Sunday, December 23, 2012

Rogers Park Telephone Exchange, 1622 W. Pratt

The first telephone exchange in Rogers Park was established in 1903 in a rented space at the northwest corner of Lunt and Clark (now an immigration attorney's office).  Soon increasing demand and specialized equipment required a purpose-built structure. The Chicago Telephone Company contracted with the architecture firm of Holabird and Roche, which had already designed their buildings downtown and many smaller neighborhood exchanges.  Good examples of these remain throughout Chicago.

New technology has a tendency to make people uncomfortable.  One way to offset this discomfort is to create a traditional image to reassure the public.  Holabird and Roche was masterful at creating sturdy classical designs.  The Rogers Park Exchange is a simplified version of the Georgian Revival style.  And what could be less intimating than Georgian Revival? 

The building itself is reinforced concrete construction with Colonial brick and white Bedford stone trim.  Originally the entrance vestibule was pink Tennessee marble, but I haven't yet peered inside to find out if it's still there.  Note the addition of a fourth floor, along with substantial rear additions.  This was a part of the original design intent, and the foundation was built to accommodate another floor as needed.  The stone cornice was rebuilt, but it looks like it lost some detail in the process.

Adapted from a Google Aerial Photo
The L-shaped area emphasized in red is the original footprint of the building.  The area in blue was added in 1940.  The fire insurance maps are a bit vague on when the original portion received the additional floor, but judging from historic aerial photos it probably also happened in 1940.  In 1960 an additional floor was added to the blue portion, raising it from two stories to three.

The work force consisted of three supervisors, one clerk, one matron, and forty-nine operators.  Yes, that's right.  Matron.  And both day and night chief operators were women.  And those forty-nine operators?   Probably  young women.  At the turn of the century switchboard operator joined teacher and nurse as an acceptable occupation for middle-class women.  But there was an ongoing discomfort about the thought of professional young women working and living in the big city on their own.  The fear was that it would be too easy for these women to stray into... well... prostitution and drugs?  Several organizations opened boarding houses for working women, where they could enjoy communal activities and close supervision.  It's telling that the president of the Rogers Park Women's Club, Mrs. E.A. King, was in attendance for the opening ceremony. 

Read about the exciting 1914 ribbon-cutting ceremony here.

And I can't recommend enough Robert Bruegmann's book about Holabird and Roche, "The Architects and the City."

Also, read Jeanne Catherine Lawrence's, "Chicago's Eleanor Clubs: Housing Working Women in the Early Twentieth Century."

And just for fun, read "Wicked Nell:  A Gay Girl of the Town." (1878)

Monday, December 17, 2012

Devon Streetscape (1536-1556 W. Devon)

Below is another graphic developed for the storefront exhibit planned for installation at Clark Devon Hardware.  An interesting block, even with some odd changes over the years.  The third building from the right suffered a couple of big fires in the 1940s and had a architectural slipcover installed on the facade.  I'd give a lot to know if the original details are still under there.

Horizontally oriented images never lend themselves to the vertical blog format. I've been trying to find a viewer which allows an image to scroll past, but everything I find takes a bit more expertise than I'm willing to develop.

The above drawing was developed by stringing together a series of digital images in Photoshop, which was then used as a reference to develop a line drawing with Micron disposable technical pens.  This was colored with cool grey Prismacolor markers, and then with Prismacolor pencils. Before I began to use this technique all of my color images looked painfully cheerful.  But starting with grey is a good way to develop the earth tones commonly found on old buildings.

This image was developed from the birds-eye aerial photos accessible through the Bing search engine.  I didn't have the gumption to color this, but maybe I will at some point... The two work well together to give a quick sense of the block.

Just as a side note, the historical information was taken from the ancient building permit files on microfilm, available at the Harold Washington Library, the UIC Library, or the Chicago History Museum.  These only go up to 1954, so I estimated the date of the annex on the left. 

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Howard and Washtenaw, c.1958

I've driven by these buildings on Howard for years, and they always catch my attention.  At this point Howard Street is the dividing line between Chicago and Evanston, and represents the north boundary of the West Ridge neighborhood.  In the 1940s this area was sparsely developed.  In 1958 the former site of the Chicago Fresh Air Hospital at Howard and Western was developed as a shopping center, and a large residential development was built to the east.  It wasn't long before nearby portions of Howard began to develop, and the buildings reflect this time period.

