Tuesday, May 19, 2015

1523-1529 W. Morse, c. 1910

These brick two-flats were constructed between1905 and 1914. Previous development along this section of Morse had been largely single family homes, but the extension of the elevated train to Howard Street in 1908 touched off a steady increase in density that would continue through the 1920s. In the 1910s and 1920s many of the single family homes were demolished in favor of larger apartment buildings and commercial spaces.  These two-flats survived in the slot between these two trends.

1523-1529 W. Morse
Sanborn Fire Ins. Map with updates
When an area shifted from residential to commercial owners sometimes realized that they could add commercial space while avoiding the cost of a complete rebuild.  Both of these 1-story commercial portions were constructed after 1951 in the postwar boom. 

The drawback of this type of alteration is that it makes the original building less appealing as a residence. Views to the street are obstructed, and good luck getting light into the house. Although the second floor can enjoy an enormous roof deck....

Friday, May 8, 2015

1818-1826 W. Morse Avenue

I always enjoy seeing these frame houses on Morse, especially in the winter when their colors stand out against the snow.  I suppose that's why I kept the snow in this illustration, even though it overtaxed my modest coloring skills.

1818-1826 W. Morse (north side)

These frame homes were built after Rogers Park was annexed to Chicago in 1893.  Their construction dates range from 1894 through 1901.  These strike me as custom built homes rather than standard builder models.  They're located on very generous lots, with 50' frontages and 170' in depth.  Not a bad size for a city home.

The stucco house in the middle is particularly interesting.  The assessor dates it as 1896, but it has a distict English cottage appearance, which was popular in the 20s.  A narrow side porch leads to the main entrance, where the overhang is supported by slender round columns.  The same columns are installed in the front yard, each (for some reason) with a chicken statue on top. Sanborn Maps show that this home originally had a wrap-around porch, and those columns might represent the remnants of that porch. This would have made the home more of a Queen Anne style, which would be consistent with other nearby homes of the same period.  So I'm guessing there was a major renovation in the 1920s.

Monday, April 27, 2015

1326-1342 W. Morse

North side of Morse, looking Northwest.
Morse Avenue east of the el tracks has experienced something of a renaissance in the past few years.  The 4 plus 1 on the far left was built in 1971 and has been heavily renovated.  It's unusual for these buildings to get more than a cursory renovation (carpet, windows, fixtures), so that indicates a fairly strong market.  And a unit with a parking space can't be dismissed in a dense area like this.  It's also a signal to other owners of 4 plus 1s that the time may be right for major improvements. 

East of the alley is a brand new condo building built by the development arm of the Pritzker family.  This 5-story building replaced a much smaller one and probably maxed out the zoning envelope for the site.  This was built after the renovation of the adjacent Mayne Stage and reflects some of the design characteristics of that older building.

The most notable change on this portion of Morse is the elaborate restoration and reconstruction of the 1913 brick and terracotta Morse Theater into the Mayne Stage music venue.  Originally this building functioned as a 750 seat nickelodeon, but it's had a long and varied history, including a stint as a synagogue and an indoor mall.  In 2009 the building was gutted and rebuilt, with a new, sunken performance space in back and a bar in the front. It's brought back some of the earlier charm of the street.

And of course, on the far right you can see J.B. Alberto's, which has served pizza on the North Side for over 45 years.  Not sure if they've been using this building for that long, but it's been unpleasantly mansardized from its original 1930 appearance.

Monday, April 6, 2015

1441-1515 W. Morse (1917-1972)

Looking Southeast at Morse and Greenview
Here are three buildings on the south side of Morse at Greenview that represent a range of common  buildings types found in neighborhood commercial districts.

On the far left is a courtyard apartment building constructed in 1917.  The courtyard isn't visible here, but opens on to Greenview. Commercial storefronts are on the first floor along Morse.  Courtyard apartments were common in Rogers Park, with a spike in construction in the mid 1920s. When located on a corner lot they often took the form of an S, with one inner access court hidden from the street.

