Friday, December 30, 2011

Backstage Spaces #2 (1429-1431 W. Lunt)

I walk down a lot of alleys in Rogers Park.  I have yet to be mugged and/or murdered.  I suspect that even if you meet a mugger in an alley they might also assume that you're a mugger and leave you alone.  Anyway, in keeping with my series on overlooked conditions at the rear of properties I offer this peculiar situation on the alley between Lunt and Morse, just west of Glenwood.


I spotted this year ago, when my girlfriend (now wife) lived in the 4-flat next door.  Oddly, there was a 2-story single family home attached to the rear of a 3-story apartment building.  There's no gap between the two.  The front of the house actually abuts the larger building.  You can see the remains of the old sun-porch at the juncture between the two.  The front of the house was clad with a yellow face brick, which is visible on the side return. It retains it's half-timbered decorative treatment below the hip-on-gable roof, but a garage door opening was cut into the first floor facing the alley.

My first thought was that this building was probably on the front of the lot and was picked up and moved when the economics of the neighborhood made large apartments viable.  I've seen this a lot in older areas of the city where a more expensive house or apartment displaced the earlier home.  Surprisingly, it was fairly common to relocate buildings in Chicago.

So it's not hard to test this theory.  As I've mentioned, the Sanborn Fire Insurance Maps cover much of the neighborhood.  The 1937 map and the 1951 map shows the current conditions.  But the 1914 map shows that there was in fact a smaller building near the front of this lot.  But it wasn't shaped anything like the house now at the rear of the property.  So where did this building come from?  It doesn't seem likely it would have been moved a great distance.  I looked up the permit record (the apartment was built in 1927) but there were no notes relating to a relocated structure. A quick glance at the nearby blocks on the 1914 map doesn't show any footprints similar in size and shape. So this is a bit of a mystery that will have to remain for the time being.

The house itself appears to have been converted into a garage on the first floor while there's residential space on the second floor.  This likely connects to the interior corridor of the apartment building.  Perhaps this is where the building manager or custodian lives.  Not a bad way to create a unique living space attached to an income-producing property.

In general, alleys have become less active spaces over the years. Much of this is due to zoning, which limits accessory uses and prohibits detached living units.  This is unfortunate, since those odd spaces added a lot to the affordability and diversity of the neighborhood.  But there are enough of these uses left that the alleys remain an interesting place to explore.

Friday, December 23, 2011

1311-1313 W. Pratt- Apartments of the Better Class

When I started this project last spring to document the Rogers Park buildings listed in the "Directory to Apartments of the Better Class Along the North Side of Chicago" I had to use scans taken from pages I copied from a deteriorating booklet.  But amazingly, the entire publication is now available for free through Google eBooks.  Heres' a link.  I may have to go back and recreate previous comparison graphics using the better images.

Above are The Boulevard Apartments.  Not sure why Pratt received a boulevard designation.  Maybe it was intended to be boulevarded at some point and never was.  Anyway, this six-flat uses a combination of red face brick and terra cotta trim.  There are two large Sullivanesque ornaments on the front of the sun porches.  They don't stand out very well in either of the photographs.  Simplified (some might say mediocre) vesions of Louis Sullivans terra cotta designs pretty much point to Midland Terra Cotta as the supplier.  This building looks like it's aged fairly well, although of course the windows have been changed.




To the right is the floorplan, which is typical for apartment buildings on long narrow lots.  Which is to say, long narrow apartments.  The circulation depends on a corridor, which is also typical.  The building faces north but the sun porches at the front bring in some light, as do the shallow light courts on the sides.  Probably the most pleasant place to be is on the back deck (which they refer to as the breakfast porch), with its southern exposure. Although maybe not in the winter, since it doesn't appear to be enclosed.  Only the sun porches admit light from more than one direction.

Unlike most of the apartments published in this booklet they didn't label one of the bedrooms as the maid's room.  The two secondary bedrooms share a bath, so perhaps one of those could serve.  Or not, depending on the needs of the tenants.  It's still amazing to me that the typical middle-class apartment dweller would have a live-in maid.