On the corner is a 2-story building clad with a stacked-bond turquoise brick veneer.  A two-story glass atrium encloses a staircase and adds a certain drama to the building.  The ground floor glass block windows were probably later installations for  privacy and security.  The projecting eave of the building contains down-lighting for nighttime illumination. Next door is a taller two-story  office building.  It's framed by stacked-bond piers, and capped by concrete sun-screens, which are kind of a nod to a Corbusian brise-soleil. Next to that is a 1-story storefront also framed by stacked-bond brick piers connected with a sign panel.  A soffit below angles down to the aluminum storefronts.  All in all, an almost perfect  composition of a style I think of as mid-century developer vernacular. 
While the high-style modernists whittled their conception of architecture down to the most honest expression of materials and form (arguably), the neighborhood buildings that were going up took their cues from the graphic design and popular art of the time.  The buiding on the left looks like two separate geometries fighting it out in a kind of Mondrianesque battle.  The center building is mostly flat and featureless, but the vertical piers and mullions and the curved  concrete canopy impose order and scale.  The small storefront to the right is modest, but also makes use of the stacked masonry frame to focus attention on the large plate-glass windows.  It's most distinctive feature is the angled soffit, which doubles to provide exterior lighting.  I'm a fan of the stacked-bond brick work.  It's non-structual and decorative, kind of like a durable wallpaper.  All three of these buidings are concrete block construction with face brick veneers.

In 1956 there was an account in the Chicago Tribune of a successful attempt to derail a rezoning proposal changing the block from a residential to a retail district.  The neighbors were concerned that taverns would instantly locate on the block.  At this time Evanston was dry, so it wasn't totally unreasonable.  But the victory must have been short-lived, since these buildings were built soon after. 

There's no need to include this drawing, but I was so thrilled to have a completely rectilinear building that I tried to sketch it out in Inkscape.  Doesn't really add anything new, but I can show the stacked bricks a whole lot faster.

Monday, November 12, 2012

Movie Theaters in Rogers Park and West Ridge, Part 1

The literature of movie theater architecture tends to focus on the best examples of the type.  But rarely do they provide a sense of how pervasive movie theater culture was as a form of neighborhood entertainment, or how it evolved in response to changes in building technology, film production, and social trends.  As a part of the Rogers Park/West Ridge Historical Society's Storefront Exhibits Project, I've been taking a close look at 1554 W. Devon, the current location of Devon Clark Hardware but originally the Ellantee Theater.  In order to place that building in context I've been researching other neighborhood theaters.  The graphics below are simplified building footprints taken from various editions of the Sanborn Fire Insurance Maps, and the photographs are from the collection of the RP/WRHS.

Casino Theater (1911).  7053 N. Clark.  299 Seats.
The former Casino Theater at 7053 N. Clark is the oldest motion picture theater in Rogers Park and was documented in an article published in the Chicago Tribune in August of 1911.  It has a facade of glazed green and white brick with terra cotta trim.  This was built in the middle of the nickelodeon craze, which lasted from 1905 until 1914.  For a small admission you could enter and stay as long as you liked.  A typical nickelodeon might show short features 16 hours a day, from 8 a.m. until midnight.

Many early theaters were simply converted storefronts.  These acquired a dangerous reputation, since they weren't fireproof and the early nitrate film stock was extremely flammable.   It's interesting that this theater only had 299 seats.  According to the Chicago Building Code of 1922 three-hundred or more seats would define this as a Class V  construction, requiring greater attention to safety features at a greater expense.

The Casino was put out of business as larger, more elaborate theaters were constructed nearby.  As movie theaters became more profitable the early ones were often superseded by larger models.  The marquee was removed and it was converted into a storefront.  Since this undated photo was taken the rounded parapet has been squared, making it even harder to spot this for what it is.  Or was.

Morse Theater (1913).  1330 W. Morse. 750 Seats.
Neighborhood residents will recognize this as The Mayne Stage, a recently renovated concert space and bar near the Morse El stop.  But before it became the Mayne Stage it was the Morse Theater.

This went a step beyond the Casino.  It used an attractive combination of brick and terra cotta detailing to convey respectability.  And it was true fireproof construction, making use of steel roof trusses with fireproof cladding.

The central bay provided access to the box office and a small lobby.  The projecting marquee and inset entrance helped to extend the theater space and draw in the crowd.   Box offices were normally placed close to the sidewalk to better call in customers.  Two flanking storefronts allowed for additional income. With a seat count of 750 building code required that the theater observe the maximum number of seats-per-row (13), provide clear secondary exits to the alley, and locate the projector in a fire-proof room.