The center building is a concrete-framed brick and terracotta apartment building designed by prolific architect Maurice L. Bein and constructed in 1928-1929.  This received an "orange" rating is the Chicago Historic Resources Survey, indicating architectural significance at the local level.  Bein was a Russian-born architect who received his education at Hull House, the Art Institute of Chicago, and the Armour Institute of Technology.  The Art Institute has a solid collection of his work from 1920 to 1936, including many digitized photos.  Bein is another unsung architect whose work was so in-tune with its time that it's become nearly invisible.  The Spanish Baroque style utilized for this building is unusually elaborate, including a polychromed terracotta entrance, terracotta spandrels and projecting balconettes at the top of the building.  And the massive green tile mansard roofs can't be overlooked.

In the foreground is a Four-plus-One, which describes four floors of apartments above one floor of below-grade parking.  These were primarily built in the 1960s, although the assessor pins this one at 1972.  Hundreds of these were constructed throughout Chicago, and established neighborhoods were not impressed.  These buildings often replaced single family homes with dozens of 1 bedroom and efficiency apartments. My biggest issue with these is that they tend to interrupt the pedestrian experience with blank walls and dark parking lots.  They also rarely incorporate commercial spaces, since that would have chipped away at their required parking.  Eventually the zoning code was modified to make these less attractive to builders.  It's worth looking into the lobby of this building.  The interior can perhaps be described as a modernist offshoot of the Tudor Revival style.

Thursday, April 2, 2015

The Seville Apartments, 1263 W. Pratt, 1919

Every now and then I'll come across a historic photo of a building in Rogers Park.  If it still exists I try to get a recent image at a similar angle for comparison.  For some reason apartment buildings in Rogers Park have been very well documented, usually through real estate publications.  The 9-story Seville at Pratt and Lakewood was included in "A Portfolio of Fine Apartment Homes," compiled by Baird & Warner and printed in 1928.  The building itself was built in 1919 according to the assessor.  I believe there's a cornerstone with the exact date, if anyone is nearby...

This building looks pretty much the same, although it lost the decorative stone urns along the parapet.  It was designed in a restrained version of Italian Renaissance Revival, with rusticated limestone on the first floor, decorative balconies at the 9th floor, and a modest cornice. Apartment rentals included "ice-less" refrigeration, gas and electricity.  And maid service was optional.  A large light court on the east provided light and ventilation to the units set back from the street.

In the 1920s neighborhoods along the lakefront saw a rapid increase in density.  This was bolstered by the 1923 Zoning Code, which allowed a maximum height of 198' (this building is only 98').  Large apartment buildings were becoming more common in Rogers Park before the stock market crashed in 1929.  Had development continued Rogers Park might have come to resemble some of the built-up areas in Uptown and Lakeview to the south.  Instead this building still shares the block with single family homes.

The Seville was designed by the firm of Rissman and Hirschfeld, which was responsible for many large hotels and apartment buildings in the 1910s and 1920s.  Their work includes the Knickerbocker Hotel at 163-188 E. Walton (next to the Palmolive Building) ,the Surfway Apartment Hotel at 553-555 W. Surf and the massive buildings at 2440 N. Lakeview and 3520-3530 N. Lake Shore Drive.

Information for this post was provided by "A Portfolio of Fine Apartment Houses" (1928), the online Chicago Historic Resources Survey, and the "Surf-Pine Grove Landmark Designation Report" (2006), which can be found on Archive.org. 

Monday, March 30, 2015

Morse and Glenwood, 1921

Strong transit connections are one of the reasons Rogers Park looks the way it does today.  In the center of the neighborhood are the Metra tracks (Union Pacific North), which were instrumental in early suburban development of the area (1870s through the 1890s).  But the urbanization of Rogers Park really began with the extension of the "L."  In 1908 the train was extended from Uptown to Howard, and around 1916 the tracks were elevated on a temporary trestle.

Northwest corner of Morse and Glenwood, 2015
Station Diagram
The Northwestern Elevated Railroad Company built the Morse Station on right-of-way owned by the Milwaukee Road Railway in 1921.  The red brick and limestone station house was designed by Charles Rawson, and was originally identical to those at Jarvis, Argyle, and Thorndale, which were built under the same contract.  Rawson designed the stations to include a number of commercial rental spaces, and these added to the rapid commercial development of the area. The railroad had the benefit of rental income, and tenants benefited from a steady stream of potential customers.

