Tuesday, December 29, 2015

7022-7036 N. Clark

Here's a diverse group of buildings on the west side of Clark Street south of Greenleaf.  As random as these look they document the variety of forms that contribute to a traditional neighborhood commercial strip.

L. Shure, 2015

Clark and Greenleaf intersection
The wood-frame building in the center represents a type of commercial construction which has nearly disappeared in Chicago. Let's just say fire and wood is not a great match.  The first floor has been oddly clad with a red brick veneer.  Originally this would have had cast iron columns framing large glass and wood storefronts.  I'm really not sure how this got on the block.  Fire codes would have prevented this type of construction and I doubt this building pre-dates the 1893 annexation of Rogers Park.  As you can see from the 1958 photo below it originally had a projecting bay on the second floor and a false front. 

1958 Photo from the Images of Change collection at UIC

The red brick building on the right was built around 1913 with white terra cotta cornice and window surrounds.  It still retains a good amount of character, although the huge red awning (fiberglass?) makes it look dated.  This is a traditional mixed-use building with storefronts below and apartments above. The south storefront has been infilled and covered with a red and white pebble finish. This was a bar when I first moved to the neighborhood.

The yellow and blue 1-story building dates from at least 1958...  The storefront angles back slightly from the sidewalk  to create a shallow entrance.  I'm guessing there are roughly a thousand coats of paint on this one. The sign dominates the building, which became common as new buildings focused only on retail or commercial use.

The gray building to the left is constructed of split-face concrete block (CMU).  This may be the most unattractive masonry material ever produced.  I can date this building to around 1986, but I'm a little surprised by the huge sign above the roofline.  Current sign codes prohibit new signs taller than the building.  This could be older building that kept its signage.  Or maybe they just never bothered to get a sign permit...

Despite their varying vintages and forms all of these buildings come right up to the sidewalk and observe a similar scale and relationship to the street.  And even with their mix of materials they somehow seem to harmonize with each other.

Monday, December 28, 2015

Beachton Court Apartments, 1929

Image above from the Tribune Article, 11/11/28
The Beachton Court Apartments are another example of how Rogers Park rapidly gained density at the end of the 1920s.  This complex replaced the Raymond Beach residence at the southwest corner of Pratt and Ashland and was named in honor of the former occupant. Not sure if he appreciated that or not...  Raymond Beach must have been a holdout in that area as many single family homes gave way to 3-story apartment buildings.

The steel-reinforced cement frame building has an exterior of buff brick and stone cladding.  It had a large community room on the first floor (maybe it still does?) including a waxed dance floor. The 76 units had built-in ironing boards, vestibule phones, electric door releases and electric refrigeration.  The architectural style is described as Tudor Gothic, modified to 1928 sensibilities.  I take 1928 sensibilities to mean tall and massive.

The rendering shows parapets with ornament that projects above the building, giving it a slightly more vertical orientation.  I'm not sure of these elements were removed or perhaps not built as drawn.  It was constructed at a cost of $580,000.

Site Map
Leon F. Urbain was the architect for the building as well as an investor.  I find this to be common for large apartment buildings. Successful practices often incorporated design and development, which must have solved many problems.  And possibly created some as well.

Images from Google Streetscape
Urbain designed at least two large apartment buildings at various stages of completion by 1929.  With the stock market crash these were put on hold until new financing could be secured.  The Poinsettia Apartments in Hyde Park and the Kenmore Manor Apartments in Edgewater were similar in scale to the Beachton.

The project on Kenmore sat for 7 years until it could finally be completed.

Just a quick note.  Leon Urbain should not be confused with the firm of Olsen and Urbain, which was also active in the area.  I'm mostly talking to myself here.

Complete Tribune Article 11/11/28

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Metra's 1965 Ravenswood Corridor (Repost from 6/5/14)

Metra Overpass at Greenleaf, looking North

I take the UP-N Metra train to work every morning and home every evening.  It may possibly be the best and easiest commute in the universe.  While I'm waiting for the train sometimes I notice things from the platform, like these standard 1960s apartment buildings flanking the west side of the embankment.

