Friday, April 21, 2017

Rogers Park Station

One of the best things about my work day is the ease of the commute.  I walk one block east to the Metra station and ride south to the terminus at Ogilvie Station, which takes about 20 minutes.  Then I walk a few blocks east to City Hall.  In the evening I usually doze on the way home, waking up just before Rogers Park (a skill I perfected in graduate school on the Red Line).  With a few changes in technology my route is pretty much the same one used by commuters when the neighborhood began as an independent suburb in the 1870s.  Back then the commercial development clustered around the station Ravenswood between Lunt and Greenleaf.  The early frame homes were just far enough away from the tracks to avoid the noise and smoke. But despite the similarities there have been a number of changes in the experience of commuting.
Rogers Park Station At-Grade, looking Northeast.


This rail line began passenger service in 1854, when it was extended to Waukegan.  By 1869 there were seven trains each way daily.  But because the tracks were at-grade crossings were dangerous and frequently interrupted city traffic.  In 1896 work began to elevate the tracks in compliance with a Chicago ordinance. (The information above is taken from the Metra website, which has some history on each of their lines.)

Photos of the station show that it was elevated after 1905. This wasn't a moment too soon according to these Chicago Tribune articles (accessed through the Chicago Public Library):

At-Grade Station
August 20, 1885 -  Frank Zwiener apparently commits suicide between the Rogers Park and Calvary station.  His lower limbs were found at some distance from the rest of his body. 

December 15, 1887 - Charles Hemmings and his wife were struck and by the train while crossing the tracks in a heavy lumber wagon. Mr. Hemmings survived but his wife was killed.  Their horses were also killed.

May 8, 1896 - Six occupants of a surrey hurled as far as 75 feet when stuck by the Milwaukee train at Touhy.  No one was killed,  miraculously.

January 23, 1897 - Arthur Steen injured at Rogers Park crossing by the Milwaukee train.  His companion, Frederick Buhr, was uninjured although their wagon was destroyed.

June 11, 1903 - Patrick McLaughlin, a flagman for the railroad, loses his life trying to save 16 year old George Brackle, who was driving a laundry wagon across the tracks.

Anyway, I don't want to get too morbid.  Let's just say that at-grade crossings could be hazardous.   Pressure was brought to bear on the Chicago Northwestern Railway to expedite the elevation of the tracks at Rogers Park.
View looking southeast , c. 1913.  Did I mention these were steam trains?

By 1910 the tracks had been elevated, but what about the station?  It wasn't unusual to reconstruct a train station at the new grade, but I believe the entire station was raised to align with the new track level.  I'm basing this on the design of the building (as shown in historic photos in the collection of the Rogers Park/West Ridge Historical Society) and the identical footprints found in the consecutive Sanborn Fire Insurance Maps. The combination of open bays and enclosed areas for ticket sales was common, and can still be seen in stations along the North Shore.  In particular I'm thinking of the 1891 station in Glencoe, which has a slightly more elaborate massing but the same brick and stone trim combinations.

View from West of the Embankment Looking South
Moving buildings in Chicago has a long tradition.  In the 1850s and 1860s water and sewer lines were constructed under a new raised street system.  Many buildings, large and small, were lifted and placed atop new foundations to align with the new street level. And commonly property owners would move old homes to the rear of their lot to allow construction of a new residence along the street.  You can find this pattern in many of the older neighborhoods and the skilled labor to do this safely would have been readily available.

After Elevation with West Depot
With the elevation of the tracks the railroad also built a depot on the west side of the line.   It appears to have had a concrete foundation and a frame second floor.  I'm not sure if this functioned as a storage building or a shelter.  Or perhaps both.  But the primary station remained on the east (inbound) which is still the case on the Union Pacific North line.   Folks waiting to go downtown were always accorded the more elaborate facilities.

Note the access lane on the west side of the embankment.  This was within the railroad right-of-way and provided easy pickup and loading for passengers and goods.  This lane was later vacated by the railroad and sold off for condo development in the 1960s.

By the 1950s the commuter lines has become less profitable, perhaps because of decreasing density in the neighborhoods.  In 1958 twenty-two stations were closed, both in Chicago and outlying areas.  At this time Edgewater (directly south) lost all three of their commuter stations.  Based on dated photos provided by generous readers of the blog I can confirm that the Rogers Park Station existed at least until 1965, and it's demolition is estimated to have occurred in 1966 or 1967..

View looking North from Lunt down Ravenswood
The current Rogers Park Metra stop has a small at-grade waiting room and open canopies on the narrow train platforms.  Where the old station once stood there are a few awkward parking spaces.  The hefty limestone foundation is still visible from Ravenswood.





This post is an adaptation of a project I put together for the "Property" exhibit at the Rogers Park West Ridge Historical Society, curated by the Roman Susan Artspace.   Although that has a few more maps and some snarky comments... And there's still time to see the exhibit exhibit at the society's storefront at 7363 N. Greenview!.

