Gold Coast International Style – Early 50s

There was an all-too-brief period after World War II when Modernism really flourished and flowered in America, from the end of the war into the early 1950s. Unfortunately, it was not a time of significant construction, so buildings from the era are all too rare. Those that were built, however, are often knockouts. Take for example:

3410 N. Lake Shore Drive – Louis R. Solomon & Associates w/ Josef Guivaner, 1950
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A stunning and startling composition, easy to miss due to the incongruous white paint scheme it has been saddled with in later years. A bold C-shaped rim of limestone gives the building the appearance of being set within an incomplete picture frame.

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When new, the building’s visual impact was far greater; the tiles between the raised sections of windows on the front facade were black, and the bricks in the recessed areas were red. At some point, both were painted white, greatly diminishing the intended contrasts of horizontal and vertical elements.

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Image from the collection of the University of Michigan, donated by Edward Olencki

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3440 Lake Shore was built with 220 rental apartments, ranging from studio units (rents starting at $37.50 per month) to two bedrooms up to $182.50 a month. A second-floor parking garage holds 117 cars.

Architectural Record found the building worthy of notice, publishing a short article in October 1951, and small wonder – this is one of a very few Chicago apartment towers to truly aspire to high Modernism, rather than a localized pastiche.

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After holding out for two decades while its neighbors went condo, the building was converted to condominiums in the late 1990s.


3440 Lake Shore Drive Apartments – L.R. Solomon & Associates, 1954
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A sibling to its slightly-older neighbor, 3440 directly abuts 3410. Construction began in late 1954 and continued into 1956. Though at a casual glance, one might mistake the two for a single building, 3440 is a far less adventurous building than its neighbor, symmetrical and conventional in its form and massing. It is clad primarily in glass and white brick.

3440 included full air conditioning when built, as well as “Cloric built-in ovens and stainless steel sinks with Formic atops. Magnetic door G-E Refrigerators…Bathrooms by Crane – distinctive colored fixtures accented with matching Ceramic tile. Handsomely mirrored with new Lavinettes.” “So advanced it could not have been built before 1955.” It was converted to condominiums around 1981.
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3180 Lake Shore Drive at Belmont – Shaw, Metz & Dolio, 1953
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Begun in 1953, opened by 1955, this building at the corner of Lake Shore and Belmont is the most stridently 50s structure on the lakefront. Geometric details animate its base on all sides, and its color scheme can’t be mistaken for any other decade.

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3180 N. Lake Shore was converted to condominiums in 1975.


1000 Lake Shore Drive – Sidney H. Morris & Associates, 1953
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Begun in April 1953 and opened in mid-1954 after a record-breaking construction pace, 1000 Lake Shore contained 183 apartments when new. 185 cars could park in the garage at the base, which is sheathed in glossy green brick.

The target market was well-to-do, as 6 months’ advance rent and a 5-year lease was required to move in. Tenants included the Owings from Skidmore, Owings and Merrill, and a president of Borg-Warner. The building cost $4.5 million to construct.

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The building reacts intelligently to its site; the south-facing windows are protected from summer sun by continuous concrete shades, which also poke out to provide sheltering roofs for the balconies.) On the north side, it’s solid glass.

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1000 N. Lake Shore has, relatively speaking, a good side and a bad side – and the good side is largely covered up by its looming neighbor. The building did not include central air conditioning, “for reasons of cost”, resulting in a grid of pockmarking AC units sticking out of the facade.

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The original windows and mullions are still in place, and are showing their age. The variety of individual window treatments, the aging frames, and the air conditioner units give the north facade a particularly unkempt look today – though it’s nothing a smart rehab couldn’t fix.

The building took some heat in its own time, too; it was among those cited by a 1955 Architectural Forum article that criticized “an incredible rash of imitations and vulgarizations” of Mies van der Rohe’s 1946 Lake Shore Apartments; 1000 Lake Shore was cited in particular for its balconies being too small.

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1000 Lake Shore Drive went up on the site of the McCormick mansion, designed by Solon S. Beman. One of the city’s most famous mansions, the McCormick Mansion was a center of high society at the turn of the century and a holdout in Victorian formality until the end. The death of its matron, Mrs. Edith Rockefeller McCormick (brother of John D. Rockefeller Jr.), was page one news in 1932. After being foreclosed and sold at auction, the house became the private Bateman School for a number of years, until owner Metropolitan Life Insurance booted the school out and sold it to a consortium, which demolished the mansion in 1953. Construction on the high rise began immediately.

