Saturday, August 6, 2016

Murder at Lunt and Clark, Part 3

Click here to read Part 1
Click here to read Part 2

November 29, 1945

Cecil "Red" Smith
"Guys, where are we going?" asked Red Smith.  What's the plan tonight?" Everyone maintained an icy silence.  "Is this a suburban job?"  Silence.  He didn't ask again.

It was a cold, drizzly night in Chicago. Tiny Mazzanars was driving, and Red Smith was riding shotgun.  In the back were Renoro Lolli and Christ Perres.  All four were members of a gang specializing in handbook robberies, preferring to rob payroll and receipts of the gambling syndicate.  They weren't above a random armed robbery, which Red assumed was the plan for this evening. Tiny kept driving west along Irving Park.  The stores, apartments, and city street lights soon gave way to a dark road, made even darker by a thickening fog. Tiny turned north onto a narrow dirt road. Although it was just past Chicago's city limits, it felt a world away from the streets of Rogers Park.

Lawrence "Tiny" Mazzanars
Tiny Mazzanars and Red Smith had been working together when Tiny was invited to join the handbook robbery gang.  He vouched for his friend Red and brought him in, too. It turned out that Red already knew one other member of the group--James Kelley.  The men got acquainted in the Joliet Penitentiary, where Red had served 5 sentences since 1916.  Kelley knew Red was not above acting as an informant if it was in his best interests.  But that didn't matter too much until September 2nd, when Red shot two Chicago detectives on the corner of Lunt and Clark.

James Kelley
Red and Tiny had cased the drug store at the southeast corner of Lunt and Clark on Saturday, September 1st. It was a busy location, and the manager had a predictable schedule. He tallied the week's receipts on Sunday night, and, then, come Monday morning, he took all of the cash to the local bank. If they could catch him on Sunday night, just as he was locking up, they could escort him back into the store and leave with a week's worth of earnings. It was a perfect plan.

On September 2nd at 11 p.m. they parked their car on Lunt Avenue.  Tiny stood on the northeast corner, while Red waited across the street right in front of the drugstore.  Just as their setup was complete, Detectives Brady and Hellstern walked by looking for their Peeping Tom.  They immediately noticed Red acting suspiciously and identified themselves as police officers. Recognizing trouble, Tiny began to walk west on Lunt.  He was less than a block away when he heard the gun shots. Red had shot and killed both detectives. As a crowd began to gather, Tiny got into his car unobserved and drove away.

North Avenue Bridge, where they tossed the gun.
Tiny visited several bars in the area looking for Red, but he didn't find him until the next day.  Red had hidden the murder weapon in a backyard.  A week later, they both went to retrieve it. They dismantled the weapon and dropped the barrel and some other pieces into the Chicago River at the North Avenue Bridge.  Tiny took some parts with him as spares, and stashed them in the basement rafters of his apartment building on Lyndale.

Renoro Lolli
In the meantime, the police kicked their investigation into high gear.  Renoro Lolli and James Kelley were pulled in and questioned on unrelated charges.  Kelly knew that if Red were picked up there was a good chance he would confess to the shooting and "squeal" about his involvement in the handbook robbery gang, endangering Lolli, Kelley, and the other members of the group. It wasn't long before Red Smith saw Kelley, Lolli, and his good friend Tiny huddled together, talking quietly.  They fell silent when they saw him watching. As a joke, Kelley started to refer to him as "Squealer." Red pretended to find it funny, but he became increasingly nervous around the other members of the gang.

What Red didn't know that night in the car--but may have suspected--was that the location of his grave had already been chosen.  Shovels and pick axes were in the trunk. James Kelley, who had suggested the murder, decided not to get his hands dirty. "Three of you is plenty to murder one man," he said. "There's no need for me to go along."

