Open House Chicago – This Weekend!

Open House Chicago sites
Park Gables Apartments swimming pool

Hey Chicago architecture fans! This weekend is Open House Chicago, your chance to look inside dozens of beautiful, interesting, rare, odd, new, old and fascinating buildings all over the city – houses, apartments, factories, warehouses, historic office building lobbies, architecture firms, beautiful churches, and a variety of rarely-accessible spaces. Don’t miss it!

Open House Chicago sites
Our Lady of Lordes Church

Open House Chicago sites
Prairie Material Concrete Factory

Check out the full list of sites here. They are broken down by neighborhood, and in my experience – if you’re planning to make a full weekend of it – it’s best to stick with one or two neighborhoods a day. But however you handle it, just don’t miss it!

Open House Chicago sites
Second Presybterian Church

The ruins and sundry of Washburne Trade School

I photograph a lot of abandoned buildings, and have been doing so for somewhere between 15 and 20 years. I can’t say I’ve never found a romantic aspect to decay, nor can I deny finding architectural decay a fascinating subject for photography. The slow falling out of place of things, nature’s patient labor of unbuilding, creates visually rich patterns that naturally stir the soul and raise all manner of questions about the ultimately transient nature of our built world.

Washburne Trade School

But photographing the ruination of the American cityscape has always had a social dimension for me. I consider it my ongoing and ever-present mission to document endangered architecture – to call attention to its plight, and to save its memory even if I can’t save its form. I haven’t always been disciplined about sticking to that principle, but I try. If I’m going to post a photo of building ruins, it better be because I want to call attention to that specific site, to a building’s history, to its architecture, its style, its neighborhood – something beyond just LOOK BUILDING FALL DOWN, I MAKE PURTY PICTURE.

In recent years, the popularization of “ruin porn” has given new dimensions to the ethical issues surrounding urban abandonment and decay, especially when considered in conjunction with the wide spread of urban gentrification. Alongside the earnest preservationists decrying the collapse of great buildings, a generation of urban explorers and their internet audience seems to revel in decay for its own sake. Again, I’ve been on a number of urbex jaunts myself, and can’t deny the fun and the thrill of it – but I try to come away with more than just pictures of stuff that’s falling apart.

Washburne Trade School

The Internet is one big race to the bottom, though, and what was a niche culture ten years ago, shared on a few discussion boards, is today a vigorous source of clickbait for lowest common denominator sites like Buzzfeed and UpWorthy. Even this could have been used as a chance to educate and motivate, but instead these sites give us vapid headlines about the “strangely haunting beauty” of decay (or “beautiful and chilling images of abandonment”, or “the 30 most astounding abandoned places in the Solar System”, or whatever other collection of adjectives are making the rounds this week), which lead to isolated single images with minimal context. The state of things in ruin is treated as an aesthetic experience; people shake their heads, briefly wonder what the world’s coming to, and then click on with their lives.

Whichever way you choose to interpret the cultural and economic insanity that has allowed multitudes of fantastic American buildings to be abandoned and destroyed over the decades, there’s no shortage of photographs of the results online.

Washburne Trade School interior

So when I decided to do a post on Chicago’s late, great Washburne Trade School, I had to stop and think for a moment. What am I trying to achieve here? Because at Washburne, decay – ludicrous, profligate, wasteful, narratively rich decay – was half the point.

I settled on two things as a focus:
1) Washburne was a cool building.
2) Washburne was full of insane crap.

In the process of illustrating these two points, I may include photographs of ruins. Hopefully they’re good photographs, and if they make the ruins look beautiful, well, don’t confuse a beautiful photograph with a beautiful state of affairs. Washburne should not have been abandoned, should not have been left to rot, and should not have been demolished – not in a sane world. Alas, our world is frequently certifiable, and Washburne is no longer with us.

Enough prelude! On with the show!

Washburne Trade School

TREATISE #1: Washburne was a cool building

Washburne Trade School stood at the southwest corner of 31st and Kedzie. The school was contained in a massive complex of buildings, taking up the rough equivalent of three city blocks.

The historical basics: the buildings were originally home to the Liquid Carbonic Corporation plant, manufacturer of soda pop fizz. The huge red brick building with the classic Chicago tower dates to 1910 (architect: Nimmons & Fellows); the Streamline Deco office building to 1935 (architect: S.D. Gratias). The Chicago School District bought the buildings in 1958, spent a million bucks renovating them, and installed Washburne at the location, consolidating many programs in one place; there  it stayed till it closed for good in 1996 (the school’s renowned chef training program survives as the Washburne Culinary & Hospitality Institute, part of the City College system.) The buildings were left abandoned until their 2008-09 demolition.

The primary building was a huge concrete structure with brick facing, with two long 4-story wings at a right angle. Where they met stood a tower with faintly Prairie School accents, of a style that can also be seen on a few Rogers Park apartment buildings (and probably elsewhere): horizontal bands of stone, square piers, shallow arches, and cubic volumes.