It was common for these theaters to combine motion pictures with live entertainment to compete with the popular vaudeville shows of the time.  Interestingly, vaudeville had begun to intersperse their own shows with short feature films.  As live performances became more expensive most movie theaters eliminated them.  Vaudeville itself was hit hard by the popularity of the motion picture.  Two years after this theater was built D.W. Griffith's twelve-reel Birth of a Nation became the first blockbuster, paving the way for more feature-length films and further boosting the popularity (and profitability) of motion pictures.

A rounded marquee is shown in the building footprint above.  This was taken from the 1951 map, and probably indicates a theater modernization, which were very common.  The above photo is c. 1920 and likely shows the original rectangular marquee.

Adelphi Theater (1917).  7074 N. Clark.  1,308 Seats.
The Adelphi Theater was built just four years after the Morse, but the change is dramatic.  The marquee is more elaborate and a two-story illuminated sign is mounted to the building.  The ornamentation has become more exuberant, and you can see the light sockets that are integral to the terra cotta columns.  A signboard showed what was currently playing (and also reveals that the photo was taken in 1921).  This building accommodated several storefront spaces and a large lobby.  Movies were still silent, but they were often feature length, underscored with a live orchestra (or organ), and shown according to a schedule.  

The small structures at the rear of the building were early air-conditioning equipment, a rare luxury for the time.  And of course this was fireproof construction with a steel frame, concrete floors and roof, and brick curtain walls.

Throughout the 1910s move studios were being consolidated and centralized distribution was established.  This theater was operated by the Ascher Brothers, who would coordinate movie distribution throughout their network. There were many of these early operators, including Balaban & Katz (B&K), Marks Brothers, William Fox, Marcus Loew, and Adolph Zukor.  Theaters were bought and constructed with the intent of establishing entertainment empires. 

This building was demolished in 2006 after a long decline.

This series will  focus on several more theaters in future entries.  Amazingly, there were 13 theaters in Rogers Park and West Ridge, including some of the best movie palaces outside of the Loop.

I'm  indebted to Maggie Valentine's book, "The Show Starts on the Sidewalk: An Architectural History of the Movie Theater," for her concise history of early movie theaters and theater design.

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Some Chicago Bungalows in West Ridge

Bungalows are one of the most recognizable types of housing in Chicago.  Out of some perverse desire to focus on overlooked buildings I've avoided writing about them.  But it only takes a walk through West Ridge to find that the bungalow is a richer and more varied type of building than I expected.

These are what I think of when I hear "bungalow".  Basically, 1 1/2 stories with hipped roofs, offset entrances, polygonal projecting bays, and art-glass windows.  Developers would often build a string of these together.  They're recognizably related, but with varying details and treatments-- like siblings.  These three were built between 1926 and 1928 and cost between $8,000 and $10,000.  The National Register Nomination for Rogers Park Manor lists Dewey & Pavlich as the architects for 2542 W. Coyle, which leads me to believe they probably provided designs for all three.

But just  one street over there are examles of bungalows with completely different types of styling.  These two were designed by W. B. Wright and completed in 1926.    The architect experimented with the form of the bungalow to create more eclectic, somewhat Mediterranean, versions. 

These two are my favorite examples of atypical bungalow styles.  They're basically small cottages with boxes on the front dividing the main entrance from a small patio area.  I especially like the battered walls on the front facade. These were built in 1925 for $7,500. The one on the right lost its French doors, but at least it still has the tile roof.

If you're looking for an interesting walk through West Ridge I'm inserting the district map.  There's another bungalow district to the south, but that will have to wait for a future post.

Rogers Park Manor National Register Historic District

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Veteran's Housing in West Ridge, 1946-1947

A few months ago I wrote about an example of Defense Housing in Rogers Park built for war workers in 1942.  These were the result of strict Federal guidelines permitting only defense-oriented projects to receive priority use of building materials.  With the end of the war in sight by 1944 the country began to prepare to absorb about 16 million returning veterans.  These soldiers had left in the middle of a decade-long housing shortage, and would be returning to all parts of the country, not just areas that had benefited from wartime construction. 

Below is a draft of an article intended for the upcoming issue of AREA Chicago.  It will probably change a bit once I get comments from the editors.

In September of 1946 the Chicago Tribune printed an article announcing plans for a 92 unit development intended for WWII veterans on 3.6 acres on Ridge Avenue, north of Devon. At the time this was a sparsely developed area, dotted with the single family frame houses and small truck farms which comprised much of the early character of West Ridge.

