any of these which were able to squeeze a driveway through, or locate a garage in the front.  They're really just a bit too small to make that work.





Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Hot Waters, Lorain, OH


When we were kids we had a limited wandering range, which was basically a half-mile from the house.  Within that half-mile there were certain activities we could do without supervision.  One of those was fishing with our plastic Zebco rods.  This was a thankless task, which sometimes resulted in catching large, inedible fish.  Hot Waters was the best place to do this. 

The waters were “hot” because of the effluent from the nearby Ohio Edison electrical plant, which loomed over the crumbling docks.   In the winter the place surged with fish attracted to the warmth.  We would sometimes go “snagging” which involved  ripping a large tripled barbed hook through a dense mass of fish.  It was not very sportsmanlike…
This is the little bait shop was where we would buy minnows and worms. We would scoop our own minnows from a large aluminum tank, which was often the only fish I would catch.  Their real business was probably selling ice and beer to the boat owners who would launch from this area.

With the recent demolition of the electrical plant and the opening up of the lakefront I wonder how this area will be used now.

Thursday, February 13, 2014

West Ridge Architecture #5, Split-Level Homes

When looking at common homes it's sometimes tricky to separate the form and the style.  The buildings I've focused on in my previous West Ridge posts could probably be described as cubical 2-story single family homes with colonial-revival detailing.   A split-level homes is a major shift in the structure of the home, even thought it may incorporate traditional or modern stylistic details.  The other houses were drawn in elevation, but these homes have to be shown in perspective to convey their more complex massing.


Split-level homes typically have three levels-- a finished basement for recreation and relaxation, a first floor for family activities (meals), and a second floor for bedrooms.  The privacy levels of the home are directly related to the height above grade.

The second floor is a half-story above the main living area.  By shifting this floor towards the street the architect could achieve a grander look.  Shifting it to the rear screens the space, resulting in a more modest appearance.

There's an interesting group of these split-level homes on Morse, just west of California.  The entire block was subdivided in 1953, and the generous 42' frontages lend themselves to the wider housing type.

Some of these have gently sloping hipped roofs with deep eaves for a more traditional appearance.  A few have modern looking combinations of shed and flat roofs and large areas of glass.

The entire block has alley access, but several of the homes have attached front garages accessed by a sloping driveway.  Because these are single-car garages they don't completely dominate the front of the home, but their prime location makes a strong statement about the importance of the car to the household.

Locating the garage in the front yard also prioritizes the private space of the backyard, which can only be accessed through the home.  But the alleys remain as a constant reminder of the older urban pattern surrounding the new type of home.

Monday, January 27, 2014

Oak Park House

Here's a donated drawing I completed for another silent auction.  Angela volunteered me for this one, but I think it turned out fine. I believe this is on S. Humphrey Avenue in Oak Park.  Reference photos were taken by the owner.  If something is close to home I like to see it in person, but it's not a deal-breaker.

Monday, January 13, 2014

P & S Restaurant at Touhy and Western

This is part of my re-posting effort  to celebrate the beginning of a new year!  Originally posted August 11, 2010.
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In general there's always been a lot of interest in old neon signs.  But writers and photographers tend to treat them as if they're works of art, picking and choosing the most interesting and intact examples.  But for some reason I'm always drawn to the crummiest, most deteriorated signs.  In that vein I'd like to focus on just one.
Western and Touhy is a busy intersection in West Ridge.  As a pedestrian you feel distinctly second-rate to the cars whizzing past.  On the southeast corner is a Baker's Square,  on the northwest is Lakeshore Surgery, and on the southwest corner a Marathon gas station.  All three have their own attached parking and auto-oriented circulation.

But on the northeast corner is a sad-looking 2-story yellow-brick building with apartments above and commercial spaces below.  The assessor dates it at 1928.  It has a vaguely English look, castellated, with few gothic stone ornaments.  Many of the storefronts along Western have been infilled with artificial stucco.  The commercial tenants are typical storefront businesses-- a cell phone store, grocery, computer service, hair salon, etc.


