Art Deco Moralizing

If you’ve browsed the spectacular Unexpected Chicagoland (Camilo Jose Vergara and Tim Samuelson), you surely remember the equally spectacular Laramie State Bank of Chicago (architects Meyer & Cook, with the Northwestern Terra Cotta Company, 1927.)

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It’s a beauty, one of the finest Deco facades you’ll find in the city. It’s also covered in fine and, to my mind, rather amusing detail.

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The theme of the entire facade is “hard work and savings”, and the artists laid it on thick and heavy. Across its columns and around its windows, industrial workers labor in factories, surrounded by rivers of coins. Atop the columns, squirrels and bees prepare their hordes for winter, while a wise owl watches in sage approval.

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And above the door, a contented family gathers for their meal.

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Meanwhile, on the eastern facade, the American eagle sinks its claws into the entire globe. Hard work + savings = American hegemony!

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The building is located at 5200 W. Chicago Avenue, most of the way out to Oak Park. This is a pretty hardscrabble neighborhood today, but the building survives as a combination of banquet hall, carryout restaurant, church, and I’m not sure what else.

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