Extrapolated Route, using 1939 Aerial Photo
As the car drove north along River Road, Christ Perres leaned forward from the back seat and placed the muzzle of his gun against Red Smith's head.  His gun jammed.  Renorro Lolli was ready.  Before he fired he said, "You're a rat and a stool pigeon, and we're going to let you have it."  Then he shot twice.  One bullet struck the back of Red's head behind his left ear, and the other went into the rear of the seat.

They continued to drive north, then turned west onto Lawrence Avenue.  After the explosion of bullets, the car seemed deathly quiet.  Red Smith slumped forward. They drove a block west on Lawrence and then pulled off into a corn field.  Tiny dug the grave, deep enough so that Red wouldn't be caught in the plow.  It was the least he could do.

Christ Perres
The unpleasant work done, they returned to their car, only to find that it was stuck in the cold, late November mud.  After trying to push their car out they flagged down a bus and rented a tow truck to retrieve their car.  A homicide, a corn field burial, a city bus ride, and a middle-of-the-night tow truck rental, and, somehow, no farmers, neighbors, bus drivers, or Schiller Park police officers became suspicious. Once their car was freed from the mud, they all headed back to Chicago. Perhaps they wondered whether the gang was truly safer now.  Or maybe they didn't think about it at all.  Soon, snow began to fall, covering Red Smith's grave.  He had outlived Detectives Hellstern and Brady by less than 3 months.

Part 4 will detail how the police solved the case and broke the gang.  And there's a shootout!

As usual, information was taken from historic Chicago Tribune articles.  Some literary license has been taken...

Tuesday, August 2, 2016

Again, Lorain, OH

Broadway and E. 31st Street

Taking a bit of a break from my murder mystery to showcase a few random drawings of my hometown, Lorain, Ohio.
Broadway and E. 32nd Street
Broadway and W. 29th Street

Well, they're not exactly random. They represent an isolated historic commercial district that soldiers on, despite unrelenting adversity.  

These images were developed from reference photos taken during our Fourth of July visit.
(As a side note, happy 50th anniversary Mom and Dad!)

I like the strong shadows on this one, but it loses a bit of texture and intelligibility.

As always, Lorain is a textbook example of how historic buildings change over time, adapting to different needs and accommodating new styles.

Friday, June 17, 2016

Murder at Lunt and Clark, Part 2

Click here to read Part 1

September 3, 1945

Brady Residence                 Hellstern Residence

The investigation of the double-murder at Lunt and Clark was immediately underway.  Based on the dying description of his victim, the murderer was 30 or 35 years old, about 5 feet 10 inches in height, with a dirty complexion, a slouch hat, blue shirt, and dark trousers.  He wore a single black rubber glove on his left hand, suggesting that he may have had an artificial or injured hand.

Three people claimed to have seen the killer.  Elmer Leitner, 22, of 1772 W. Estes, Paul Piro, 18, of 1908 W. Estes, and Opal Hamann, of 6959 N. Clark. They corroborated Detective Brady's description, but didn't add much new information.

Mrs. Brady                             Mrs. Hellstern
Police Commissioner Allman swore that the department would not rest until the killer was captured.  Five suspects were rounded up, two of whom wore gloves over artificial left hands.

As the police investigated, the families grieved. At that time, widows of police killed in the line of duty received $10,000, along with $1,800 per year until their youngest child reached the age of 18.  Converted into today's values that would translate to a lump sum of $132,000 and $24,000 per year. Of course, no amount of money could replace the loss of a husband or father.

September 4

Location of Inquest
At the request of Captain Michael Ahern, an inquest into the murders was held at the John E. Maloney Funeral Home at 1359 W. Devon.  The inquest was an opportunity for the police to explain their lines of investigation and discuss additional evidence, including a ballistics report.  Mrs. Brady and Mrs. Hellstern both attended this session, hoping to learn more about what had happened to their husbands.

The inquest pointed to a potential motive. At the time of his death, Detective Hellstern had over $3,000 in cash in his pocket.  His fellow officers noted that he distrusted banks.  Could his murder have been a hold-up that went bad?  Did the man with the black rubber glove know that Detective Hellstern would be carrying a large sum of money that night? What was he planning to buy? It wasn't clear, and his wife never gave an explanation of why he was carrying the modern day equivalent of $39,000 as he was walking down Clark Street.