Unfortunately, this hasn't worked out exactly as intended.  The storefront spaces are generally dark and undesirable, with trains rumbling overhead every few minutes.  And I'm not sure the Chicago Transit Authority (which bought the right-of-way in 1953) relishes their role in marketing and maintaining these spaces.  One of the storefronts on Lunt was in such poor condition that it needed to be demolished during the recent renovation of the Morse station.  Another former commercial space on Morse was used to expand the existing station.  But a few businesses remain, perhaps against the odds.

This simplified diagram of the CTA station was adapted from the 1951 Sanborn Fire Insurance map of the area:  1. Main Entrance; 2. Platform; 3. Commercial spaces; and 4. Overpass. Access onto Lunt remains (and it's pretty darn useful) but the one on the south side of Morse has been blocked.

Original Morse CTA Station, 1960 (updated to 1985)

Some of the historic information in this post was taken from  the "Historic Properties Review CTA Rapid Transit System, Part 3," which was published in 1986.  Additional information was provided by Chicago "L".org at http://www.chicago-l.org/history/4line.html#Northwestern, accessed on March 30, 2015.

Thursday, March 19, 2015

1769, 1773, and 1775 W. Morse, c.1909

Looking Southeast from Morse and Ravenswood
I'm a big fan of the gable-front cottages you see throughout Chicago.  These were
inexpensive wood-framed homes with brick foundations constructed by local builders.  Builders would typically buy up a few lots at a time and construct identical homes, taking advantage of the economy of scale .  The wood framing lends itself to additions, dormers, and bays, so these homes have often changed substantially.  The original wood clapboard may be covered with layers of artificial siding and eave brackets or other ornamentation may have rotted away or been removed.  In the image to the right there's a portion of the Union Pacific North railroad viaduct.  This train line would have been recently elevated when these homes were built in 1909.

Originally there were two lots with 50' frontage, but the west lot along Ravenswood was divided to create two 25' lots.  This is odd, since the inside lot has no access to the street or the alley.  The lot on the east still has a 50' frontage, making it very attractive for multiunit redevelopment.  This has already occurred on the two remaining parcels on the block, where there are large brick and CMU condos.

Monday, March 16, 2015

1524 and 1530 W. Morse, 6945 N. Ashland

North side of Morse, East of Ashland
Here are three buildings on Morse which embody some of the mixed commercial character of the street.  The building on the far left is a courtyard apartment building oriented to Ashland with first floor storefronts along Morse.  It has a castellated parapet, with brick and cast stone ornament, including some pediments above the windows on the fourth floor.  According to the Assessor this was built in 1926, which was the high point of courtyard apartment construction in Rogers Park.

The seven story apartment building in the center has a steel-reinforced concrete frame and was constructed in 1927.  The front facade is clad with face brick and terracotta.   The Classical Revival ornament includes arches and fan lights at the top floor.   Most of the east wall of the building is set back from the property line to allow for light and ventilation to the rear units.  This was (and remains) a code required element for tall residential buildings.

 The 1-story terracotta building on the right was built in 1941. If this date is correct it must have found funding and materials just before wartime restrictions went into effect. Its 1-story height is at odds with the older development on the street, which typically had apartments or offices on the floors above.  This building has retained much of its streamlined art deco ornament, with a combination of cream, black and light turquoise bands of terracotta tile.

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

1716-1718 W. Morse and 6947 N. Clark, c.1905

On Morse just east of Clark there are two greystone 2-flats built around 1905.  Greystone refers to the Bedford limestone quarried in Indiana and installed as decorative veneers on the front of these buildings.  Greystone facades became common in many Chicago neighborhoods, but are actually a bit rare in Rogers Park. 

Although they present a solid appearance, the stone is only thick enough to allow the level of ornamentation required.  A greystone building may embody a variety of styles, but the most common treatment is a pared down Classical Revival, which is what you see here.