Washburne Trade School

The rest of this marching monolithic mass of building, however, was pure Chicago School: concrete frame with brick cladding. Minimal ornament. Huge windows between narrow brick piers made up its bulk, and a simple overhanging roof element capped it off without elaboration.

Washburne Trade School

To the west, a totally prosaic annex was tacked on in 1936 for bottling machinery assembly and metalwork; I never photographed it intact, but Google Streetview shows it to be an unremarkable concrete frame infilled with industrial windows.

Washburne Trade School

To the east, the school was connected by two skybridges to the former Liquid Carbonic Corporation office building, a Streamline Deco edifice with an inwardly-curved main entryway (echoed by a more modest building across the street that survives to the present.)

Liquid Carbonic Corporation buildingWashburne Trade School

Washburne Trade School

THE Liquid Carbonic Corporation

The Streamline building was already 2/3rds gone when I arrived on the scene in 2008 – but by chance, I’d snapped a few shots of it while driving by in 2005, while it was still intact.

An expansive garage stood on the block-interior side of the main building, gone before I ever got there; its outline appears on the main building.

Washburne Trade School

This was classic Chicago School architecture, as Preservation Chicago notes – impressive for its size, for its architectural purity, for its unabashed hugeness. Not as famous or glamorous as the skyscrapers of the Loop, buildings like Washburne nonetheless made Chicago what it was and is – a sprawling hub of manufacturing, a modern city that sprang up out of nothing and spread like wildfire across the prairie. They were landmarks of their neighborhoods, sources of jobs, and iconic images for the city. With huge windows, concrete structures and open floor plans, they should lend themselves readily to adaptive reuse – but they have fallen in alarming numbers.

Washburne Trade School

The Washburne buildings were demolished because… well, nobody seemed to have a good answer at the time. The ol’ E-word was apparently batted around some – you can justify tearing down anything you don’t like by calling it an “eyesore”, and you can justify calling it an eyesore basically if anything at all is wrong with it, regardless of how simple it would be to fix it. Broken windows? EYESORE! Tear it down, quick! (And pray nobody ever breaks a window on your house.)

Another driving factor was desire for green space. Normally I lobby against this desire tooth and nail, because most American cities have far too much green space, not too little – but Little Village actually does need a park. And they will get one – just… not on the Washburne site, it turns out. A huge brownfield site designated Park No. 553 – closer to a sizable residential population, incidentally – will instead be turned into public green space.

In fact, the Washburne site is still sitting vacant five years after the demolition was finished.

Saint Anthony Hospital has stepped with a pretty fantastic program for the site, announced in 2012 – an 11 story hospital building, some smaller wellness-related buildings, some retail, and a modest public park. It is as good a project as anybody could want for such a site  – urban, modern, dense, mixed use, integral to the community – and it’s an economic engine that will likely offer spillover benefits to the area around it. The city is well on board and a design team was announced last year; hopefully further progress will follow soon.

Washburne Trade School interior
Seriously, look at the light in that room. Magnificent. Who wouldn’t want that?

TREATISE THE SECOND: Washburne was full of insane crap.

I mean it. The school’s buildings were absolutely loaded to the hilt with crazy, wacky, random, quirky stuff, the likes of which you’ve never seen in all your life. Visiting it was a non-stop stream of “what the hell?” moments.

Washburne Trade School interior

Washburne Trade School interior

Washburne Trade School interior

Some of it was bizarre by virtue of age. With a history on the site going back to 1958, some of the materials had become quite dated by the time the school closed. Even the most modern of equipment would have been over a decade old by the time the building came down, but everything left behind was likely quite a bit older.

Washburne Trade School interior

1970s style font

Washburne Trade School interior

Washburne Trade School interior

1960s style sign

Washburne Trade School interior

Washburne Trade School interior
Gloriously dated curtains

Washburne Trade School interior

Other portions are just strange by virtue of being inside a classroom. Framed-up mini-buildings, random plasterwork, set-like storefronts lining the hallways, disassembled automobiles, massive saws, metalworking machines – the range of things found inside a trade school is massive.

Washburne Trade School interior

Washburne Trade School interior

Washburne Trade School interior

Odd juxtopositions abound as students practiced their craft using the building as a test subject. You never knew what style or material of decoration you might find in a room or a hallway.

Washburne Trade School interior

Washburne Trade School interior

Washburne Trade School interior

Washburne Trade School interior

Washburne Trade School interior

Washburne Trade School interior

Washburne Trade School interior

Washburne Trade School interior

Washburne Trade School interior

Again, not to romanticize decay, but… the abandoned site was a big ol’ playground for any number of urban adventurers, and part of me is sad over its loss for that reason alone. Explorers of all stripes – taggers, architects, photographers, historians, urbexers, perhaps an odd New Years Eve celebrant or two – wandered the rotting hulk, leaving their mark or documenting their passage.

Washburne Trade School interior

Washburne Trade School interior

And finally, there’s just the volume of stuff left behind in the building. Chairs, desks, equipment, lockers, projects, cabinets, shelves, machinery, hardware, tables, signs, posters, pamphlets, books, computers – a huge amount of paraphernalia was simply left where it stood. Other explorers, arriving sooner, found even more, some of which they carried out with them.