And no entry in the great book of Better Class Apartments is complete without the blurb.  It's interesting that this building had it's own ballroom on the ground floor.  Normally you would only see that in larger buildings.  Not to mention wall safes (really?) and central vacuuming.  And I'm still baffled by the appeal of a heated garage. The parcel receiver in the kitchen is a new one.  I assume this is some sort of pass-through where the mailman or delivery boy could leave a box. All and all a solid, if compartmentalized, building.  Maybe just a little short on natural light.


Click for full page

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Backstage Spaces #1 (Estes, Clark, Touhy and the Metra Tracks)

There's a lot to be said for alleys and the hidden spaces behind buildings.  Many times this is where you see the true character of a street and clues about how it's changed over time.  The west side of Clark Street in Rogers Park is especially interesting, maybe because of the trapezoidal blocks created by the viaduct for the Metra tracks and the angle of Clark Street. Nothing like a good diagonal (or two) to shake up the grid.



Above is a panoramic view of the interior of the block bounded by Touhy on the north, Clark on the east, Estes on the south, and the train tracks on the west.  I first noticed this area because of the old residential frame building incorporated into the light industrial buildings behind it (center of image, with gable roof). The windows are all boarded up and it's been covered in tar paper, but there's a certain lingering aura of old Rogers Park.

Since it's difficult to place yourself in the frame for this kind of space I put together a handy "cone of vision" graphic to the left.  The gigantic eye is where the viewer is standing.  Hopefully the viewer will not actually look like a gigantic eye.

If you look carefully you can see that the paving angles up towards Clark Street.  This makes sense, since Clark is located on one of the ancient shorelines of Lake Michigan.  It's easy to overlook this just driving down Clark, but the buildings on either side gain bonus height in the rear due to the slope.

So why is this area so desolate and underutilized?  And why is it paved with gravel?  That's unusual for Rogers Park, which is fairly dense and developed. 


Luckily Rogers Park is well-represented on the old Sanborn Fire Insurance Maps, which I used for the graphic above.  The subdividers created an unusually complex alley for this block, probably because the large lot at the top of the block already had a home there and wouldn't agree to allowing the alley right-of-way to cut through to Touhy.   Eventually an alternate alley was inserted on the west edge of the lot.  The home itself was replaced by a filling station some time after 1914.  Up until at least 1905 the area developed residentially.  Most of the single family homes were located away from Clark Street, with its horse-drawn streetcars and later trolleys.

Several of these early residential buildings located on the small lots off the alley but facing Clark Street (shown in red to the right).  For a while  this must have given these small homes a real feeling of spaciousness.  But as Clark developed commercially they were locked away.  As late as 2008 all four of these homes were still there.  Suddenly they're demolished (apparently without a permit), leaving the one frame building which survived only through its earlier conversion into a machine shop.

So what's the next step for this area?  Were these buildings cleared in anticipation of some new development, or is a new parking lot just cheaper than fixing up the homes?  Maybe nothing is next. It seems like this area has been in an awkward transition for about 100 years...












Monday, November 21, 2011

Cottages on 21st Street and Kildare

Back to K-Town!  Here are some additional brick and stone 1-story houses with distinctly Craftsman detailing. The K-Town National Register Nomination identifies these as the design of architect J. Klucina and built by F. Karel.
From left to right are 4254, 4250 and 4248 W. 21st Street.  The Assessor claims that all three were built in 1917, and have 852 sq.ft.  I'm guessing (hoping) this doesn't include the basement.  These lots are 33' wide, which is slightly wider than the standard 25' lot.  They're only 75' deep because of the elevated tracks (Pink Line) directly behind them, which basically cuts them in half. Given the area limitations these cottages do pretty well utilizing the space available. But I was surprised not to see any roof decks.  That would seem like an easy way to add some outdoor space.

