Friday, January 27, 2012

Monopoly Houses in Evanston

I don't usually write about the suburbs.  Which is odd, since I find myself there so frequently.  Anyway, this row of houses is near the two major institutions of our life as parents- Felix and Theo's pediatrician and the drive-through Starbucks at Central and Crawford.  There are others, but sadly these two remain constant.

2200 block of Crawford, Evanston, IL
These houses always catch my eye.  There are at least a dozen of them concentrated in this area, built in 1952 and 1953 according to the Cook County Assessor.  The gable form is about the most traditional residential shape possible, but there are some subtle modernist touches.  There's no concern with creating a symmetrical facade.  Instead the architect has located small windows higher where privacy was desirable and opened up the front of the homes with floor to ceiling windows for the primary family spaces. 

Interestingly, these homes have become more traditional-looking over time.  Many of the original undivided windows have been replaced with multi-pane colonial-type windows.  The one on the far right was renovated into a half-timbered Tudor Revival knockoff. 

View of the back of the houses, looking West. Note the various rear additions.
Even though these homes are similar in regard to massing there are significant additions at the back.  The shape of these buildings lend themselves to the traditional ways to add space, such as dormers, porches, and wing additions.  The second house from the right even doubled in size, but it's difficult to see that from Crawford.

The arrangement of the homes is a standard technique of mid-century developers.  Find a profitable design, then flip or rotate the plans until there's an impression of variety.  It doesn't fool anybody, but it still often succeeds in creating a subdivision with an interesting use of space. 

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

New York Kosher, 2900 W. Devon (originally posted 2/18/10)

Just realized that this sign has been removed!  Sad. According to Jewish News Online it was sold on Ebay and a documentary crew filmed the removal.  The owner received a letter from the city requiring that he get a permit for it.  It had only been hanging there for 40 years... Instead he chose to get rid of it.

The West Ridge neighborhood (also called West Rogers Park) has the unusual distinction of being the center of two types of Jewish communties at different times.  Back in the 50s and 60s this was a heavily conservative/reform Jewish neighborhood.  Now it's the center of an orthodox Jewish community.  But there are a few remnants from the old neighborhood that have remained and seem to function just as they did.  This kosher deli is one of them.  On the opposite corner is Levinson's bakery, which falls into the same category.

It's hard to see with this scan, but there's a number 48 in the oval sign on top. I believe it refers to USDA Establishment 48, which is Best's Kosher inspection designation.  Oddly, Best's Kosher is now owned by Sara Lee.

Friday, January 20, 2012

Backstage Spaces #3 (6954 N. Clark)

Sometimes a vacant lot opens up a window into the interior of a block.  In this case the empty parcel at the northwest corner of Morse and Clark reveals a rear brick building with a gable roof attached to the flat-roofed building fronting on Clark.  This corner has been used as a parking lot for the bank across the street for at least 50 years, so the view is nothing new for Rogers Park residents.

It's not really blue.  I added that.

When I first noticed this building I assumed that it must have pre-dated the commercial building at the front of the lot by at least 10 years.  Its setback and design is consistent with early brick residences in the neighborhood. Unfortunately the Sanborn Maps didn't help me to figure out the exact gap in time between the two buildings.  In 1894 there's nothing on the lot, and in 1905 you see both buildings attached as they are today.  It's possible the rear building was built in 1895 and the front building in 1904.  This would give a maximum time spread of 9 years.

But even if we can assume the maximum spread that's not very long before a major addition was built.  It indicates a commercial district that was rapidly developing.  But this isn't a surprise. After its annexation to Chicago in 1893 Rogers Park could utilize metropolitan utilities and infrastructure.  The neighborhood began attracting more residents and new stores were needed to satisfy the demand.  If you can keep the older building on the lot while catering to that increase why wouldn't you?

Today the little building remains residential, as far as I can tell.  And judging by the attached satellite dishes there are at least 3 units in there.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

6757-6765 N. Sheridan - Apartments of the Better Class

This marks the continuing documentation of the Rogers Park buildings featured in "Directory to Apartments of the Better Class along the North Side of Chicago."  This is entry #6, for those keeping count.

This corner remains mostly unchanged from its 1917 entry.  The more noticeable difference is that Sheridan Road was widened, resulting in a narrower parkway. And of course the car styles have changed.  A little.

At first glance this appears to be a single building using the same dark red face brick, inset geometric stone ornaments and pressed-metal cornice.  But there are some definite differences.  For instance, the sun porches to the right are much more closely spaced than the ones on the left.  And the first floor on the right is clad with stone, rather than brick.  Even the window configurations on the porches are different.  The floorplans confirm that these are two distinct buildings even though they share design similarities.

