1940s Storefront Facades

We cap off our little survey of commercial Art Deco with a style that’s not really Deco: the circa-World War II paneled storefront.

Lincoln Tap Room
Lincoln Tap Room – Lincoln Avenue

Western Automatic Music – Western Avenue

R.V. Kunka Pharmacy
R. V. Kunka Pharmacy – Archer Avenue



This one, on Armitage, actually has more in common with the corner Deco buildings from previous posts. But the colors are more 1940s-style.

Kiltz’s Bakery – W. 63rd Street

Kiltz’s shares a material and finish style with the next two, a sort of smooth-finished texture with a lumpiness to it. For a while it fooled me into thinking it was terra cotta, but if you walk up and tap it, you’ll discover that it’s a hollow metal panel with a baked-on coating, presumably a form of porcelain enamel.

Parkway Cleaners and Taylors – Diversey Parkway

Ed & Erv’s Centrella Food Mart – Touhy Avenue

Parkway and Ed & Erv’s also share enough design elements to make them look like the same designer’s work. The white polished cleanliness of the designs is highly fitting for their occupants.

At the other end of the health spectrum, the Rothschild Liquors chain became their own mini-genre of storefront, all paneled in red and finished out with stylish neon signs:

717 East 87th Street

1532 West Chicago Avenue

425 East 63rd Street

A quick Google search turns up two more Rothschild stores with facades of the same vintage, one in red, one in white.

And finally, the black Vitrolite panel storefront, exemplified by two fine northern city storefronts:

Erickson’s Jewelers, Clark Street in Andersonville

Paul J. Ouetschke & Co., Lincoln Avenue in Lincoln Square



Unlike the baked metal panels above, Vitrolite is basically a form of glass, about a quarter inch in thickness, and sadly prone to breaking under impact.

And with those dimensional letters, we’re clearly on the path to full-blown Midcentury. Bring it on!


Gold-Plated Deco Bits

You remember these guys from last week, right?

Grand Avenue

Devon Avenue I

Devon Avenue II

The three buildings share more than just a similar design style; they actually have the exact same gold-hued catalog ornament.

Grand Avenue

Devon Avenue I

Deco detail
Devon Avenue II

And they’re not alone. Several other Deco buildings were designed by contractors with their finger in the same catalog.

Lawrence Avenue, directly south of the previous two


Bryn Mawr at Sawyer, west of the river


It looks like the supplier made the same ornament in multiple finishes. Consider these two details, the first from the Lawrence Ave. building, the second from another Devon Ave. building:
Devon Deco

The two designs are identical, just flipped and rendered in a different finish.

Round Corner Deco

The Streamline Deco style really lent itself to commercial buildings. They could be built with extremely simple designs, and still be considered stylish and modern.

6747 W. Cermak Road, at Oak Park Avenue

Bryn Mawr, west of Sheridan


2755 W. 63rd Street at California

This one is the most basic model – rectangular blocks with a glazed, colored face, with horizontal banding lines on top and bottom. This model serves on countless storefronts around the city, both on corners and in the middle of the street wall.

Clark Street – Lakeview. Whatever this building may have once been, it’s now buried under an awful asphalt shingle mansard roof, except for this forlorn little corner peaking out at the alley.

Here on Chicago Avenue, the worst slipcover job ever has partially given way to reveal the stock Streamline facade beneath.

The same idea was used to greater effect on Devon Avenue, where a corner didn’t require the entry to be round.

Devon Avenue

The same model is used on a tiny free-standing building where Grand and Chicago intersect.

And again in a storefront at 6719 Northwest Highway.

On this North Avenue building, the same effect is achieved with metal panels. This building has had a renovation / add-on that really fights against its host building. Apparently, Streamline just doesn’t have the same allure as rustic Swiss Alpine.


You could pull the same effect off in concrete or limestone, too:
Gandhi Electronics

Simple and Streamline weren’t the only word in corner commercial chic, however. The varied vagaries of Art Deco offered an array of options for the shopkeeper willing to spend a bit more on his facade, and there are some beautiful examples here and there.

3001 W. 63rd Street

3324 W. 55th Street

Archer Avenue at Richmond Street

Angley Jangley Deco

Two handsome Art Deco specimens from out west.

The Medical Arts Building, Oak Park

715 Lake Street is hard to miss if you’ve visited Oak Park; it’s a rare tall building in a low-rise suburb. Architect Roy J. Hotchkiss designed the Deco/Nouveau skyscraper near the end of a highly productive career, in 1929; still in use as office space, it’s a contributing member of a National Register district.



It’s also quite dramatically illuminated at night.


4500 W. Division

O & G Spring and Wire Forms Specialty Company occupies this low, long factory building, the front facade of a fairly large complex.


The factory’s entire facade is nicely decorated with mosaic tile and brick patterns, but it’s the entry tower that makes you swerve to the side of the road for a longer look.




