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.