Thursday, February 21, 2013

Townhouses at Greenleaf and Oakley, 1968

Not long ago I came across a 1968 Chicago Tribune article about a West Ridge development coming on the market.  It included double houses, courtyard buildings, and townhouses on the north and south sides of Greenleaf, between Oakley and Western.  All of them duplexed, with small private rear yards in addition to communal front yards or interior courts.  All have accomodations for parking, ranging from garages with direct street access to parking spaces along the alleys.   Their design and detailing is consistent, but they have a variety of form you don't often see in multi-building developments.

I  think of 1968 as a turning point in Chicago history.  In one year you have the race riots following the assassination of Martin Luthur King, Jr. and the disastrous Democratic National Convention.    This signaled a period of public and private disinvestment in the city which continued for decades.  It was also the year my parents, lifelong Chicagoans, left for Columbus, Ohio.   So clearly things were pretty bad.  So what kind of housing might still attract city residents in 1968?

Looking southwest from the corner of Greenleaf and Oakley.
 A weird version of French Provincial!   With mansard roofs and arched dormers!  The buildings are an odd blend of traditional and modernistic elements.  According to the article there are three and four bedroom units in two-story or tri-level designs.  The model unit had a family room with a 16 foot high ceiling merging with the breakfast room.  They featured central air, wall-to-wall carpeting, and plastic laminated counter tops.  I wonder if they've changed much in the past 45 years.

So to summarize, large informal living space, tiny private outdoor areas, accomodation for parking, and weird semi-traditional architectural styling. Not sure this really tells me much about 1968.  In other parts of the city they were building walls topped with broken glass, so maybe West Ridge wasn't doing too badly.

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

A.C. Nielsen Co. Headquarters, 2101 W. Howard

Each time I've gone by this building I knew it was too interesting to be just another Public Storage warehouse.  And sure enough, it has a history that's a bit more impressive.  In 1935 the oldest portion of this building was constructed as the headquarters of the A.C. Nielsen Company.

Arthur C. Nielsen started his career as an electrical engineer in 1919.  After 3 years with a publisher of business magazines he founded the A.C. Nielsen Company in 1923, where he brought scientific analysis to market research.  This involved test marketing of new products, measuring product sales using random samples, and various statistical sampling, especially in the food, drug and liquor industry.  But perhaps the company is best know for developing their radio, and later television, rating system.  I probably don't have to mention that this made his company phenomenally successful. 

The building was designed in the Georgian Revival style by architect Lewis B. Walton of the Benjamin H. Marshall Company.  Benjamin Marshall is better known as half of the firm Marshall and Fox, which were responsible for the design of many prominent revival-style Chicago buildings, including the Blackstone Hotel, the Drake Hotel, and the Edgewater Beach Apartments.  Fox died in 1926 but Marshall continued his practice until 1935.  When he retired the firm became Walton and Kegley.

Photos from the collection of the RP/WR Historical Soc.
The original 2-story portion of this building was constructed in 1935 for $60,000.  Built of reinforced concrete and faced with colonial brick and Bedford stone, it was also air-conditioned.  In 1937 two more stories and a penthouse were added.  In 1939 the size of the building was more than doubled with an additional wing on the west.  At this point it accomodated 600 employees. The cafeteria and recreational rooms were located on the fifth floor penthouse.   Later rear additions on the south were added between 1953 and 1958.  The Nielsen Company remained in this building until 1972, when they moved their main offices to Northbrook and later to Schaumburg.

Over years the building has retained much of its architectural integrity, although the original colonial-style windows have been replaced with modern aluminum windows.  And, thankfully, Public Storage hasn't yet chosen to paint it in their signature colors of purple and orange.  But its real importance is its historical association with one of the first, and arguably most important, firms responsible for establishing and refining the scientific marketing industry.  To know that its most important period of development occurred on a remote corner of Rogers Park is unexpected.

Information for this entry was gathered from Sanborn Fire Insurance Maps, articles from the online Chicago Tribune Historical Archive, the Rogers Park/West Ridge online History Wiki, and the Ancient Building Permits of the City of Chicago (on microfilm).  The date of construction for the buildings are taken from the permit file, and actual completion was somewhat later.  Special thanks to the Rogers Park/West Ridge Historical Society for sharing their photos of the building, which were donated by Arthur Nielsen Jr.