Hey…. aren’t those the same wall sconces as the Medical Arts Building?

O & G was founded in 1966 by a Polish immigrant and employs about 75 people today. The company made unfortunate headlines in 2008, when a supervisor shot and killed an employee after a quarrel.

The Tribune library archives are not working correctly, or I might have more info on the building itself. But maybe it’s enough to just bask in its geometric glory.

Friday Photo Special: The LATE Ride rides again!

Shots from the 2010 LATE Ride, Saturday night / Sunday morning July 10/11:



I’m not sure how this contraption operated, but it was slow. After I finished the entire ride, and was heading back north on the bike path — now totally empty — I passed this crew, still struggling toward downtown, waaaay up north at Montrose. There were 7 of them on the bike, plus a few more festively lit bikers riding with them, so I guess they couldn’t have been too lonely.

West on Roosevelt.

North on Halsted.

South on the lake front bike path.


I love the LATE Ride. And it’s about the only time I ever see the sun rise over the lake.

More photos here.

The Artist Colonies of Old Town

Two remarkable enclaves of artistic thought, expression and craft thrived in Chicago’s Old Town neighborhood, starting in the 1920s and peaking in the 1950s. Both sprung from the artistic ambitions of prolific artist Edgar Miller, who spent decades carefully crafting his studio and the surrounding properties.

The first and more extensive compound is the Carl Street Studios on W. Burton Place, a single-block street between LaSalle and Wells (it was renamed in the 1930s.) I will not try to explain their architecture or layout; I can hardly claim to understand them myself. Suffice to say that most of the block is involved in Miller’s work in some way or other. Several tightly wound buildings somehow squeeze courtyard space onto tiny urban lots, each adorned with sculpture, mosaic tile, woodwork, stained glass and more.









Prairie Style and Art Deco / Streamline are clearly visible influences; on the whole, however, the houses on this block are unique creations.

The second location is on Wells Street, a few blocks above North Avenue. Now housing high-end apartments, it’s frustratingly inaccessible, a bit of a walled fortress compound insulated against the bustle of the city. Sporadic bits of tile decoration and two elaborately carved doors hint at the wonders that surely await within.







Turns out, Edgar Miller was professionally involved with another luminous Chicago designer, architect Andrew Rebori. Miller’s mini-sculptures line the first-floor cornice of Rebori’s Fischer Apartments, nearby on Wells.

The outside of these buildings is a paltry consolation prize compared to the interiors. Interior photos are well worth seeking out – they are stunning indeed.

A full history at Wikipedia: Carl Street Studios

Lawn ornament extreme

The urge to decorate is, I suspect, fundamental to the human psyche. People like stuff. They like to personalize and elaborate and accumulate. Guys like Mies and Gropius were, truth be told, fighting a losing battle.





Some folks, however, take their decorating more seriously than others. Some lawn decoration is just that, bits of stuff scattered and arranged here and there about the back yard or front lawn. Sometimes, however, it becomes part of the building, as with this whimsically decorated house on Asbury in Evanston.





And sometimes, the decoration can overtake the house entirely, redefining it, as with this building in Ukraine Village.



That’s the House of Crosses, alternately know as the “It’s what I do” house. Sadly, most of this 20-year accumulation of art was removed in 2007.

For my money, though, nothing quite tops this custom-sculpted facade reworking at 6011 S. Ashland. The building and lot belong to a towing company. How they wound up with such a wonderfully decorated building is a mystery.


Contemporary Infill


There’s often a lot of groaning and moaning about new construction in the city. Pretty much anything that gets built has someone that hates it. Contemporary design gets decried as “awful glass boxes” or “metal and glass monstrosities” (just try Google-searching either phrase.) Sometimes the criticism has real merit, but I’ve heard such slurs used against buildings that I thought were excellent.


Meanwhile, this stuff is what you get when you don’t encourage contemporary modernism. Faux-historicism is rightly denigrated by architectural purists as “watered down” and wishy-washy – even the ardent opponents of glass-box design must realize that there’s something unsatisfying about a brick-skinned condo with a few quoins and keystones tacked on.

Consider the two designs above – interesting facade compositions, and wonderful recessed porches, but what’s up with the random bits of stone? Is it supposed to be a Pullman row house? Are we meant to take the square columns and thinly banded stone as a contemporary Prairie style? Why the red brick? Is there any actual history of this area using red brick for… well… anything?

To do historicism right takes money and it takes serious architectural intention, neither of which are high on the priority list of your typical city developer. And even if you get it right, you’re left with an anomaly, a building out of time, a testimony that we live in a era that has failed to produce a great architectural style of its own.