Click for larger version.  Or just get really close to the screen.

Image from Bing's Bird's Eye Views
This is the first time the floor plans in "Better Apartments" actually give a false impression of a space.  The building below is twice as big as the one above.  I can only assume that they squeezed the plan so it would take up less space on the page.  That would also explain why the room labels in the lower image are nearly illegible.  The oblique aerial photo to the right gives a better impression of the relationship, showing how the rear courts work together to create an complex interior court.  You can see that the two buildings (maybe three?)  form a sort of "L" configuration, with a 1-story garage taking up the space along the alley. 

These are basically two or three bedroom apartments with a few extras, such as reception halls.  Maybe half of the units have a bedrooms labeled as a maid's room.

Click for larger version
According to the blurb they built enough garage space for 16 cars.  Of course the cars were a bit smaller back then, but even in 1917 garage space would have been a big benefit as the density of the neighborhood increased. 

The sun-porches overlook Sheridan rather than Pratt.  In 1917 Sheridan was more of a pleasure road rather than the busy thoroughfare we now know and love.  And like many of the apartments in this publication, mahogany and white enamel was used for the interior scheme.  This must have suggested luxury and cleanliness all in one.  The mahogany was probably stained birch, but let's not split hairs.  For $77.50 a month I'm sold.  

Friday, January 13, 2012

Haymarket Square Map Chronology

Last year I put together a map chronology of Haymarket Square for AREA Chicago.  Normally they publish a small-format newspaper on local issues related to arts and political activism.  I'd contributed illustrations previously, and even an article a few years back.    This edition was to commemorate the 125 year anniversary of the Haymarket Tragedy (otherwise known as the Haymarket Riot).  The graphic was only intended to show how the area changed over the years, and it wasn't presented with any analysis.  But there's no reason I can't remedy that here, right?
Des Plaines and Randolph looking North, 2011

In a nutshell, the Haymarket Tragedy refers to the events of May 4, 1886, where a crowd of workers were demonstrating at Des Plaines and Randolph for an 8-hour day.  As the speeches were winding down 176 police officers marched to disperse the crowd.  At that point someone threw a bomb, killing a police officer.  The police then opened fire.  Sixty officers were wounded and eight died.  It's not clear how many in the crowd were killed or injured. The person responsible for the bombing was never found.  The Haymarket organizers were arrested, and after one of the most unjust trials in American history four of the defendants were hanged.  Another committed suicide in prison.  You can read more about it here and here.

There hasn't been much in the way of commemoration of this area, although there is a plaque, a sculpture, and a Chicago Landmark designation for a portion of Des Plaines and part of the alley to the east.  Nearly all of the buildings associated with that night have been demolished.

A lot has been written about the Haymarket Tragedy, but not much about the physical characteristics of the area where it occurred.  There were five of these open-air markets in Chicago at the time, where workers went to buy food directly from farmers.  You can see that Randolph St. widens to accommodate the market.  The speaker's wagon was north of Randolph (1), in part to avoid interfering with the market and attracting a police presence.  And the police weren't far away.  Their station was just south on Des Plaines (4). 

You can see the vitality of the area in the number and configuration of the buildings. Most of these would have been two or three-stories with commercial uses on the first floor and residential above.  Many of the lots have rear buildings with alley access.  These were often coach houses or businesses.  At that time alleys were much more important in the life of the neighborhood.  And this was a real neighborhood.  There was a complex mix of commercial, retail, industrial and public uses all swirled together. 

By 1906 several of the smaller buildings have been demolished and replaced with larger structures taking up two or more lots.  Many of the rear lot buildings have been removed.  Construction is masonry, as required by Chicago building codes.  The scale of the neighborhood begins to change.

By 1950 the consolidations have continued.  Buildings have been demolished but not replaced.  The Haymarket has fallen on hard times.  There's a more homogenized feel in the area.  Commerce has moved away from the street, and the residential quality of the area has declined.  The map doesn't show it, but the expressway cuts through the Haymarket to the west, severely limiting it's ability to regenerate.  The area is becoming part of Skid Row.

By 2011 surface parking has eaten up large swaths of land.  The lots are empty from 5 p.m. to 8 a.m., giving the intersection the feel of a ghost-town during the after-work hours.  But at the southwest corner is a new 40-story condo building, replacing the second wave of replacement buildings and dwarfing those that remain.  Some of the nearby light industrial buildings have been converted into condos as well.  A high-end restaurant has located on Randolph.  There's a sense that the area's proximity to the downtown may finally be attracting some investment. 

The shouts and gunshots of a cold May night in 1886 feel very far away.

Des Plaines and Randolph looking West, 2011