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.