I think it's fascinating how the designs vary on blocks that contain speculative housing.  These are often built as a part of a larger project, and the buildings tend to share basic characteristics such as height, width, and square footage.  But how many shades of brick were used?  How often do the designs repeat themselves?  How many varieties can there be of a crenellated facade?  It's the architectural version of variations on a theme.

Friday, November 4, 2011

1-Story Cottages at Foster and Claremont

It's good to know this type of 1-story cottage isn't limited entirely to the south side.  Below are three brick homes on Foster, east of Western.  Special thanks to a blog comment that pointed these out.  I can't find these all by myself, and I know there must be alot of them out in the neighborhoods.  

These are a bit older than the ones in K-Town, built in 1896.  The two on the left are listed at 748 sq.ft., while the one to the right is listed at 1,346 sq.ft., which may mean that the basement is a separate legal living unit.  All of them appear to have below grade access to the basement from the front of the house.  Which would be great if you have a teenager you'd rather not see frequently.
2317, 2319, and 2321 W. Foster

All three would have had the decorative triangular pediments with dentils, although the one to the right just has a remnant.  

Interestingly, if the pediment actually defined the shape of the roof these would look alot like bungalows.  I've been reading Joseph Bigott's book, "From Cottage to Bungalow," which illustrates the transition between the two forms. When Bigott looks at cottages he's generally referring to wood-frame structures with a gable roof that originally evolved as a form of rural housing.  I probably use the word "cottage" more indiscriminately. But what if these homes represent another transitional form in Chicago?  Worth investigating.


Monday, October 31, 2011

S & C Gatehouse, Pratt and Ravenswood

S&C Electric Gatehouse at Pratt and Ravenswood

Here's something you don't see every day in Rogers Park-- a high-style modernist structure in the Miesian tradition.  Sure, it's a tiny gatehouse for S&C Electric, but it hits almost every note, from 360 degree visibility, to the use of a module to define proportions, to the deeply cantilevered roof that appears to float above the building. It makes use of traditional materials (brick) mainly to emphasize planar qualities.

But there's one nod to reality that I really like.  See those two shapes on the front edge of the roof?  Those are water spouts.  A truly doctrinaire modernist would have come up with a way to move the water down from the flat roof without allowing it to interrupt the design.  Maybe by concealing a water a spout in a corner column?   But in this case the architect decided that this is a roof, and it needs to shed water.  Of course they could have shifted them to the rear of the structure, but let's assume there are spouts on that side as well.

S & C Electric located in this area in 1947.  By 1971 they owned 50 acres east of Ridge.  I wish I could say that this gatehouse dates from 1947, but it's more likely to be a later addition as the company expanded into the area.  Historic aerial photos make me want to date it between 1974 and 1988.  But note the interesting profile of the stainless steel edge of the roof.  This detail is used on many of the buildings (old and new) and provides a cohesive element for an industrial campus with a variety of structures.  


Thursday, October 20, 2011

More Cullerton Cottages!

Here are some more of these great 1-story homes in K-Town.  And I haven't yet touched the ones built in the Craftsman style on 21st Street.
According to the assessor, all of these were built in 1911 and range from 896 sq.ft. to 1,048 sq.ft.  The one on the left has a limestone facade, while the two to the right are brick with stone details.  The central house has the original canopy roof, but the columns have been replaced with a single steel support. 

So I finally tracked down the K-Town National Register Nomination, and was suprised to find an advertisement for the homes in the area created circa 1910.  And in Czech, of course.  I can't quite figure out the source of the ad, but that doesn't stop me from posting it here.