Ravenswood is split by the train line, so there's a Ravenwood Avenue on either side south of Lunt.  But at Lunt the west side of Ravenswood ends abruptly.  At that point a series of condo buildings occur between Lunt and Touhy, located in the same strip where Ravenswood would have continued through.

These brick buildings (shown in red above) are nearly identical, with low pitched roofs and simple geometric ornament. Some of them are bigger than others, which basically means that a few more units have been tacked on.   A quick check of the Cook County Assessor's website shows that all of them are dated to 1965. 

I'm guessing it's not a coincidence.  That strip of land had been owned by the railroad (at that time the Illinois Parallel Railroad Company) since its incorporation by the Illinois Legislature in 1851.  Passenger service to Waukegan began in 1854, with service to the North Shore beginning in 1856.  By 1869 there were seven trains each way daily.  In 1896 work began to elevate the tracks above grade in an effort to eliminate crossing accidents.

Sanborn Map above and Chicago Zoning Map below
Public rights-of-way have enormous value, even just from a standpoint of square footage.  Railroad rights-of-way were granted to private industry because they had the capital to develop them for public (and private) benefit.  But what happens when the railroad doesn't have a need for as much land as it was given? Does it return that land to the government?  In this case it appears to have been sold off for residential development.

To the right is a Sanborn Fire Insurance map from 1937, showing the previous ownership structure for the area.  The train platform on the west side of the tracks is clearly outlined.  At first I thought that perhaps the railroad bought this land, but if that were the case the alley would extend through.  Instead, I believe this area was part of the granted right-of-way, and was used to provide access to the Rogers Park station.  It also provided a buffer between the trains and the nearby single family homes.

But sometime after 1937 it was determined that this land no longer served the interests of the railroad.  Perhaps the train platform was reconstructed to take up less space. Or perhaps the railroad needed to raise funds.  Regardless, the areas adjacent to the tracks were developed into multi-unit buildings.  North of Touhy the railroad has retained ownership, possibly because the slightly westward angle of the route made the lots less viable for development. 

To me the front facades look a bit like drunken robots.  The developments also created an uncomfortable relationship between the train embankment and the new buildings.  The area in between is a dark, overgrown strip which frequently fills up with trash.  Perhaps not the best land planning, but a good example of how developers maximum the value of undesirable lots.   As if we needed more of those examples...

Metra posts some history about their train lines here, which provided some of the detail and dates above.

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

6970-6972 N. Clark (c.1988)

Above is a standard strip mall in Rogers Park.  These are scattered throughout the neighborhood and are the primary design for auto-oriented businesses along Clark Street.   They are often located on corner lots, which provides frontage on two streets and greater visibility. This one is located mid-block, which is unusual.

The photo is dated 1958 from the UIC Collection "Images of Change."  The Sanborn Map is from 1951.
This particular strip mall replaced a 6-story hospital and a 3-story mixed-use building.  Both came right up to the sidewalk. As far as I can tell both were demolished some time in the 1970s.

Parking and Circulation

The most important thing about strip malls is the parking lot. Without a parking lot the advantage of the design is lost.  In this case almost every square foot has been given over to parking and circulation. 

Primary Sign

The second most valuable feature of the strip mall is signage.  A large sign provides identification for each business on the strip.  These signs are generally as big as can be permitted by current sign codes.  Signs are designed for cars driving past rather than pedestrians.

Sign Band

The sign band is for individual business signs and is designed to easily accommodate mechanical and electrical connections.  If the sign band is damaged it can be repaired by replacing the cladding.
Secondary Signage

Because the strip mall design creates a break in the street wall it exposes the unfinished walls of the neighboring buildings.  Often these are used for signage as well.

Despite the large amount of space dedicated to signage individual tenants still manage to place additional signs and advertising on the site.  Here flags have been attached to the sign band, bunting has been strung from the primary sign to the building, and a feather sign has been placed in the planting strip.