Washburne Trade School
Mr. Henley didn’t even bother to erase the blackboard! (And what kind of phone number is that? And how long is this class, anyways?)

Washburne Trade School

Washburne Trade School
No home for a circa-1970 PA system in a new school? Blasphemy!

Of course, when you think about it, the motivation to bring a lot of it along to a new location is pretty lacking. New building usually equals new equipment, and anyway, plenty of the stuff was heavily dated by the time Washburne closed. There’s no telling how much gear did leave the building along with its occupants.

Washburne Trade School interior

Washburne Trade School

Forgotten Chicago has a terrific post on the opening and the closing of Washburne, with a lot more historical detail than what I’ve posted. A simple Google search will also bring up plenty more photos of the school’s dilapidated interior in the years before was razed – amazingly, I’ve barely scratched the surface here. Thanks to Chicago’s prolific architectural exploration community, you can still spend hours wandering the halls of this lost landmark in digital form.

Wallpaper Buildings

IMG_6705a

1048 N. Marshfield Ave. at Cortez

Robert Venturi famously grouped the ornamentation of buildings into two types: “The Duck”, a building with an iconic and usually literal exterior shape (named for a souvenir shop on Long Island built in the shape of a giant duck), and “The Decorated Shed”, a constructed box with ornamental systems applied to it – exemplified by the Gothic cathedrals with their huge ornamental facades standing in front of vast warehouses of religious space.

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Our Lady of Sorrows Basilica, 3121 W Jackson Boulevard

Nearly all common Chicago architecture falls squarely into the second group, to the extent that the city’s architecture is often a structural system with a layer of cladding and ornament applied to the front, visible in the most literal (and sometimes comical) of ways. My own shorthand for these is “Wallpaper Buildings”.

IMG_1017a

2900 N. Mildred Avenue at W. George Street. This is the back and side of a massive U-shaped courtyard apartment. At left, the facade continues on minus the structure without missing a beat, adding one last bay to shelter the rear stairs from the street. We are not meant to notice the disconnect.

When you see it, you’ll see it everywhere. It makes you think about the nature of a building, of construction and design. Is architecture a frame with an elaborate weatherproof sculpture in front of it? Is it still architecture if you remove the frame? What happens when the sculpture ceases to be sculptural, or ceases to have mass, or ceases to have decoration? The story of the Wallpaper Building, its evolution over the years, is the story of architecture itself.

Most Chicago buildings are meant for urban settings, where the front facade is more visible than the sides or back. As a compromise between cost and quality, builders would load up the front facade with higher-grade materials and most if not all of the building’s ornament. The sides and alley-facing walls usually were built of beige-colored Chicago common brick, a softer, cheaper, lower-quality material than the highly finished brick used on the front.

Polish housing

1363 N. Bosworth. This building does a double downgrade. The front facade (above) is the most heavily composed side, with stone and heavily articulated finish brick; the side comes second, with a lesser grade of brick but still ornamented with considerable corbeled brickwork; the utterly plain backside (below) is done in Chicago common brick.

Polish housing

Sometimes, though, the sides and back weren’t nearly as invisible as the designer would like to imagine. My favorite example is in Buffalo, New York (where Louis Sullivan’s towering Guaranty Building has two insanely ornate sides facing the streets… and two completely plain brick wall sides facing the alleys) but there are plenty of similar instances in Chicago. The idea, obviously, is that a tall neighbor would eventually cover up the sides not facing the street. Sometimes it might have even worked out that way.

And sometimes it didn’t.

IMG_1336a

A view north  from the Wilson Red Line stop in Uptown shows no less than 5 buildings with decorative facades and unornamented sides.

The design strategy was not limited to low-budget buildings. Some of the city’s most ornate and lavish buildings switch over to cheaper common brick on the sides. Many feature bay windows projecting from the common brick sides, a pointed acknowledgement that the sides are indeed visible and always would be.

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2424-2428 N. Geneva Terrace, Lincoln Park

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 1547 N. Dearborn Parkway, Gold Coast – an 1891 mansion by architect August Fielder, still a private residence. Yours for only $13.75 million!

The approach was more successful with mid-block buildings on neighborhood streets, where a builder could count on having similarly scaled neighbors only a few feet away from his sidewalls.

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3000 block of S. Bonfield Avenue, Bridgeport

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2700 block of S. Wallace Street, Bridgeport. The exposed wall bears a faded ghost ad for long-vanished Selz shoes brand, possibly a reference to the Selz Good Shoes Lady.

At some point, this common design response changed from an adaptive strategy to a default setting, used even when it didn’t make a lot of sense. Hence the full-lot houses in many neighborhoods with their plain brick sides exposed for all the world to see. A more cohesive design approach might have found a middle-grade material to use on all sides while evening out the cost between expensive front facade brick and cheap common side brick, or just left off the front facade upgrade altogether, since in these cases it only serves to call out the lower quality materials adjacent to it. But builders of the time just weren’t rolling that way. Why? I have only guesses.