The architect was listed as Edwin H. Mittelbusher of Howard T. Fischer & Associates, Inc. Mittelbusher served as the Assistant Chief Architect for the Chicago office of the Federal Housing Administration from 1940 to 1945. Howard Fisher was the founder of General Housing, Inc. and pioneered the development of pre-fabricated housing. He served as the director of the development board of industrial housing for the National Housing Agency in 1946-1947. In short, this development was designed by people skilled at working within a bureaucracy.

Damen-Ridge Garden Apartments, 1946.  Perspective view from Ridge looking Northwest.
The project itself consists of eight two-story brick veneer buildings with hipped roofs arranged around green inner courts. The outer courts accommodate parking areas. The buildings are a restrained version of the Colonial Revival, with modern touches, such as concrete sun shades on the first floor corners and entrance stairs illuminated with large glass block windows. They were constructed as a combination of 4 and 5 room rentals. This project was initiated under the Veteran's Emergency Housing Program (VEHP), but between the time these buildings were planned and when they were completed the VEHP became functionally obsolete.

The Veterans Emergency Housing Program was developed and proposed by Wilson Wyatt, former mayor of Louisville, Kentucky, at the direction of President Truman. The initial goal was to create 2.7 million housing units within two years to serve veterans, many of whom returned to crowded conditions and shared housing situations. To accomplish this wartime price and wage controls were intended to be maintained and priority was given to housing development through a series of initiatives. The bill establishing the VEHP was signed into law in May of 1946.

Six months later Republicans took control of Congress and eliminated much of the economic controls, resulting in a sharp increase in costs in response to pent-up demands. The program had been responsible for over 1 million housing starts in 1946, but many stood half-constructed due to shortages of building materials. Soon a home that would have sold for $6000 in 1945 was priced at $8,000. This was at a time when many veterans were marrying and beginning a family. Rather than buy a home at an inflated price many chose to find rental housing. This is the era reflected by the buildings in West Ridge constructed specifically for the returning veterans.

2212-30 W. Farwell and 2213-31 W. Morse, 1946.
The construction of these brick buildings was advertised in the Chicago Tribune in November of 1946.  The architects and builders are listed as Charles and Arthur Schreiber, who established their firm in 1938 and later went on to design many modernist structures in the Southwest.  These 4 and 5 room rentals were intended to accommodate 74 veteran families.  They are similar to earlier courtyard buildings in the neighborhood, but with large sunken courts and parking along the alley.  The restrained details, portal windows, and limestone door surrounds suggest the Moderne style, which lent itself to construction on a budget. 

6102-6122 N. Hamilton, 1947.
In February of 1947 the Chicago Tribune published an article about these three buildings, which were constructed as cooperative housing for veterans and designed by architect Clarence Johnson. They're traditional in form and ornamentation, including decorative entrances, corner quoins, water tables and limestone details. These are located on wide lots but are quite shallow due to the cemetery immediately west. The cooperative ownership structure is unusual, and the article claims that this is one of Chicago's first cooperative apartment developments. Titles to these buildings were conveyed to a corporation, and each veteran buyer purchased shares of that corporation. Cooperative ownership was (and is) rare in Chicago, and has been largely eclipsed by condominium ownership. Of the three developments examined here, this is the only one which wasn't intended as a straight rental property.

While I don't intend this to be a comprehensive look at veteran's housing in Chicago (or even in West Ridge), it does provide some examples of the types of development which were feasible immediately following WWII. And in some ways it sets the stage for the suburban explosion of the 1950s, when affordable single family homes became widely available, changing the character of the American landscape.


1. The AIA Historical Directory of American Architects, 1956. Accessed online at
2. Chicago and Evanston Vet Apartment Units Approved. Chicago Daily Tribune; Sept. 8. 1946. Accessed through ProQuest Historical Newspapers: Chicago Tribune (1849-1988). Pg. NA
3. Work Started on Three New Flat Buildings. Chicago Daily Tribune; Nov.10, 1946. Accessed through ProQuest Historical Newspapers: Chicago Tribune (1849-1988). Pg. 43
4. Finish Homes in Early Vets’ Co-op Project. Chicago Daily Tribune; Feb. 23. 1947. Accessed through ProQuest Historical Newspapers: Chicago Tribune (1849-1988). Pg. WA.
5. To Hear Only Thunder Again: America’s World War II Veterans Come Home. Mark D. Ellis. Lexington Books, 2001. Accessed through Google eBooks.
6. The Veterans Emergency Housing Program. William Remington. Law and Contemporary Problems, Vo. 12, No. 1, Housing (Winter, 1947), pp. 143-173. Accessed through JSTOR.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Clark and Devon, 1914-2012

Bird's Eye View of the Northeast corner of Clark and Devon, 2012

To the right is a bird's eye view of the site, which I'm hoping is useful for orientation.  Below is a map chronology of the northeast corner of Clark and Devon, adapted from Sanborn Fire Insurance Maps accessed through the website of the Chicago Public Library.  These maps were originally developed to help insurance companies evaluate risk, and remain some of the best and most accurate documents to track development over time.  I've simplified the information and redrawn them.  The Ellantee Theater, the main focus of this study, is shown as dark red.  It opened for business in 1919.

