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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.

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