Searching for Architecture in Northbrook

As a preface to this post, I had written out a fairly long rant about how much I hate suburbs in general, and Northbrook in particular. But my M.O. on this blog is to celebrate, not denigrate, so we’ll skip all that and get straight to the point: even a far-flung exurb like Northbrook has its moments.

Part 1: 20th Century Northbrook

Lakeside Congregation for Reform Judaism – Lake-Cook Road

Fitch, Larocca & Carrington Inc., finished 1973 for a congregation dating back to 1954.

Kingdom Hall of Jehovah’s Witnesses – Pfingston and Maria Avenue

A tiny confection rendered in Brutalist language. The building was designed in 1967 by architect Salvatore Balsamo, and built by members of the congregation over the next two years. It’s still in use by them today. Having designed it to be built primarily by unskilled labor, Balsamo commented in the 1970 Tribune that “the unions and building department did not bother the workers because the project was a house of worship.”



CitiBank – Lake-Cook Road

A giant square roof hovering over a transparent body below. The roof extends to shelter the drive-through ATMs in one unified swoop. The bank building went up in the mid-1970s as home to First Federal of Chicago.

The bank is an outparcel of the adjacent Northbrook Court, a development fought tooth and nail by neighboring Deerfield, but opened nevertheless in 1976. The mall was designed by Architectonics, Inc., who also worked with developer Sears on another mall in Joliet.

Great Lakes Structural Steel
237 Melvin Drive

A plain warehouse with a bold International Style office building up front, built for a company relocating from Skokie. The style has been tweaked a bit, making it a bit more flamboyant than orthodoxy might have allowed – and allowing the original tenant to show off the effectiveness of their signature product. 1969, by the local firm of Alper & Alper.

Ironically, it’s now home to HDO Productions – a company that provides large event tents.

AA Service Co. Heating and Cooling – Anthony Trail

This shockingly dramatic arch was once an airport hangar for Sky Harbor Airport. Dating from 1929, it was opened to great aplomb in the days when the Northbrook area was far more sparsely settled. An incredibly stylized club house and control center stood to the south on Dundee Road, but did not survive the Great Depression which closed the airport. Abandoned and vandalized, the clubhouse was torn down in 1939 and the field re-opened as a training center, largely for military pilots. After three decades of use as a popular private airport, Sky Harbor closed in 1973 in the face of rising land values, to be replaced by light industrial development.

The original hangar building was abandoned for a few years but survives to this day, now housing a heating contractor. In an utterly bizarre arrangement, it now has a narrow two-story seafood restaurant tacked on to its side.

The Courts of Northbrook

Opened in 1988, the Courts stand directly west of the shopping mall of nearly the same name. What I like about this place is that it’s such a great model for a suburb. It’s nothing particularly special or overwrought; and yet, it shows how pleasant a neighborhood can be when the right architectural tools are used to control space. This is not some high-falutin’ architect’s theoretical experiment – any developer could come up with this place if they put their head to it.

Perhaps unsurprisingly for such an enlightened development, this is the work of the Optima Inc. company architect David Hovey.



The enclosed porch is an especially nice touch. What a pleasant place to sit and read on a sunny day!



360-370 Lake Cook Road


Lacking any name, this low, long building hunkers down under its wonderful green metal roof and behind its low brick walls, scowling out at the rushing traffic on Lake-Cook Road. Inside, a pleasant courtyard greets visitors.




And wander around a bit, and you’ll find the requisite 1950s ranch houses, still looking fantastic 50 years after they were built.




Following on 1950s houses came 1960s churches.


And the story doesn’t stop here… next time we’ll look at some more recent additions to the landscape.

3 thoughts on “Searching for Architecture in Northbrook

  1. Hi, I found your very interesting blog the other day. I grew up around Deerfield/Prairie View. Been a long time since I've been to Northbrook, but, looks the same. I know you like to be kind, but I don't have to be. There is just no charm in Northbrook. Boxy, cold and functional, I suppose.Glad I found you. : )

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