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1329 W. Chicago Avenue at Throop, West Town

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1500 N. Walton Street, West Town

Polish housing

1301 N. Greenview Avenue at Potomac, West Town – Chicago

All this stuff drove the early Modernists crazy. They couldn’t stand the notion of buildings having hierarchy, fronts and backs, important sides and secondary sides, decorative skin and hidden structure. To the most dogmatic among them, these things reflected the hierarchies of unjustly stratified societies, the moral decay that precipitated the First World War.

Today, of course, we take a different view. The ornate facade is seen as a gracious gesture, a polite and noble contribution to the public space of the street. Decorating the front of the building is about living up to social norms and expectations, treating your neighbors well, showing respect for the people around you, saying “hello”, enhancing the public space.

IMG_6598

1901 N. Bissell Street at Wisconsin, Ranch Triangle – Chicago

It does still raise the question, though: why is the person riding the Red Line or walking through the alley somehow less deserving of social graces than the person on the front sidewalk? Is the Bridgeview Uptown Bank building a gracious neighbor, or a dowager in a hospital gown, with the backside hanging open and flapping in the breeze, mooning the rest of the world?

The disconnect between the artistically designed components of a building and the bulk of its mass was a driver of Modernist philosophy, as its young masters sought to design buildings as complete entities – respectfully and properly clad on all sides, among other things. There would be no hidden back; all sides of the building would be forever visible as it sat on its site in splendid isolation.

UofC Law Library

University of Chicago D’Angelo Law Library, Eero Saarinen, 1958

 

P5120523

The Esplanade Apartment Buildings at 900-910 Lake Shore Drive, Mies van der Rohe, 1956 – essentially an expansion of his famous 860-880 Lake Shore Drive Apartments from 1949, next door.

Structure and cladding would become one. The facade ceased to be a thing of mass, of sculpture, of elaboration, of separation; it became a mere cladding, a pattern, an expression of the structure that lay just beneath it.

Pre-war buildings are sometimes subjected to “facadectomies”, with everything but the decorative front wall torn down and a new structure erected behind the old facade. It’s physically possible because old masonry facades are structural entities, capable of carrying their own weight even if they weren’t structurally integral to the building behind them.

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The facade of the Fine Arts Building Annex, 421 S. Wabash Ave, suspended in place after the rest of the building was demolished in 2010. It was subsequently had a new Roosevelt University building grafted onto it from behind.

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Group facadectomy on the 000 block of S. Wabash Avenue, 2008

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Citizens State Bank of Chicago, just off Lincoln Avenue, creatively remade into loft apartments circa 2007.

Chicago’s had its fair share of them, though usually the city’s ethos is just to knock everything the hell down and start over, because, hey, history don’ make money, know what I’m sayin’? An anyway, all dem old things is old, y’know? (By comparison, stronger preservation laws mean the practice is absolutely rampant in downtown Washington DC, where almost no pre-war buildings remain in their original state.)

No orthodox Modernist building could survive such an operation. Take down the building and the skin has to come with it.
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The IBM Building – 330 N. Wabash Avenue, Mies van der Rohe, 1969

You do not tear down the building while leaving behind a Modernist facade; if you were interested, though, you could rip off the facade while keeping everything else, and transform the building into something different. This possibility was painfully rendered evident during the recent demolition of Prentice Hospital.

Prentice Hospital

Prentice Hospital
The “pedestal” portion of Prentice was a steel and concrete frame supporting a thin, non-structural outer skin.

However, late Chicago Modernists, as I’ve discussed before, weren’t always adherents to orthodoxy. Finish brick on the front, common brick on the side – step away from the Loop, and the old patterns rolled right on into the 1960s.

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1111 W. 47th Street, Back of the Yards – Chicago

There’s beauty to be found in both approaches, and some part of me admits: a neighborhood street with a solid wall of elaborate facades is a lot nicer than a more middling approach. Who cares about those side walls anyhow? Some of Chicago’s most beautiful streets have been created this way. It’s not orthodox or pure… just pretty. Pleasant. Human. “Pretty” may sound vapid, but it’s hard to argue with “human”.

Modern construction techniques, however, have come down firmly on the side of the structure-and-skin approach.  One might say that the thin-skinned buildings of today are more covered in something akin to wallpaper than ever before – layers of thin and varied materials, each serving a particular function – sub-structure, moisture protection, framing, insulation. To build a structurally self-supporting facade – a facade with significant mass, heft and depth – requires a massive material, like stone, brick or concrete. Stone is too expensive to transport, cut and lay up; brick has been reduced to just another facade material, just another form of thin skin. Nobody’s managed to use concrete block in a way that doesn’t look hideously ugly, the lessons of Frank Lloyd Wright’s textile block phase apparently having been forgotten.

