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.


  1. In defense of some librarians out there - sometimes we don't have a choice. We have a collection of photographs where the donor has specified that they only be provided online in low resolution format. His permission is required for anyone to use a high-resolution version.

  2. You're right, I shouldn't blame the librarians. Library of Congress does it too. Very frustrating.

  3. Thanks for these articles. Always very interesting.

  4. I had no idea these residences existed. Last year, I saw a Facebook post from the Rogers Park/Westridge Historical Society of a long-demolished home at 7631 N. Sheridan Rd. Was not aware of that residence, either. I grew up in east Rogers Park, and walked by those areas many a time, never knowing that, long ago, they once stood there. All of them are stunning. Thank you for sharing the Itte photo along with its plans.

  5. Thanks Susan! As more historic sources are digitized it will become easier for everyone to document their communities over time. I owe this entry to the site, which compiles digital sources from a number of collections and databases.

  6. This is wonderful - I will check out this collections resource. I saw the detail on the your post of the building on the 2300 block of Devon. You have beautifully drawn how it must have once looked at one time. Right away I thought, "I don't remember it looking that good!" I didn't know about the two other locations that the architect designed using the same idea. Very interesting.