Monday, May 30, 2011

Pratt Manor (1252-1262 W. Pratt) - Apartments of the Better Class #3

1252-1262 W. Pratt- South Elevation
This is a big one.  Either the original photographer used a fish-eye lens, or they were able to take their photograph from a vacant lot across the street.  I had to stitch together several shots to approximate the image from 1917.  This is still a fairly attractive building, although it's lost the original windows and filled in others with glass block.

This building was designed (and owned) by our friend Percy T. Johnstone, who was also responsible for the apartment at Touhy and Paulina as described in a previous post.

Units on the end had two bedrooms, while those in the middle had one. Bays front on Pratt.

The plan above illustrates the difficulty of squeezing numerous units (15 of them) on to a small lot.  Well, it's not really that small.  It's 57' along Lakewood and 134' along Pratt but the architect wants to squeeze out every inch.   The units on the end receive the best light.  The ones sandwiched in between have to make do with what they can capture with their projecting bays and the windows on the alley.  There are skylights to help illuminate the stairway and halls, but no light courts were incorporated into this building. At least they all have south exposures.

All living spaces were (and are) required by code to have a minimum of natural light and ventilation.  But when light only comes from one direction it has the effect of making objects seem flatter.  If you want a comfortable living space try to find rooms that provide light from at least two directions.  This is one of those things that registers on people subconsciously, but they may have a tough time articulating why one space feels so much better than another.

Vacuum cleaning system included!  And I like that recessed tubs are also a selling point.  Ivory enamel and mahogany still sounds kind of appealing.

I think the architect, Percy T. Johnstone, must have been a interesting guy in his day.  A quick search through the Chicago Tribune online archives shows that he was an owner and developer of buildings as often as he designed them.  His most ambitious project seems to have been a large hospital which was to have been built in West Ridge at about 6500 N. Ridge.  It never happened.  He had some other spectacular misfires in Uptown, where he planned a large hotel which also never came to fruition.

But below are interesting "before and after" images for an auto sales building he designed on Broadway south of Devon.  Special thanks to my wife for calling this to my attention.  At least one of us knows how to use Google correctly.

6335 N. Broadway, 1922.  "Architectural Record," Dec. 20, 1922.

6335 N. Broadway, 2011(?) Google Maps.
 The above image is from an ad for Northwestern Terra Cotta Co.  Sadly, it hasn't retained any of its amazing storefronts and entry.  But you can still see the griffins on the freize panel.

If you want to know more about auto showrooms in Chicago (you do, right?) you should read the designation report for the Riviera Motor Sales Building, which is located just a few blocks south.  And of course you should read the report for the Motor Row District on the near south side.  That one isn't posted, but I can email it if anyone requests it.

Anyway, if someone tracks down Percy Johnstone's obituary please drop me a line.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Rear Parapets in Rogers Park #2

As warned, I have a number of these rear parapets to include in my courtyard apartment series.  For those of you who missed the triumphant first entry here's a link to it.
7345-7355 N. Damen, 1940

I'm not sure I trust the construction date for this property.  Not much building was going on in 1940, and the style seems wrong.  But there was quite a bit of construction in the northwest corner of Rogers Park in the 1930s, so maybe this is possible.   If I ever get over to the ancient building permit files (conveniently located on microfilm at the Harold Washington Library) I'll check.  The design itself is fairly minimal, with some basic castellations trimmed in stone.

7424-7436 N. Damen, 1928
This is another version of the Tudor Revival with twin-gables and half-timbering.  In this case the timbers are painted white and the bound areas are decorative brick patterns rather than the more common stucco panels.  Simple brackets  support the eaves.  These are the shallowest decorative gables I've ever seen.  And spanning the space between the peaks with brick really undercuts the illusion of a pitched roof.

7400-7410 N. Damen, 1932

Here's a Classical Revival design combined  with an Italian tile mansard roof.  I especially like the square hood molding around the large window, complete with little projecting ears.