The last stand of the facade-as-mass approach could be found in Brutalism, since poured-in-place concrete is the last massive material that can be affordably transported. The style died out with the 1970s, when architects found that almost nobody liked the look of exposed concrete (except architects). It is currently one of the most hotly contested architectural styles around as its buildings age into their 40s and 50s, their structural skins flaking and spalling in the weather; beating up on it online is currently in vogue with folks everywhere.

Chicago never had many Brutalist buildings, and as of 2014 it has one fewer still.

Prentice Hospital Most significant remaining examples are likewise Bertrand Goldberg designs.

The Vic Theatre

The Vic Theater, 3145 N. Sheffield Avenue, Lakeview; architect John Pridmore, 1912

With the passing of Brutalism, the victory of attached skin over embedded mass is complete; the Modernists have had their way – though it was via the economies of materials and labor, rather than a triumph of philosophy. The Wallpaper Building as described above is now a relic of a bygone age.

Riotous Restaurants

An early discovery in my time in Chicago – probably before I even lived there – was Gulliver’s Pizza (2727 W. Howard Street, Chicago), just across the border from Evanston.

Gulliver's Pizza, Evanston

Gulliver’s lets you know something’s going on before you even walk in the door. The front facade of this totally ordinary one-story building is festooned with architectural ornament of all kinds – sculptures, brackets, ironwork, lamps, columns, and more. Gulliver's Pizza, Evanston

Inside, the place is a riot of lamps and woodwork.

Gulliver's Pizza, Evanston

Gulliver's Pizza, Evanston

Gulliver's Pizza, Evanston

Gulliver's Pizza, Evanston

Gulliver’s opened in 1965 as a partnership between restauranteers Jerry Freeman and Burt Katz. The name came from Katz’s affection for the classic novel Gulliver’s Travels. The independent-minded Katz soon left, starting a series of other pizza joints around town (with likewise literary-themed names). Freeman stayed and grew the business, expanding into the storefronts next door as they became available. The architecture bits come from the late owner’s collecting habits, as I was told by the staff, and were obtained from antique shops as well as buildings slated for demolition.

Gulliver's Pizza, Evanston

Gulliver's Pizza, Evanston

Gulliver's Pizza, Evanston

Mr. Freeman passed away in 2006, but Gullivers continues to this day.


An all-too-late discovery, coming only in my last year or so in the city, was Walker Brothers Original Pancake House (153 Green Bay Road, Wilmette IL).

Walker Brothers Original Pancake House

Walker Brothers is a Chicago institution, the kind of restaurant that always has a line out the door on weekend mornings. That line moves quickly, though, and once you’re in you’ll be treated to mountains of comfort food, fresh squeezed orange juice, and a stunning interior.

Walker Brothers Original Pancake House

While Gulliver’s goes for the overwhelming look of an antique shop, Walker Brothers has a more refined if not restrained aesthetic. Wood and stained glass panels separate rooms and diners. There is a unified emphasis on an early 1900s Arts and Crafts style. It is claimed around the internet that the look dates to the filming of the 1980 Robert Redford flick Ordinary People at the location. Certainly not all the stained glass is vintage, though much of it is, if not of verifiable heritage. In common with Gulliver’s, no info on the history of individual pieces is available.

Walker Brothers Original Pancake House

Walker Brothers Original Pancake House

Walker Brothers Original Pancake House

Walker Brothers Original Pancake House

Ironically for a “Chicago institution”, Walker Brothers is actually a franchise restaurant. Opened in 1960, the restaurant combined the local Walker Brothers Snack Shop name with Portland, Oregon’s Original Pancake House chain. This was back in the days when franchise outlets were allowed to have a bit more personality; there was also a Walker Brothers Kentucky Fried Chicken. Today, the pancake house is one of over 100 “Original Pancake Houses” around the country, but still a unique place, beloved by thousands. Locals Phil Donahue and Bill Murray have been among its repeat customers.

Walker Brothers Original Pancake House

Walker Brothers Original Pancake House

Walker Brothers Original Pancake House

 

Walker Brothers Original Pancake House

Walker Brothers Original Pancake House

This is certainly the first time – and likely the last – that you will find food on this blog. It’s just too good to leave out.

Walker Brothers Original Pancake House

Careful, though. You’ll have a heart attack just looking at it.

Blue on Blonde, Part 3: Brick-Skin Pillbox Flats

I’ve never been shy about loving the Chicago Mid-Century 3-Flat**. I love how within such a simple form there are endless varieties of decor – variations on materials and colors, with ornament ranging from glass block to elaborate wood doors, ironwork porch columns and built-in planters. I love how you can find entire blocks of the things, marching along with a repeating rhythm – same height, same width, same spacing, same setback, same design vocabulary – and no two are the same.

I’ve found only a handful that use the blue-on-blonde brick color scheme. They are simple creatures; the only place the blue brick appears on these buildings is in horizontal panels between the main windows. The standardized blue-on-blonde vocabulary that appears all over Rogers Park is not used on these structures. There are no corner piers, no grids of squares or single bricks floating on a field of beige, no horizontal or vertical bands – just a couple of big panels that work to group the large picture windows into a single element. 3-flats have their own vocabulary of style, and the blue brick becomes simply one option out of a whole range, rather than the basis for a group of elements.