Not a single building represented in 1914 is on the block presently. This is in part because an entire portion of the block was swept clean to allow an extension of the Ashland Avenue right-of-way in 1929. Here's a colorized version of the subdivision map for a bit more clarity.

From 1929 to at least 1988 Ashland ran through what had functioned as the alley behind the buildings fronting on Clark, creating an awkward triangular greenspace to the west. 

Changes in Street Configuration
The changes in the street pattern are peculiar, but it helps to map them out.  When Ashland was extended south it was also widened, which explains why the buildings along Clark had to be removed.

The section of Schreiber which extended west to Clark was abandoned. This simplified the traffic pattern and also allowed for the creation of Schrieber Playground Park, which incorporates part of the former right-of-way.

Below is a 1958 photo from Clark Street looking North toward Schreiber.
Looking Northeast Across Clark Street in 1958.  Photo from the UIC Digital Collection accessed through CARLI.

Northeast Corner of Clark and Devon, c. 1910.

Some time after 1988 Ashland was routed back to its original location, and the vacated right-of-way became a parking lot.  Perhaps this was a traffic-calming device or in response to a need for public parking.  But the photo to the right shows what was on the same corner about a hundred years ago.

 This building would have made any neighborhood proud.  It was an impressive example of a mixed-use development, with storefronts on the first floor and residential above.  I would describe the style as Italian Renaissance Revival.  But pay special attention to the arched windows on the third floor.  According to the 1928 Criss-Cross directory this was the space for the Rogers Park American Legion Post 108.  It's location on the top floor would have taken advantage of the roof trusses for additional height.

Possible Relocation
There's an undated account of the north section of this building being relocated behind the Ellantee Theater after the main portion was demolished.  If you look at the map to the left you can see that the buildings behind the theater bear a striking resemblance to part of the footprint of the building above.  I'm still trying to find a better photo of these apartments for confirmation, but the ornament on the cornice looks very similar...

As the terminus of the Clark streetcar this corner would have been a hub of commercial traffic, making the area uniquely attractive from a development standpoint.  Instead it was subjected to decades of experimentation and alteration.  

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Ellantee Theater, 1554 W. Devon

Most people in Rogers Park know that Clark-Devon Hardware is actually a converted movie theater.  There are even remnants of the interior ornamentation, if you know where to look.  What isn't as clear is how this building changed over time, its context among similar neighborhood movie theaters, and its shifting significance to the neighborhood.
Terra Cotta Ornamentation of the Ellantee Theater

Last spring I joined the board of the Rogers Park/West Ridge Historical Society.  I'm not much of a joiner, so this was a big step for me.  At one of the meetings a brilliant suggestion was made to utilize vacant storefronts as exhibit spaces which would focus on the history of those buildings and the immediate area.  This ties in so closely to the goals of Ultra Local Geography that I couldn't pass up the opportunity to participate.  It was decided that Clark-Devon Hardware would be a good sample project.  It's not vacant, but some type of prototype project was needed.  And one of the other board members is the owner...

To the right is a lunchtime drawing of the decorative pier cap that once framed an even more elaborate parapet.   Time has not been kind to the terra cotta ornamentation on this building.  You can see remnants of the integral light sockets, which were a common treatment for theaters.  In combination with the old marquee It must have been an amazing glowing sight in its day.

So now the historical society is faced with some choices to make.  What are the goals of these storefront exhibits?  How should they be structured?  What sort of stories are they intended to tell?  I have some ideas, but this will need to be a collaborative effort.  Especially since the intent is to extend the project to other storefronts throughout the neighborhood.  I've developed a lot of methods to graphically represent development and change over time, but what about the social history embodied by the building?  How can that be made accessible in a visually intelligible way?  This should be an interesting process, and I expect to try out some ideas here first to see if they float.

Monday, August 6, 2012

Back to Ohio, Part 2

It seems like I've been traveling between Lorain and Chicago all my life.  My parents grew up in Chicago, and at least once or twice a year we would brave the 8-hour drive.  Three kids, no air-conditioning. 