Planting Strip

Because the strip mall brings the cars in close to the storefronts additional devices are needed to prevent them from accidentally crashing through.  In this case concrete parking stops and metal bollards are used.  

More recent strip malls include areas for landscaping.  Here a long narrow concrete planter has been located at the front of the lot.  Given the size of the strip and its proximity to car exhaust and melting salt nothing can actually grow here.  It some point it was paved over.  In the winter this is where snow is piled.

Over the years there has been a realization that strip malls are not the most appropriate development for established commercial districts which rely on foot traffic from the adjacent neighborhood.  Special zoning overlays can prohibit this type of development, but the community needs to be sophisticated enough to ask for these additional controls.  And in many places the damage has already been done.

Thursday, November 12, 2015

2324 W. Devon, 1926

L. Shure, 2015
Every time I pass this building on Devon I'm amazed by its ornamental quality and originality.  Where else can you find a 1-story building draped with owls, lions, shields, and weird geometric insignias?  And why would so much detail be lavished on such a small building?

According to the Chicago Historic Resources Survey (CHRS) this was designed by architect Edward Perry Steinberg.  Steinberg designed several of these medieval-inspired commercial buildings, complete with half-timber details and herringbone brick infill.  Or at least those were some of his buildings picked up by the survey. (See below.)

Edward Steinberg was one of many unsung Chicago architects who had a long and productive career but never really came into the public eye.   Even so, his work continues to contribute to neighborhood character throughout the city.   According to his 1975 Tribune obituary he designed movie theaters for the Lubliner & Trinz chain (including the former Belpark Theater), as well as the W.F. Hall Printing Corporation at 4600 W. Diversey (now demolished).  He was also a founding member and architect for the former B'Nai Zion Synagogue at 1445 W. Pratt.

2324 W. Devon
The illustration is a bit dishonest in that it restores some of the integrity of the building.  It hasn't been maintained very carefully and is starting to deteriorate.  Some of the slate tiles have been replaced by asphalt, and signage attachments have taken a toll on the ornamental features.  When I see buildings like this they're often on their way out.  Any extensive restoration would far exceed the market value of the property, so the common solution is to keep things going as long as possible with as little cost as possible. But you can only depend on the underlying quality of the materials and workmanship for so long.  When the maintenance issues catch up I expect to see a wholesale removal of the ornament.

Photo on the left by the author, and the two on the right from the CHRS.

Monday, November 9, 2015

NE Corner of Clark and Morse, 1958 and 2015

 An uncomfortable renovation of a bank.  I wonder if any of the previous facade is hiding behind that thing.  It's odd that the unattractive octagonal windows survived.  The rest of the buildings don't appear to have changed very much.

The 1958 photo is from UIC's Images of Change collection. 

In the historic photo you can just glimpse of the bank at the NE corner of Lunt and Clark.  This was demolished in the 1990s and is now a strip center.

Thursday, November 5, 2015

F.W. Itte and Philip Itte Residences (1225-1229 W. Morse)

I don't often focus on buildings which have been demolished.  First off, it's depressing.  Second, it's hard to say much about a building when you only have a single photograph and a few fuzzy scans.  But, for the Fritz and Philip Itte residences, I'll make an exception. These two Rogers Park homes were designed by architect Walter Burley Griffin, and they only existed for 15 years before they were replaced by a commercial garage. Luckily their photo was included in an article about Griffin in the 1910 issue of Architectural Record.

