Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Clark, Greeneaf, Ravenswood and Estes, Part 3

A few months ago I did a series of posts about "backstage spaces," including some views through alleys focusing on rear lot structures.  But if I wanted to crack open a city block to see what makes it tick I couldn't have done a better job than removing the Adelphi Theater at Estes and Clark, which had been on the site since 1912.

I was at home (a block away) when the Adelphi came down in February of 2006.  I remember walking over to watch.  They always demolish these buildings from the back.  There are probably structural and safety reasons for this, but it also means that once the demolition is noticeable it's almost complete.

Early modernists claimed to prefer the backs of buildings rather than the ornamental front facades, since that was supposedly where the true structure was expressed.  What you see here would likely please any number of architectural theorists from the 50s and 60s.
It is fascinating to see how these buildings developed over the years.  I've tried to make them visually intelligible, but it's a tricky job. 

If a building is only visible from a street the architect can focus the design (and dollars) on the front facade. Once something is demolished it reveals the areas intended to remain hidden.  If it happens enough it changes the entire feel of a block, making it look slapped together, run-down and ready for the bulldozer.  It may be all of those things, but usually what you're seeing is just the architectural vocabulary for functional spaces. 

In the foreground is the foundation of a new condo building which was intended to replace the Adelphi Theater.  The development stalled in the economic downturn and has remained vacant ever since.

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.

Monday, April 16, 2012

Huge Crayfish on Clark and Wallen, 2006

I'm sorry to say that the giant crayfish is gone.  These images were originally posted in 2006.  The life of a taqueria on Clark is either wildly successful or very short.  Mostly very short.  This repost is my memorial...


Show me the person who doesn't think a taqueria can be art.

Wouldn't it be interesting if all restaurants were required to incorporate their most popular dish into their signage? That would be useful for all of the Rogers Park tourists.  There are Rogers Park tourists, right?

This huge crayfish started out a cheerful red, but the sun  weathered it to a light orange.

Friday, April 13, 2012

Hamburger King, 3435 N. Sheffield

Today's post is courtesy of Harvey Pekar and artist Gary Dumm, from Pekar's "American Splendor #3," published in 1978.  I never expected to find Hamburger King alive and well at Sheffield and Newport, but there it remains.  The next time you're in Wrigleyville stop by, have a hamburger, and remember Harvey.  He died in 2010.

Also, I have no rights to this work, so if anyone asks me to take it down I will. 

Friday, April 6, 2012

Clark, Greenleaf, Ravenswood and Estes- Part 2

Anybody who studies American cities knows the value of the Sanborn Fire Insurance Maps.  These were created by the Sanborn Map Company to help insurance adjusters evaluate risk.  Copies of all maps were deposited with the Library of Congress, and were later microfilmed for distribution to local libraries.  An agreement with ProQuest put scanned versions of the microfilmed maps (660,000 of them) online for subscription access.

The Chicago Public Library makes these maps available, so at least access is broadening.  Many of the denser areas in Rogers Park were included in several editions.  When these are compiled it provide a portrait of development through time.  These maps are crammed with information, and the problem is often choosing which type of information is most useful to highlight. 

In this case the maps are focused on heights, with the light grey, dark grey and black showing 1, 2, and 3 stories respectively. It's also possible to focus on type of construction (frame, masonry veneer, steel reinforced concrete) or type of use.  Cross reference this with extensive title research, census records, and phone directories and you can build up a fairly precise history of a block.  In theory that block would reflect the larger trends of the neighborhood.  But I still have to manage a job, a family and a life, so the next step may just be a somewhat closer look at each of these dates.

Bird's Eye Aerial from Bing. Probably 2008.


Wednesday, April 4, 2012

7600-7602 N. Sheridan - Apartments of the Better Class

OK, last one!  It's taken me nearly a year to post these seven Rogers Park apartment buildings featured in Partridge and Bradley's 1917 catalog, "Directory to Apartments of the Better Class on the North Side of Chicago".  Why are they better class?  I'm not really sure. But here's my imagined list of titles they considered yet ultimately rejected:

Apartments for Awesome People
Classy Classy!  Apartments!
Not a Flophouse

As Partridge and Bradley explain in their introduction, they focused on people who could choose to live in a private house but prefered the luxury and economy of apartment buildings.  And many of these apartments really were luxurious, with individual laundries, wine cellars, private garages, elevators, electric appliances, etc.  The largest apartment represented had 15 rooms.  Rogers Park contains the more modest examples.

The view shown above is at the Northwest corner of the Sheridan and Howard.    Except for the loss of the tall casement windows and roof tile on the front gables it looks pretty much as it did.  It nearly fills the entire lot, with no room reserved for garages or green space.  Here's the desciption:

So if it was trying to appeal to commuters who used public transit maybe it didn't need garage space.  And with only steps to Lake Michigan who needs a yard, right?  Like many of these apartments it advertises an interior scheme of mahogany and white enamel.  The woodwork was probably birch, which was popular for its ability to take stains and finishes.  And it was cheap.  Saying that it had light on all four sides seems to be a bit optomistic, since the photo shows there was already a close neighbor on the North.  As a corner lot it certainly has more light, but that also comes with more noise.


Click for larger version.

So it looks like there are three apartments per floor, with the smaller apartment located at the rear.  The front units have a maid's room.  All share a rear stair system, which may have also functioned as a light court. 

The subdivision map shows that there was a 30 foot building line along Sheridan, so perhaps that explains the angles of the front porches.  The units on Sheridan are classic Chicago apartments, with rooms arranged in a linear, cellular fashion.

I imagine the sunrooms were popular in the summertime, when the casement windows could be opened on all sides to catch the breezes from Lake Michigan.