The Round Bank on Ogden Avenue

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Brookfield Federal Savings and Loan
Pavlecic and Kovacevic, 1960

Brookfield Federal Savings & Loan dates back to 1925, and opened its Ogden Avenue headquarters in June 1961 with a opening day celebration that included free gifts and “free orchids for the ladies”. Architects for the new bank building were Pavlecic and Kovacevic (previously Pavlecic and Kovacevic & Ota; later Pavlecic, Kovacevic & Markovich) a Serbian firm who also designed St. Gall Catholic Church at 55th and Kedzie.

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Architects William Pavlecic and Rodoslav Kovacevic brought a beautiful modern design to the site. A full circle, the bank is lined by stainless steel-clad columns around its perimeter. Inside, period elements include a wonderous suspended stairway to the mezzanine level and a constellations of hanging globe lamps. A two-story wall of glass in front gives generous natural light to the interior (a 1963 ad by glassmaker Libbey Owens Ford touts the bank as an “Open World design” for a modern-day “money store”, enhanced by their Thermopane insulating glass.) Blue glossy glazed brick fills in the back exterior walls, while red and maroon brick forms points of contrasting color at the rear smokestack and in an interior wall.

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Ogden Ave. Citibank

In 1985, Brookfield Federal Savings changed its operating status and became Brookfield Federal Bank for Savings. Six years later, in 1991, it was bought out by CitiBank, who continues to operate the property today – and have been remarkably good caretakers.

Ogden Ave. Citibank

Ogden Ave. Citibank

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If all that isn’t enough, there is a micro-sized version of the bank across the street, operating as a remote drive-through:

Citibank

In addition to St. Gall, Pavlecic and Kovacevic also did the modernist design of St. Jane de Chantal at 53rd and Austin in 1964, Christ the Mediator Lutheran Church at 31st and Calumet, and St. Simeon Serbian Orthodox Church, a more historically based building at 3737 E. 114th Street.

Ogden Ave. Citibank

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The Ohio House Motel

In December 1960, a tiny notice in the Chicago Tribune announced the opening of the Ohio House Motel in western downtown Chicago, at LaSalle and Ohio Street. Fifty years later, this tiny independent motel is still going strong.

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Distinguished by its funky diamond motif, the Ohio House is a vintage slice of roadside Americana plopped down right in the middle of downtown Chicago.

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The Ohio House sits mostly at the back of its lot, with parking in front and a tiny but popular diner on the corner.

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A gigantic billboard is suspended from a huge metal column which plunges down right into the parking lot. Apart from the diamond roofline, other points of interest include the matching suspended sign, held up by a geometric metal grid which is itself reflected in the pattern block fence that runs along Ohio Street. Rough-faced stone walls and a large stainless steel sign on the east facade add further 1960s ambiance. Though it’s distinctly a Chicago Mid-Century style design, the funky lettering on the coffee shop sign – especially the boomerang “C” – suggest a hint of Googie ambiance.

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Planning for the Ohio House began in 1959, when the Miller Development Company proposed a 48-room motel on a downtown lot owned by the Chicago Board of Education, which had previously held a school. Architect was Arthur Salk of Shayman and Salk, who also designed the Summit Motel on Lincoln and the LaSalle Motor Lodge at LaSalle & Superior (now a Howard Johnson); the firm’s stamp was also on many apartment buildings in the inner suburbs. Construction cost was $500,000. The development needed a zoning variance to build at the back of the lot (without a rear yard) and for its deficit of off-street parking (only 41 spaces.)

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In the late 1990s, as the neighborhood transitioned from seedy to gentrified, the motel’s owner planned to demolish the motel and replace it with a far larger chain franchise. The building’s demolition was announced as imminent in 2001. Yet the plans never went through, and the motel still offers clean and remarkably affordable rooms right in downtown.