My exhibit at the RP/WRHS "Property"








Wednesday, February 1, 2017

Devon and Artesian - Moderne in West Ridge


North intersection of Devon and Artesian
This image is the colorized version of a drawing I'll be offering for bid at the Stone Academy Silent Auction.  It's actually just a few blocks from the school, so I thought it might be a good subject for those with a strong investment in the neighborhood.

As West Ridge developed Devon became a high-end commercial strip with a number of impressive terra cotta buildings constructed in the 1920s.  This district served an explosion of new homeowners attracted by the development of affordable bungalows.  At the time the area still had some of the open agricultural character which marked the first development of the neighborhood.

These two buildings represent the second wave of architectural development,  with a more streamlined appearance and less ornamentation.  Both are clad with Indiana limestone, similar to the Moderne-style skyscrapers going up in the Loop around the same time.  The building on the left, originally Hillman's Grocery, was designed by the firm of Leichenko & Esser in 1942.  It's unusual to find commercial construction built during WWII, when most materials were shunted to the military or to housing.  The building on the right was designed by Albert Hecht and constructed in 1939.  It was originally a Rusnak Brother's Furniture, an early franchise with outlets throughout Chicago.

And here's the black and white version, which will be offered for bid.  Although there have been a few improvements since this scan was taken.


Thursday, January 5, 2017

Stucco Bungalows on Arthur, 1915

Fifty-One Stucco Bungalows on Arthur Avenue
I've written a number of posts about collections of homes planned, designed and built by early developers in the neighborhood.  These range from a few identical cottages to more complex arrangements of alternating designs.   These small scale developments are found throughout Chicago and their quiet existence probably accounts for most of the city's small-scale speculative residential development.
On the block of Arthur Avenue with Clark Street on the east and the Union Pacific Railroad embankment on the west, there's an impressive collection of modest stucco bungalows constructed in 1915. Permit records shows that these homes were designed by Edgewater architect and developer Niels Buck, who was active in the area from the 1890s through the 1920s.  Two permits were issued, the first covering the homes on the north side of the block in April of 1915, and the second on the south side in October.

According to an article in the Chicago Tribune Niels Buck, in partnership with Herman Becker, bought 12 1/2 acres in the area for $60,000 from Jacob Rehm. The cost of construction was estimated to be $230,000, which puts the cost per bungalow around $5,600.  In today's value this would be about $134,000.  Typically a developer would work with a bank to issue bonds in the value of the loan. Investors buying the bonds received a guaranteed rate of return.  But partnering with Becker may have allowed Buck to bypass this process, making the development more profitable for both.
View from the west looking towards Clark Street, 1921

This is a great photograph of the street in 1921, before any substantial changes were made. The image is available on Wikipedia, which considers it too old to be subject to copyright.  Still, I wouldn't mind knowing where it originated...

This was a high quality development, with poured concrete curbs, walkways, sidewalks and electric streetlights.  The stucco cladding addressed building code requirements for fire resistance.

Real estate developers in the city were responsible for tying their development into the street grid of the city and extending the utilities.  Quality construction was profitable to the developer, who wanted homes to sell briskly so they could move on to their next opportunity.  And in 1915 affordable homes in Rogers Park, with its strong transit ties and proximity to the lake, probably went like hotcakes.


I've identified at least seven separate types of bungalow on the block.  Although perhaps "type" is too strong a work.  Basically these are all stucco boxes with slight variations in roofline and porch design. Originally they were all about the same in size and square footage, but the changes in massing makes the repetition of designs nearly unnoticeable.  This was an advantage of having a developer who also functioned as an architect. For those who look closely the block creates an almost perfect illustration of architectural variations on a theme.


Type I Bungalow with boulder cladding
Many of the homes on the block have since departed from the original design intent.  Enclosing open porches was common, especially after the introduction of affordable air conditioning.  Rear additions and detached garages are also common. I'm guessing garages weren't included in the original development in order to keep prices low.  Sometimes homes were expanded upward, losing the shape of the original roof but adding substantial square footage.

Stucco is a surface treatment that required maintenance, repair and sometimes replacement.  It wasn't such a stretch to replace one surface treatment with another.  The bungalow above incorporates a formstone cladding.  This was popular for home repair as early as the 1930s and probably a bit cheaper than new stucco, which required specialized skills for installation.

Type II Bungalow with renovations
This home has been altered just as much as the one above, losing the open porch and extending a new covered entrance porch.  But in this case the renovations observed some of the established patterns on the block, retaining the stucco and eave brackets and incorporating more traditional window details.

This block of Arthur represents the most extensive contiguous development I've found in the neighborhood. But I know there are many more out there.

Ad for Atlas Portland Cement Company from American Builder, May-1918.  Accessed through Google Books.