Numerous articles and letters lament the passing of the old mansions of Lake Shore Drive – but quite a few feature articles also celebrated the new elegance of living in these clean, spacious, airy and modern apartments, which offered spectacular views of the lake and the city, day and night. The Living section in the Tribune featured quite a few of the apartments’ interior decorations, and the vividly described colors make one ache for color photographs: “a turquoise sofa is dramatized against a navy wall” in one; in another, “splashes of briliant color, beginning with the floor carpeting of broad off-white and lilac horizontal stripes.”

The building also includes a stylized sculpture by California sculptor Bernard Rosenthal, representing the African Gold Coast, unveiled on the day of the building’s topping out.
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Gold Coast International Style – Twin Towers

Continuing an exploration of the Midcentury Modern apartment towers along Chicago’s lakefront.

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Lake View Towers – 4550 North Clarendon Avenue – 1970

A scheme used several times along the lakefront involves a pair of similar or identical high-rise towers, with a low-lying lobby connecting them. The lobby often opens onto a drop-off driveway, usually has a doorman or security worker, and typically serves as a point of architectural elaboration. Some contain large-scale artwork.

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Hollywood Towers North – 5701 North Sheridan – Solomon, Cordwell and Associates, 1961

This type of planning keeps a lot of open air on the site, allowing tall towers to retain a view, and fits with the Midcentury trend toward “towers in the park” – a fitting scheme so close to the lake. These buildings made spectacular lakefront views available to thousands of families.

3950 N. Lake Shore Drive – Shaw, Metz & Dolio, 1955
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Builders John J. Mack and Raymond Sher broke ground in March 1955 for what was then Chicago’s largest apartment building, with 23 floors, 662 apartments and a projected cost of $10 million. The building is precisely contemporary with downtown’s Prudential, the first tall building to go up downtown since the Depression.

Features included a 400 parking space garage, 10 high speed elevators, and gas range kitchens. Occupancy began in June 1956 and by December the buildings were more than 2/3 filled; it was heavily favored by young families, with rents running from $140 to $235 per month. A 37-person cleaning staff kept the building running, vacuuming corridor carpets daily, constantly cleaning the 6,000 windows, and hauling out two tons of garbage daily.

It’s only clearly visible from the air, but the structure is not symmetrical – the southern tower is offset from the other two, pushed slightly east.

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Vacant at the time of construction, the land had 20 years prior been home to the mansion of Countess Sarah Victoria Cavicchia.

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I must here humbly submit a correction: when I briefly wrote about this building last year, I misread an article about 1550 Lake Shore as being about this building instead. 3950 did not, to the best of my knowledge, have the rooftop dining and party space that 1550 has. Those wonderful curved penthouses look like they’re purely for mechanicals, and the tower rooftops don’t appear to have any resident access at all.


3600 Lake Shore Drive at Addison – Shaw Metz & Dolio, Architects, 1959
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Twin towers with a vertical emphasis, connected at the base by a common lobby with a landscaped roof. 3600 North Lake Shore is all about rectilinear forms – square tiles, square windows, rectangles of brick outlined by rectangles of stainless steel. Naturally, its two biggest decorative elements are curves – a mesh of steel hoops over the lobby, and the curved front of the porte cochere.

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The land was previously home to Issac Miller Hamilton, president of the Federal Life Insurance Company.

Construction on the towers began in April 1959; the buildings opened in June 1960. Its 640 apartments made it the second-largest apartment house in the city. The building, like 3550 just to the south, was a Mack & Sher project. A hair salon named Fred’s Coiffures operated in the lobby, along with a small gift shop.

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The building’s relatively small lake-facing windows apparently generated some controversy and discussion among locals; the smaller windows serve bathrooms, while the larger windows in the center are for the bedrooms. True lake views are intended to be from the south and north facing facades, which are generously glazed. Alfred Shaw explained the decision as a result of his own east-facing windows which required him to draw the blinds every morning.

Apparently geared towards middle-class professionals, the building and its residents made little noise in the headlines during and after its construction.