Boundaries of the Search
September 5

In an effort to gather additional evidence, the police began a systematic interview of every individual in the Rogers Park community. Officers swarmed through the streets, the local Rogers Park force augmented by squads from the detective bureau, the homicide bureau, and even the park district.  All told there were 127 uniformed policeman and 10 plainclothes detectives working on this case.  These officers were sent on a house-by-house investigation throughout the neighborhood, interviewing local community members about the crime. Their search turned up Mel Ogren, who had been bowling that night at the corner of Lunt and Ravenswood, and witnessed the exchange of gunfire on his walk home.  He was positive there had been no glove, contradicting several eye witness accounts.

September 8
Sherwood Wolf, 19

A few days later, Sherwood J. Wolf, 19, of 7006 N. Paulina was arrested.  Mr. Wolf was supposedly the Peeping Tom that the detectives had been on their way to investigate.  Maybe he was a little creepy, but the police quickly discovered that he had nothing to do with the murders. It was a dead end. To share the killer's description more widely, the police generated a sketch based upon the statements given by witnesses. Since forensic artists were still rather uncommon, the portrait was drawn by an artist friend of Captain Ahern.  It
was displayed at the Rogers Park police station.

September 9

Eight additional witnesses identified in the canvassing of the neighborhood were interviewed by police. Paul McMahon of 1648 W. Lunt confirmed that the shooter had a glove on his left hand.

By the end of September, the police had little to show for their community-wide manhunt. After hundreds of interviews, the arrest of Sherwood Wolf, and some new eye witness testimony, all they had was an amateur sketch of the perpetrator, a half-baked theory about a robbery, and a fruitless search for a man with a glove on his left hand.  But the case would come roaring back into the headlines on December 14th when the events of that evening would finally be revealed, along with the identity of the murderer. 

Part 3 to follow.

Information above is taken from a series of Chicago Tribune articles accessed through the Chicago Public Library.

Thursday, June 9, 2016

Murder at Lunt and Clark, Part 1

September 2, 1945

At 11 p.m. Detectives George Hellstern and his partner Charles Brady were walking down Clark Street in the Rogers Park neighborhood of Chicago.  Earlier that day, Japan had formally surrendered to the Allies, ending WWII, and, while the celebrations were more subdued than they had been a few weeks earlier, the atmosphere in Rogers Park was cheerful on that cool autumn night. A waning crescent moon could be seen in the cloudy skies.

Crosses indicate where the detectives fell.  The arrow shows the route of the assailant.

A- Police Station, B- Peeping Tom, C- Shooting

The detectives had been sent to investigate a report of a "Peeping Tom" at 7022 N. Paulina. Since the police station was then located at southeast corner of Clark and Estes (a topic of a previous blog post), the detectives walked south along Clark Street. It was the end of their shift, and they probably intended to head home after taking a statement.

At Lunt and Clark, they saw a man in front of the corner drug store with a dirty face and a glove on his left hand.  Detectives Hellstern and Brady crossed to the southeast corner and identified themselves as police officers.   In response, the man pulled out a revolver and began to fire.  Detective Hellstern was hit.  He managed to fire three bullets at the man before dying on the sidewalk.  Detective Brady was also hit.  He fired two shots at the man as he fled down Lunt Avenue.  In less than a minute the violent exchange was over. 

Unobserved at the time, a black car across the street started up and drove away.

Charles Brady, 36
Paul McMahon, a friend of Detective Brady, heard the gunfire and ran to the intersection.  Brady handed him his gun and told him to shoot at the suspect.  McMahon ran half a block east on Lunt and fired once into a dark alley.  He never saw the face of the assailant.