In the 1920s a burst of optimism flung buildings like this to cheap land at the edge of the city and beyond, with the expectation that more development would fill the gaps in between.  Of course it didn't work out that way due to an inconvenience known as The Great Depression.  Most of the nearby lots didn't develop until the 50s and 60s.  And even then it never achieved the density common to older commercial corridors in Chicago.

The sign for the P&S Restaurant has seen better days.  Most of the neon has cracked off and the letters haven't been repainted in decades.  Rusting chains keep it from swaying in the wind.  It's only a matter of time until the steel supports fail and the sign will have to come down.  I would like to say that it might be repaired, but I'm guessing that won't be likely.

It's a relatively simple combination of oval, trapezoid, and scalloped band.  It wouldn't surprise me if there had been an arrow at the termination of the band pointing to the restaurant.  The organization of the information is fairly typical-- name, function, and amenities.  If I had to date the sign I would guess early 1950s.  The signs in the 40s were generally simple boxes, and the signs in the late 50s became progressively more exuberant.  This is not an exuberant sign.

In general, signs like this are evidence of the growing car culture.  On the highway it makes sense to have a large, illuminated sign.  The speed of the experience and the viewing angles require a sign large enough to interest the driver and give them time to pull over and park.  But this format is not particularly functional for a corner building with a zero setback to the street and no associated parking. 

Initially I thought that this sign may be a relic of a time when the surrounding development allowed this building to operate as an auto-oriented strip.  A glance at the Sanborn Fire Insurance Maps of the area (1937, 1941, 1950 and 1951), showing mostly greenhouses and gas stations, seems to support this.  Only as the surrounding areas became built-up with apartments and businesses did the 1920s typology of the building limit the effectiveness of the sign to attract drivers which could actually take advantage of a quick stop at a diner. 

But that can't be the entire story, since so many of these signs can be found in areas which have always been densely urban.  Auto-oriented development and advertising permeated the commercial landscape after WWII, and there are many good examples of this in Chicago.  For my purposes it's not much of a jump to suspect that the old main street businesses would have attempted to present a more modern (neon!) image to the customers they were afraid of losing.  When it came time to modernize they didn't choose to paste up gold leaf letters on the storefront.  

While the stand-alone auto-oriented businesses could place their sign on a pole out front and go as crazy as they wanted, the traditional buildings were stuck with slapping these signs onto aging structures with a variety of steel connections.  Some of these attachments are reminiscent of a torture chamber, and aren't particularly sensitive to existing ornament.  As much as I like these signs, there's typically a glaring difference in scale and and an uncomfortable relationship with the building on which they're mounted. That said, I would be sad to see it removed.

I don't normally reference books in this blog, but I have to nod to Lisa Mahar's excellent study, "American Signs:  Form and Meaning on Route 66."  This is a brilliant graphic manual for understanding, categorizing, and dating this type of signage.

Thursday, January 2, 2014

Storefront at 6962 N. Clark, 2006

Around the new year many blogs post their most popular entries.  Great idea!  But instead, here's one of the least popular entries, posted originally on 9/5/06. According to the counter this was viewed 11 times in the past 7 years!  Still, I do like the image...
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With the the days getting shorter my evening walks with Felix have gotten much darker. I find myself drawn to the strangely organized and uncomfortably configured storefronts on Clark. Half the time I can't figure out what they're selling. This one is crowded with cheap strollers and plastic toys. I think it's a dollar store, but the windows are so unappealing that I've never wanted to go inside. The same confusion and disarray makes it a pretty good subject for a drawing.

Isn't there a non-profit group that teaches small businesses how to make the best use of their display areas? If not there should be. Most windows in my neighborhood are so crammed with stuff you can't even see inside the store.

So I've been taking photographs of these storefronts. I'm not sure where it's leading, but it's a good opportunity to play around with color.  This is a combination of Prismacolor markers and color pencils.

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Note:  This storefront has been completely replaced since this was written.  I kind of miss it, even though it was falling apart.

Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Devonshire Apartments, 1926

Write for more information!  OK, not really.
Every now and then I'll find something interesting in an unexpected place.  That was the case for the Devonshire Apartments at the southwest corner of Devon and Hermitage.  I was at a used bookstore in downtown Ashtabula, Ohio when my wife spotted a 1926 copy of "American Builder". Amazingly, one of the advertisements illustrated a building in our neighborhood (about 400 miles away at that point).  This was next to an article about the miracles of asbestos, but I'll leave that alone for now.

But is it really historically significant that the developer of this property used Roper Gas Ranges in the new rental units?  Not really, although it is nice to learn the name of the building and the architect (Anthony H. Quitsow, who designed a number of apartments in the area, some of which are referenced in this blog entry from 2011).  So let's take a closer look at the photos below.









You can see that the 1926 angle is more oblique than my photograph.  This wasn't my preference, since I always try to match the angle when I can.   In 1926 the portion of the block along Devon was mostly vacant, and allowed for a better angle of view. The entire block didn't develop until the 1960s, when the large 1-story building currently in that location was constructed. Sometimes I'm jealous of historic photographs which capture buildings from flattering vantage points which are no longer accessible.

In 1926 there was a tree along the Devon Avenue side, but now the entire Devon parkway is gone.  This was typical of streets which became major thoroughfares, As a major east-west route Devon's parkway was trimmed to allow for more traffic (and more parking).

From the 1928 Sanborn Fire Insurance Map



The building itself has come through pretty much intact and to have been well-maintained  Even the window configurations are similar, although it looks like the casement windows behind the Juliet balconies have been changed to double-hung.  But I strongly doubt there are any Roper Gas Ranges remaining...




Friday, December 27, 2013

Stone Academy, 6239 N. Leavitt (c. 1928)


So this is my donation for this year's silent auction fundraiser for Stone Academy in West Ridge, which my son attends. Built around 1928 and named in honor of Leander Stone, this was likely designed by John C. Christensen, who was the architect for the Chicago Board of Education at the time.  It's a popular design for small neighborhood schools of that era, with an auditorium on one end and the gymnasium on the other.  Separate entrances allow those portions of the school to operate independently if needed.  This is a brick and terracotta school in fairly good shape, although it could benefit from new windows and central air conditioning.
Stone Academy, 6239 N. Leavitt


Like many public schools in Chicago Stone struggles with underfunding, overcrowding, and high levels of poverty.  To the credit of its teachers and administrators it manages to provide first rate programs for the students.  But this is also supported by active parents who are willing to raise funds to maintain the school's emphasis on the arts and technology.  In an urban school district it's really not enough to drop off your kids and hope for the best.  There has to be an involvement of both time and money on behalf of the parents and the community. So for that reason I hope this drawing will do its part to bring in a little bit for the school.  I think I need to put it in a frame...

If anyone out there wants to attend this fundraiser it will be at the Raven Theater on Sunday, March 2nd, and includes a play and food!  Here's a link to the event.

Sunday, December 22, 2013

West Ridge Architecture #4, Double Georgians

Rough comparison between Georgians
While working my way through some typical styles of the neighborhood I couldn't ignore a prominent variation of the
asymmetrical Georgian Revivals posted about previously.  The Double Georgians are nearly identical in style and ornament, but they've been enlarged to create a center entrance and a symmetrical facade.  This is actually much closer to the standard Georgian Revival styles popular in the 1920s.  This variation has projecting bays on either side of an ornamental entrance and may have either a hipped or side-gabled roof.   Often there's a small decorative window or dormer  treatment in the center of the second floor.

I did a very unscientific comparison of the size of lots where these can be found (mainly in the northwest quadrant of the neighborhood) and the general differences in interior space.  Of course many of these have been added to over the years, so a direct comparison is difficult.

As you can see from the addresses, I found a cluster of these homes on Coyle, where the subdivision allowed for lots with greater frontage than typical.  Perhaps this was intended by the developers to be a more prominent block, attracting more affluent buyers.  Because of the additional width I didn't find any of these with attached side garages, but I suspect there are a few of them out there.