So many of these buildings make use of decorative clay tile.  When it comes time for a major repair I always expect it to disappear.  We need a Chicago non-profit called "Save the Mansards." Any volunteers?

1409-1415 W. Farwell, 1927

The architect of this one went a bit crazy with the stone quoins.  If a little looks good a lot should look great, right?  Nice decorative stone panel that suggests iron work (scrolls and curves connected with straps).

1638-1645 W. Farwell, 1929

This is one of the simpler rear parapets, but the use of multi-colored clay tiles really gives it distinction.  The central windows probably held French doors at some point, but now only aluminum double-hung.  There's a building almost identical to this a few blocks north on Greenleaf. Same architect, same date of construction.

OK, I've got about 8 more of these, but maybe time to give the rear parapets a rest.

Friday, May 13, 2011

7210-7212 N. Paulina- Apartments of the Better Class #2

Northwest corner of Touhy and Paulina
This buiding is at the northwest corner of Touhy and Paulina in Rogers Park.  It's one of my favorites from the Directory to Apartments of the Better Class, as referenced in my previous post.  I remember admiring the arched brick and stone entrance on Touhy, and wondering why it was called "The Kenilworth," which I thought was pretentious.  It's still kind of pretentious, but it's because Kenilworth Avenue was the original name for Touhy.

I like that this building has retained it's original windows and the Italian tile roofs. 

This is also one of the few entries which uses a rendering of the building rather than a photograph.  It was fairly common to have a perspective rendering made for a speculative building in order to attract investors and tenants.  The real estate section of the Chicago Tribune would publish these, even for small buildings. The drawing above is pretty much dead-on, a testament to the skills of the draftsman.  I wonder if the original drawing is hanging on a wall somewhere.  Or more likely, long gone.

Click for larger version.
I'm impressed at how efficiently the architect has arranged this building to maximize the number of units on the lot.  Narrow light courts bring in air and provide alley access to the rear stairs.  Some of the larger units have space for maid's rooms, but most do not.  The design generally depends on the front bays to bring in light. 

This building features one of my favorite awkward realities of many Chicago apartments-- a wall of windows on the narrow interior court perfectly aligned with a neighbor's wall of windows.  In this case it occurs between the two dining rooms of the middle units fronting on Touhy.  I hope whoever lives there are on good terms.

It advertised close proximity to the Birchwood Elevated Station. I think this is now the Jarvis Station, unless Birchwood was another stop that was later removed.

Click for larger version.
Apartments offered the most modern amenities.  Changes and improvements in technology were rapidly incorporated into apartment construction.  This was a good way to attract high-class tenants who might otherwise look for a single-family home.  Gas heat, electricity, and refrigeration were all used the same way solid marble counter tops and sub-zero freezers are used today.

Showing overall page layout.
As usual, click for larger version.

I don't know much about the architect, Percy Johnstone, but I can at least share a couple more of his buildings identified in the Chicago Historic Resources Survey.  Photos are taken from the Cook County Assessor:
2200 W. Granville

1527 W. Touhy

Monday, May 9, 2011

L-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.
I'm not the first to look at apartment buildings in a systematic manner.  Architect Frank Chouteau Brown illustrated his own categorization of open court buildings in the chart to the right.  He put together a remarkable series of articles dealing with various types of apartments from a space planning and development perspective.  These were published in The Architectural Record in 1921 and 1922.  Given Brown's proximity to the apartment boom of the 1920s these are useful in understanding why these buildings took particular forms.  Much of the analysis below uses his observations as a starting point.
6414-6416 N. Paulina, 1931
What Brown calls Open Half Court I've labeled L-Court. An L-Court can occupy a long, narrow lot, but there isn't really enough space to allow for landscaping, or even to secure sufficient light and views for the units created.  They typically have three entrances, each of which serves 6 units. In some instances developers would add another L-Court to create a U-Court, but if that wasn't the case adjacent construction would often block them in.