A district patrol wagon crew returning from another assignment was stopped by cries from a gathering crowd. Brady had time to give his account of the incident before he was rushed to St. Francis hospital in Evanston, where he received numerous blood transfusions.  He died 3 ½ hours later.

George Hellstern, 52
Witnesses remained to give their statements to the police, but the shooter was long gone.

Detective Hellstern left behind a wife and two daughters.  Detective Brady a wife and 9 children, with another on the way. 

Soon, the full force of the Chicago Police Department would be directed to this case, resulting in a massive manhunt for the murderer.  Eventually, their police work would reveal one of Chicago’s many networks of organized crime in the 1940s.

Part 2 forthcoming.

The above information is taken from Chicago Tribune articles accessed online through the Chicago Public Library.  Portraits are adapted from published Tribune images.

Thursday, May 19, 2016

East Side of Clark, Between Touhy and Estes

L. Shure, 2016
Going north this block is really the last one where there's a distinct streetwall.  Beyond this Clark Street becomes much more auto-oriented, with strip malls, gas stations and parking lots starting to take over.  Sometimes it feels like Touhy is the dividing line between two very different versions of Clark.

The building at the corner was built in 1924, and is part of a 3 building complex, including the two-story mixed-use building and one-story commercial building in this image.  A bit further east on Touhy there's an attached 4-story apartment building.  All three utilizes brick and terra cotta and craftman-style ornamentation.

Further south is a mix of 1 and 2 story buildings, including a greystone with a storefront.  This always strikes me as an unlikely combination....

Monday, April 11, 2016

Frame Homes at Ashland and Greenleaf, c. 1906

There are many examples in Rogers Park of nearly identical homes clustered together on the same block.  These small scale developments define the character of Chicago's neighborhoods, but, due to their modest appearance, they are often overlooked by passers-by and architectural historians.  Developments like these were financed by local banks or investors and constructed by small builders.  Rather than depending on the services of an architect, these designs originated in popular pattern books or utilized vernacular styles of construction. Although they haven't attracted the same scholarly attention as more pedigreed styles, they continue to have a big impact on the architectural character of our community. And, once you start to pay attention to these small scale developments, you will see them everywhere.
Looking Northeast from Greenleaf.
Showing varying configurations.
These particular frame homes are on the Northeast corner of Greenleaf and Ashland.  According to the Cook County Assessor, all of them were constructed in 1906.  When a builder constructs a group of homes they have a few options.  The easiest (and cheapest) is to build a series of identical homes.  They can also choose to vary the roofline and massing using a regular pattern (hip, gable, hip, gable, etc.).  This provides a bit more variety to the street and may support a higher asking price.  Builders can also establish a vocabulary of structural details, a design toolbox, if you will, and choose specific structural elements based on the size and configuration of the lot.  This seems to be how these four homes on Ashland were designed.

Frame construction has an advantage over masonry when it comes to affordable modifications.  Need to bump out some space?  Add a bay.  Need another bedroom in the attic? Drop in a dormer.  Another window?  Knock open a hole and put it in. Want to use the big house on the corner as your impressive "model home?" Give it the works! Even though the basic structures are nearly identical, this customization gives each home its own style.

The design toolbox as an exploded diagram.
In this case the four lots have have some size variation.  The two central parcels have 42' in frontage while the north lot has 50' frontage.  But the corner lot has 50' of frontage on Ashland and 100' of frontage on Greenleaf.  It was common for corner lots to be larger than standard lots.  While these properties lack the same rear yard privacy found mid-block, the additional size allows more square footage and a more expansive exterior treatment.  All the homes have front porches, dormers and bays, but the corner home also has an engaged octagonal turret and a wrap-around porch.

The years between 1897 and 1907 were a period of economic growth between two downturns. (Does anyone remember the Panic of 1893 and the Knickerbocker Crisis of 1907?)  Rogers Park was an attractive area for middle-class families who wanted easy access to downtown as well as affordability. The 10 minute walk to the lake didn't hurt either.  Developers may have anticipated that the extension of the elevated train, which ran all the way from the Loop to Evanston Central Street by 1908, would spur even greater development.

