Greece in a Box


While photographing the northeast corner of my much-beloved O’Hare neighborhood, I started to noticed something funny. An inordinate number of the 1960s apartment buildings prominently featured a Classical-styled sculpture hanging out in front of them. It was one of those shocking little moments when you realize that you’ve somehow not seen something even though it was right in front of you the whole time.






(That last photo, by the way, is a building I didn’t share earlier, a Midcentury courtyard apartment with a bizarre Frankenstein mish-mash of parts, including a Classical pediment next to a two-story asphalt-shingled mansard roof, wood siding, brick siding, picture windows and tacked-on balconies. Yikes!)

A skim through my considerable photo archive turned up quite a few more of these lawn sculptures scattered around the city.

W. Gunnison





The garden statues don’t appear to be recent add-ons. Sometimes, the building itself is designed to accomodate some kind of decoration. And a couple of designs (the water-carrier with a vase on her shoulder, and another water carrier holding a single smaller jug) show up in front of multiple buildings, making it more likely to be of the same vintage as the buildings themselves.

The question remains, then: What the hell?? Were Chicago builders trying to convince their clients that they were actually living in some sort of new American acropolis by dropping a bit of Greek lawn art in front of it?

Well, maybe. Mid-Century builders were not at all hesitant to slap on anything that they felt created a resonant image with home buyers and renters. The western frontier and the colonial era are both well-represented in Chicago’s 1960s style. So why not add in some Grecian statuary? Was America not the modern living embodiment of Greek ideals of democracy, freedom, and equality?

And a statue, unlike a fountain, doesn’t require any messy, expensive pipes.

Still, it’s another one of those strange convergences. How was it that so many buildings wound up with the same statues?

4 thoughts on “Greece in a Box

  1. This reminds me of the lobby of my grandmother's 1960s condo. It had a classical fountain surrounded by plastic strings, down which colored water would drip. I think now it's in use as a planter. Pratt and California, if you're in the neighborhood.

  2. I grew up in NW side and there was stil some vacant land in mid 70's. So, quite alot of the flats were built in the 1980's. Also, an area near 7800 W Addision St has these flats built in the 1990's. So, not all of these blond brick building were built 'mid century', even if they look like it.I do share affection for them, too. To city dwellers, these are all called 'newer' buildings. A contrast from the 1920's brick buildings all over the inner city.

  3. I live in Edison Park and know too well about these statues. I never understood them but since I grew up used to them it never occured to me how odd it was that they’re so concentrated on the NW Side!!!

  4. Pardon my being so late to the party!
    I always attributed this phenomena to the Italian influence of the neighborhood. Juxtaposed classical statuary with fascist architecture!
    Ok, that may seem a bit harsh, but meant in good fun. (though the buildings in these shots are not as stark as some buildings I’m thinking of)
    Growing up in the NW side, I expected most mod buildings to have these, the same way I expected many bungalows to have statues living in a half buried claw-foot bathtub. (do those still exist? I havent seen them in quite some time!)

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