So, let us celebrate those fleeting moments when the architectural spirit does prevail. Chicago is dotted with infill houses in the truly contemporary style, where buildings become grids, and the grids are then pulled apart, cut open, sliced, diced, turned, flipped, snipped, slipped and zipped. This is architectural play – contemporary architectural design at its best. It takes a committed designer to do it well. Chicago is lucky to have so many excellent examples.


On the bottom, a classic Chicago house, deconstructed. On the top, a Frank Ghery Lite composition.



The classic contemporary modern infill home – a flat front facade seems to have slipped loose from its moorings, leaving an open strip of shadow. This move generates a bit of mystery – what’s inside that shadow? What materials are beyond there? Can you occupy that space?




At a glance, a “glass box” – oh, the horror! But just look at how space flows through it. The bedroom is a box within a box, suspended over the living room with its own windows looking out onto the double-height living space that faces the street – and its own curtains to provide privacy when desired. On the right, the staircase seems to rise forever.


Two floating planes and a solid chimney tower make a plan block box into an engaging composition.



Thickened wall planes have become one of the architect’s most potent weapons. Somewhere along the line, architects seem to have gotten over their obsession with making walls thinner and thinner… thus liberating them to make the wall into an actual object, or a thing with physical substance – something to contrast with all that glassy openness.


Likewise, the construction of a building as a series of overlapping shapes – interconnected boxes clad in different materials – has become a common form of architectural play.





I’m not normally a big fan of standing seam metal panel as a cladding material. Usually it looks cheap and ugly. Architects give it way too much credit in general; when it’s hailed as a material of the future, I find the future to seem very bleak indeed. Here, however, it’s brought vividly to life with color, contrasting delightfully with the red brick. Another clever move is changing the directions of the seams to match the colors and harmonize with the window orientation.

Houses of METAL

Here’s a pair of show-stopper houses up in Evanston, at 1216 and 1220 Main Street.


On the right: MetalHOUSE(1), developed by architect Andrew J. Spitz as his own house in 1985.

On the left: MetalHOUSE(2), a recently-constructed successor.



The original house, clad in anodized aluminum, features a live/work studio on the lower floor.

Cool and stylish are the watchwords here. Little details reinforce the whole, such as the gravel sideyard separating the two houses, or the harmonizing house number sign.



I certainly cannot claim to understand or even necessarily agree with the architectural philosophy behind such buildings (nor the erratic nonstandard punctuation, spelling and capitalization that architects are so in love with.) There’s definitely an impractical side to constructing things with lots of weird angles and random corners, and my first thought on seeing any such building is, does the roof leak?

But it’s a seductive vision. These houses are totally cool to look at and, I’d wager, equally cool to live in. According to the houses’ site, they incorporate numerous green design features, including passive solar heating and plenty of natural light. The interior photos show a series of absolutely lovely spaces. And at 25 years old, MetalHouse1 is looking great.


It’s hard not to wish for Spitz’s vision to consume the entire block. How awesome would it be to drive past an entire row of these confections? It would rock hard. It would be righteous. Possibly even… METAL. \m/

Skokie Fairview

At the southwestern border of Skokie lies this peculiar little pocket of neighborhood. It is isolated by design, with several roads just not going through to the nearest artierials like Pratt and Niles Center. Thus, it’s a really easy little corner to miss.





I’ve posted garage doors from this area before. The neighborhood is home to some particularly idiosyncratic MidCentury ranch houses, the kind that can’t make up their mind whether they represent western frontier living, or Jackie Kennedy and Camelot fashion. They all went up in the mid- to late-1960s, hot on the heels of the 1964 creation of Coyle Park, now Norman Schack Park. They were built by Shaf Home Builders (still in business today), though the Tribune archives are stubbornly unforthcoming about the company. Shaf offered home models that went by slighly outlandish names such as the “Cleopatra”, the “Queen Cleopatra” (the “ultimate in Colonial elegance”) and the “Casa del Encanto”, some of which were built here.






Those houses are the main attraction, or so I thought. On a whim, I passed by a second time recently… and discovered just how odd are the houses in this little corner of southwest Skokie.


The big showstoppers are this trio of brick houses, with clear Art Deco influences. The tidy, compact footprint and the brickwork style both point to the inter-war years, and the hand of a professional architect. The Cook County database at CityNews, however, dates it to 1962. 1962?? This doesn’t look anything like 1962. BlockShopper.com dates the group to 1948, and another site says 1946, both of which make a lot more sense.


The databases have the rest of the block as going up between 1940 and 1950. Those houses follow the same small-footprint plan, but only the first floor is sheathed in brick. Ranch house touches are added in. The separate mass of the entryway, and the raised brick stripes at the corners, peg the entire block to a single designer and make the buildings relate to their more high-minded neighbors on the corner.


Then, a block north, amid some typical raised ranches, sits this lovely 1950s house.


…which has a grown-up cousin amid all the Shaf Builders strangeness nearby.


It’s a real box-of-chocolates neighborhood, well worth a repeat visit.