The one constant factor on these trips was an overwhelming sense of boredom.  What was all this space between cities, and when would it end?  I remember listening to radio stations that were so bad even my parents knew it. I developed an ability to sleep for long stretches of time.  Mostly I remember wishing it were over.  When I moved to Chicago and reversed the trip it was still boring, but, as a driver, falling asleep on the road became less of an option.

When I finished graduate school in 1999 I had no job and few prospects.  Eventually I was hired as a part-time freelance surveyor for a historic rural resources survey in portions of unincorporated Will County, southwest of Chicago.  This was an area under heavy development and was rapidly losing  historic farms and farmhouses. 

In addition to the field work I had agreed to put together a database to contain the survey information.  But before I could do that I needed to familiarize myself with the vocabulary of agricultural construction.  This was a topic I had never explored, but since I had bluffed my way into a job I was suddenly eager to learn.

Luckily, there are some great publications out there to help explain what you're seeing and what it means.  Some of the most useful were The Old Barn Book , How to Complete the Ohio Historic Inventory, and the classic Big House, LIttle House, Back House, Barn.  But best of all were  the books put out by the government printing office and agricultural colleges in the 1920s detailing how and why farms and farm buildings should be built in certain ways.

So I spent a couple of months driving out to Will County with a big atlas, tracking down farms, taking photographs, and determining parcel  numbers at the Recorder of Deeds office in Joliet.   I got barked at by huge dogs, but was never bitten.  This is often a benchmark for a successful field survey.

But the unexpected benefit of the job was that I was no longer bored on my trips between Lorain and  Chicago.  Suddenly what I was seeing made sense. I could often guess what type of farm it was, and maybe how it fit into the history of the area.  I also began to spot more and more farms which had been enveloped by agribusiness, where the acreage seemed to soar, but the outbuildings fell into piles of decayed lumber.

On our last trip I wanted to document some of the farms west of Toledo, where there's still an unusual concentration.  These images are adapted from photos taken from the car.  Still plenty of variety, with triple gable barns, gambrel barns, different types of granaries, silos, and farm houses.  And only a few falling into ruin.  It's taken a while, but now this is a part of the trip I always anticipate.

From the 1922 edition of The Wiley Technical Series, "Farm Buildings," by Foster and Carter.
From "American Carpenter and Builder," Feb. 1916.  Accessed via Google Books.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Back to Ohio

Although I was born and raised in Lorain, Ohio I've been living in Chicago for the past 17 years.  Sometimes I feel like a tourist when I go back to visit family.  This isn't always a bad thing. It makes me reevaluate some of the things about Lorain that I've always taken for granted.  And somehow I've acquired another Ohio hometown-- Ashtabula, where my wife grew up and where we visit Felix and Theo's grandmother. This post is a visual record of our visit over the week of the Fourth of July.

This is an old Quonset Hut in Saybrook, OH, repurposed as a storage building.  I'm surprised how many storage buildings are found in rural areas.  Doesn't everyone have enough space?  Perhaps it's just an easy way to get some return on a large building without having to add many improvements.  Quonset huts were perfected during WWII-- easy to construct and easy to remove when no longer needed.  This one has been made permanent with a concrete "skirt" poured around the perimeter.

I believe this is an old Pure Oil Service Station which has been altered and covered with vinyl siding.  Angela tells me that it used to be a gun shop, but it looks like it's been vacant for some time.  I think this is also in Saybrook.

This is a concession stand from Geneva-on-the-Lake.  This the low budget 1920s resort strip that I've written about (and drawn) before, but it still fascinates me.  If we ever move back to northern Ohio I think it would make a good research project.

 To the left is a detail from the Bridge Street District in Ashtabula.  There's  a great collection of Italianate and Queen Anne style storefronts here,  remnants of a more prosperous time.  If there was any justice in Ashtabula this would be the most popular shopping district in the county.  You can almost feel it struggling to become the alternative to the strip malls that pass for commercial districts everywhere else.

I believe this is a grain depot in Austinburg, just down the road from our hotel.  I've never been sure of how these things work.  Somehow grains are lifted to the top of the apparatus and a separated into different grades in various containers.  They probably would be surprised if I asked for a tour.

 This is also in Austinburg.  Judging by the Greek Revival style I have to place this around 1850, if not earlier.  Due to a pesky fire in 1871 it's not possible to see buildings of this age in Chicago, although you can still find some in the suburban areas.  It looks vacant.  Even the trailer parked in front to sell overstock fireworks looks pretty run-down.