Architectural Record, 1910, Volume 28, Page 307.  Accessed via Google Books 11/3/15.
Walter Burley Griffin (1876-1937) was a member of Chicago's Prairie School of architecture. He was born in the Chicago suburb of Maywood and raised in Oak Park, later studying architecture and landscape design at the University of Illinois.  In 1899 he joined a group of architects in the Steinway Hall office building in Chicago. The group reads as a who's who of the Prairie School, including an already obnoxious Frank Lloyd Wright.  Wright had his main office in Oak Park, but still maintained a presence in downtown Chicago.  After two years Griffin went to work with Wright in Oak Park as the office manager and construction supervisor. On a personal note, that was where Griffin met his future wife, Marion Mahoney.  In 1905 Wright left for a three-month trip to Japan, leaving Griffin in charge of the studio.  When Wright returned, they quarreled--apparently, Wright wanted to pay him entirely in Japanese prints--and Griffin returned to Steinway Hall as an independent architect.  Two years later he opened his own office and began to build his practice.

Frederick Itte Residence
The 1910 article congratulates Griffin on successfully creating buildings similar to those of Wright, but it doesn't focus on what makes them different.  Griffin's houses are generally rustic in appearance, with dark rough-textured wood trim set against stucco walls.  Porches are used to relieve the cube-like form of the homes.  Griffin observed the Prairie School dedication to creating an open plan.  Circulation in the main living spaces was defined by a large central fireplace, with a living and dining space flowing into each other. Griffin has been credited with developing the L-shaped living area years before Wright claimed it as his own invention. Broad projecting eaves provide protection from rain and sun.

Philip Itte Two Flat
Griffin often was contracted to design side-by-side homes unified by a carefully designed landscape.  Good examples of these are nearby, including the 1908 Gauler twin houses in the Edgewater neighborhood, the 1908 Orth Houses in Winnetka, and the 1911 Comstock Houses in Evanston.  The Itte Residences (one was a single family home and one a two-flat) expressed themselves as variations on a theme, pinwheeling against each other with complimentary massing and roof-forms.  They were connected by a substantial stucco wall which also provided privacy from the street.  Had the Itte Residences survived they might have taken their place with some of Griffin's finest work.

Itte Residences shown in red.
The 1923 demolition of both Itte Residences is a bit abrupt, but consistent with the transformation of the area.  Prior to the 1908 extension of the elevated train to Rogers Park, the area was somewhat open, with single family homes comprising most of the development.  As connections to downtown strengthened, local land values rose, making the area more attractive for multi-family buildings. In the 1920s neighborhood density increased with the construction of courtyard apartment complexes.  The area of Morse east of Sheridan began to accommodate the auto repair and storage needs of the neighborhood, which were--and continue to be--substantial.  The Itte Residences were constructed right at the beginning of this trend and their siting made them too valuable to survive.

Griffin's ability to work with contractors and developers lead to a number of commissions for subdivisions and multiple residences, and his skill at land planning was evident. The architect applied the guiding philosophies of the Prairie School to design homes that were both affordable and appealing to the general public.  Just as his career started to take off, his plan for the Australian capital of Canberra was selected as the winner of an international competition. By 1914 Griffin had moved to Australia to administer the design process.  This effectively marked the end of his American career.  After his death in 1937, Marion Mahoney Griffin moved back to Rogers Park where she remained until her death in 1961.  She must have felt the absence of the Itte Residences more than anyone.

Architectural Record, "Some Houses by Walter Burley Griffin," 1910, Volume 28, Pg. 307.
Designation Report for the Gauler Twin Houses 
Designation Report for the Walter Burley Griffin District
Rogers Park Directory, June, 1919
Sanborn Fire Insurance Accessed through ProQuest via Chicago Public Library (Vol J, 1914 and Vol.40, 1937)
"Walter Burley Griffin in America," Photos and Essay by Mati Maldre.  Essay, Catalog and Selected Bibliography by Paul Kruty.  1996.

Plans, elevations and sections of the Itte Residences are held at the Art Institute of Chicago, (donated by Marion Mahoney Griffin) and are available online as low-quality scans.   Just a note to any librarians out there, don't post low-quality scans if it can be avoided. These are archival documents, and should be shared with as much detail as possible.  If I ever write a book I will definitely pay for those images, but right now I just want to see them. The elevations I've included here have been cropped and adjusted for contrast, but are basically unreadable.