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Shaw Metz & Dolio, the lakefront’s most prolific Midcentury architectural firm, formed in 1947 when architect Alfred Shaw withdrew from a previous partnership and allied with structural engineer Carl Metz and electrical & mechanical engineer John Dolio. That same year the firm landed the job of finishing out the interior of the Baha’i House of Worship on the north shore. They firm had a flurry of business in the 1950s as they worked on several large housing projects, downtown buildings, and entered a competition to design St. Peter’s Church downtown (their entry did not win.) John Dolio would eventually split off into his own engineering firm, which continued to work with Shaw & Metz.

Much of their work was for developers Mack and Sher, whose portfolio of nearly a dozen major lakefront buildings was run by Lake ShoreManagement Company.

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3550 Lake Shore Drive – Loewenberg & Loewenberg, 1961
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Just across Addison Street to the south, another building with the same concept – two massive slab towers conjoined by a low-lying lobby – opened in 1962.

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Lake Shore Management Company billed it as a “distinctive twin tower architectural masterpiece…providing fabulous views of lake and city”, with studio, one and two bedroom apartments.

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More on this building’s wonderful lobby sculpture here.
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Imperial Towers – 4250 N. Marine Drive – L.R. Solomon and J.D. Cordwell & Associates, 1960
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Developed by Albert R. Robin, the 29-story Imperial Towers contain 432 apartments per tower. Construction began in 1961; occupancy started in August 1962. It was one of many Chicago projects insured by a section of the national housing act.

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The building was marketed as luxury for the budget-conscious, and was intended to attract a mix of older, retired residents and younger families – the owners went so far as to tout a social ambition of giving seniors the choice of “mingling with the younger generations” when and if they chose.

Amenities included an “Olympic” sized rooftop swimming pool over the garage (25 yards, actually, which isn’t Olympic sized at all), and several small stores in the lobby including a coffee shop, a beauty salon, Imperial Drug, and the first of several Jewel Pantry stores, high-end groceries in luxury apartment buildings with a large selection of prepared foods, exclusively open to building residents.

The building has a 250 car garage, accessed through a ramp in the courtyard that went right under the lobby. A less-touted feature, detailed in a New York Times article, was that the garage could be “converted into a fall-out shelter” with room for the building’s population and hundreds more, equipped with emergency generators, special ventilation, heat, water, light and food. Always reassuring in the Cold War age!

The building converted to condominiums in 1977.

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Imperial Towers features a Japanese decorative theme, with what were touted as Japanese gardens in the courtyards as well as on the lobby roof. Like many before them, the developers pulled no punches in describing their building, labeling it “America’s most fabulous building” in a 1963 ad.

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Gold Coast International Style: White Brick Midcentury

“We feel it takes the drabness away.”

– Architect Alfred Shaw on his white brick buildings, 1965

New York City has, in recent years, been coming to grips with its Midcentury heritage of boxy white-brick high rise apartment buildings, built in the 1950s and 1960s to feed the growing demand for luxury and middle-class apartments. These buildings’ cladding was a break from the darker colors used in the past, representing a vision of a cleaner, more modern lifestyle. The movement is described in a couple of New York Times articles:

 

When a friend pointed them out to me, my first thought was, “Huh, I guess it’s a New York thing. I never saw buildings like this here.”

Well, guess what I saw not a day later as I biked along the lakefront trail?

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777 North Michigan Avenue – Shaw Metz & Associates, 1964

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909 North Michigan Avenue – Shaw Metz & Associates, 1962

While not a precise stylistic match to the blocky Manhattan buildings (quite a few of the Chicago examples tend toward New Formalism as much as pure International Style), Chicago does indeed have several buildings representing the same ethos, from exactly the same time period.

These buildings share common elements beyond their cladding. All were built with clean modern designs that practically demand a simplified, modern and efficient life. The designs were matched by a host of modern features like central air, electric kitchens, attached indoor parking garages, even security cameras in the lobby that residents could view from their apartments. Most offered luxury amenities like maid service, 24 hour doormen, and rooftop pools and party decks. Circa 1962, these buildings offered the ultimate in urbane luxury living.


1550 N. Lake Shore Drive at North Avenue – Shaw, Metz & Dolio, 1957
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Developed by local builders Mack & Sher, this 33-story tower was planned to include “every conceivable luxury”, including sizable family rooms. Its distinctive top includes a rooftop dining and party space available to the residents. 180 cars can park in the garage. It was topped out in 1959.