At the corner is a two-story bank building which has seen some extreme changes. Only when you look at the building from the east can you see some of the original details and brickwork.  The mansard roof and red brick cladding were put on in the 1960s, according to one of the comments below.  I'm fascinated by the mansard treatment.  Why was this popular?  Was it just a cheap way to drastically update a building, or did the mansard roof have some forgotten significance?  Some historians have proposed that it had its roots in the environmental movement of the 1970s (simple geometric shapes, natural wood shingles), but I just can't see it.

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

1905 and 1911 W. Morse, c.1890

These large Queen Anne-style homes represent some of the early suburban development of Rogers Park. By the 1890s Rogers Park had a thriving commercial district near the train stop, its own police and fire station, and even a water treatment plant.  The area east of Clark was being developed gradually (it was pretty swampy), but large picturesque homes were being constructed on land between Clark and Ridge.  This stretch is the highest point of the neighborhood, and a good option to avoid a flooded basement.

The Queen Anne style typically has large wrap-around porches.  These would have been important for surviving the sweltering Chicago summers.  The cross-gable design opened up the floor plan to light and air from all directions.

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

1762-1766 W. Morse, c. 1905

1762 and 1766 W. Morse
I'm beginning a project to document the current character of Morse Avenue in Rogers Park. For now I'm picking out some areas and buildings that appeal to me and seeing which direction I feel like heading.  The more I focus on specific buildings the more it seems like this is a project that could be done on any street in any neighborhood to reveal some of the same patterns.

After annexation of Rogers Park to Chicago in 1893 there was almost immediately an economic depression connected to the Panic of 1893.  The country didn't begin recover until 1897, at which time a 10 year period of growth occurred. These frame houses were built around 1905, in the middle of this boom period.   This was cut short by the Panic of 1907.  The next building boom wasn't until after WWI, and it lead to greater urbanization and denser development in the neighborhood.

Parking lots now bracket these buildings on the east and west, but originally the block consisted of modest single family homes with an easy downtown commute.  The Dutch Colonial-style building on the west retains many of its features, while the home on the east has enclosed the front porch and looks to be divided into several units.

Monday, February 9, 2015

900 Block of Fulton Market

This block of Fulton Market is primarily meat-packing buildings constructed around 1910.  I wanted to give special emphasis to the protective canopies which are so characteristic of the area.  Note that there isn't actually a sidewalk on this block.  The entire stretch is at-grade, which makes pickups and deliveries simple.  Walking through is a bit tricky.

This will probably be my last illustration of the pending Fulton-Randolph Market Historic District. The outlines and blacks are done in pen, and the shadows and street tone are added digitally. 

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

900 W. Randolph, 1908

Back to the Fulton Market.  This 1908 building was a Commission House designed by architect Ivar Zarbell and primarily accommodated wholesale produce. Architects who designed small-scale industrial and commercial structures seldom achieved the name recognition of those working in the Loop or designing luxury apartments, but their buildings define enormous areas of the city.  And although these buildings were primarily intended to be functional, they're not without architectural interest.  For a fantastic analysis of the history and architecture of the Fulton/Randolph Market area see the designation report written by my colleague Matt Crawford.

I've added some grey tones, and I'll probably add color at some point.  But I think this image gives a good sense of the historic character of the area.  This building is already being modified to accommodate an upscale restaurant, which has been typical for the rapid development of the area.

 OK, finally finished the colorized version!

Friday, January 16, 2015

Stone Academy Fundraiser!

Colorized Detail
It's pretty impossible to buy an Ultra Local Geography drawing.  Partly it's because I draw what I want, and that isn't particularly marketable.  The other reason is that it's exhausting to sell things.  You have to find a frame, cut a mat, etc.  And then you have to find someone to buy it.  But sometimes I'll donate drawings for a good cause and let someone else work out the details.

Below is a drawing which will be available for bid to benefit my son's elementary school, Stone Academy in West Ridge.  Opening bid is $45, a steal!  Proceeds will go towards funding enrichment programs within the school.  I haven't found a frame yet, but I'm hoping it will look something like this:

This is a stretch of buildings around 3300 N. Pulaski.  It's basically a group of 1920s commercial/residential buildings overlapping some cottages built around 1905. The online auction begins on January 15th.  The actual fundraiser will be a the Raven Theater on February 8th, and additional items will be on display. 

