Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Tenement Conditions in Chicago, 1901

Some editorializing here... "Gloomy"?
I've always been fascinated with the work done by early progressives in addressing social problems
of the city.  I'm especially interested in the graphic tools they used to analyze the issues and illustrate their recommendations.   Before digitization these reports were often hard to access for non-academics, but now they're available to anyone with a computer.

In 1901 the Investigating Committee of the City Homes Association submitted a report titled, "Tenement Conditions in Chicago, which examined three study areas in the city. The text was written by the chairman, Robert Hunter, but the committee included the redoubtable Jane Addams.  I've re-drawn a diagram form that report, which relates to the lack of light and ventilation that was characteristic of tenement housing in Chicago, as outlined in Chapter IV.

The report focuses on a number of interconnected issues, from overcrowding and unsanitary conditions to defective (or non-existent) plumbing and the spread of disease.  In the process it slams city government for having inadequate housing regulations and failing to enforce those requirements already on the books.

Chapter IV, Page 89.
In this chapter the report uses maps and diagrams to analyze inadequate light and ventilation.  This was not a qualitative analysis, but an in-depth investigation into floor area, window access, and light penetration on a building-by-building and floor-by-floor basis.  Thorough investigations like this are practically unheard of today, especially when private property is involved.  The diagram above examines the third floors of two adjacent properties, one of which contains a rear structure.  I tried my best to replicate the original shading scheme while making the graphic a bit more screen-friendly and easier to read.

Documents like these eventually led to the adoption of new building and development regulations.  Local governments received the resources to review and inspect over-crowded and unsafe conditions. But as usual, reasonable ideas were taken too far, and similar reports were used to justify the wholesale housing clearance of Urban Renewal in the 1950s.

Looking at the character of the study areas I'm surprised to see that they resemble some of the more historic (and pricey) neighborhoods still existing in Chicago, such as the Old Town Triangle area.  One of the study areas survives, and is an increasingly trendy section of Bucktown.  But a wood frame cottage which housed four families in 1901 might now accommodate a single family and a BMW, so I don't think this can be considered a victory for affordable housing.  But perhaps it does show that the housing itself wasn't the primary problem, but rather overcrowding and outdated infrastructure. 

So I may be rescuing and redrawing more of these early planning diagrams. With the increasing number of digitized text and reports I'm guessing there are plenty of interesting ones out there. And if you know of an under-appreciated example please drop me a line in the comments section...

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Some More Lorain, Ohio Stuff

E. 21st and Access Rd.
Whenever I return to my hometown I find an infinite number of things that I would like to draw.  I left Lorain before I really became aware of its architecture and history, so everything looks both familiar and strange.


I believe the building to the right is a facility management office for the local school district.  In the background is a recycling plant.

NE Corner of Grove and E. 30th
This building in South Lorain used to be El Patio.  And probably many other businesses, judging by its age and the layers of architectural accretions.  I remember coming here to pick up goat dinners bought by my dad as part of some church fund-raiser.   Looks like it's been vacant for years.

E. 28th Street and Seneca

These old brick warehouses that bookend this structure along E. 28th Street were associated with the steel industry. The corbelled brick and classical details are still there, but deteriorating.   There may still be some steel tube production going on, but not much.    Most of the steel production has gone international.  Many of the former industrial buildings along 28th Street have converted into car repair garages. Although many are just gone.

Thursday, July 2, 2015

1412 W. Morse, c.1915

The assessor estimates the date of this building to be 1910, but according to the Sanborn Fire Insurance Maps it didn't appear on the block until some time after 1914.  This is a perfect example of some of the design trends that impact small commercial buildings.

L. Shure, 2015

The original portion of the facade is the terracotta band above the storefronts.  Back when it was popular terracotta was considered a perfect building material.  It could be molded in any style and could take a variety of finishes, from gloss or matte to speckled or marbled.  Maintenance and cleaning was anticipated to be simple.  Experience soon showed terracotta needed repairs just like any other material.  And the construction detailing was often too complex to be justified for small structures. It's prime period of use was really in the 1910s, when stock storefronts could be ordered right from a catalog.

Image I found online, which I have no right to use. 1950s?
Below the terracotta is a sign band of artificial stucco.  Typically this is a foam panel covered with a thin layer of cement.  It's cheap, looks OK when new, and is easy to pierce for signage and awnings.  Although this isn't a terrible material, it's often detailed incorrectly, allowing water to penetrate and destroy it from the inside.

Below the stucco are brick storefronts, probably from the 1980s.  I don't really understand why
commercial renovations close up storefronts or decrease the size of their windows.  If I can't see inside I'm not likely to go inside.  And many businesses then block those smaller windows with signage.  But I have to admit, pasting big rocks on storefronts has almost become a classic treatment.

A portion of this building was cut off to allow the new condo to the east to develop. That's why the coping on the east doesn't curve up, like the one on the west.  I also remember strange green shrubs at the parapet...  Were they real, or some kind of weird ornament?

OK, finally found a better photo of this building from 1982.  So that shrub was some kind of ornament... And much better image of the central medallion.
Better photo from the C. William Brubaker Collection at UIC- 1982