Next time you're walking around the neighborhood, ruminating about the Panic of 1893, see if you can spot similar developments.

Thursday, March 24, 2016

Garage Pass-Throughs in 1920s Apartment Buildings

I've written previously about the large courtyard apartment buildings that were built in Rogers Park throughout the 1920s. During that same decade there were also smaller buildings constructed, similar in style but closer to single family homes in terms of their size and amenities. Many of these buildings accommodated a family on each floor, including a live-in housekeeper.   But an increasingly important perk for middle-class urban dwellers was parking for the family car. 
A. 1518 W. Greenleaf (1930),  B.7058-60 N. Greenview (1927),  C. 1535 W. Estes (1927)
Rear garages with alley access have always been important in Chicago, but when an alley wasn't available a driveway pass-through would allow residents to park their cars behind the building. These tunnels were especially common in dense areas where side yards had been eliminated in an attempt to maximize value.  With tunnels going through the building, all floors could continue to benefit from windows facing the street to bring light into the units. In the case of the three examples here, all were constructed on a block which lacked an alley.

Site Map
These buildings use a Georgian Revival vocabulary, including quoins, cornices, ornamented pediments, balustrades, urns, and a strongly emphasized main entrance. A primary characteristic of the Georgian Revival is symmetry. But it's hard to maintain symmetry when you have one big opening for cars and a much smaller opening for people. The building on Greenview solves this problem by doubling the design and having two tunnels.  This wasn't possible for the smaller buildings. Instead, they use sidelights, windows, and door surrounds to try and balance out the size difference. It doesn't work entirely, but I can appreciate the effort.

I also like these buildings because they physically memorialize the size of cars in the 1920s, which were somewhat narrower than today's cars. I don't envy the drivers who have to squeeze through these garage pass-throughs today...on their way to vintage 1920's garages.

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

6657-6707 N. Clark, c.1925

Still making my way through some Clark streetscapes.  Back in 2008 and 2009 I put together some information about corner buildings on Clark, between Howard and Devon.  The intent was to compile a booklet of drawings, site plans, and history.  That project never made it to publication, although I posted most of the drawings and maps that came out of it.  So it's satisfying to be able to cannibalize some of the research I did back then.

View looking Southeast

The two story red brick building doesn't have a construction date from the assessor, but based on its ornament I would say c. 1925.  The second floor windows have been changed to sliders, but the first floor retains a large open storefront, in contrast to many in the area which have been infilled or reduced in size.  Currently this is a tattoo parlor.

Site Map
The yellow brick  and stone building was designed by the firm of Loewenberg and Loewenberg, and built at a cost of $75,000 in 1926.  This is a bit grander than most of the mixed-use buildings on Clark, and has a nicely detailed broken pediment entry to the apartments above.  The facade is flanked by slender stone pilasters, and the rounded corner is emphasized with classical ornament. Loewenberg and Loewenburg designed many neighborhood buildings throughout Chicago, including several synagogues and Hebrew theological colleges in North Lawndale.  They also designed the Broadmoor Hotel in Rogers Park, at 1532 W. Howard.  Their successor firm is still active in the area.  This building is currently a liquor store, although when I moved to the neighborhood it was one of the last video arcades.

The red brick building on the opposite corner was designed by Benjamin Leo Steif and constructed in 1922 at a cost of $45,000.  It also keys to the classical style, but its primary ornament is a stone pediment and brick pilasters at the corner. Steif also designed neighborhood buildings throughout Chicago and the suburbs, but his practice shifted towards large apartment buildings.  The digital collection of the Art Institute of Chicago contains a large amount of his firm's work. There's a taqueria in this storefront at the moment.