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Washtenaw-Sherwin Homes, 1946-1953

When the veterans of WWII returned home they came back to a severe housing shortage.  One governmental remedy was to re-purpose housing that had been developed for war workers into inexpensive rentals for the returning soldiers and their families.

During WWII the demand for housing to support the war effort jump-started the prefabrication industry, which had always held out the promise of mass produced inexpensive homes.  In some cases the government created their own instant cities, with homes, schools, shopping centers and recreational facilities appearing practically overnight.  A famous example of this is Oak Ridge, Tennessee, where 75,000 people were housed and employed to process the uranium needed for the Manhattan Project.  To design Oak Ridge the Federal government contracted with the firm of Skidmore, Owings and Merrill (SOM), which later went on to postwar success in both modernist city planning and skyscraper design.  At the end of the war some of these homes designed by SOM were loaded onto trucks and sent to Chicago, where they were reconstructed along land next to the Sanitary Canal.
Rogers Park in West Ridge, Showing Temporary Housing Sites in Red.
In the West Ridge neighborhood a 10-acre plot was leased (free of charge) to the Chicago Housing Authority from the Chicago Board of Education, which owned the nearby Rogers School.  The CHA received a loan from the city to prepare the sites and install utilities.  Twenty buildings of panelized construction were located on the block south of Rogers  School, each accommodating 6 families (120 units total).  A Chicago Tribune article at the time notes that these homes were relocated from Seneca, Illinois and Evansville, Indiana. Although I was unable to find any photos of these buildings, the housing at Oak Ridge (now digitized by the Department of Energy and available on Flickr) might give some hints as to its design. In the 1950 Sanborn Map of the area the housing basically looks like 1-story barracks.

The surrounding neighbors were not pleased, claiming that this development would lower the value of their property.  They petitioned CHA to choose another site.  CHA reassured these neighbors that all temporary housing for veterans  would be demolished  in two or three years.  In actuality the Sherwin-Washtenaw homes weren't removed until 1953.  By that time the housing industry had finally started to catch up to the demand.

Memory of the temporary homes seemed to quickly fade.   In 1957 the Chicago Park District awarded a contract to develop the area and the adjacent land to the east into what would become Rogers Park.  A Tribune article notes that the property had been used as a golf driving range, truck gardens, and a site for greenhouses.  But not a word about the 20 buildings that housed 120 veterans and their families for seven years.

Of the 23 sites which were utilized for temporary housing in Chicago very little evidence remains.  But when I was putting together the map for this post I realized that the largest remaining trees in the park are located in the area which was between the north and south halves of the development.  So there's a small nod to history for those who know to look for it.

If any readers have photos of these homes I would love to see them.  You can leave a comment below or message me directly.

Monday, December 22, 2014

6961 N. Greenview, 1904

I have a special affection for the remnants of early neighborhood development, especially when it contrasts with the surrounding development.  It's really not hard to find these examples, even in the most densely built neighborhoods.  And I'm especially fond of buildings which have been enlarged and expanded irregularly and awkwardly.

This gable-front farmhouse at 6961 N. Greenview is sandwiched between a complex of courtyard apartments on Lunt and mixed-use development on Morse.  The assessor estimates its construction date as 1904, which seems about right to me.  I had hoped that the map chronology would show a constant enlarging creep, but the building really only assumed its current form some time after 1951.

The exterior has been redone a number of times, and currently has a stucco finish at the first floor and aluminum siding above.  The oriel window on the second floor and the steel casements on the first both suggest the 1950s.  A rear addition reaches out to attach to a 1-car garage. It sits on a lot that doesn't seem quite big enough to allow profitable redevelopment, so I expect this oddity to stick around for a good long time.

Sanborn Fire Insurance Maps (historic) and the City of Chicago Zoning Map (current)

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

West Loop Column Capitals

Column capitals were once very functional.  They signified where the structural load of a building was transferred into the column and down to the foundation.  Typically the capital would be broader than the column to make this transfer more effective.  As buildings became larger more robust structural systems were needed and columns became mainly decorative, although still useful (and popular) in a design sense.  But once free from structural constraints what should  a column look like? The West Loop area has an enormous variety of column ornamentation for building types which hadn't even been conceived until relatively recently.  Many column types have been adapted to these industrial and warehouse buildings.

