Wednesday, June 13, 2018

View of the back of Mision Cristiana Elim

I'm continuing my series looking into some of the areas of the neighborhood that were never really meant to be on display.  You can't do much better than the church at Morse and Ashland.

This was originally the reform synagogue Temple Mizpah, and I've written about it a bit here.  There's a substantial parking lot on the east, which was intended to be the main sanctuary but was never built.  The result is that the building (and the block) remains forever unfinished.

But the unfinished nature of the property allows for a glimpse into the service areas.  All of the loading and unloading spaces, and all of the mechanical accommodations are on full display.  In some ways it's as complex a design as the architectural expression found on the primary facade.  And over the years it's been modified and altered to better meet the needs of the building.  How many more masonry boxes will be built before it finds equilibrium?

Friday, May 11, 2018

View from Goldberg Park

Looking up from Goldberg Pocket Park.
I'm interested in parts of buildings that were never meant to be seen.  These are the spaces that most honestly respond to the needs of the structure and the limitations of the materials.  Somehow they’re the most honest expressions of Chicago's character. If you walk down any alley you'll see these how these secondary areas and irregular spaces are organized.

I also look for them when I notice a disruption in the grid, whether by a demolition or some quirk of development.  Pocket parks create great windows into these spaces.  The one at Goldberg Park is one of my favorites.  The height of the buildings and the adjacent embankment for the El create a sense of enclosure and provide a leisurely way to enjoy the surroundings.

I see views like this replicated throughout the city.   It's really a streetscape in its own right, following a set of rules just as compelling as those of the finished facades. 

Friday, May 4, 2018

View at Sheridan and Pratt

View from Sheridan looking Northeast towards Pratt.
Sometimes the spaces created between buildings are just as interesting as the buildings themselves.  I'm especially drawn to taller buildings with irregular footprints and deep courtyards.  The negative space creates  complex pinwheeling shapes that most people sense, but don't consciously appreciate.

I've written about both of these buildings before.  They represent the transition of Sheridan Road from a leisurely lane lined with mansions to a more dense and urban thoroughfare.

Here are the previous posts:

6801 N. Sheridan- Rogers Park Hotel, 1922

6757-6765 N. Sheridan, 1917


Monday, March 19, 2018

Pratt Lane Hotel, 1927

Detail of terra cotta brackets
This building was designed by Koenigsburg and Westfeld in the Gothic Renaissance Revival style and constructed in 1927.  The ornament has always fascinated me-- and in particular the lion brackets supporting the twin projecting bays.  The first drawing I did of the building was back in 2006, but apparently that graphic is trapped on a obsolete Photobucket server.  But here's a link to the previous post.

This was constructed as an apartment hotel, which was basically a month-to-month furnished apartment with communal dining and socializing areas.  Apartment hotels would typically include a regular cleaning service.  This is an urban type that hasn't survived in Chicago (as far as I know).  The closest  approximation I can think of is an extended-stay hotel, and those are now mostly found out by the highways.
1246 W. Pratt

This building dwarfs its neighbors, and would have been one of the few to approach the permitted height increase established by Chicago's first zoning code in 1923.  I think the entire lakefront may have followed suit if it hadn't been hit by the Great Depression.  So for now it remains a crazy outlier, catching the sun all day with it's amazing glazed white terra cotta.

Thursday, March 1, 2018

Improving Some Clark Street Strip Malls

I hate strip malls.  I especially hate them in historic commercial areas where they erode the streetwall and prioritize cars over people.  There was a dark time in the early 1990s when you could apparently squeeze in a strip mall anywhere.  They were often cheap replacements for older buildings lost through neglect and disinvestment.  I totally understand why they're popular and profitable, but they belong in auto-dominated environments, where they do the least amount of damage. 

I used to think they might someday be demolished in favor of buildings more sympathetic to a walkable neighborhood.  But that only happens in neighborhoods where the desirability (and cost of land) is through the roof.  It's more likely these things are going to stick around for a long long time.  But that doesn't mean strip malls can't ever be improved.  

7355 N. Clark.  Cafe area shown in red.

The one at 7355 N. Clark is pretty awful.  Constructed in 1993 it has no separation between the sidewalk and the parking area.  There's a huge illuminated sign that hangs over the sidewalk, and it's painfully close to a complex intersection.  But somehow it carves out an outdoor cafe.  An 8 foot strip of parking area has been enclosed with wrought iron fencing and re-purposed with a few tables and hanging planters.  Sure there are cars just inches away and it feels a bit like being in a cage...  But it's an attempt that gives me some hope. 