Facades use the same materials and treatments as the smaller Georgians, including corner quoins, three-sided projecting bays on the first floor with standing seam metal roofs, and double-hung windows with colonial-style divisions.  And of course, decorative shutters. The homes always have shutters.  If not you can often see outlines where the shutters were once located.

Only one of these broke the mold of the three sided bays, and that's the home shown below at 2813 W. Coyle with the rounded bays and casement windows.   I also only found one curved bay roof on the smaller asymmetrical Georgians.  I imagine it's a harder detail to fabricate, but it does provide some variety in an otherwise extremely consistent building type.

To date all of these homes have been fairly traditional.  They're basically boxes with some ornamental elaborations.  But the 1950s was also a time when space was being divided and organized in new ways.  Future West Ridge posts will focus on some of these more explicitly "modern" types of buildings, including ranch and split level homes.

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Chicago Fresh Air Hospital, 2451 W. Howard

The Chicago Fresh Air Hospital was a tuberculosis sanatorium in West Ridge at the southwest corner of Western and Howard, in the middle of what had been 20 acres of the Peter Gouden farm.  Although mostly forgotten today, tuberculosis was a leading cause of death in Chicago at the turn of the twentieth century.  With increased urbanization, over-crowding, and insufficient sanitation, it became a devastating epidemic.  
Original Sanatorium Footprint Outlined in Red

A system of sanatoriums were developed to treat those who suffered from the disease, despite the fact that there was no effective treatment at the time.  Instead, sanatoriums focused on rest, nutrition and exercise.  Patients would sometimes remain for years in these facilities before recovery or death.  In actuality, the real public health benefit of the sanatoriums may have been to remove the sick from the general population, where they could no longer transmit the illness.

The Chicago Fresh Air Hospital was chartered in 1909, the same year the Glackin Tuberculosis Law gave the city of Chicago the ability to raise funds for the treatment and control of tuberculosis through a special property tax. The total cost of the building was estimated to be $150,000 for 95 beds, and the non-profit hospital was up and running by December 1911. 


The Chicago Fresh Air Hospital catered to middle-class patients who could afford the $15 to $25 weekly fees. Wealthier tubercular patients might go to more luxurious sanatoriums, which often  resembled resorts.  The tubercular poor were relegated to municipal sanatoriums, at the low end of the spectrum. Typically sanatoriums would be located in remote areas, since visitors were discouraged and "fresh air" was plentiful.

Top photo printed in "Chicago's Far North Shore" (CHS Collection)
In 1943 streptomycin was developed and the need for tuberculosis sanatoriums faded. It also meant that sanatoriums needed a new reason to exist. By 1947 the Chicago Fresh Air Hospital had expanded its mission to treat all types of lung disease and was fundraising to add more beds and diagnostic equipment.  Eight years later, the hospital merged with Augustana Hospital, and became Augustana's division for the chronically ill.

In 1957, Augustana sold off most of the 20 acres around the hospital, which was promptly subdivided.  The area to the east became the Howard-Western Shopping Center, and the area to the west was developed as multifamily residential buildings.  Having raided the property for its land value, Augustana soon sold it to the Steward's Foundation, which spent about $500,000 to convert it into the Bethesda General Hospital on the remaining 1.8 acres. That was in 1958.

In 1965, the grand classical revival facade designed by architect M.J. Stevens was removed to accommodate a large front addition angling towards Howard Street.  An additional floor was added to the historic structure.  These additions more than doubled the size of the building, which functioned as Bethesda Hospital until 1988, when it became Mount Sinai Hospital North.  But due to its proximity to other hospitals it was felt that it could no longer be competitive.

Original building footprint emphasized in red.

At this point the record goes a bit cold.  But I do know that a developer proceeded to convert the building into condos in the late 1990s.  This succeeded, more or less, but the condo market had collapsed.  Now the building is operated as apartment rentals.   But, if you take a close look from the side, you can still see the outline of West Ridge's sanatorium peeking out from the cast concrete and artificial stucco accretions.

