Monday, April 27, 2015

1326-1342 W. Morse

North side of Morse, looking Northwest.
Morse Avenue east of the el tracks has experienced something of a renaissance in the past few years.  The 4 plus 1 on the far left was built in 1971 and has been heavily renovated.  It's unusual for these buildings to get more than a cursory renovation (carpet, windows, fixtures), so that indicates a fairly strong market.  And a unit with a parking space can't be dismissed in a dense area like this.  It's also a signal to other owners of 4 plus 1s that the time may be right for major improvements. 

East of the alley is a brand new condo building built by the development arm of the Pritzker family.  This 5-story building replaced a much smaller one and probably maxed out the zoning envelope for the site.  This was built after the renovation of the adjacent Mayne Stage and reflects some of the design characteristics of that older building.

The most notable change on this portion of Morse is the elaborate restoration and reconstruction of the 1913 brick and terracotta Morse Theater into the Mayne Stage music venue.  Originally this building functioned as a 750 seat nickelodeon, but it's had a long and varied history, including a stint as a synagogue and an indoor mall.  In 2009 the building was gutted and rebuilt, with a new, sunken performance space in back and a bar in the front. It's brought back some of the earlier charm of the street.

And of course, on the far right you can see J.B. Alberto's, which has served pizza on the North Side for over 45 years.  Not sure if they've been using this building for that long, but it's been unpleasantly mansardized from its original 1930 appearance.

Monday, April 6, 2015

1441-1515 W. Morse (1917-1972)

Looking Southeast at Morse and Greenview
Here are three buildings on the south side of Morse at Greenview that represent a range of common  buildings types found in neighborhood commercial districts.

On the far left is a courtyard apartment building constructed in 1917.  The courtyard isn't visible here, but opens on to Greenview. Commercial storefronts are on the first floor along Morse.  Courtyard apartments were common in Rogers Park, with a spike in construction in the mid 1920s. When located on a corner lot they often took the form of an S, with one inner access court hidden from the street.

The center building is a concrete-framed brick and terracotta apartment building designed by prolific architect Maurice L. Bein and constructed in 1928-1929.  This received an "orange" rating is the Chicago Historic Resources Survey, indicating architectural significance at the local level.  Bein was a Russian-born architect who received his education at Hull House, the Art Institute of Chicago, and the Armour Institute of Technology.  The Art Institute has a solid collection of his work from 1920 to 1936, including many digitized photos.  Bein is another unsung architect whose work was so in-tune with its time that it's become nearly invisible.  The Spanish Baroque style utilized for this building is unusually elaborate, including a polychromed terracotta entrance, terracotta spandrels and projecting balconettes at the top of the building.  And the massive green tile mansard roofs can't be overlooked.

In the foreground is a Four-plus-One, which describes four floors of apartments above one floor of below-grade parking.  These were primarily built in the 1960s, although the assessor pins this one at 1972.  Hundreds of these were constructed throughout Chicago, and established neighborhoods were not impressed.  These buildings often replaced single family homes with dozens of 1 bedroom and efficiency apartments. My biggest issue with these is that they tend to interrupt the pedestrian experience with blank walls and dark parking lots.  They also rarely incorporate commercial spaces, since that would have chipped away at their required parking.  Eventually the zoning code was modified to make these less attractive to builders.  It's worth looking into the lobby of this building.  The interior can perhaps be described as a modernist offshoot of the Tudor Revival style.

Thursday, April 2, 2015

The Seville Apartments, 1263 W. Pratt, 1919

Every now and then I'll come across a historic photo of a building in Rogers Park.  If it still exists I try to get a recent image at a similar angle for comparison.  For some reason apartment buildings in Rogers Park have been very well documented, usually through real estate publications.  The 9-story Seville at Pratt and Lakewood was included in "A Portfolio of Fine Apartment Homes," compiled by Baird & Warner and printed in 1928.  The building itself was built in 1919 according to the assessor.  I believe there's a cornerstone with the exact date, if anyone is nearby...

This building looks pretty much the same, although it lost the decorative stone urns along the parapet.  It was designed in a restrained version of Italian Renaissance Revival, with rusticated limestone on the first floor, decorative balconies at the 9th floor, and a modest cornice. Apartment rentals included "ice-less" refrigeration, gas and electricity.  And maid service was optional.  A large light court on the east provided light and ventilation to the units set back from the street.

In the 1920s neighborhoods along the lakefront saw a rapid increase in density.  This was bolstered by the 1923 Zoning Code, which allowed a maximum height of 198' (this building is only 98').  Large apartment buildings were becoming more common in Rogers Park before the stock market crashed in 1929.  Had development continued Rogers Park might have come to resemble some of the built-up areas in Uptown and Lakeview to the south.  Instead this building still shares the block with single family homes.

The Seville was designed by the firm of Rissman and Hirschfeld, which was responsible for many large hotels and apartment buildings in the 1910s and 1920s.  Their work includes the Knickerbocker Hotel at 163-188 E. Walton (next to the Palmolive Building) ,the Surfway Apartment Hotel at 553-555 W. Surf and the massive buildings at 2440 N. Lakeview and 3520-3530 N. Lake Shore Drive.

Information for this post was provided by "A Portfolio of Fine Apartment Houses" (1928), the online Chicago Historic Resources Survey, and the "Surf-Pine Grove Landmark Designation Report" (2006), which can be found on