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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.

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Frame Houses on Estes, 1907


So I'm continuing to document some of the more common frame homes in an area of Rogers Park bounded by Touhy, Clark, Pratt and Ridge.  One of the best ways to do this is to spot a rows of homes clearly related in their massing, materials, characteristics, and then go draw them.


Gable front cottages are the classic workers' housing in Chicago.  You may have seen the gold-plated versions of these from the 1870s and 1880s in Old Town and Lincoln Park, where they've often been elaborately restored with eave brackets and complex window and door moldings. What you see above are simplified versions, with minimal ornamentation and generous front porches.  All four were permitted in 1907 for owner John M. Carlson.  The first two cost $2,500 each, but the next two cost only $2,000 each.  This is the advantage of building identical homes- each time you find ways to estimate the building materials more accurately and make the process more efficient.  And of course this translates into a greater profit.


Less than a block to the east there's another cluster of homes.  These were developed by Jacob Meirel, and four of the six were permitted in October of 1907.  Two alternating models were built.  The gable design provides for greater attic volume, while the hipped roof includes a front-facing dormer to introduce more light.  Both designs have partial-length front porches and projecting bays on the first floor.  These were built for $4,000 each, a substantial step-up from the basic cottages down the street, but still affordable to a middle-class household.

So there's nothing revolutionary going on here.  Developers are moving into a neighborhood and cautiously building a few homes.  If they sell and a profit is made they build a few more.  Variations in size and price occur to tailor the homes to different budgets, often on the same block.  This is the heyday for this type of frame construction in Rogers Park.  Lots which don't develop in this period will be developed later at a greater density due to the increases in the cost of land, labor, and materials. But for now let's enjoy Rogers Park in its suburban phase...

You can see previous postings about other frame houses in this area here and here.

Friday, June 14, 2013

Combining Styles, #2 - 6741 N. Clark and 2125 W. Devon

Last year I wrote about some buildings which expanded their first floors into adjacent lots, resulting in a facade reflecting two different eras of development and design.  You can read that post here.    But what kind of expansion happens when a developed street changes from residential to commercial?  Every now and again it results in a front yard addition, creating an odd hybrid building.

6741-6743 N. Clark

This one is near the intersection of Clark and Pratt in Rogers Park.  Behind it you can see the c.1905 frame house. Before 1927 this home had a generous, green front yard (I'm assuming it was green).  Clark Street was changing, and the area was no longer as idyllic as it had been 20 years previous.  But there was still value in the home as well as potential to take advantage of the commercial character of the street.   So the owners extended it forward into a simple 1-story brick and stone commercial structure.  The storefronts have been infilled with vertical siding and the windows reduced to be practically non-existent, but there it remains. 

2125 W. Devon







In West Ridge there's a more jolting combination on Devon near Hamilton.  The assessor dates the rear structure  as 1896, which seems correct to me.  At that time it would have been surrounded by greenhouses to the south, east and west.  It's unusual to see a flat-roofed frame building with classical ornament.  In fact, it's the only one that I know of in the area.  It's been covered with brick-patterned asphalt siding, which makes me wonder if there's more detail hidden beneath it.

The commercial extension is concrete block, which I date to the 1980s.  The preservationist  in me recognizes this as an era when extreme disinterest in the public realm combined with a desire to make money quickly, leaving Chicago with many similar "improvements".   But the other part of me takes a deep breath and recognizes that both buildings provide useful information about the changing character of the area and the shifting values of the residents.



Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Frame Houses at 1926-1938 W. Touhy, 1907

A few months ago I wrote about some nearly identical frame homes on Chase.  In that entry I remarked that once you noticed these "runs" of homes you would start to see them everywhere.  At the time I didn't know how true that was.  Within a week, I'd spotted five groupings within three blocks of each other.

These small-scale developments represent a point in Rogers Park history after the 1893 annexation to Chicago but prior to the multifamily development of the 1920s.  This was a period when architects often took a back seat to local builders when it came to developing affordable single family homes.  Since architects were more focused on commercial projects and more prestigious commissions, an entire industry developed that offered pre-designed homes with no architect required.  Some, like Sears, sold kits including all wood, hardware, and fixtures.  Others sold permit-ready architectural plans, like this Radford American Homes catalog from 1903.


These five frame homes were permitted in 1907. They all have double-pitched hipped roofs, two-story projecting bays, and (originally) a full-width front porch on the first floor  Over the years they've been modified in all the ways you might expect- artificial siding, rear additions, and porch alterations.  I chose the middle image at 1938 W. Touhy as the most unaltered example.  These five homes were each built on 30' x 160' lots, which are somewhat larger than a standard 25'x 100' Chicago lot.  At the time Rogers Park had more of a suburban character.  But in 1907 "suburban character" still meant narrow side yards and a detached garage with alley access.

According to a rule of thumb proposed by Stewart Brand in "How Buildings Learn" you can expect homes to go through major renovations about every 20 years and to update their interiors and mechanical systems every 7 to 15 years.  If the construction of the home makes it difficult to update these mechanical systems, it's likely that the home will be demolished.  By 1907 the struggle between gas and electricity in Chicago was largely over.  Electricity had become the standard for lighting and appliances while gas remained in place for cooking and heating.  So these five frame homes already had an advantage over others that were constructed just a few years earlier.  I would estimate that 80 percent of the remaining single family homes in this area (between Touhy, Clark, Pratt and Ridge) were constructed between 1900 and 1910.

To be continued with some nearby homes on Estes...