To the left are some typical L-Courts in Rogers Park.  (For some reason these examples are all on Estes, but this is just a weird coincidence.)  You can see they all have narrow courts with projecting bays (rectangular, hexagonal or rounded) to take advantage of available light and views. The grey rectangles indicate interior and exterior stairs, which are commonly grouped together to simplify construction.  A narrower secondary court services the back stairs and provides access to the alley.  These all have small front yards which provide a minimal separation from the street. 

A lot with a 170 foot depth and a 50 foot width provides sufficient area to construct one of these buildings.  With 5 or 6 units per floor these buildings generally have 15 to18 units.  If basement units were constructed this adds a few more.  Generally there are no more than 21 units in a building like this. 

I found an  unusual L-Court building at 1059-1103 W. North Shore sited on a larger than typical lot.  In this case the amount of green space really does function like a larger central court.  The lack of complete enclosure gives the property a park-like appearance which is emphasized by a remarkable number of mature trees.

It makes sense to me that the building to the right was constructed in 1916 and the four examples above were all built in the late 1920s and early 1930s.  As the neighborhood became more urbanized, property values increased and developers squeezed more value from each lot.  You can sense a certain balancing process in action, where lot coverage, unit counts, and land costs play against each other.

One of the things that I'm interested in investigating relates to the Chicago Zoning Code of 1923, which regulated the size and type of buildings permitted in various areas.  It seems to me that once minimum standards were established buildings were designed to meet them, rather then exceed them.  I believe courtyard apartments pre-dating the zoning code provided larger units and more green space for their tenants. But it's difficult to prove this.  I don't always trust the building data provided by the Cook County Assessor, which may or may not have accurate construction dates and square footage calculations.

While a perfectly rectilinear lot makes an L-Court easy to plan, there are many irregular lots which were also adapted to the L-Court.  In particular, there are a number of lots adjacent to Clark Street and Sheridan Road, both streets which run at a slight diagonal through the neighborhood.  This often created skewed and tapered lots.  A skewed lot (as seen at 1666-1670 W. Farwell) isn't too difficult to adapt.  In this case the units align with Clark rather than Farwell.  A lot which widens towards the rear is a natural opportunity for an L-Court.  While a typical L-court can normally fit only one unit at the rear, a tapered lot often has enough space for two units.

To the right are two examples of  L-Court combinations.  On the left is the building at 6810-6814 N. Lakewood, with two distinct side courts.  The lot is both wider and shallower than those of the typical L-court buildings.  Rather than providing additional green space for the tenants the design has used a double-loading technique to create 32 units with narrow courts.  Without a way to easily provide secondary exits the architect had to run corridors from the central stairwells to the exterior.  These interior courts accommodate light wells, but the lack of rear exposure probably impacts their air flow and limits their light.

The examples above on Sherwin are the best I found showing how an L-Court becomes a U-Court. The building on the right (1413-1415 W. Sherwin) was built in 1917.  The building on the left (1407-1411 W. Sherwin) was built in 1926.  Even in plan you can see the difference in design and configuration.  Nevertheless, the architect of the later building carefully matched the size and ornamentation of the curved bays of the interior court to create a consistent character for both buildings.  They now appear to be under common ownership.  There are other examples in the neighborhood which were constructed closer in time.  These are difficult to identify if you don't have access to a map showing property lines.  Commonly the two L-Courts are identical in design but with different colors of face brick.

I almost skipped the L-Court building when I was organizing this project.  They really don't create the outdoor space I imagine when I think of a courtyard building.  But I'm glad I didn't.  They have some important qualities, and they help to understand the organizing principles of the larger courtyard buildings.  The next entry in this series will focus on the U-Court, which is what most people think of as a true courtyard building.

As a final note, the building footprints were re-drawn from Sanborn Fire Insurance Maps.  The lot sizes were derived from the City of Chicago 80-acre maps, which are available through the online Chicago Zoning Map.  Dates of construction are taken from the Cook County Assessor's website.