Cast Iron Column Capital at 210 N. Green

To the right is a cast iron column capital found on a former meat packing building built in 1904.  Cast iron is a great material for decorative uses, since it can be molded into almost anything.  Complex elements like this were typically fabricated from separate pieces that were bolted (or welded) together.  This one uses a number of classical details, such as dentils, egg and dark molding, an oddly shaped keystone, and oak twigs bundled together into a fascia.   It also has some strap-work trim in a diamond pattern.  Although many cast iron columns support a portion of the facade to allow storefront openings, this building has a reinforced concrete structure.   The shaft of the column is only a couple of inches thick.  Interestingly, there's a stone version of the same capital on the upper floors.

Terracotta Column Capital at 564 W. Randolph

The column to the left is kind of a masterpiece. It's an engaged octagonal column, with geometric ornamental mixed with classical details.  The radiating brackets are decorated with Greek keys, and over-sized dentils hang from the bottom.  I don't know whether to describe this as Art Deco, Prairie, or Classical.  Which is kind of the point. This column encloses the steel which actually supports the building.  And again, this is a relatively delicate ornamental material sculpted to match the scale and muscularity of this 1930 warehouse building, but without resorting to established stylistic schemes.

Terracotta Capital at 150 N. Clinton

This column is the strangest one yet.  There's a stepped molding at the top of the column, and a bizarre terracotta medallion below.  The column itself is edged with scalloped terracotta bands.  This one doesn't even pretend to have structural pretensions.  I can't really figure out the ornamentation scheme.  Are those classical festoons arranged on a platter?  Perhaps this is a Louis Sullivan inspired design run amuck  Maybe Art Nouveau...  Again, this is found on a large warehouse building from the 1930s.

Some more column capitals to follow at some point...

Monday, November 3, 2014

Rogers Park Roofscape

This is another view from the Rogers Park Metra platform looking to the northeast.  I posted another view to the southeast a few months back, which can be viewed here

I'm becoming more interested in rooftops and alleys, maybe because they reveal design relationships which are more complex than what's viewed from the street, and allowing some investigation into the nuts and bolts that create a streetscape.   Views across the rooftops are like x-rays, revealing service spaces, private retreats, and structural detail all interlocking with each other.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Movie Theaters in Rogers Park and West Ridge, Part 2

The previous entry is this series was posted back in November of 2012 and you can link to it here. It primarily focuses on the small nickelodeons and neighborhood theaters.  This post was begun and then abandoned, although I can't remember why.  At this rate the next entry is due in 2016...

Number of seats are taken from Sanborn Fire Insurance Maps.
Movie theaters in Rogers Park and West Ridge can be divided into types based on their architectural characteristics, but also by number of seats. Nickelodeons like the Casino and the Morse accommodated anywhere from 300 to 750 people.  Neighborhood theaters like the Adelphi and the Ellantee could seat more than 1000.  Movie palaces could accommodate from 1,500 to more than 4,000.  But sometimes you can't beat a graph. 

I think of movie palaces like wooly mammoths or sabre-tooth tigers.  They grew to enormous sizes, yet depended on the perfect environment in order to survive.  Movie palaces provided affordable entertainment in a beautiful surrounding. And in the Chicago summer it didn't hurt that you could enjoy air conditioning long before this was readily available.  But the buildings began to age, and the profit margins began to shrink.  New movie theaters were more likely to open in areas with generous amounts of parking.  Many elaborate theaters went into a long decline that ended in demolition.
Howard Theater, 1917.  1621 W. Howard
A major burst in movie theater creativity occurred in the Howard Street commercial district.  This
area was a transit hub between Chicago and the North suburbs, and supported a strong commercial and entertainment district after its annexation to Chicago in 1915. At the time you couldn't buy liquor in nearby Evanston, but the merchants along Howard Street were willing to remedy the situation.
From Heating and Ventilating Magazine, 1919

The Howard Theater was designed by Henry Newhouse and built in 1917.  It was soon acquired by Balaban & Katz. The building contained a row of commercial spaces with residential units above and had a seating capacity for 1,625.   Originally the entire brick and terra cotta facade was illuminated with integral lights, including two domed towers which must have been visible throughout the district.  Its ornamentation could perhaps be described as baroque Classical Revival.  The theater was closed some time in the 1970s.   In 1999 the auditorium portion of the building was demolished and the remainder was converted into rental units.