And take a look at the home third from the left.  It's a tiny greystone! And at $3,200 the price is right... Unfortunately my Czech is non-existent, otherwise it would be interesting to see how these were presented to potential buyers.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Rogers Park Courtyard Views in Perspective

These are a few additional images I developed for the courtyard apartments project. The intent is to better represent the courtyard in space, since so many of the other illustrations appear quite flat.   I thought I would post them here before they get lost in a directory somewhere.  I still have more to say about courtyard buildings, but I think I can let is rest for a while.
7414-7425 N. Damen, 1929




This is one of the largest courtyards I found in Rogers Park.  The image doesn't quite do it justice.   Unfortunately there wasn't much in there except for grass and a few scrubby bushes.  It has huge wall with two entrances which somehow wasn't included in the courtyard entrances post.  
1700-1706 W. Albion, 1925








This building has a combination of classical and craftsman detailing.  I always like it when an architect uses brick to replicate  stone detailing (in this case, rustication of the ground floor). Note the dish antennas to the right. On some of these buildings the antennas and cables could be a design element in their own right.
1029-1049 W. North Shore, 1927








This is a good example of a brick and terra cotta design.  And it retains the original fountain at the back of the court, although it's been converted into a planter.  The entrances to the building have a blue-glazed coat of arms representing productivity (beehive, plow, sheaf of wheat, etc).   That will have to wait for a color treatment at some point.

Friday, October 7, 2011

Cullerton Cottages

A portion of North Lawndale came to be known as K-Town, based on the number of streets that start with the letter "K."  This resulted from a 1913 street naming proposal (later abandoned) in which letters of the alphabet indicate the distance from the Indiana border. Streets that start with a K are within the eleventh mile.  I suppose there have been weirder naming conventions.

To my surprise K-Town has the best examples of 1-story masonry cottages that I've found. There are blocks of them on Cullerton and 21st Street. Many use Indiana limestone veneers with romanesque details and look like tiny truncated greystones.  Others use face brick and classical or craftsman ornamentation.  Most have projecting bays on the front facade, which adds variety and captures additional light and air.

All three of the buildings above were constructed in 1909 and have just over 900 square feet of living space.  Only the building at 4147 W. Cullerton has retained the original porch, with wood columns and a triangular pediment. 

I'm impressed at what a enjoyable streetscape these small homes create, especially when they line up on both sides of Cullerton.  At first glance they might seem toy-like, but their attention to detail and careful proportions really create a unique character for the area.

Monday, October 3, 2011

Lawndale Cottages

3149 S. Komensky, 1922, 841 sq.ft.
While looking up a few images in Google I found an unusual building type.  Well, it was unusual to me. Blocks of 1-story masonry cottages with flat roofs, mostly built in the 1910s and early 1920s.  They look like 2-flats with the top floor cut off.  These are single family homes complete with yards and garages, ranging in size from 800 to 1000 sq.ft.  This is about the size of a modest two-bedroom apartment, although these also have full basements.

They tend to group together, alternating designs in an A-B-A-B pattern. Just another reminder of how much of Chicago was created by builders trying to minimize design fees and maximize profit.  And provide solid neighborhood buildings, of course.
3147 S. Komensky, 1922, 841 sq.ft.
 So the other weekend we found ourselves driving through a light rain with a couple of snoozing kids in back, and Angela suggested that we take a drive to check out these cottages.  So we did.  It's a good thing my wife is game for this sort of thing.  In addition to getting some decent photos through the drizzle we discovered the original Home Run Pizzeria on 31st street.  Good reason for a return visit.



Not all of these houses are cut from a few basic designs.  There are some that have more elaborate parapets and details, and were probably individually designed for a particular client. The building below has a carefully proportioned
3145 S. Keeler, 1919, 847 sq.ft.
parapet (Mission-style? Craftsman?) and brick columns with chamfered corners to create a more elegant appearance.  And you can't overlook the generous full-width front porch.

I'm struck by how unlikely it would be for anyone to build something comparable today.  It's really a function of the economy more than anything else.  First, you would have to buy the land.  Second, you would have to excavate the foundation and use all new materials. Third, you would end up with something that utilizes a fraction of the possible floor area but with triple the costs.  This alone gives a good snapshot of this neighborhood when it first developed- inexpensive land and affordable materials and labor.

Angela's theory is that this neighborhood developed because of its proximity to the Crawford Power Plant, which began generating in 1924.  But even before then it was a very industrial area, and there would have been a steady demand for single family houses.