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

6952-6964 N. Clark (c.1905 - c.1925)

L. Shure, 2015
From the 1870s through the 1930s nearly everyone agreed on the best way to construct a local commercial district.  The buildings should be 2 or three stories in height, they should come right up to the sidewalk, and there should be commercial space on the first floor and residential or office space above. Buildings should be tightly spaced to maximize square footage.  High quality materials and ornamentation were reserved for the street elevations, which were the only portions of the building readily visible.   Above is a fairly intact stretch of buildings in Rogers Park constructed between 1905 and 1925.

Storefronts are basically large panes of fixed glass supported by wood or metal mullions with a center or side entrance.  Storefront technologies have changed dramatically over the years, but if you're selling something it's better to let people see into the store.

The upper floors were accessed through a front door adjacent to the storefronts.  Typically this would be a solid door to convey the more private nature of the space above. Most of these on this stretch are apartments.
Projecting bays were common.  These would allow additional light into the upper floors and offset some of the limitations of the minimal front and side setbacks.  These were typically covered with elaborate pressed metal ornamentation, which was inexpensive and readily available. The bays often utilize the steel beam above the storefront to cantilever over the street.

Cornices were used to emphasize the termination of the building, and were often stone or pressed metal, built up from stock pieces available though a catalog or a local supplier. Corbelled brick cornices often depended on the abundance of inexpensive skilled labor available at the time.

Decorative parapets often add additional interest to the top of the building.  As different styles became popular the parapet offered a good location for their expression.  On the far right the parapet has a castellated profile and is inset with Sullivanesque terracotta ornament. 

Modern signage, even with strict code regulations, doesn't have a consistent methodology. It often blocks storefronts or interferes with the underlying ornamentation of the building. This is nothing new, can be seen even in historic photos.


The other major type of commercial development in Rogers Park is the strip mall.  That might take a broader analysis.

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

6924-6928 N. Clark, Then and Now

I've been impressed with the "Images of Change" digital photo archive of UIC.  Many of these photos were developed to document building violations for the City of Chicago in the 1950s, which is a great way to show the guts of the city.  But it also includes a large number of streetscapes.  The 1950s was at the very beginning of a long decline and disinvestment in urban areas.  You can really sense the desperation as signage becomes larger and more strident on buildings that look increasingly shabby.  At least that's my take on it...

The gothic revival building on the right is long gone (replaced with a drive-through bank), and the central building has been mostly rebuilt. With the loss of the corner building that feeling of enclosure has been lost on this block.

Thursday, September 24, 2015

7354-74 N. Clark, c.1925

This 1-story brick and terra cotta commercial building was designed by architect Maurice L. Bein and constructed some time around 1925.  Bein designed a number of Rogers Park buildings, and I'll be investigating some more as I'm able to get out and take current photos.

SW Corner of Clark and Rogers

I was lucky to find two historic photos, one from the Digital Archives of the Art Institute of Chicago, and the other in a UIC collection called Images of Change.  Both are great sources for overlooked neighborhood buildings.

Originally the storefront at the corner was pulled back to allow a generous entrance flanked by display windows.  By the time the middle photo was taken that area had been enclosed by a homemade wall insert.  In the bottom photo a new storefront has made the transformation permanent.  Porches that become enclosed over time often have the same progression.

People generally tend to idealize signage on historic buildings, but by the 1950s the era of tasteful gold stenciled lettering in the windows was long gone.

Friday, September 11, 2015

Morse Avenue Walking Tour

The graphic below is the culmination of the work I've done on Morse Avenue since last February. Some history and analysis was written for each of the illustrations, and can be found on this blog.  These were intended to be thumbnail images, but some of the subjects required a more detailed treatment.  You'll probably need to click on the image to see it at a decent resolution.

The point of the project was to take a single street and show it as a microcosm of Chicago architecture and history.  Not sure if it succeeded entirely, but I still think the idea is a good one.  I might try it again on another street... 

L. Shure, 2015

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

1130-1142 W. Morse (1907-1917)

Morse Avenue dead-ends at the lakefront, and, as you approach the lake, you find a wide variety of building types.  These three buildings, all built between 1907 and 1917, illustrate the rapid change in density that occurred along Morse Avenue.

Looking North

According to the Assessor, the frame building in the center was built in 1907.  The building to its left followed in 1912, and the one on its right in 1917.  Chicago's  1914 Zoning Code anticipated greater density along the city's lakefront, a development that was already happening by the time the Code was adopted. In the early 20th century, just like today, there was a strong desire to be close to Lake Michigan, even if you were sharing your lakefront real estate with several other families.

All of the frame houses on this block originally had generous porches to capture cool breezes from the lake.  The one above lost its porch and wood siding some time after 1937.  It's looked a little bit blank ever since, but it makes up for it with an amazing roofline!  The six-flat on the left side of our frame house has classical details, with limestone lintels and a pressed metal cornice with dentils.  The one to its right has a sort of Craftsman appearance with very restrained ornamentation.

One final note: You'll notice that there's a hill in front of these buildings.  It's a good bet these were built atop a low sand dune. 

Saturday, August 29, 2015

Former Rogers Park National Bank, Clark and Lunt

The building at the southeast corner of Lunt and Clark is a 1917 Classical Revival bank with an Art Moderne facade along Clark Street.   Your first thought should probably be "What the heck?" But why this happened is interesting. 

Most of the historic info below can be found in articles published by the Chicago Tribune, accessed through the website of the Chicago Public Library.  Some information about neighborhood banks is taken from the Neighborhood Bank Buildings Landmark Designation Report published in 2007 by Chicago's Historic Preservation Division in the Department of Planning and Development. The postcard image of the Rogers Park National Bank prior to renovations was taken from the Illinois Digital Archives.

This view is looking South.
In the winter of 1917 the new home for the Rogers Park National Bank was under construction. It was designed by firm of Vitzthum and Teich in the Beaux Arts tradition.  Its cladding was polished granite and grey Indiana limestone.  Beaux Arts-style buildings generally relied on the Classical Revival architectural vocabulary, which was selected to convey an image of permanence and stability.   There was a surge of buildings designed in this style after publication of the 1909 Plan of Chicago, which used the same vocabulary to illustrate recommended improvements to Chicago.  The Rogers Park National Bank observed the massing of other nearby commercial development, but it's use of monumental columns and expensive materials placed it an entirely different class.  The bank was constructed at a cost of $75,000, which would translate to roughly $1.3 million today.

As Chicago expanded it became a city of neighborhoods, each with its own commercial and economic life.  At the time Illinois law prohibited banks from opening multiple branches in an attempt to prevent monopolies.  Instead, independent neighborhood banks were developed to address local needs for financial services, building and business loans.

Neighborhood banks were typically sited at the key intersections of commercial districts, and became prominent landmarks.  Clark and Lunt was adjacent some of the earliest commercial and civic development both before and after Roger Park's 1893 annexation to City of Chicago.  Later the new Phillip State Bank and Trust (of a similar monumental design) would locate at the northeast corner of the same intersection.

Apparently the last good photo I took of this corner was in 2008.  It hasn't changed much.
 The Great Depression led to the end of the Rogers Park National Bank, as it did for many other banks.  In September of 1931 the bank was ordered closed by the board of directors.  Heavy withdrawals were given as the reason.  The bank had nearly $400,000 in deposits, but that  wasn't enough to reassure their depositors that their money was safe.  A receiver took over the bank, and was responsible for distributing its assets to depositors and stock holders.  In February of 1939 the bank building was offered for sale.  It was purchased later that year by Simon Simanski, who went about maximizing the value of his new bargain property.  