References
Most of the information in this post is taken from old Chicago Tribune articles accessed digitally through the Chicago Public Library. Some information was also used from Sheila Rothman's book, "Living in the Shadow of Death: Tuberculosis and the Social Experience of Illness in American History."  The name of the architect was found in in a database developed by the Chicago History Museum with permit information from "American Contractor."  The name of the farm where the hospital was located is taken from the Rogers Park/West Ridge Historical Society's HistoryWiki.
 

Friday, November 15, 2013

West Ridge Architecture #3 - Gabled Colonials

In this series you're going to see more examples of buildings types than you might expect. Or want. My intent is the same as a natural history museum seeking to show the variations present in a population, including the typical and the atypical. If that means I have to draw nearly identical buildings, so be it.

These homes are very similar to the Georgian-revivals detailed in the previous post, but some minor changes make them appear distinctive.  The architect has pulled a portion of the front facade slightly forward and extended the wall upwards to create a gable.  This has the effect of breaking up the massing of the facade and creating a more vertical orientation.  But the total square footage of the homes are probably identical.

Again, there is an offset front entrance balanced by a decorative bay window. These are primarily brick with stone details, although there are a few unusual examples on Fitch which are entirely clad in stone. More typically, stone is used as an ornamental accent for the front door and as cladding below the sill of the projecting bay. 

A number of these homes have front facing single-car attached garages. This is odd to me, since the blocks in West Ridge also have alleys.  Private driveways are a common suburban feature, but are somewhat luxurious in dense Chicago neighborhoods.  I'm guessing that parcels with a little extra width were provided with attached garages as selling points, but also as a way to evoke the type of suburban construction which was  attracting new homeowners in the 1950s.  The addition of driveways to the streetscape break up the front yards, but the lack of fences in these areas help to maintain a feeling of space.



Thursday, October 31, 2013

West Ridge Architecture #2 - Asymmetrical Georgians


These boxy Georgian-styled homes are found in West Ridge, but also throughout the city and  The ones from the 1940s are solid brick, while later versions are concrete block with a face brick veneer. Most have stone trim or details.  Unlike the original Georgians, they are asymmetrical, with the front entrance to one side and the projecting bay with standing seam metal roof on the other. You can sometimes find identical versions on the same block with left- or right-handed orientations.
suburbs. 

Typically they have a raised entrance with an ornamental surround, a decorative bay on the first floor, colonial windows with shutters, and a hipped or pyramidal roof with minimal eaves.  The examples to the right are not drawn from an exhaustive survey of the type, but represent many of the typical characteristics. They're collected here to show some of the variations found throughout the neighborhood. 

The Georgian Revival style, which can be categorized as a subset of the Colonial Revival, had long been advertised in home catalogs and pattern books as the perfect combination of hominess and sophistication.  It could also be simplified easily while maintaining its basic characteristics. It lent itself to a variety of materials and expressions, from wood to stone and brick.  And it clearly appealed to the families who began to move to West Ridge following WWII.

Versions sometimes appear which bend the mold, like the example at 6813 N. Ridge.  The main entrance is at-grade, and casement windows replace the typical double-hung colonial windows. A portion of the building has been extruded forward, resulting in a more vertical orientation and a more complex roof configuration.

It's common to find these homes with entrances canopies resembling the roof over the projecting bay.  The more efficient version of these extends the roof bay over the entrance, hitting two birds with one stone.  This is especially common on the examples built later in the 1950s, when they begin to take on a more modern cast.

I can't emphasize enough how important the shutters are for this style. In some cases my illustrations restore those which have been removed.  Sure, they're non-functional and kind of silly, but the homes just don't look right without them.

When I started to look at these I was hoping there would be a clear progression from more historically-styled versions of the 1940s to modern types with minimal ornamentation from the 1950s.  Some of that can be seen, but not as much as I expected.  But as I pile up some more examples from the neighborhood perhaps some  new models for facade evolution will be suggested.

What I did begin to notice was how much the multifamily buildings from the 1950s and 60s borrowed from the architectural expressions of these single family homes.  But that will wait for a future post.