So I think I'll start a collection of these types of cottages, and maybe a typology will start to emerge.  There are some really interesting single-story greystones a bit further north, in the area known as K-Town.



Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Land of the Courtyard Apartments

I came across a number of areas in Rogers Park with high concentrations of courtyard apartments, but take a walk on Estes between Sheridan and Glenwood to see the clear winner.  Most of the buildings below were constructed between 1923 and 1924, creating an instant neighborhood and bringing hundreds of new residents to the block.


Now and again I like to resort to oblique angle aerial photos as reference imagery to better convey massing and context.  These photos used to be found only in city planning departments but now you can find them online for free.  Maybe they're not the most up-to-date, but good enough for my needs.  The drawing below is adapted from a bird's-eye photo found on the Bing search engine.
Estes between Sheridan and Glenwood.  To the left is the Red Line Elevator.  Click for larger version.
I like how the courtyards themselves read from above as geometric English gardens.  I was going to try and show the rooftop structures  (HVAC, skylights, elevator overrides, etc.) but it made the drawing too complex and difficult to read.  The white lines on some rooftops represent the bearing walls between units.


As much as I like courtyard apartments I have to think that maybe this is too much.  This block has lost some of the interest and variety you find in most of Rogers Park.  It doesn't help that nearly every one of these buildings is securely fenced.  The building at 1345-1359 W. Estes actually has curved and spiked fencing, which gives it a feeling of being under siege.  And it's likely that they're fenced in for good reason.  This is unfortunate, and it wasn't always the case.  Below is a Tribune blurb about this building when it was under construction as luxury rentals.
Chicago Daily Tribune: Feb. 18, 1923, pg. A13.
It's easy to forget that these buildings had so many amenities.  They attracted residents with higher-than-average incomes, those that might have opted to find a single family home further  towards the edge of the city.


I would be surprised if any of these buildings retained their entertaining rooms and playrooms.  For the most part they're now laundry and storage rooms.  If there are any courtyard apartment buildings in Rogers Park that still have elaborate communal facilities I would love to pay them a visit. 







Friday, September 16, 2011

Multi-Court Apartments in Rogers Park

Special thanks to the Rogers Park/West Ridge Historical Society which gave me an opportunity to talk about courtyard apartments last Saturday morning at their museum at Morse and Greenview.
"Tendencies in Apartment House Design: Part IV - Open Court Types,"
Frank Choteau Brown, The Architectural Record, Vol. L, 1921, p.489.  Accessed through Google eBooks.

Once again, Frank Brown gets there before I do.  The footprint to the far-right best represents what I refer to as muli-court buildings.  E-Plan works too.  I'm reminded of Steven Holl's Pamphlet Architecture #5, "The Alphebetical City," which I once passed up at a used bookstore and have regretted ever since.  Anyway, I had some difficulty defining what should be considered a multi-court building.  Are two idenitical U-Courts side-by-side a multi-court?  What if they're on separately owned lots?  So I came up with a few multi-court buildings that appear to create a coherent whole, even if they are technically individual buildings.


This buildings at 1800-1818 W. Farwell  are a good example this.  However, the setbacks of the individual wings are not identical.  The one on the far right comes closest to the front property line.  The center wings are set back somewhat and align with each other.  The left extension is set back even further.  It doesn't seem like there's a regulation which would require this, but the wing on the left better aligns with the single family homes to the west.  If that's what the designer intended I congratulate them on their nod to neighborhood context.  Of course it's still a massive building next to tiny buildings, but at least their neighbor still has their  front yard.


This complex is located at 7016-7034 N. Sheridan (Sheridan and Greenleaf) sits on three separate parcels.  It's really a combination of two L-Courts and one S-Court.  But they were intended to form a coherent composition (classical revival, down to the red brick, corner quoins and triangular pediments).  In this case I can explain the various setbacks.  On the lots to the right a 30' subdivision setback was recorded, which is absent on the lot to the far left.  Odd, but interesting.

