Monday, March 30, 2015

Morse and Glenwood, 1921

Strong transit connections are one of the reasons Rogers Park looks the way it does today.  In the center of the neighborhood are the Metra tracks (Union Pacific North), which were instrumental in early suburban development of the area (1870s through the 1890s).  But the urbanization of Rogers Park really began with the extension of the "L."  In 1908 the train was extended from Uptown to Howard, and around 1916 the tracks were elevated on a temporary trestle.

Northwest corner of Morse and Glenwood, 2015
Station Diagram
The Northwestern Elevated Railroad Company built the Morse Station on right-of-way owned by the Milwaukee Road Railway in 1921.  The red brick and limestone station house was designed by Charles Rawson, and was originally identical to those at Jarvis, Argyle, and Thorndale, which were built under the same contract.  Rawson designed the stations to include a number of commercial rental spaces, and these added to the rapid commercial development of the area. The railroad had the benefit of rental income, and tenants benefited from a steady stream of potential customers.

Unfortunately, this hasn't worked out exactly as intended.  The storefront spaces are generally dark and undesirable, with trains rumbling overhead every few minutes.  And I'm not sure the Chicago Transit Authority (which bought the right-of-way in 1953) relishes their role in marketing and maintaining these spaces.  One of the storefronts on Lunt was in such poor condition that it needed to be demolished during the recent renovation of the Morse station.  Another former commercial space on Morse was used to expand the existing station.  But a few businesses remain, perhaps against the odds.

This simplified diagram of the CTA station was adapted from the 1951 Sanborn Fire Insurance map of the area:  1. Main Entrance; 2. Platform; 3. Commercial spaces; and 4. Overpass. Access onto Lunt remains (and it's pretty darn useful) but the one on the south side of Morse has been blocked.

Original Morse CTA Station, 1960 (updated to 1985)

Some of the historic information in this post was taken from  the "Historic Properties Review CTA Rapid Transit System, Part 3," which was published in 1986.  Additional information was provided by Chicago "L".org at, accessed on March 30, 2015.

Thursday, March 19, 2015

1769, 1773, and 1775 W. Morse, c.1909

Looking Southeast from Morse and Ravenswood
I'm a big fan of the gable-front cottages you see throughout Chicago.  These were
inexpensive wood-framed homes with brick foundations constructed by local builders.  Builders would typically buy up a few lots at a time and construct identical homes, taking advantage of the economy of scale .  The wood framing lends itself to additions, dormers, and bays, so these homes have often changed substantially.  The original wood clapboard may be covered with layers of artificial siding and eave brackets or other ornamentation may have rotted away or been removed.  In the image to the right there's a portion of the Union Pacific North railroad viaduct.  This train line would have been recently elevated when these homes were built in 1909.

Originally there were two lots with 50' frontage, but the west lot along Ravenswood was divided to create two 25' lots.  This is odd, since the inside lot has no access to the street or the alley.  The lot on the east still has a 50' frontage, making it very attractive for multiunit redevelopment.  This has already occurred on the two remaining parcels on the block, where there are large brick and CMU condos.

Monday, March 16, 2015

1524 and 1530 W. Morse, 6945 N. Ashland

North side of Morse, East of Ashland
Here are three buildings on Morse which embody some of the mixed commercial character of the street.  The building on the far left is a courtyard apartment building oriented to Ashland with first floor storefronts along Morse.  It has a castellated parapet, with brick and cast stone ornament, including some pediments above the windows on the fourth floor.  According to the Assessor this was built in 1926, which was the high point of courtyard apartment construction in Rogers Park.

The seven story apartment building in the center has a steel-reinforced concrete frame and was constructed in 1927.  The front facade is clad with face brick and terracotta.   The Classical Revival ornament includes arches and fan lights at the top floor.   Most of the east wall of the building is set back from the property line to allow for light and ventilation to the rear units.  This was (and remains) a code required element for tall residential buildings.

 The 1-story terracotta building on the right was built in 1941. If this date is correct it must have found funding and materials just before wartime restrictions went into effect. Its 1-story height is at odds with the older development on the street, which typically had apartments or offices on the floors above.  This building has retained much of its streamlined art deco ornament, with a combination of cream, black and light turquoise bands of terracotta tile.

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

1716-1718 W. Morse and 6947 N. Clark, c.1905

On Morse just east of Clark there are two greystone 2-flats built around 1905.  Greystone refers to the Bedford limestone quarried in Indiana and installed as decorative veneers on the front of these buildings.  Greystone facades became common in many Chicago neighborhoods, but are actually a bit rare in Rogers Park. 

Although they present a solid appearance, the stone is only thick enough to allow the level of ornamentation required.  A greystone building may embody a variety of styles, but the most common treatment is a pared down Classical Revival, which is what you see here.

At the corner is a two-story bank building which has seen some extreme changes. Only when you look at the building from the east can you see some of the original details and brickwork.  The mansard roof and red brick cladding were put on in the 1960s, according to one of the comments below.  I'm fascinated by the mansard treatment.  Why was this popular?  Was it just a cheap way to drastically update a building, or did the mansard roof have some forgotten significance?  Some historians have proposed that it had its roots in the environmental movement of the 1970s (simple geometric shapes, natural wood shingles), but I just can't see it.