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.  


  1. In the 1950s & into the early 1960s, the space where the modern section of Clark/Devon Hardware is was a hole in the ground.
    It was about 8 feet deep & surrounded by a "fence" made up of a few posts & horizontal 2x4s, with huge spaces in between them. Around 2-3 feet of space as I remember.
    My mom never let us go near it as we waited for a streetcar & later the bus.
    It would never be allowed today!

  2. The triangular green space contained two war tanks, maybe WW2. I remember seeing them many a time as a child, living two blocks away at 6540 N. Ashland. I was not drawn to climbing them, though. Not enough of a tom boy!