Monday, July 14, 2014

200 Block of N. Peoria, Chicago

West side of Peoria, North of Lake
Surprisingly, this lucrative blog does not constitute my sole means of support.  I work in the Historic
Preservation Division within Chicago's Department of Planning and Development.  Since January I've been working with our consultants to develop a document which analyzes the architectural character of a pending historic district and creates some recommendations on how to best retain that character in light of future changes and new developments. 

This illustration is something I put together in my spare time (mostly over lunch) to be placed on the cover of that document.  I've simplified it significantly, but I think it captures some of the interest of this area. The two buildings on the left are 1890s, while the one on the right is c. 1910.  This area has been in constant use by wholesale food industries since 1850.

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

2328 W. Touhy, 1932

I've always been fascinated by isolated storefronts tucked into residential areas.  Some of these are very successful, but most struggle away from the major commercial corridors and foot traffic.  Chicago has plenty of these first floor commercial spaces scattered throughout the city, remnants of a time when a corner store was a necessity.  The one-story stucco box at Touhy and Claremont has seen better days, but there it remains, looking for a new tenant after that print shop folded. 

Northeast corner of Touhy and Claremont in the West Ridge neighborhood

Many of these areas you can track to the 1923 Zoning Code of Chicago.  When this ordinance was adopted most major streets received commercial designation, but odd little neighborhood intersections were also zoned commercial.  With adoption of the 1957 Zoning Code these were scaled back, but in places which developed according to the earlier code you'll find a variety of enclaves, ranging from odd little strip malls to elaborate Victorian storefronts. Often several of these will be clustered together.

So why would only the north side of Touhy be zoned commercial?  I'm guessing that the map formalized conditions which existed  prior to 1923 as much as it guided future development.  Want to know where to put commercial?  How about where it's already been built? Who's going to complain about that?

On one hand, it's difficult for these buildings to become the focus for a neighborhood.  On the other hand, sometimes they do. Just take a look at the commercial buildings at a typical stop on the Red Line. 

I would hate to see these little neighborhood nodes disappear.  Sometimes they become perfect incubators for unusual businesses.   Areas which are less desirable often have lower rents, and there's where you might find artist's studios, storefront theaters, used book stores, and coffee bars. These are the things which give a neighborhood texture and variety, and make city living a bit more awesome.

Anyone want to start a grocery co-op in an old print shop?