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Seed & Sin: Lincoln Avenue’s Motel Row

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Lincoln Avenue plays host to a large number of independent motels as it runs its northwestern course out of Chicago, mostly in a stretch between Foster and Peterson, west of Western Avenue. Informally known as Motel Row, this two-mile length of road once had fourteen motor hotels built after World War II. Nine of them survive today, though for how much longer is anybody’s guess.

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Fans of vintage neon signs, Mid-Century design and roadside architecture love these old places. Travelers, by contrast, are not so kind – a quick perusal of guides like Yelp and Yahoo shows a number of scathing reviews by guests who describe deteriorating rooms, mysterious (or not-so-mysterious) stains, aging utilities, and a generally unsavory atmosphere. But weekend travelers are not the only demographic of these establishments – they are commonly used by transients who might stay a few weeks or months. More notoriously, the rooms at many of the motels have played host to any number of unsavory activities, including drug dealing, prostitution, and crimes of assault.

This wasn’t always the case – originally, these motels served families and other road trip travelers, the adventuring pioneers on the new frontier of highways and suburbia. After opening in the 1950s, they settled down for a quiet life for the next few decades. But the pull of the Interstates – begun in the 1960s – was irresistable, and business tumbled. By the 1980s, the names along the strip began to appear regularly in newspaper crime stories. Lincoln’s motel strip was well known as a magnet for crime, a reputation bolstered by hourly rates at some motels. Some fought the decay; others embraced it.IMG_2002
By 1998, the city of Chicago had had enough. It acquired three of the motels via eminent domain – the Spa Motel, Riverside Motel, and Acres Motel – and demolished them in 2000. Their lots became a police station, parkland, and a library, respectively. The survivors banded together and fought back against condemnation procedures, driving the buyout price up and delaying further acquisitions. In 2002, the city of Chicago was actively working to acquire and redevelop seven more of the motels, but it would be four more years before it acquired two more motels and tore them down. Nine remain in operation today.

Though the redevelopment bid has ended, changes are still coming rapidly. Of the great neon signs that once gave these motels their flair, only a few remain today – one standing alongside an empty lot where the Stars Motel once stood. In recent years, the Diplomat has been resurfaced in EFIS, the Summit, the Tip-Top, the Patio and the O-Mi have all lost their neon signs, and the Patio Motel and O-Mi have been repainted without their signature bright colors. The Spa, Riverside and Acres are all long gone; the Stars Motel was demolished around 2006, followed by the Lincoln Motel in 2007.

With enough research, any of these motels could be worth a lengthy post of its own, but I present here a condensed introduction to Lincoln Avenue’s Motel Row. We start south, just north of Foster, and move steadily north.


Diplomat Motel
5230 N. Lincoln
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Totally reskinned in recent years, it lost an interesting geometric stainless steel facade, and is now barely recognizable as a Mid-Century design.
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Summit Motel
5308 N. Lincoln
Architect: Arthur P. Salk, 1960
The Summit Motel opened in 1962, a date which one could almost identify solely from the green schist stone facade. The “summit” refers to its location at the top of a small rise (what passes for a hill in the tabletop-flat landscape of Chicago.) Architect Salk was also responsible for downtown’s Ohio House Motel.
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The Spa Motel
5414 N. Lincoln Avenue

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Demolished in 2000 and replaced by a police station, this was a well-known stopover for touring rock bands passing through town. Known guests include Anthrax, Greg Allman, and a long list of more obscure punk and hard rock bands.


The Apache Motel
5535 N. Lincoln Avenue
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Open by 1967. Referred to by a Tribune gossip column as “the most infamous of the hot pillow joints”, it’s actually two buildings joined by a pair of suspended walkways.

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The sign was rebuilt between 2007 and 2009, by the owner who bought the place in 1987 and has worked hard to distinguish it from the more seedy establishments around it.
MOTEL APACHE

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Guest House Motel
2600 Bryn Mawr Avenue
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Open by 1965. Set just off of Lincoln Ave, the Guest House Motel is a secretive brick box with almost no exterior windows. Cars enter through a tunnel-like opening in the front facade, directed a pair of giant neon arrows (one of which still casts a feeble, barely-visible glow at night), and park in a secluded interior lot. A second driveway opens onto the alley for even more discretion.

2600 Guest House Motel

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Guest House Motel

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O-Mi Motel
5611 N. Lincoln Avenue
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Open by 1957, the O-Mi Motel once had an excellent neon sign and a much cooler color scheme. More recent years have seen it sadly toned down, and the original sign has been replaced by a dull plastic backlit one.
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The Acres Motel
5600 N. Lincoln
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Demolished in 2000 and replaced by a library.


Lincoln Motel
5900 N. Lincoln Avenue
Lincoln Motel

Built in 1958, the Lincoln Motel came in amid a court battle over zoning laws adopted just as construction was beginning. It went out much the same way fifty years later. After a four-year court fight, the Lincoln Motel was condemned by the city and demolished in 2007. The planned developer backed out the next year, and the lot remains empty today.


Villa Motel
5952 N. Lincoln Avenue
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Open by 1962. With its angled windows, angled roofline, and angled columns, this is easily the most space-age futuristic building on Motel Row. The current sign retains some space-age styling, but it’s all plastic. The original sign was far more elaborate and eye-catching. Now operated as the Lincoln Inn Motel.
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Compare the above view with a 1992 image on Flickr.


Riverside Motel
5954 N. Virginia Avenue
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Demolished in 2000. The site now serves as an expanded entryway to Legion Park, which runs along the north branch of the Chicago River.


Tip Top Motel
6060 N. Lincoln Avenue
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Open by 1959. Now the River Park Motel & Suites. The little entrance arrow sign is among the very few remaining neon signs on the strip.

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Rio Motel
6155 N. Jersey (at Lincoln)
Open by 1957. The Rio and the Tip-Top are both broad, gentle curves in plan, and literally sit back-to-back, their rear brick walls touching.
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Stars Motel
6100 N. Lincoln Avenue
The Stars Motel

Built in 1956. Rather famously, this motel at the corner of Lincoln and Peterson was demolished in 2006, leaving only the neon sign which was subsequently auctioned off on eBay. The bottom fell out of the economy before anything further could happen. Plans for a 4-story condo building named “Village Center” went nowhere, and the sign  – never claimed by the winning bidder – has presided over a vacant lot ever since.
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The latest sign to pop up on the empty lot announces that the lot will, this summer, function as an outpost of the Peterson Community Garden – which is usually a neighborhood’s desperate plea for a vacant lot to please, please, please just go away.


Patio Motel
6250 N. Lincoln Avenue
Patio Motel

Likely built in 1955, open by 1957, the Patio featured a delightful orange and aqua color scheme and a glassy entrance lobby. It retained its vintage style in 2007:

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But has been toned down since then:
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The bright colors disappeared in 2008, the sign was removed in 2009, and the motel is now the North Park Inn, with yet another color scheme.

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The sign has been chopped off; only the former letterboard remains, now with a backlit plastic sign:
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More on Motel Row:

Second Federal Savings sets sail

Second Federal Savings

Architect W. Steven Gross designed this skeletal sailing rig of a building in 2000, for local bank Second Federal Savings. It’s a renovation of an existing one-story building, tricked out with metal fins and panels designed to screen the rooftop mechanicals (something all-too-often forgotten by designers and builders) and give the building some street presence. And oh does it ever!

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The two-tone purple has faded in the decade since its construction – the lighter tone, in fact, is almost lost. But the form remains as striking as the day it was built.

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With roots going back well over a century, Second Federal Savings specializes in lending to the Hispanic community, and has been instrumental in building up the Little Village area over the last few decades. This building, at Archer and 43rd, is their third location; they also occupy a Mid-Century building on 26th Street and a 1996 building by Mr. Gross on Cermak Avenue.

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