This building at 1708-1720 W. Albion was a surprise to discover.  Not only has it never been enclosed with wrought iron fencing, but it still has all the original windows and doors.  They're not in great condition, but it's nice to see the level of detail these buildings had.

Again, from an ownership standpoint there are three separate lots.  Several L-Courts combine to create two central courts.  Architecturally it reads as a single multi-court building. 

It appears that the central section makes use of  corridors to access the units.  This is unusual for a courtyard apartment, which normally depends on a number of entrances.  Perhaps it's necessary because of the comparatively small lot size.

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Courtyard Apartments- Graphs and Charts!

When you're working with about 200 buildings it's natural to organize them into a list.  And of course, if you're making a list why not use Excel?   And as long as it's in Excel why not generate a few pie charts and line graphs?  And why not import that table into a free geocoding site and see what kind of maps it comes up with?  

Anyway, it was only a matter of time before I could inflict some abstract illustrations on the viewing public.  I believe I've already included a distribution map in an earlier post, but sometimes it's hard for me to stop fiddling.  


The above maps are good representations of the distribution of the various types of courtyard apartments.  The map to the left uses individual markers for each address, while the one on the right uses pie charts of various sizes to represent building clusters and distribution of types within the cluster.  Both clearly show the dominance of the U-Court building.  Not bad for free maps from BatchGeo.



Above a more comprehensive pie chart from Excel showing the courtyard type breakdown much more clearly.  Yep, the U-Courts win.  L-Courts are a distant second.  


But I'm also looking at the construction dates for these buildings.  Nice to know Excel can do such an clear chart showing total buildings by year and by type breakdown.  Took me a bit to figure this out, but I think it's worth it.  Still trying to get the total building counts placed at the top of the column...   Anyway, it's interesting to show that all building didn't end with the onset of the Great Depression.  Not until after 1933 does construction of these types appear to cease.


Click to actually read these numbers.
One of the things that I'm interested in showing is how drastically the density in Rogers Park increased during the time in which the courtyard apartment colonized the neighborhood.  Sure, the Census figures (and the Local Community Factbook) show that Chicago's population increased 150% between 1910 and 1930,  but the population of Rogers Park increased more than 800%.

Farwell between Greenview and Glenwood
It helps to illustrate the change with a snapshot of the block of Farwell bounded by Glenwood and Greenview.  The du/ac notation above indicates dwelling units per acre.  Coincidentally, it shows almost exactly an 800% increase.   

OK, that should do it for charts and diagrams, at least for the moment.


Friday, August 26, 2011

S-Court Apartments in Rogers Park

The Rogers Park S-Court apartment is the most irregular and the most predictable courtyard type.  Irregular because I can never estimate what sort of dimensions will work for an S-Court.  They can be located on lots ranging from 100' deep to 170' deep, and they might accomodate as few as 20 units or more than 40.  But one thing is sure--  if it's an S-Court you'll find it on a corner lot.

7001-7017 N. Wolcott


An S-Court is really the fusion of a U-Court with a more standard apartment building attached on one end and arranged to provide a narrow interior access court.  Rather than construct a single U-Court (which would provide a generous amount of central green space) the S-Court maximizes nearly every square foot of a lot. It does this partly by skimping on the central court,  which may read as uncomfortably narrow.  And unlike an L-Court, which can sometimes borrow the perception of space from the lot next door, an S-Court will be narrow forever.

Perhaps in compensation for not having views into the interior court the side wing will often have use of a front yard.  I've seen front yards that are very generous on some of these buildings, but also yards with barely room for a potted plant.

Here's my courtyard test:  If you can stand in your window and unintentionally watch your cross-court neighbor do something embarrassing then the court is too narrow.  As you might guess, I live in an S-Court building.

Friday, August 12, 2011

Entrances to Courtyard Apartments, #2

Click to enlarge.
In a previous post I introduced some examples of the decorative entrances of several courtyard buildings and talked about some of the ways these operate to define public, private, and semi-private spaces.  I even had a nifty graphic, which I'm recycling to the right.  But as usual, I have some more examples I'd like to include. 