The address continued to appear in society pages with some frequency in the years following its completion.

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This building rose on the site of the 1910 Richard T. Crane mansion; Mr. Crane died in 1931 and his widow passed away in 1949. The Gothic mansion was razed in 1955, originally for a parking lot.

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3150 N. Lake Shore Drive, Shaw Metz & Dolio, 1961
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Opened in August 1963, 3150 Lake Shore was described in Lake Shore Management’s glowing prose as “the Crown Jewel of the lakefront!” The 38 story building has 6 elevators, serving only 2 apartments per floor.

The building exhibits a number of curiosities; not least of which is the marked similarity of its massing to its sibling at 1550. Both share a large rooftop mechanical penthouse, artfully designed to cap off the building, rather than left as an unconsidered collection of boxes atop the structure, as has happened so many times elsewhere.

The design also makes the curious choice to have powerful vertical elements on the broad faces, but only horizontal banding on the narrow ends.

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The garage is housed in a wonderously pure box of white brick.

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3150 LSD was previously the site of a 1919 mansion built by Frank D. Stout, a “capitalist” who made his fortunes in lumber and went on to become director of various banking and railroad enterprises. Mr. Stout died in 1927; his widow passed away a decade later. The mansion became home to the contentious Kenner Hospital, a 65-bed unit, fined in 1948 for operating without a license and repeatedly in the news for its various problems. The Stout mansion was razed in 1959 to make way for the new skyscraper.

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3900 N. Lake Shore Drive at Sheridan – Loewenberg & Loewenberg, 1958
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3900 Lake Shore broke ground in September 1958, was topped out in November 1959, and opened in 1960. Developed and managed by I. Richard Cobrin, who also did 2970 N. Lake Shore, the building originally contained 240 luxury apartments.

Its construction drew the newspapers’ attention thanks to a couple of high-tech innovations that were used. The first was the French-built Benoto caisson digger machine used by Lake States Engineering in preparing the foundations. The “spider-like” machine that could sink caissons down 83 feet to bedrock in about 8 hours, then “walk” away to the next spot when finished; it was also notably quiet. Also of note was an advanced plaster-pumping technique used to send plaster up to the upper floors, where it could be sprayed or hand-troweled onto the walls.

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The building was designed by Loewenberg & Loewenberg Architects, a firm founded by Lithuanian-born brothers I.S. Loewenberg and Col. Max L. Loewenberg, and later joined by Max’s son James Loewenberg. James, now in his 70s, remains an active developer in Chicago today.

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3900 N. Lake Shore was renovated and converted to condominiums in 1977.


1300 Lake Shore Drive – Ezra Gordon, Jack M. Levin & Associates, 1963
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Built by developer Ralph W. Applegate (who soon moved into the building, with his adult son living across the hall) 1300 N. Lake Shore was part of the thriving luxury apartment boom of the early 1960s. The 40-story tower strove, along with several of its neighbors up and down the shore, to attract the city’s most well-to-do tenants – doctors and lawyers, executive chefs, CEOs and bank chairmen. Construction was underway by mid-1963. A number of society-notable names were soon among the building’s tenants; rents could run as high as $1800 a month. The 40th floor contained a large ball room originally known as the 1300 Club.

Crime and fatality followed glamour and riches; one apartment was robbed of $100,000 of jewels in 1964, and another saw the wife of a mobster die in a bedroom fire in 1966. The fire filled the whole building with smoke and forced residents to evacuate. Another resident, apparently despondent over his failing health, leaped from a 14th story balcony later that year.

The asymetrical bits along the roofline are a tri-level penthouse, added during the 1976 conversion of the building to condominiums. It was designed and occupied by Jack Levin, one of the original architects.

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It’s easy to dismiss 1300 as the quintessential ugly 60s building. Indeed, from a distance, it seems little more than a rote assembly of its parts. Yet if you look closely, you can see what the architects were striving for – elements of geometry appear from the building’s spandrels and bay windows, overlapping planes advancing and receding. Even the balcony railings get in on the act, though it’s not clear if they are the originals or a more recent addition. The effect does not carry over onto the building as a whole – but to say there is no design here is to speak without looking.

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Curiously, Mies Van Der Roes proposed an unbuilt project for the same site in 1956.