Mid-Century Suburbs Part 3: 8100 S. State Street

Behold: the mother lode of Chicago colored glass block apartments!

8100 S. State Street

This glorious collection of apartment houses stands along State Street, just south of 81st, and overlooking the combined 90/94 Interstate highways’s ten roaring lanes of traffic. They’re in plain view for tens of thousands of motorists every day; that’s where I first saw them last week, and I nearly had a heart attack when I did.

8100 S. State Street

The builder really went nuts on this block, slathering each building with unique designs — perhaps they anticipated the high visibility of the buildings.

8100 S. State Street

Like the Froebel Gifts, the designer took a few simple elements and patterns — the colored blocks, a few kinds of brick, limestone borders — and created a unique series of artworks from them.

8100 S. State Street

8100 S. State Street

8100 S. State Street

8100 S. State Street

8100 S. State Street

8100 S. State Street

The blocks themselves are actually glass block, with a solid color of some kind applied to them at the factory, possibly a baked-on paint. They’re found on multi-unit apartment buildings like these, and on small 1960s ranch/bungalow houses, where they typically are placed in stacked or offset trios. Occasionally, clear versions can be seen; colored translucent versions are more common.

The joy and delight they impart to this otherwise ordinary 1960s row is infectious.

More can be seen at my Flickr space.



Chicago has always had a penchant for doing things in bulk.

Clark Avenue commercial strip
Location: Clark Street, Andersonville
Probable date of construction: circa 1910

60s apartments
Location: Neva Avenue, Harwood Heights IL
Probable date of construction: circa 1965

Find a formula that works, then run with it!

The only substantial difference between the two is that one has commercial space at the ground level, and the other doesn’t. Other than that, they’re both mass-produced low-rise masonry buildings with ornament unique to their time period. One relies on the skilled masons common to its era; the other relies on the mass-production of clean, modern materials that characterized its time period. One is in the suburbs, and one is in the city; however, they could change places pretty easily.

They’re both lovely in their way.

Mid-Century Suburbs, Part 2 – Oh, those fantastic doors!

I’ve been temporary debilitated by an eye problem; while I’m recovering, let me dig into the archives for some material I never got around to posting. First up: the long-ago threatened promised follow-up to my first post on Chicago’s inner-ring, Mid-Century Modern suburban buildings.

Mid-Century door

The 1950s and 1960s loved their geometry. Even the most ardent Mid-Century Mod hater must surely concede the awesomeness of the fantastic designs built into the doors of these otherwise common inner-suburban Chicago apartment buildings.

Mid-Century door

Mid-Century door

Mid-Century door

Mid-Century door

Mid-Century door

The builder vernacular in Chicago even had its own custom storm door style, shown here in shiny mirror-polished stainless steel, with two narrow side panels and a large central panel.

Mid-Century door

Variations would typically include geometric patterns on the narrow panels, or different shades of colored, textured plastic.

South suburb screen door

The Atlantic Theater, or what’s left of it

This gem of a building is located in the center of the 26th Street commercial district, in the core of the Little Village neighborhood. The area is a lot like Pilsen, but without all that pesky gentrification. There are no condos or hip coffee shops here, but you can find a wrought iron company and a place selling live poultry. And bridal shops. Lots of bridal shops.

Former Atlantic Theater

The building today is called the Atlantic Mall, but from its commandingly lush terra cotta ornament, it fairly obviously used to be a theater — the Atlantic Theater, unsurprisingly, built in 1917.

Former Atlantic Theater

It was gutted for a “mall” in the mid-1990s, sadly. The inside today doesn’t look like much. But the facade remains a centerpiece for the busy 26th Street corridor.

Former Atlantic Theater

Link: The Atlantic Theater at Cinema Treasures

Painting the town

Murals abounded on a late afternoon expedition to mid-south Chicago — on a Pilsen hot dog stand…

Pilsen hot dog stand

…on the wall of an adjacent building…
Pilsen mural

…and on the building of the Fellowship House, 844 W. 32nd Street in Bridgeport:
Fellowship House mural

The delightfully detailed mural covers the entire building, and is themed around the divisions people build between us and them, fellows and others. Bits of text drift among the surreal images, turning the building into a message against prejudice.

Fellowship House mural

"The Shame of it All…"

Oh, the shame of it all!

I never saw what was here before; it was gone by mid-2005 when I first saw the sign. Whatever it was, it was nice enough to inspire this protest from the neighbors:

The shame of it all…

1830 West Lunt was an 1890s single family farmhouse SOLD and DEMOLISHED to be replaced with TWO houses

“May those who love us, love us
And those that don’t love us, may God turn their hearts.
If he doesn’t turn their hearts, may he turn their ankles,
so we will know them by their limping.” — an old Irish saying

Pleaes let us know if you see any developers, realtors, solicitors, or profiteers limping about.

Contact Alderman Joe Moore at the 49th Ward Office…with your opinions about zoning that allows this type of development to continue.

Neighbors for Responsible Zoning (“The Zoners”)

Oh, the shame of it all!

The new houses aren’t much to write home about, at least from the outside. They’ve got stagefront brick facades, with vinyl siding behind (because no one can see the side of the house. It’s invisible, don’tchaknow.) Why brick? I don’t know!! None of the houses around them have brick. I guess brick automatically equates to “quality”, and who can argue with quality?

They’re not out of scale with the neighborhood or anything; in fact they’re a bit too small to stand comfortably alongside the three-story older houses that surround them.

What makes the whole thing even more darkly hilarious is that the two new houses have sat empty for over two years now. One isn’t even finished — it only recently got its front porch, which still hasn’t been painted. One of the houses finally sold a month or two back, and the builder’s sign now reads “Only one left!” Yeah, better hurry there, folks.

The larger issue, of course, is how one should handle the eternal flux of city neighborhoods. This particular block is immensely valuable, because it’s right next to a Metra stop. 20 minute access to downtown? That’s an irresistible pull for developers. It’s amazing this hasn’t happened to the rest of the block.

Cities are always changing. Sometimes it happens slowly, in small bits and pieces like this. I don’t always like the results, but I have my doubts about the alternatives. Can you really constrain a city, tell it where to grow and where not to? Should the city remain physically stagnant? Where should growth be allowed? At what point does a building have enough architectural and historical merit to be worth curbing that growth?

All are questions with no fixed answer, but as I see endless protests and complaints about the supposed scourge of condominiums (people with money are moving into the city?! OH NOEZ!!), I find myself wondering just what people do want to happen in their city. Should it remain the same forever?

Tasemkin Furniture

South Ashland is a target-rich environment for the wandering urban photographer. I am looking forward to spending some time there as the weather warms up. For now, here’s a fast shot of a real shocker, a sign that basically is the entire facade of a building:

American General Furniture...?

Oh, to have seen this fully lit up at night! The heart bleeds. The store is long closed, and the building is for sale — an ill omen for the remnants of that magnificent sign.

Edit: I got the name and the location of this place wrong. They’re both corrected now.

On Kedzie, another one bites the dust

Kedzie at the Brown Line

This was, until recently, the charming vista where the Brown Line L crosses Kedzie Avenue — a typical neighborhood commercial center, with stores at the sidewalk and apartments above. This particular building seems to have held a local Hispanic-run grocer, La Esperanza Food Store.

La Esperanza ornamental details

Sadly, it was torn down in the fall, and the site is now an empty lot. I can only assume that something new will go up to replace the old brick and limestone building, but will it match the destroyed building’s scale, detail and charm?

La Esperanza Food Store

This city’s tearing itself apart far faster than one mere mortal like myself can document.

Kedzie at the Brown Line