7320-7330 N. Damen, 1930










Above is a brick and stone wall and fence combination with Craftmans details.  It seems likely that the fence section is a later addition, but it doesn't add much more security.  Even I could hop this one. Still, it's good to retain the visibility into the court.  I've seen some high solid walls which make a building look under seige.

7349-7355 N. Damen, 1926



This is a particularly good one, with some gothic touches.  The combination of very tall piers and very low walls is a bit unusual.  So again, not a real physical barrier, but it provides a psychological break between public and private space.




7381-7389 N. Damen, 1929

Sometimes you'll find these types of entrances, which use wrought iron to suspend a lantern.  This is an elegant treatment, but they don't age well.  It's difficult to keep something like this protected from the elements and operable.  Easier to chop off the metal and install lamps on the top of the piers. Or not at all.
6822-6828 N. Wayne, 1928






The most common materials used are brick and stone (or cast stone), so it's a bit unusual in Rogers Park to find a courtyard building with a significant amount of terracotta.  This entrance actually uses two types of terracotta, white and a dark green speckled base, which resembles granite. Nice adaptation of a gothic buttress form.
7400-7410 N. Damen, 1932

This is a good example of a different type of entrance incorporating a change in grade.  In this case the entire courtyard is elevated, probably creating a bit more basement storage.  There are also buildings which use a sunken courtyards, which can be even more effective in creating a semi-private space.



OK, that should do it for courtyard entrances, at least for a while.

Friday, August 5, 2011

U-Court Apartments in Rogers Park


"Tendencies in Apartment House Design: Part VII - Courtyard Plans,"
Frank Choteau Brown, The Architectural Record, Vol. LI, 1922, p.64.
U-Court apartments are generally what people think of as the classic courtyard building.  A single deep, semi-enclosed courtyard flanked with overlooking apartments.  Sometimes these courtyards open up to the street, and sometimes they're shaped more like a keyhole.  But in reality there's a remarkable variety in how these buildings utlize their lots and organize their space.  A previous post concerned with L-Court apartments introduced some of these principles. To the right is Frank Brown's 1922 graphic that I'm recycling from the L-Court article. But in this case it's the bottom row that's of interest.
As usual, click for a more legible version.
The above footprints are adapted from Sanborn Fire Insurance Maps.  The smaller grey shapes represent interior or exterior stairs. If you look carefully you can tell that every unit has a front stair and a rear stair.  Although these aren't necessarily accurate they're the best I can do without some serious trespassing.

1639-1649 W. Touhy, 1931
Note the variety in the front yard setbacks.  While this is sometimes due to zoning it's just as likely that a property is observing a subdivision setback,  recorded to the property prior to development.  This is definitely the case for 1617-1627 W. Fargo, which observes a 30' front yard setback.  You can see these clearly on the 80-acre maps of the area.  Front yards are also a function of lot size.  The smallest lot at 1615-1625 W. Columbia has a zero front yard setback, allowing more square footage to be crammed in. 

Just like the L-Courts described previously, these buildings have multiple front entrances serving six units, two on each floor.  Arranging them in a U shape around a central court provides cross-ventilation and light from at least two directions.  The court itself functions as a symbolic entrance and a landscaped centerpiece.  No matter how dense the neighborhood may become the central court remains a green oasis.  Generally.

I realize these are tiny.  Click for a larger version.
While the first grouping shows buildings arranged on rectilinear lots, the central courtyard type can be adapted to a variety of lot shapes.  The buildings to the right are on irregular lots shaped by some of the neighborhood's diagonal streets and rights-of-way.  The modular form of the courtyard apartment allows these lots to be utilized just as easily as one made up of right angles.  In fact, adapting a building to an irregular lot can provide a variety of apartment sizes and configurations, which may help the building appeal to a variety of renters with different budgets and spatial needs. 

