Monday, April 25, 2011

Directory to Apartments of the Better Class- 1133 W. Columbia

I'm going to be posting some entries documenting modest apartment buildings in Rogers Park, all of which are taken from Directory to Apartments of the Better Class along the North Side of Chicago, published in 1917 by A.J. Pardridge and Harold Bradley.  This bound pamphlet was intended to help rent these properties, which ranged from exclusive flats on East Lake Shore Drive to more affordable dwellings in Lakeview, Uptown and Rogers Park.  Entries included photos or renderings of the buildings, typical floor plans, a brief description, and an estimate of the monthly rent. 

I'm focusing on seven buildings in Rogers Park including 1133 W. Columbia, 7614-7616 N. Eastlake, 7210-7212 N. Paulina, 1252-1262 W. Pratt, 6757-6765 N. Sheridan, and 7600-7602 N. Sheridan.   It's good that all of these are still around.  Rogers Park managed to preserve much of its housing stock and is one of the last affordable north side neighborhoods along the lakefront. 

If these buildings were considered luxurious apartments in 1917 there's something reassuring about their current, generally run-down, appearance.  It gives me hope that today's luxury condos may devolve into affordable housing.  In the current economic climate this may be much sooner than the developer would have preferred...

1133 W. Columbia
 This 1913 craftsman-style building hasn't changed much on the outside, except for the unfortunate removal of the casement windows on the sun porches. It's also lost the clay tile roof above the side entry. The cornice appears pretty much as it did.

Full disclosure- Part of my job is helping people restore buildings which have been severely altered over the years.  A photo like this is a gift for someone who owns a modest building.  These are always harder to document than the more architecturally significant buildings.  Window replacement is one of the cheapest ways to make a major improvement in the appearance of a building.  And of course it's also the cheapest way to ruin a building.

Click for a larger version.
Floor plans are another great thing to find when looking at these  apartment buildings.  Especially for those which have since been subdivided or undergone extensive renovations.  A maid's room with a bathroom is simple to convert to a one-bedroom apartment, effectively doubling the number of units in a building. Floor plans allow a reader to imagine the spatial experience.  These apartments are commonly broken up into numerous rooms with a certain amount of space reserved for hallways.  Circulation is carefully orchestrated.  Modern apartments tend to remove the separating partitions, creating spaces which flow into one another. 

Looking at this layout I can imagine a household set up rigidly, where each room is strictly dedicated to a particular use.  While this limits the feeling of spaciousness, it may have provided a variety of experiences beyond what you might expect with the limited square footage. 

Click for larger version.

The description above mentions my favorite apartment amenity, central vacuuming.  I'm still a bit fuzzy on how this worked, but apparently a number of vacuum sockets were provided for each unit.   Tubes were hooked up to a central vacuum which was activated when the socket was opened.  This way no one had to push around a bulky vacuum cleaner or provide the storage space it would have needed.  Systems like this were eventually found to be difficult to maintain while improved technology made the portable vacuum more attractive.

Without odd publications like this it would be even harder to get a handle on buildings which are important more for their typical nature rather than their outstanding design or important associations.   The more I look at small-scale Chicago apartment buildings, the more I think they're deserving of some closer attention.

Below is a thumbnail that takes you to the overall page layout.  
Click for a larger version.


  1. Central vaccuuming is still very much in play. My landlords lived in a new townhouse, built in 2000, that came with this fun amenity. There were round sockets in each room and you have a cart with a hose that you can move about. Kind of genius. You could turn it off and on.

  2. Thanks Sarah. I think that system might still be used in some hotels as well.

  3. My house has central vacuuming. (I no longer give in Chicago- I moved to Michigan). But it was built in the 1960s... there are hoses and attachments and you just plug it in and theres a little sensor that turns it on and it goes down to the canister (which is located in the basement next to the fuse box).

  4. Central vacuuming lives! Thanks Kristine.

  5. I don't know if you will read this since It is so long after you published this post.... But I wanted to say this is fascinating.

    I actually lived in this building for a bit. As you posited, the third floor and the first floor were both split up into two apartments at some point. I lived in a rear half of a floor, which included the long hallway starting at the staircase and going towards the back. The bedroom on the left was the first bedroom, the dining room in the picture was our living room, and the maid's room became the second bedroom. Funny enough, the only bathroom in the unit was the old maid's bathroom, so you had to go through the second bedroom to reach it. What an odd set up, now that I think back. I remember a huge kitchen, and a wood-paneled back porch that had to have been added later.

    For the front unit, a bedroom was converted to a kitchen, but that was about it for the changes there.

  6. Thanks Rpresident. I'm always fascinated to see how these apartments have been cut-up and changed over time. I used to live in a unit that was a combination of the maid's room, a living room and an enclosed sun porch...

  7. Thank you! This building is across the street from us. We are in the North Light Condos at 1140. We love this block and love learning its history.

  8. Glad you liked it! There's another Columbia post I've been working on for a while. It relates to a now-demolished home at the end of the street. I believe there's a 1960s building there now.