So finally we get back to Lorain, which made its reputation as a major steel city on Lake Erie.  The steel mills are still in South Lorain, but they're a shadow of what they once were.  This is a view from 28th Street.  I remember the mountains of purple iron ore that would be unloaded from enormous ships docked on the Black River.  Not as much of that anymore.

Here are some storefronts at Grove and E. 30th Street, not far from where my sister lives. They look vacant, but sometimes it's hard to tell.

And here's my last image of Lorain. A lone brick and frame cottage with bay windows. It looks like the storefront has been converted into a bar.  A very dark bar.  I'm not likely to walk into a dark bar, but maybe I'm not their target customer.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

7405-7427 N. Wolcott, Defense Housing, 1942

On the corner of Wolcott and Fargo there's a collection of eight identitical duplexes arranged around two common courts. The simple massing and limited detailing suggests public housing.  That's not far from the mark, but the story is a bit more complex.

Even though the United States didn't enter WWII until 1941, the writing was on the wall much earlier.  As the country prepared to shift into full-scale wartime production, a huge deficit in housing needed to be addressed.

Let's say you're a government and need to build some housing ASAP or risk losing the biggest war in all of human history.  Here are a few methods you might consider:

1. Buy land and build permanent homes. Or entire neighborhoods.  Or entire cities.
2. Build temporary homes.
3. Prioritize materials for war-related private projects.
4. Provide financial incentives for property owners to create additional units in existing buildings. 

In the end the Federal government did all of these things and more.  Numerous agencies were created to administer these programs, some with Congressional authorization and some without.  It wasn't unusual for the administration of one program to be folded into another, based on funding and legislation.  There must be historians who specialize in Federal housing policy, but I don't envy them. 

The Office of Production Manangement (OPM) was responsible for regulating building materials.  If a project was important to the war effort, it would receive a priority rating.  If it didn't have a priority rating it probably wouldn't get built.  Chicago was one of 275 "defense areas" identified as appropriate for the development of war housing. 

The most important restriction placed on defense housing was a $6,000 price cap per unit.  Chicago's City Council immediately protested this limitation, arguing that the higher cost of land in Chicago would send most of these projects to the suburbs.  The suburbs received their share of defense housing, but many projects did eventually locate in the city, particularly near the city limits where cheap undeveloped land could be found.
Looking East from N.Wolcott.  Behind the trees are the El and Metra embankments.
The cap forced some Chicago builders to vary from the small detached single family residences commonly built as defense housing.  Instead, developers looked for ways to combine units into larger buildings on several lots, allowing them to bring down costs through an economy of scale.  I haven't yet confirmed this, but I suspect the development regulations of Chicago were relaxed at this time to allow greater flexiblity in the placement of multi-unit buildings.  This permitted projects to share common spaces while resulting in a greater overall density.  This treatment would become common with the introduction of planned developments in Chicago's 1957 zoning ordinance, but it must have been unusual in the 1940s. The underlying lot configuration of this area would have allowed six individual buildings with frontages on Wolcott.  Instead there are eight buildings, four of which have no frontage at all. 

Given the strict cost limits, the design of the buildings is worth noting.  You can't get much simpler than a rectangular box with a pitched roof.  They have common brick walls with simple arched limestone entrances.  Any architectural detail is the result of projecting brick string courses of various designs.  It looks to me like a scaled-down version of  the Art Moderne style.
Defense Homes for West Rogers Park (Chicago Tribune, 4/19/42)

The architect for this project was Carl J. Kastrup, who had won prizes for his designs of low-cost suburban housing prior to the war.  In 1942 his firm joined four others to collectively address the challenges of designing and administering defense-related work.

I feel like there's much more to be written about the development of defense housing in Chicago.  In particular, it seems that the designs developed under strict economic and administrative pressure had an enormous influence on the look of Chicago in the post-war period.  But this will have to wait for some additional research.

Monday, July 2, 2012

7440-7455 N. Hoyne, 1929 - Emma Kennett Strikes Again

On the short block of Hoyne between Fargo and Birchwood our intrepid developer, Emma Kennett, probably created her most notable project.  These six buildings are roughly the same size and shape, but their facades were given the high-style eclectic treatment popular in the 1920s.  And of course nothing said taste and luxury quite like French and Spanish Revival. 

According to an article published in the Chicago Tribune on March 31, 1929, these buildings represented a $480,000 investment on behalf of the developer. That's nearly $6.5 million adjusted to 2012.  An ambitious undertaking.  And as a side note, just a few months away from the onset of the Great Depression.

