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...