Thursday, April 19, 2012

Combining Styles, 2449 W. Devon and 1028 W. Chicago

Sometimes buildings change according to established patterns, like a sun-porch added to a farmhouse or a side wing on a mansion.  But less work has been done on analyzing how historic commercial buildings change over time.  In general the preservation community is focused on finding the best unaltered examples of building types.  But there are many patterns which are just as valid in understanding the history of a property, even when they're not particularly picturesque.  Take these 1-story additions to older 2-story commercial buildings.

The older portions of these buildings observe two of the eclectic styles popular in the 1920s, Classical Revial and Italian Renaissance Revival.  When the owners saw an opportunity for expansion they switched from the earlier style to new styles popular at the time.  To the right they've chosen Art Deco, using glazed terra cotta blocks with fluted bands and geometric ornament.  Below they've gone with stacked brick and permastone.  There's absolutely no concern with matching the ornamentation of the older portion, or even aligning the new storefronts with the existing geometry.  Why is that? A few thoughts:

1. The whole idea was to update the building, make it seem competitive and modern. Maintaining the original ornamentation wouldn't signal the desired excitement.

2. In the 20 years between initial construction and enlargement the entire building industry reoriented around new styles and new materials.  The more traditional architectural treatments would have required a custom approach and therefore would have been much more expensive.

3. Advertising has changed, and the creation of large sign bands takes precedent over any "nostalgic" treatment.  By extending the new storefront into and over the old portion the amount of advertising could be doubled to accomodate larger, more aggressive signage.

4. Many businesses in traditional commercial areas (Main Street) found that the space on the upper floors wasn't being utilized as intended.  Living units above commercial spaces are generally less desirable than those on quiet streets.  And despite the space added, it's still more expensive to build a two-story building.  Expanding only the commercial space on the first floor is a reasonable solution.

Interestingly, the newer portions of the buildings were both from 1940s (as far as I can tell).  Perhaps this was the last gasp of Art Deco and the first breath of 1950s Modern.

I'm on the lookout for more of these buildings which have expanded in interesting ways.  I imagine putting together a booklet titled, "Messed Up Storefronts," although that might sound a bit prejudicial.  So please email me if you know of any in your neighborhood.


  1. Another winner. Cannot wait till I have the time to start at the beginning of the blog and begin to ponder the Book. Yes, THE BOOK.

  2. 1028 Chicago Avenue. Evanston doesn't use the NSEW direction letters (and it's a north/south street).

    Apologies for the nit-picking. Love the blog, I check in a few time a week always looking forward to your work!

  3. Thanks for your regular (and attentive) reading of the blog, Jeff.

  4. I've always been intrigued the building that houses the Long Room (1612 W. Irving Park). Could it have grown in the opposite direction, with residential space added in the back of a building with an existing commercial storefront?

    Here is an image of the building which shows the original (?) two story masonry building and the wooden residential space that was added on top and in back.

    The fact that masonry on the second floor doesn't extend all the way to the back (or what was originally the back) of the building makes me wonder if the entire thing was built at one time.

    Thanks for the blog.

  5. Thanks Aaron. My guess is that the commercial portion was added later as the street changed from residential. I see this condition often, and it would make an interesting study. Here's one on Devon:

  6. I had no clue that this was the original Isberian building. Here's a shot of the building before the addition: