Green on White

In the years leading up to World War I, a popular facade style for small commercial buildings consisted of white glazed brick with dark green brick for accents and ornament. Examples can be seen all over Chicago.

Damen
Damen Avenue

near Irving Park Road
Elston Avenue

Little Village 26th Street
26th Street

Milwaukee Avenue
Milwaukee Avenue

Archer Avenue
Archer Avenue

I am familiar with one or two cultural trends that would have made the style appealing. The notion of hygiene was on the rise, and glossy white brick – sometimes referred to as baker’s brick – was the perfect reflection. Easily cleaned, naturally pure and pristine, glazed white brick would have had great appeal to a populace looking for ways to elevate the filthy, smoke-ridden city.

IMG_5290a

Western Avenue

Why the olive green accent, though? While it certainly is a beautiful color scheme – the olive green comes in a variety of tones that make each brick unique – there are a half dozen other tones like blue, maroon, and caramel which would harmonize equally well with white glazed. Yet green is almost exclusively used as the accent color.

I have found one or two examples in St. Louis, too, but it seems to be more of a Chicago thing.

I have yet to locate the magical research key which will let me unlock this mystery; I have no info on any of these buildings, and little special knowledge of Chicagoland brickmaking. If any knowledgeable reader can suggest further leads to trace, I would welcome it.

Clark Street Andersonville
Andersonville

S. Michigan Ave
S. Michigan Avenue

The co-monarchs of the style are two twin buildings at Fullerton and Clark, facing one another diagonally across the busy intersection. They are both tricked out with lush terra cotta ornament, catalog blocks applied as a cornice.

Clark Street at Fullerton

Clark Street at Fullerton

Clark Street at Fullerton

Clark Street at Fullerton

If the Clark Street pair are the kings, then the prime minister must be this block-long assembly on Western Avenue, where seven out of a group of eight buildings feature the green-on-white brick pattern.

Western avenue

Even with this plethora of addresses, my searches turned up nothing besides occasional random factoids about the doings of this or that tenant over the years – not even a builder’s name.

IMG_5528b
Western Avenue

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7 thoughts on “Green on White

  1. Hi, love your blog! I've been following basically since I moved away and your thoughtful themed building posts always make me miss Chicago.Anyway, I felt compelled to add another green brick image … although I don't know the history of the building, and don't think they fit into this particular time period or collection.This was along Lincoln Ave south of Lincoln Square, but I can't figure out which building it was exactly. Beautiful iridescent green, though.

  2. @Orange – interesting point! The Mid-Century brick glaze was a different beast, though. MCM glazed brick usually has a uniform color and a sort of flatness to the texture. Pre-war glazed brick is more subtle – there are color and shading variations even within a single brick, speckled textures, and a kind of depth to the color surface.

  3. Not that you need a comprehensive catalogue, but there are a few great ones on 71st Street in South Shore – including one block of them that was originally attached to a theater, which was long since demolished.

  4. Pingback: Green on White, Chapter 2 – More Bakery Brick Facades « A Chicago Sojourn

  5. For info on these buildings, you can start by looking up the age of the building. For example the first picture, Damen Avenue, the address is 4635-39. According to the Cook County Assessor’s Office, 4639 North Damen was built 104 years ago, or 1909. You can also get the property pin number which will give you some more info on that building. 14-18-206-031-0000 is the pin no. for the building, Damen Ave. There are some websites you can register to to find out more info on these buildings.

    I read articles by Lee Bey, Architecture and Historian John R. Schmidt. If you contact people like these two, maybe they can help you by showing you where to look up that info on buildings.

    I hope this helps you get started.

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