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3006 W. Touhy Avenue, West Ridge – Chicago. Opened by 1964. This one had its blue brick covered up or replaced with some kind of Permastone-like facing between 2009 and 2011.

That’s not to say there’s nothing else going on on these buildings. They have a variety of massing elements, main doors, storm doors, stairwell decorations, and entryway variations. It’s just that none of those elements are distinctive to the blue-on-cream color scheme; they all appear on all kinds of 3-flats in all kinds of colors and materials.

Archer Avenue
3919 W. 47th Street – possibly 1961 by Wiercioch Brothers. A delightful assemblage of parts – raised piers, gray flagstone at the door, angled brick canopy walls, an angled canopy roof, and rainbow-hued plastic windows over the stairwell.

Nevertheless, builders retained this color combo quite consistently. Blue accent brick always shows up against blonde or tan primary brick – as if every designer was choosing from a set palette or a common catalog. It’s not that it wouldn’t work with other colors; it’s just that nobody tried it. (The inverse did happen on occasion – I’ve seen exactly one yellow-on-blonde building in the same style, and a couple of orange-on-blondes and tan-on-blondes. But they are quite rare by comparison.)

And anyway, this color combo does look pretty sharp – very fitting for the dressed-up era of JFK and Mad Men.

 

West Ridge - Granville Avenue
6229 N. Whipple Street, West Ridge – Chicago. With a stylish Moderne building next door.

West Ridge - Granville Avenue
6052 N. Fairfield, West Ridge – Chicago. Opened 1965. 

Very often, they’d drop a garage door down in the basement, rather than having a full basement or third apartment. This sometimes created rather awkward front yards.

Just off of Touhy
3321 W. North Shore Avenue – with a garage in the place of the basement. This building faces a near-twin directly across the street.

West Ridge - Granville Avenue
6049 N. Richmond, West Ridge – Chicago. Opened 1964.

 

West Ridge - Green Briar Park
6100 N. Artesian at Glenlake – curiously, the entry door is on the side of the vestibule, facing the away from the main facade.

Main Street, Skokie
3510 W. Main Street, Skokie – opened 1964, by Birger Construction, who did another blue-on-blonde at 1322 W. Chase. It sports the same kind of colored plastic windows as the 47th Street building. 

If blue-on-blonde flats are uncommon, then single family houses using the scheme are vanishingly rare – to the point that this is literally the only one I’ve ever documented.

Somewhere out west.
5300 N. Melvina Avenue – western single-family. It’s a lovely little raised ranch house, with blue lining the doorway and connecting the basement windows with the large picture window above, and a couple of decorative colored glass blocks by the door. The blonde brick is Roman brick – longer and thinner than the normal 4×8 brick.

One final side note – in researching all these buildings, I finally figured out that advertisers back in the day referred to the blonde brick as “yellow brick”. It’s not really yellow, but I guess the name made more sense to people; it shows up in many real estate ads, so it must have been considered virtuous – clean and modern, if I had to take a stab at it.

 

** I use “3-flat” to mean both 3-flats and 2-flats, because for discussion purposes they’re the same thing – two stories above ground, one half-basement level below. Whether that lower floor is a standard basement or another apartment generally doesn’t have any influence on the building’s massing and decorative style.

Blue on Blonde, Part 2: Stuck Inside Chicago with the Glazed Brick Blues Again

Devon Avenue

A blue-brick accent at the Devon Avenue storefront of Rosen’s Morseview Drugs. Note the vertical stacking pattern of the bricks, as well as the deeply troweled, straight-edged mortar line between them, both of which emphasize the geometric quality of the pier.

The blue-on-blonde brick combo, so common on multi-family residential buildings, can also be found on a few commercial and mixed-use buildings here and there. Three of them are on Devon Avenue:

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6404 N. Richmond Avenue / 2936-2938-2942 W. Devon Avenue – largely a plain box, this mixed-use building has two levels of apartments over retail at the ground floor. The brick shows up in a few framed panels on the side street, and, more interestingly, in the side walls of the shallow balconies. 

Devon Avenue

2955 / 2957 / 2959 W. Devon Avenue / 6347/6357 N. Sacramento Avenue – opened in 1962. Four stores with one level of apartments above. 

The colored brick pops up a lot more on this one, showing up in a window band, turning a corner, and covering all the building’s retail-level columns, piers and storefront bases.  Limestone trim frames the upper level.

This building has been home to Rosen’s Pharmacy (and its successor, Rosen-Morseview Pharmacy) since the building’s opening. It moved in from across the street, where it had operated since at least 1949.  As a bonus, here’s a shot of the fantastic Rosen Morseview Drugs neon sign shining bright, as it still does to this day; it is the last surviving vintage neon on Devon Avenue.