On the east side of the block are the Spanish Revival styles.  They all have various types of wrought iron balconies and a pale cream brick, which was seen as appropriate to the style.  There are casement windows and French doors on the upper floors, and double-hung windows with similar pane divisions at the ground level.  The casement windows alone are worth a visit.  So few original casements survive from the 20s, and this block has an impressive number of them.  Imagine how much these buildings would lose with simple double-hung replacements.

I'm particularly impressed by the door on the left.  Not only is it an arched door in a rounded tower, but the door itself is curved to match the tower radius.  The middle door is set within an ornamental stone surround that I can only describe as Art Deco.  The simplicity of the door to the right is off-set by a complex portal window, which reflects some of the arched windows treatments on the block.  Two have elaborate copper kick-plates and decorative hinges attached with rivets.

The west side of the block is even more elaborate.  Curved towers and complex roof forms anchor these buildings, which have random-cut limestone veneers at the lower floors and brick above.  The half-timbering designs are works of art in themselves. The false mansard roofs on this side of the street are large, making them easier to read than the Spanish-style roof forms across the street. 

The doors are great, each with a unique design and window pattern.  They all have the same copper kick-plates and hinges seen on the east side of the block.  And I've never seen a window pattern quite like the one found on the center door.

The Tribune article indicates that Emma Kennett designed these buildings with the help of Herbert J. Richter.  A casual internet seach couldn't turn up the identity of Mr. Richter.  I assumed he was the architect, but according to the Chicago Historic Resources Survey the architect of record is Arthur Bucket.  This would make sense, since I already found Arthur Bucket's name associated with the corner apartment building at Farwell and Oakley, which I wrote about previously.  So who's Herbert Richter?  No idea.

It was great to find these buildings included in the Chicago Historic Resources Survey, and it gives me an opportunity to illustrate the value of a good survey sheet.  In addition to a site map and small photograph the surveyor also creates a narrative of the architectural significance of the building.  The account below explains why architectural historians are in constant danger of walking in front of cars while wandering through the city:
7451-7455 N. Hoyne
Symmetrical facade centers on semi-circular plan bay/stair tower with portal at base and topped with a hexagonal roof and finial.  Romanseque casement windows on either side of door topped with six-paned fan light.  All windows in sets of threes except baseement of simple Roman arch.  First floor fenestration repeats casement-fanlight treament with a colonade of counter-spiralled pilasters.

Third floor bays have pairs of French doors opening onto balconies flanked by smaller windows. 

Stylized Italianate eave brackets lead the eye to small windows on 2nd/3rd floors, one with ornated carved limestone surrounds and pilasters. 

Door is carved, paneled oak with semicircular leaded overglass with peep windows at eye level.  Keystones, sills, brackets and spiral columns rendered in stone.  Limestone coping on south corner gate repeats brackets at roofline. The lion finial weathervane atop tower [Did I miss this, or is it gone?], false hinges on doors and kickplate are hammered copper.
It's exhausting to read too many of these, so I'm just including this one as a representative sample.  Some descriptions are much longer.

And of course I need to include L.B. Sugerman's rendering of the west side of the street. He provided a number of perspective drawings for Kennett Construction, and once I find a better quality example of his work I'll revisit him in greater detail.

Monday, June 25, 2012

Infrastructure #4

I thought I would repost this (from Feb. 2010) since CTA is actually starting to repair these stations.

This is the underpass for the L tracks at Lunt and Glenwood.  I seldom see one of these viaducts which isn't falling apart.  Instead of repairing them CTA (and Metra) tends to slap together elaborate steel supports.  Over the years water has seeped through every seam and creates little calcium formations underneath.  I wonder how long it will be until they need to replace all of these.  It would be a good opportunity to make these areas a little less creepy.

And why can't they can't get tenants for most of those little stores under the tracks?  Sure they're dark and cramped, but isn't that a selling point for some businesses?

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Clark and Estes, northwest corner 1900 and 2008

Combined Police Headquarters and Fire Department, c. 1900
In sad recognition of the recent closing of The Washing Well I'm reposting this from December of 2008.

The drawing to the right is adapted from a collection of historic Rogers Park photos published by the Rogers Park/West Ridge Historical Society.  I've done a number of these "then and now" pairings, but this is one of my favorites.

The police and fire station at Clark and Estes also operated as the Rogers Park Town Hall prior to annexation to Chicago in 1893.

The Washing Well Laundromat, 2008