Northeast and Southeast Corners of Clark and Northshore, 2009

Thursday, February 25, 2016

6963-6969 N. Clark (1904-1908)

These buildings represent a burst of development along Clark Street between 1904 and 1908.  They're similar to those directly across the street, which were included in a previous illustration. All come right up to the sidewalk with retail space on the first floor and residential space above.  Two of them have projecting bays to draw in more light and provide views up and down the street.

L. Shure, 2016
The building on the left has the most elaborate facade, with brick arches defining the entrances and storefront. Stepped gables add some pizzazz to the side parapets.  The projecting bay has lost its pointed roof, which makes it look a bit unfinished.  And for some reason the brick on the second floor has been painted white. This might have happened when the bay was reclad with aluminum panels.

1958 Image from the UIC Images of Change
The middle building has a restrained classical ornamentation, with a decorative stone cornice, a pitched front parapet, and stone lintels above the windows and storefront. Brick piers with stone capitals and bases frame the first floor.

The red brick building on the right is the tallest on that block.  Amazingly it's managed to keep the pressed metal paneling on the projecting bay, although it's not a particularly decorative treatment.  An exposed steel lintel is above the first floor with cast iron rosettes and sunbursts. This is also the bakery where where stop for donuts on Saturday mornings.  If you arrive after 10:00 don't expect to find any churros.

Friday, January 8, 2016

Elyria Ave. and E. 28th St., Lorain, OH

L. Shure, 2016
Every now and then I need to post a drawing from my hometown, Lorain, Ohio.  This is an old diner that must have been established back when Czechs and Slovaks were streaming into the area to work at the nearby steel plant and ship yards.

Because Lorain was such an industrial powerhouse it drew workers from around the world, but especially eastern Europe.  I still remember occasionally visiting the Polish American Club for their Friday Fish Fry.

With the closing of the mills and ship yards most of the businesses that catered to these folks are long gone. But this remnant always catches my eye, with it's hopeful 1930s storefront looking a little more dilapidated each year.

Tuesday, December 29, 2015

7022-7036 N. Clark

Here's a diverse group of buildings on the west side of Clark Street south of Greenleaf.  As random as these look they document the variety of forms that contribute to a traditional neighborhood commercial strip.

L. Shure, 2015

Clark and Greenleaf intersection
The wood-frame building in the center represents a type of commercial construction which has nearly disappeared in Chicago. Let's just say fire and wood is not a great match.  The first floor has been oddly clad with a red brick veneer.  Originally this would have had cast iron columns framing large glass and wood storefronts.  I'm really not sure how this got on the block.  Fire codes would have prevented this type of construction and I doubt this building pre-dates the 1893 annexation of Rogers Park.  As you can see from the 1958 photo below it originally had a projecting bay on the second floor and a false front. 

1958 Photo from the Images of Change collection at UIC

The red brick building on the right was built around 1913 with white terra cotta cornice and window surrounds.  It still retains a good amount of character, although the huge red awning (fiberglass?) makes it look dated.  This is a traditional mixed-use building with storefronts below and apartments above. The south storefront has been infilled and covered with a red and white pebble finish. This was a bar when I first moved to the neighborhood.

The yellow and blue 1-story building dates from at least 1958...  The storefront angles back slightly from the sidewalk  to create a shallow entrance.  I'm guessing there are roughly a thousand coats of paint on this one. The sign dominates the building, which became common as new buildings focused only on retail or commercial use.

The gray building to the left is constructed of split-face concrete block (CMU).  This may be the most unattractive masonry material ever produced.  I can date this building to around 1986, but I'm a little surprised by the huge sign above the roofline.  Current sign codes prohibit new signs taller than the building.  This could be older building that kept its signage.  Or maybe they just never bothered to get a sign permit...

Despite their varying vintages and forms all of these buildings come right up to the sidewalk and observe a similar scale and relationship to the street.  And even with their mix of materials they somehow seem to harmonize with each other.