Devon Avenue

Devon Avenue
3120/3122/3124 W. Devon Avenue / 6401/6411 N. Troy Street – opened by 1960, when the real estate dealer for the building – Bernard Katz & Co. – moved in to have larger quarters. They had previously been located about 9 blocks east; they remained here until moving to Skokie in 1978.

The building is a close sibling of the previous one, with one level of apartments over four retail outlets, one on the side street and three on the main avenue. Also repeating are the blue brick piers and storefront bases at street level, the banded windows, and the limestone framing; this time, however, there’s a far more harmonious composition of windows, infilled not with the usual blue brick but with matching blue pattern blocks.

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These two buildings have a pair of close cousins out on Bryn Mawr, in the commercial district that’s sandwiched between the North Branch on one side and the old TB sanitarium on the other.

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3412-3420 W. Bryn Mawr Avenue – appears in one of People’s Gas ads, nailing its date down to 1963. Architect Irwin A. Sugarman, an Armour Institute graduate in practice since the 1930s; builder Broadway Construction Co.

The building form is the same – 12 solid-walled apartments over 5 glass-walled storefronts – but the color scheme is inverted. Glazed white bricks form the piers, the infill panels, and the base of the storefronts, while a dull blue brick is the primary wall material. The doorway to the apartments upstairs is dressed up with 1×1 mosaic tile and a snazzy mid-century door.

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3401-05 W. Bryn Mawr / 5552 N. Kimball Avenue – open by 1963.  The address made headlines in 1982 when a resident claiming to be a sea captain, and to own a vessel in Florida, offered to transport local residents’ relatives from Poland. The cops arrested him in a full captain’s outfit.

The color scheme here becomes cream-on-blonde, but the form is the same. This building has lost the piers, and the windows are inexplicably smaller than their decorative brick surrounds, leaving L-shaped patches of cream brick.

 

California, south of Devon
6329-6331 N. California, south of Devon – opened 1965?

A sad and tattered little specimen. Three piers of blue brick demarcate two bays, with angled storefronts between; the building is utterly bereft of ornament or interest otherwise. Those actually are a couple of apartments over the stores, accessed through a little door in the right-hand storefront bay.

 

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6259 W. Touhy Avenue, Chicago –  1966.

Taking a big leap west, we come across this lovely specimen on the northwest city limits. The blue brick accents the building multiple times: at a single window band on the second floor, on a couple of outlined rectangles on the side, on a pier at the entrance, and in a delightful little geometric design over the door that combines brick elements and geometric glass block with limestone frames. The primary brick is a much dirtier blonde than on previous examples.
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Howard Street
4348-4356 W. Howard at Kostner – open by 1965

An unusual mixed-use building. At ground level, the building is currently home to four storefronts including the Kostner Korner convenience store, a dry cleaners, a barber shop, and a daycare center. Above, it houses four breezeway apartments with front and back access, reached by a single-run stairway projecting out from the building; thanks to that stair, it has a most curious relationship with the storefront building next door (4346 W. Howard), as they share a wall and are both part of the same daycare business. Somehow I missed their symbiotic relationship when I was standing in front of them and hence never got a shot showing them both, but from the Google Streetview it’s obvious, and makes it seem likely they went up together.

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The railings, and the screen separating the apartment balcony from the roof of the one-story building, are particularly lovely.

Howard Street

Reflecting the walk-up vocabulary of the Rogers Park buildings, blue brick is used in a corner pier, accent stripes, window bands, and ornamental rectangles, all in stacked bond. The awning overhang has been painted to match, approximately.

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And that’s not all. Tune in next week for Blue on Blonde part 3, when we’ll be bringing it all back home!

Lane Tech revisited

Lane Tech alumni, you got my attention.

Albert G. Lane Technical School

You see, A Chicago Sojourn is a quiet little blog, highly specialized, written for a niche audience that’s pretty tiny. On a typical day, I get 100 to 300 page views. My best day ever, since moving to WordPress 18 months ago, was about 1,100 page views.

This week, y’all smashed that but good. Twice over and then some.

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I don’t know through what channels my Lane Tech post from 2011 is getting bounced around, but clearly it struck a chord with lots of alums. I love big numbers as much as the next blogger… so by way of thanks, here’s a second look at Chicago’s biggest high school. Hopefully you’ll enjoy this outsider’s look at your alma mater. Maybe it will even let you see from a new perspective… literally!

Lane Tech from the air

If you’re flying into Chicago on a clear day and you get lucky, your flight’s approach to O’Hare airport will take you over the city’s northern reaches. The flight line is roughly aligned with Bryn Mawr Avenue, so if  you’re on the left side of the plane you’ll get a sweeping view of the north side, including Lane Tech’s expansive campus.

It’s about two miles away, though, so if you really want a close look, you’ll need binoculars. Or a good zoom lens.

Lane Tech from the air

Likewise for the view from the other direction – looking north from the Sears Tower.

Lane Tech from the air

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I haven’t been back to the school’s campus since my original visit, but I usually shoot lots more than I post, so I always have at least a few shots in reserve. Likewise, I didn’t do much research last time; this time I’ll dig a little deeper into the school’s history.

