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  Some of the slate tiles have been replaced by asphalt, and signage attachments have taken a toll on the ornamental features.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.