Norshore Theater, 1925. 1763 W. Howard

In 1925 the Norshore Theater located just to the west of the elevated tracks.  It contained 1,748 seats and also had a facade of brick and terra cotta trim.  Portions of the front facade slanted back from the street slightly.  This had the effect of funneling people towards the theater entrance.  At the marquee there were tall terra cotta piers with large signs, visible from east and west.

The ornamentation of this theater was more restrained than that of the Howard Theater.  One source (CinemaTreasures.org)  identifies this as the work of Rapp & Rapp, and the style as French Renaissance Revival.  It was also noted as being operated by Balaban & Katz.  It does seem odd to have two large Balaban & Katz theaters a block away from each other.  The demand for movies at this time must have been breathtaking.  But it wasn't to last.  This theater was demolished in 1960.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

A Typology of Chicago Alleys

Primary Alley
Because of its reliance on the grid Chicago has been called one of the most right-angled cities in the world.  This may be true, but it doesn't mean that its development has been simple or monolithic.  Like any urban feature, the grid responds to the needs of those who use it.  Sometimes this is subtle, but there are some examples of grid flexibility in Rogers Park which are worth investigating.
The neighborhood of Rogers Park was incorporated as the Village of Rogers Park in 1878, but many of the earliest lots were subdivided in 1872 and 1873 and reflect a more suburban scale and character, with generous frontage and depth.  The area was annexed to Chicago in 1893 and the extension of city services and utilities led to steadily increasing development and density.  Many lots intended for purchase in the 1870s were subdivided to make them more attractive for the modest homes that came to the neighborhood in the 1900s and 1910s.  But the new lots still needed alley access, especially with the increasing popularity of the automobile.

Primary Alley Leading to Secondary Alley
Residential street right-of-ways are normally 66 feet wide in Chicago.  This reflected the length of the surveyor's chain, and established the modular dimensions of a typical residential block, which is 660 feet in length (10 chains) by 330 feet wide (5 chains).  Typical pavements are 32 to 34 feet from curb to curb, allowing for two lanes of parking and two lanes of traffic.  Streets with less than 30' of pavement were converted to one-way streets after 1967.  This was done following a particularly bad blizzard, which I'm grateful to have missed.

Grassy Private Alley
Typical alleys range from 16 to 20 feet.  Rear structures are set back 2 or 3 feet from the alley right-of-way, making the clearance a bit wider. Just like streets, alleys are owned and maintained by the city.

When a platted area is cut into smaller parcels a secondary alley will often become a part of that subdivision.  These are narrower, but are also public right-of-ways.  As fire-fighting equipment has become larger it's no longer acceptable to create these narrow alleys.

Private Alley Resembling Driveway
Private alleys are basically access roads carved out of the lots within the subdivision.  Several properties may own a portion of a private alley.  Because they're privately owned the city has no responsibility to maintain them.  Often these remain unpaved, or paved with gravel.  They can easily be mistaken for driveways.  Or if the owners decide they're no longer necessary they might disappear entirely, existing only on paper.

An easement might provide vehicle access like a driveway, or it might be intended to preserve access to light and air.  These are also the result of a private agreement recorded to the property.    I had no luck spotting the one easement contained in my study area.  But if anyone ever wants to be build a garage on top of it I'm sure it will again float to the surface.

The base maps for this post were developed from 80-acre maps on the City of Chicago's website and the 1937 edition of Sanborn Fire Insurance Maps accessed through the website of the Chicago Public Library.  Information about the public right-of-way reference CDOT's "Street and Site Plan Design Standards," also available on the City of Chicago's website.  All the sketches above are all taken from the study area.