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Lane Tech is named for Albert Grannis Lane, superintendent of Chicago schools from 1891 to 1898. Originally opened in 1908, Lane was soon moved into a new 1912 building at Division and Sedgewick. Faced with the great demand for industrial training, the building was soon overcrowded beyond reason, and plans for a replacement began in 1926. Once Lane moved out in 1934, the old building would be occupied by Washburne Trade School until 1958, then became Edwin G. Cooley High School, serving students from the nearby Cabrini-Green housing projects (and documented in the 1975 film Cooley High). Cooley closed in 1979 and was demolished sometime thereafter.

The new building’s planning and construction were long and drawn out. The School Board first began eyeing the land – previously a golf course and a brickyard – in 1926; the option of buying out nearby Riverview Park was rejected as too expensive. Architect John Christensen drew up plans which then sat idle for several years; foundation work began in 1930 but halted due to Depression-fueled funding problems. Construction sputtered along into 1931, with most walls going up, only to halt again due to money issues. Some creative financing by Mayor Kelly got building moving again in 1933. After two more years of construction, and a total cost of $6 million, the new structure was ready to receive its 7000 students.

Albert G. Lane Technical School

The Albert G. Lane Technical School opened its new building on September 17, 1934.  The event was heralded by an effusive article in the Chicago Tribune. On the opening day, some 6,000 students – all boys – marched from Wrigley Field to their new educational home, and were addressed by Mayor Kelly on the athletic fields.

The curriculum on opening day included a huge range of skills and training programs – from stone cutting to automotive repair and engineering. Dozens of labs, studios and workshops augmented the school’s classrooms, including an aviation shop with “sliding doors sufficiently wide to admit an ordinary airplane” as well as facilities for welding, forging & foundary work, and machine and motor testing. The superintendent of schools noted that the sectionalized coursework meant that students would leave Lane having learned something useful and adaptable to the job market – “no matter when they drop out”. Different times, indeed!

Albert G. Lane Technical School

The legacy of that time still stands, greatly changed but still fulfilling its original mission. The focus on manual and technical training has been replaced with a more modern range of subjects, including a STEM focus; the student body is now highly diverse, including many children of recent immigrants.

Lane remained a boys-only school until 1972, when the first girls were admitted. The student body initially protested this break with tradition, with some 1,500 boys marching outside the school board building chanting “We don’t want no broads!” “Why are the girls coming to Lane? Because not being admitted violates their rights?” wrote one Tribune reader. “What about all of the boys whose programs will be curtailed? What about their rights?” Despite the trauma surrounding the idea, the school rather calmly went co-ed in 1972, one of the last in the city to do so. The Tribune recorded one anonymous student’s reaction: “We don’t mind girls in school here if they look pretty. We could do without the ugly ones.” Different times indeed!

Albert G. Lane Technical School

Albert G. Lane Technical School

Albert G. Lane Technical School

Above: the exquisite library, the finest space of those I was able to visit. The lamps are especially beautiful in their detailing.

Below: the cafeteria, whose main attraction is a multi-paneled mural. It also has Gothic tracery in wood over the main entrance… a sharp contrast with the green-and-beige floor tile which looks like it walked straight out of 1959.
Albert G. Lane Technical School

Albert G. Lane Technical School

One thing that made Lane Tech so interesting to me was just how much it retains traces of the eras through which it has passed. The interior finishes span a range of ages – from original brick to Mid-Century floors and more.  Incidental signs from many decades could be found, from the painted glass letters of the Faculty Dining Room to a simple, elegant Men’s Room sign, clearly dating from a long-vanished time.
Albert G. Lane Technical School

Albert G. Lane Technical School

And of course, there’s those wonderful World’s Fair murals. I could do a whole blog post just about them.

Albert G. Lane Technical School

Albert G. Lane Technical School

Albert G. Lane Technical School

Albert G. Lane Technical School

Albert G. Lane Technical School

One commenter noted that I had not covered the stadium – a fair question. Truth be told, I wasn’t too happy with any of my shots of it; and to my dismay, I never photographed the front facade, which faces northward onto Addison Street.

Albert G. Lane Technical School

It’s a peculiar structure, a horseshoe open to the south. The bleachers are permanent, built of limestone carved into Gothic forms, but they’re not especially big or towering compared to their length. In fact the whole thing looks like the base level of a gargantuan Gothic cathedral that never made it past the first story.

Planning for the stadium began in 1939, and it was dedicated in 1942. Built by WPA labor, the 5,000 seat stadium conceals a number of team, training and locker rooms under its stands. The dedication was combined with a music festival to make a rather elaborate and extensive event.

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And since I’ve maybe got the attention of a few alumni – did anybody ever make it up into that big clock tower? It is a fascinating structure. Younger me – and present-day me, too – would have jumped at the chance to sneak inside that thing, especially to see what remains of the clock mechanisms.

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  • From the blog Chicago Historic Schools, a more comprehensive history, including a shot of the original building at Division and Sedgwick, now lost.