Monday, December 28, 2015

Beachton Court Apartments, 1929

Image above from the Tribune Article, 11/11/28
The Beachton Court Apartments are another example of how Rogers Park rapidly gained density at the end of the 1920s.  This complex replaced the Raymond Beach residence at the southwest corner of Pratt and Ashland and was named in honor of the former occupant. Not sure if he appreciated that or not...  Raymond Beach must have been a holdout in that area as many single family homes gave way to 3-story apartment buildings.

The steel-reinforced cement frame building has an exterior of buff brick and stone cladding.  It had a large community room on the first floor (maybe it still does?) including a waxed dance floor. The 76 units had built-in ironing boards, vestibule phones, electric door releases and electric refrigeration.  The architectural style is described as Tudor Gothic, modified to 1928 sensibilities.  I take 1928 sensibilities to mean tall and massive.

The rendering shows parapets with ornament that projects above the building, giving it a slightly more vertical orientation.  I'm not sure of these elements were removed or perhaps not built as drawn.  It was constructed at a cost of $580,000.

Site Map
Leon F. Urbain was the architect for the building as well as an investor.  I find this to be common for large apartment buildings. Successful practices often incorporated design and development, which must have solved many problems.  And possibly created some as well.

Images from Google Streetscape
Urbain designed at least two large apartment buildings at various stages of completion by 1929.  With the stock market crash these were put on hold until new financing could be secured.  The Poinsettia Apartments in Hyde Park and the Kenmore Manor Apartments in Edgewater were similar in scale to the Beachton.

The project on Kenmore sat for 7 years until it could finally be completed.

Just a quick note.  Leon Urbain should not be confused with the firm of Olsen and Urbain, which was also active in the area.  I'm mostly talking to myself here.

Complete Tribune Article 11/11/28

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Metra's 1965 Ravenswood Corridor (Repost from 6/5/14)

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 westward 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 provided some of the detail and dates above.

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

6970-6972 N. Clark (c.1988)

Above is a standard strip mall in Rogers Park.  These are scattered throughout the neighborhood and are the primary design for auto-oriented businesses along Clark Street.   They are often located on corner lots, which provides frontage on two streets and greater visibility. This one is located mid-block, which is unusual.

The photo is dated 1958 from the UIC Collection "Images of Change."  The Sanborn Map is from 1951.
This particular strip mall replaced a 6-story hospital and a 3-story mixed-use building.  Both came right up to the sidewalk. As far as I can tell both were demolished some time in the 1970s.

Parking and Circulation

The most important thing about strip malls is the parking lot. Without a parking lot the advantage of the design is lost.  In this case almost every square foot has been given over to parking and circulation. 

Primary Sign

The second most valuable feature of the strip mall is signage.  A large sign provides identification for each business on the strip.  These signs are generally as big as can be permitted by current sign codes.  Signs are designed for cars driving past rather than pedestrians.

Sign Band

The sign band is for individual business signs and is designed to easily accommodate mechanical and electrical connections.  If the sign band is damaged it can be repaired by replacing the cladding.
Secondary Signage

Because the strip mall design creates a break in the street wall it exposes the unfinished walls of the neighboring buildings.  Often these are used for signage as well.

Despite the large amount of space dedicated to signage individual tenants still manage to place additional signs and advertising on the site.  Here flags have been attached to the sign band, bunting has been strung from the primary sign to the building, and a feather sign has been placed in the planting strip.

Planting Strip

Because the strip mall brings the cars in close to the storefronts additional devices are needed to prevent them from accidentally crashing through.  In this case concrete parking stops and metal bollards are used.  

More recent strip malls include areas for landscaping.  Here a long narrow concrete planter has been located at the front of the lot.  Given the size of the strip and its proximity to car exhaust and melting salt nothing can actually grow here.  It some point it was paved over.  In the winter this is where snow is piled.

Over the years there has been a realization that strip malls are not the most appropriate development for established commercial districts which rely on foot traffic from the adjacent neighborhood.  Special zoning overlays can prohibit this type of development, but the community needs to be sophisticated enough to ask for these additional controls.  And in many places the damage has already been done.