By December of 1940 the building had been drastically renovated, incorporating the adjacent building to the south under a new Clark Street facade designed by the firm of Lowenberg and Lowenberg.  This was a comprised of cream and turquoise terra cotta tiles.  The former separation between the buildings can be seen above as a wide band between the two groups of second floor windows.  Originally this contained a vertical strip of glass blocks, which has since been infilled.    The detailing is a streamlined version of the Art Moderne style, with minimal references to historic ornament.  This was seen as a good way to modernize a building, and was probably fairly inexpensive.  The portion of the building along Lunt had its windows reduced in size or infilled, but was mostly left alone.  An additional 1-story storefront was added to the east, completely filling the lot.

I wonder if there are any remaining interior details related to its banking history.  If so they may be buried deep underneath the alterations.  In 1940 the building looked pretty much as it does today.   In 1945 it was the site of a double murder, but that will have to wait for a different post...

You can find another post about the Rogers Park National Bank at the Forgotten Chicago website.

Monday, August 24, 2015

7528-7532 N. Greenview, 1927

It's kind of a surprise to find that one of the crummiest buildings in Rogers Park used to be one of the most attractive.  But that's what I discovered while digging through the American Terra Cotta Collection digital archives at the University of Minnesota. I walked past that convenience store a dozen times and never imagined it was once so tasteful and carefully composed.

It only looked like the 1927 photo for perhaps 10 years.  By 1937 half of the Spanish baroque-style building, designed by Zimmerman, Saxe and Zimmerman, had been demolished to create a gas station, retaining only the five bays on the west seen in the lower photo.  And then the gas station was converted into a convenience store, with a breathtaking use of 1970s-style mansard roofs. 
Terra cotta bay with infill
The "L" was extended to Howard Street about 1908, feeding into a burgeoning commercial and entertainment district.  By the mid 20's the area was well-established.   Choosing to construct a 1-story commercial building in 1927 seems a bit out-of-character for the area, but it was located at the edge of the commercial district and perhaps it was felt that upper floors wouldn't be utilized.  As business dropped off in the 1930s retooling the building into a gas station must have seemed like a reasonable idea.  But it would have hurt to see the historic entrance torn off... And in the long run the site was still too small to function as a gas station. Now it's a weirdly-shaped neighborhood convenience store.

Thursday, August 20, 2015

1218-1220 W. Morse, c. 1925

I was surprised to find this photo in a scrapbook digitized by the Art Institute of Chicago found in the collection of architect B. Leo Steif. 

Steif's scrapbook is the sort of document biographers pray for, but seldom find.  Whenever he had a project mentioned in the media or one of his designs published he snipped it out and pasted it down.  Unfortunately, the resolution of the scans don't always make it easy to read the text, but at least I know where to find the original.  The historic photo to the right was used as a advertisement by the Northwestern Terra Cotta Company. 

The building has aged pretty well.  It's lost some of the decorative urns at the parapet, and all of the terra cotta balustrades.  The storefronts and operable awnings have been replaced, but the building has come through the past 80 plus years nearly unscathed.  I have no idea about structural issues, but being vacant for so long certainly doesn't help.

If you'd like to view the scrapbook (and who wouldn't?) click here.

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Tenement Conditions in Chicago, 1901

Some editorializing here... "Gloomy"?
I've always been fascinated with the work done by early progressives in addressing social problems
of the city.  I'm especially interested in the graphic tools they used to analyze the issues and illustrate their recommendations.   Before digitization these reports were often hard to access for non-academics, but now they're available to anyone with a computer.

In 1901 the Investigating Committee of the City Homes Association submitted a report titled, "Tenement Conditions in Chicago, which examined three study areas in the city. The text was written by the chairman, Robert Hunter, but the committee included the redoubtable Jane Addams.  I've re-drawn a diagram form that report, which relates to the lack of light and ventilation that was characteristic of tenement housing in Chicago, as outlined in Chapter IV.

The report focuses on a number of interconnected issues, from overcrowding and unsanitary conditions to defective (or non-existent) plumbing and the spread of disease.  In the process it slams city government for having inadequate housing regulations and failing to enforce those requirements already on the books.