Sunday, October 6, 2013

West Ridge Architecture, #1

This series is vaguely labeled, but will focus on the architecture of the West Ridge neighborhood that developed during the 1940s, 50s, and 60s.  And not all of it.  As usual, I'll be guided by my own interests and curiosity.  That's the great thing about being self-directed-- nobody is pointing out your gaps in methodology.  The drawback is that nobody is helping you to shape your analysis either.  If you screw up it's entirely on you.

There have been a few posts on West Ridge already, and here they are:

Farwell and Oakley, 1928
Some Chicago Bungalows in West Ridge
Veteran's Housing in West Ridge, 1946-1947
Howard and Washtenaw, c. 1958
Townhouses at Greenleaf and Oakley, 1968

The new series will take a more extensive look at some issues touched upon in previous posts.  These will include:
  1. Subdivisions
  2. Developers
  3. Mid-century site planning 
  4. MId-century styles
  5. Single and multi-family buildings
  6. Commercial development
  7. Whatever else I decide is worth writing about.
There has been some writing on the remarkable commercial buildings on Lincoln, but there are other neighborhood buildings in commercial areas which also deserve some attention.
Howard and Washtenaw, 1958
While early development in West Ridge clustered in the center and east side of the neighborhood, significant undeveloped portions were available to accommodate the post-war building boom, especially to the northwest.  In 1956 and 1957 West Ridge surpassed all other Chicago communities in home construction (according to "Chicago's Far North Side", p.126).
West Ridge Boundaries and Building Footprint Data (Available free online!)

The map above is adapted from City of Chicago GIS data, showing older buildings in yellow and more recent buildings in maroon.  I don't have much confidence in the accuracy for the individual buildings (and there are huge gaps in this data), but it does provide a qualitative illustration of the sequence of development, with mid-century buildings primarily west of California. Which seems like a good place to start.

Thursday, September 19, 2013

House Walk! 2013!

Pratt East of Ridge Looking West
Since the Spring of 2012 I've been a board member of my local historical society.  Which has mainly shown me I don't have as much time as I thought I did.  A few months ago the members in charge of the annual house walk (a major fundraiser for the society), announced the homes they wished to feature.  It included many nondescript frame houses, which is totally up my alley.  The idea was to contrast the modest homes of early Rogers Park residents with the homes of some established greenhouse farmers in West Ridge. So I volunteered to provide some research and illustrations.
1830 W. Pratt
I've always been interested in the possibilities of neighborhood tours, even though I haven't organized many.  I'm especially interested in tours which can tell a story not immediately apparent from a casual walk through the area.  For me this often means focusing on the non-beautiful, overlooked buildings more important for their type and context than their style.

But when you're part of a local organization that has to pay the
6836 N. Ridge
bills while recruiting new members it's easy for a house walk to try to expand its appeal.  After all, there's a good chance the owners of the homes featured in the program may become active members of the society.  And there's nothing wrong with that.
 
6815 N. Wolcott

My own participation in the project was scattershot.  I started to get interested in mapping the changes in the area, and then I was distracted by the right-of-way
abandonments that occurred as a nearby industrial area expanded.  I did put together some illustrations of the participating homes, and I did a bit of research on the original subdivision of the area and the dates of construction.  But when people are paying $20 for a house tour it's not enough to stand outside and talk about a dozen homes.  They want to explore, compare, look at the yard, and ask questions.  Getting people to open up their home to a troop of strangers is not my forte.  This  was done the old fashioned way, with the organizers walking door-to-door.  I'm assuming with clipboards and name tags.

1901 W. Farwell
Owners aren't always excited to have dozens of people swarm through their house.  I wouldn't necessarily want a bunch of strangers in my condo wondering why there are so many toys scattered about or why we haven't repainted.  So, unsurprisingly, several of the homes initially identified were dropped from the schedule and replaced with others.   Which changes the story of the tour.  And incidentally, made several of my illustrations unusable.


Still, it was a learning experience.  Generally, if you want to appeal to a broad group you need to broaden the tour.  And my idea for a tour focusing on Rogers Park infrastructure?  That may need to be done with a select group of attendees.

Click for a larger version.