Oddly, the space is immediately adjacent to Touhy Park which is a clear alternative to sitting in a converted parking lot.

6714 N. Clark
The strip mall at 6714 N. Clark was constructed in 1993.  It has some amenities the other lacks,  including a walkway from the sidewalk and some planting strips.  But is also has a raised concrete pad on the north end.  I expect it needed to be located here to accommodate cars backing out from two difference directions.

This was unused space until a bakery and cafe went into the adjacent storefront.  A portion of the patio was enclosed with horizontal wood fence protecting a few tables.  The fence is solid enough to provide some visual screening from the parking area, but low enough not to feel like a jail.  And it changes in height, providing more screening towards the adjacent McDonald's drive-through.  But the size of the patio makes it work, provide a good buffer between the enclosure and the parking lot.   I feel like this patio was in hibernation until someone came along who knew how to utilize it. And it makes me think that the idiosyncrasies built into these areas might actually be opportunities for improvement.

Thursday, February 15, 2018

Stucco Bungalows on Arthur, 1915

Fifty-One Stucco Bungalows on Arthur Avenue
Republishing this with a new historic image I just found!

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.
Somehow I keep finding more information about this street!  Below is page from a booklet found on  It even includes a fuzzy floor plan and some more detail about the construction method.  And I was wrong about the cost of the homes, which are noted to be less than $3,000, which is around $54,000 converted to 2018. Wow.

Industrial Housing, National Fireproofing Company-  published 1918.

Monday, January 29, 2018

6158 N. Richmond, 1959

Ok, getting back to my profoundly unpopular mid-century multi-family project for just a bit... 

I've written some posts about the Georgian Revival single family homes in the neighborhood which you can read here and here.    Below are some some throwback graphics from 2013, when I thought colored pencils were the greatest thing in the world.  Not sure what I was going for with the blue halo...

Georgian Revival Single Family Homes in West Ridge

As the West Ridge neighborhood developed the cost of land began to increase.  To make the investment worthwhile new construction became more dense, with more units per building. Parcels that had been less desirable, particularly on busy corners, could now be combined and developed profitably.

This 3-unit building below was constructed  on a double lot which might have accommodated two single family homes.  The developer also built a detached two-car garage, something typically eliminated from single family homes in order to keep costs down.  This is designed in the same  simplified Georgian style seen above, right down to the colonial-style windows and the gently pitched hipped roof.

6158 N. Richmond, 1959

The base of the building has the random coursed stone veneer common during the period. This is also used as the surround for a slightly projecting main entrance.  A large glass block window provides light to the interior stair.

The irregular the facade along Granville is really odd, with different windows sizes, configurations and placements.  And how about that uncomfortable-looking blank area?  It's almost as if the stylistic choice is working against the internal needs of the building. This might also explain why larger buildings began to rely on more modern facade designs, where there was more flexibility in the exterior expression. 

Wednesday, January 24, 2018

East Park Apartments, 1521 W. Sherwin, detail

In case you're wondering, those are holiday ornaments in the windows!
Art Deco terra cotta ornament is unusual in Rogers Park. Actually, Art Deco is unusual throughout Chicago, although there are still some great examples to be found.

According to the Chicago Historic Resources Survey this building was permitted in 1931 and designed by architect Benjamin A. Comm.  Most private building ceased after the crash of 1929, so I expect this project was funded well in advance.

What became the Art Deco style made its official appearance at the 1925 Paris Exposition.  It reflected contemporary movements in fine art, such as Cubism and Futurism, emphasizing pure geometric form and rejecting historic ornamentation.  So it's a bit ironic that same ornament has now become historic in its own right...

In 1927 the officers of the Northwestern Terra Cotta Company brought over six French sculptors to supply new designs for the company.  These became popular with architects and builders and soon the new style of ornament could be found at other terra cotta companies as well.  The use of color helped to emphasize the forms and lines of the design, which typically had a lower relief than  traditional ornament.

Some buildings designed by Benjamin A. Comm showing various styles.
Benjamin A. Comm designed a number of buildings recognized in the Chicago Historic Resources Survey.  His most interesting design (as far as I know) was the Union Park Hotel at 1519 W. Warren Boulevard.  This was designated as a Chicago Landmark in 2010, and the designation report has an nice discussion about Art Deco in Chicago, which I've cribbed from shamelessly.  But you should read it yourself!  Seriously, read it.

B.A. Comm didn't really make the cut as a "significant" architect in the report, but his work is notable from a neighborhood character standpoint.  Here are some examples using photos I swiped from the Cook County Assessor's website.  At least the Assessor is still good for something...