Chapter IV, Page 89.
In this chapter the report uses maps and diagrams to analyze inadequate light and ventilation.  This was not a qualitative analysis, but an in-depth investigation into floor area, window access, and light penetration on a building-by-building and floor-by-floor basis.  Thorough investigations like this are practically unheard of today, especially when private property is involved.  The diagram above examines the third floors of two adjacent properties, one of which contains a rear structure.  I tried my best to replicate the original shading scheme while making the graphic a bit more screen-friendly and easier to read.

Documents like these eventually led to the adoption of new building and development regulations.  Local governments received the resources to review and inspect over-crowded and unsafe conditions. But as usual, reasonable ideas were taken too far, and similar reports were used to justify the wholesale housing clearance of Urban Renewal in the 1950s.

Looking at the character of the study areas I'm surprised to see that they resemble some of the more historic (and pricey) neighborhoods still existing in Chicago, such as the Old Town Triangle area.  One of the study areas survives, and is an increasingly trendy section of Bucktown.  But a wood frame cottage which housed four families in 1901 might now accommodate a single family and a BMW, so I don't think this can be considered a victory for affordable housing.  But perhaps it does show that the housing itself wasn't the primary problem, but rather overcrowding and outdated infrastructure. 

So I may be rescuing and redrawing more of these early planning diagrams. With the increasing number of digitized text and reports I'm guessing there are plenty of interesting ones out there. And if you know of an under-appreciated example please drop me a line in the comments section...

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Some More Lorain, Ohio Stuff

E. 21st and Access Rd.
Whenever I return to my hometown I find an infinite number of things that I would like to draw.  I left Lorain before I really became aware of its architecture and history, so everything looks both familiar and strange.

I believe the building to the right is a facility management office for the local school district.  In the background is a recycling plant.

NE Corner of Grove and E. 30th
This building in South Lorain used to be El Patio.  And probably many other businesses, judging by its age and the layers of architectural accretions.  I remember coming here to pick up goat dinners bought by my dad as part of some church fund-raiser.   Looks like it's been vacant for years.
E. 28th Street and Seneca

Thanks to the comment below that calls out these buildings as former trolley barns. The corbelled brick and classical details remain, but are deteriorating.  

Many of the buildings on 28th Street have converted into garages and car services.  But many are simply gone.

Thursday, July 2, 2015

1412 W. Morse, c.1915

The assessor estimates the date of this building to be 1910, but according to the Sanborn Fire Insurance Maps it didn't appear on the block until some time after 1914.  This is a perfect example of some of the design trends that impact small commercial buildings.

L. Shure, 2015

The original portion of the facade is the terracotta band above the storefronts.  Back when it was popular terracotta was considered a perfect building material.  It could be molded in any style and could take a variety of finishes, from gloss or matte to speckled or marbled.  Maintenance and cleaning was anticipated to be simple.  Experience soon showed terracotta needed repairs just like any other material.  And the construction detailing was often too complex to be justified for small structures. It's prime period of use was really in the 1910s, when stock storefronts could be ordered right from a catalog.

Image I found online, which I have no right to use. 1950s?
Below the terracotta is a sign band of artificial stucco.  Typically this is a foam panel covered with a thin layer of cement.  It's cheap, looks OK when new, and is easy to pierce for signage and awnings.  Although this isn't a terrible material, it's often detailed incorrectly, allowing water to penetrate and destroy it from the inside.

Below the stucco are brick storefronts, probably from the 1980s.  I don't really understand why
commercial renovations close up storefronts or decrease the size of their windows.  If I can't see inside I'm not likely to go inside.  And many businesses then block those smaller windows with signage.  But I have to admit, pasting big rocks on storefronts has almost become a classic treatment.

A portion of this building was cut off to allow the new condo to the east to develop. That's why the coping on the east doesn't curve up, like the one on the west.  I also remember strange green shrubs at the parapet...  Were they real, or some kind of weird ornament?

OK, finally found a better photo of this building from 1982.  So that shrub was some kind of ornament... And much better image of the central medallion.
Better photo from the C. William Brubaker Collection at UIC- 1982