The challenge for many of these buildings is to find a system of ornamentation elastic enough to accommodate and unify an irregular plan. At least a few future posts will investigate some of these ornamental schemes.

7401-7411 N. Hoyne, 1931
There's a great variety in the size of lots and the number of units in each of these buildings.  But in general the lots of my unscientific sample above range from 14,500 sq. ft. to over 19,000 sq. ft.  There are normally 25 to 40 units (sometimes more) in these buildings.  In the case of 1535-1555 W. Fargo (bottom left above) the Cook County Assessor estimated 59 units, which I put down to the atypical use of a double-loaded design on one wing of the building. And also tiny apartments.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

1923 Zoning Code, Rogers Park, and Courtyard Apartments


Rogers Park, 1923 Zoning Ordinance
This is my colorized version of the Volume District map for Rogers Park, adopted as a part of the 1923 Zoning Code. There were five volume districts created throughout the city, but only districts 1, 2, and 3 were mapped in Rogers Park. 


I find zoning maps interesting, especially when they represent the first attempt of a city to get a handle on it's own development.  Does it reflect the neighborhood character or aspirations for the future?  Generally it's an interweaving of the two.


You can see that the greatest volume was assigned to the area adjacent to the lakefront.  This was a typical pattern for the 1923 code.   With a maximum permitted height of 195' the blue zone would have allowed 20 story buildings throughout the area.  It's hard to imagine what Rogers Park would be like if that had happened.  Even the least dense district 1 (yellow) would allow buildings around 6 stories. As the legendary Homer Hoyt once observed, if Chicago had been built-out to the extent permitted in the 1923 Zoning Ordinance it would have housed the entire population of the United States.

7062-7078 N. Wolcott, 1931
So what's really going on here?  One  answer is that the map represents the ideal distribution of land uses and densities over time. But ideal for who? 

The creation of these maps followed a survey and planning process where existing development was cataloged and future needs were anticipated.  The ordinance itself was shaped by volunteer commissioners, city planners (still a new profession), and members of the Chicago Real Estate Board.  As others have observed, city planning makes for an odd combination of entrenched financial interests and idealistic social scientists with an unshakeable belief in the power of rational land-use.  There are always disconnects between the two.  As developers know, there's some value in pointing to an official city document and assuring potential investors that they can build their 20-story apartment on the site.

This is my colorized Use District map for Rogers Park showing the locations zoned for industrial, commercial and residential development.  Rogers Park's major commercial thoroughfares were (and are) Clark, Devon, Morse, and Howard. If you're familiar with the neighborhood you'll notice several additional commercial areas.  Many of these never developed the way the zoning map envisioned, or at least not to the extent shown. 

A criticism of the 1923 code was that it didn't allot enough area as residential districts.  But by 1923 there were fewer single family homes being built in Rogers Park.  In fact, every major metropolitan area saw a surge in the construction of multi-family buildings.  But even if the entire neighborhood had been zoned to encourage the least dense development it would have still permitted the construction of 6-story apartment buildings side-by-side with single-family homes.  The 1923 code was not a tool intended to limit development, but rather to make it more predictable and consistent.


 This is my attempt to geocode a list of courtyard apartments.  For the purposes of this study these are generally 3-stories in height with a raised basement built roughly between 1915 and 1930. Special thanks to BatchGeo.  Most of these buildings were built after the 1923 code, so it's interesting to see the wide distribution.  Based on the 1923 code there were no districts which would have prohibited their construction.  Although there are a few clusters, but they don't seem to directly relate to the zoning maps.  I suspect the most significant factors governing their location were economic.  But the distribution map provides a spatial sense of how these building types relate (or don't) to the formal zoning goals of the city. 


1638-1646 W. Farwell, 1929
 I can't end this post without referencing Joseph Schweiterman's and Dana Caspall's book, "The Politics of Place:  A History of Zoning in Chicago."  They provide a coherent framework for understanding Chicago's zoning system, and much of the background information above was stolen from them.  Definitely worth reading.

Next week is vacation!  So the next post may be even slower than usual...