Naval Air Station Glenview, buried in plain sight

It was some months back that, lost and trying to find my way back on track on my way to work, I stumbled across this New Urbanist development in north Glenview. Decent enough stuff, as suburban development goes, with plenty of sidewalks and bike paths, and easy access to the nearby Metra station. But then I came to the center of it all, and my eyes popped out a little bit.

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This land, where shops and parking spaces and bike trails and a sizable wilderness preserve and park now dominate, was once a military airport.

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And the International Style central control tower building has been preserved and adapted as the center piece of the new development. The surviving control tower is a portion of the Hangar One building; hangar sheds once stood behind each of the attached wings. Hangar One was built in 1929, by prolific Chicago architect Andrew Rebori, who also designed an expansion in 1940.

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As an act of architectural preservation, it’s a remarkable feat. Such a utilitarian building would rarely be considered for preservation, let alone practical adaptive reuse.

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The Navy air base at Glenview dates back to 1929, when it opened as Curtiss Field – intended to be the central hub for Chicago area air travel, and equipped with every modern amenity. It never took off, however; the Great Depression dealt a crippling blow. The Navy first moved in in 1936, and bought the field outright in 1940. With the United States’ entry into World War 2, the base became a major training center for aircraft carrier pilots, and was massively expanded in 1942. After the war it became a Reservist training center, a location for reserve naval aviators to maintain their skills and training. It also hosted Coast Guard and Marine units over the years, and served as a staging ground for the Chicago Air and Water Show.

Naval Air Station Glenview was closed in 1995 as part of a post-Cold War reorganization of the military, and the land turned over to the Village of Glenview for redevelopment. The runways and most buildings were demolished in the late 1990s; in their place rose The Glen Town Center – a collection of shops, businesses, parkland and residences. The project has not been a runaway success in business terms, owing to its somewhat obscure location, but design-wise it beats most of what’s around it hands-down.

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An aerial view shows the two huge garages lurking behind the urbanist facades, where the hangar structures once stood.

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The documentary site Abandoned & Little Known Airfields has a great set of historic photos of the air base while in operation and a thorough history, not to mention some colorful commentary on its closing, worth some editorializing:

  • The base was apparently fully maintained right up to the end – full road maintenance and even a heavy-duty replacement of existing runways. This is, as the site commentator notes, a pretty ridiculous waste of money when you know your base is closing soon.
  • “The Hangar One Foundation, NAS Glenview’s historical agency, had to fight & claw to prevent the entire area from being wiped clean. The village resisted nearly every effort to save historical buildings and grudgingly allowed the tower & HQ building to be saved & the establishment of a museum on site.”  This point is rather contradicted by a 1998 Tribune article which repeatedly states that village officials wanted the tower building as the centerpiece of the new development.  I don’t find the idea of such resistance hard to believe, though.  While the   multi-pronged value of the tower building may seem obvious – as a local landmark, as a notable bit of Modernist architecture, and as the most prominent and worthy signifier of the area’s Cold War history – bureaucracy and investment capital abhor anything that’s not shiny and completely new, and the creativity to imagine such a building being repurposed is often lacking. That it did happen is a tribute to those who fought for it. Virtually every other building on the site is gone today, though – all except one hangar, the tower building, and a chapel which was moved a half mile away.
  • “Ironically, the NAS’s existence had created a restricted area for aircraft flying into & out of O’Hare International Airport nearby. With the NAS gone, O’Hare flights have filled the airspace & Glenview residents are once again complaining about noise abatement.” In development circles, this known as the NIMBY syndrome – Not In My Back Yard. The irony comes when people move in next to something – and then start complaining about it. I saw this a lot in Milwaukee, where neighbors would complain bitterly about all the issues that arose from our adjacency to University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee’s campus – as if they never noticed the university was there, until they’d already bought their house.
  • “As an aviation buff, I mourn the loss of a perfectly good airfield; even more so on 2001-09-11, when I was living in the shadow of the John Hancock Center, and realized that the nearest F-15 was probably an hour away.” I must confess a sharp divergence of opinion with this particular commentator – while I never applaud the waste of existing resources, and it’s dumb to move in next to an air base then start complaining about the noise, a military  airfield is not an inherently good use of urban land, and costs a ton of tax money to operate. Speaking as a resident of Chicago, the fewer airplanes over the city, the better. (The lineups approaching O’Hare and Midway are bad enough, not to mention the once-a-year belligerence of the Chicago Air Show – while I love the spectacle, I also can’t help reading a machisimo subtext into it, a bullying assertion that the military could incinerate our city if they so chose. And I am just waiting for the day an F-16 banks too hard and plows into some  Edgewater  apartment building.) The once-in-a-lifetime events of 9/11 are not enough to justify keeping a military airbase in the middle of Chicagoland’s suburbs – not least because there’s no reason to believe such a base would make a difference in such a scenario.
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A rare bird: the Art Deco church

One day last summer I was looking at a map of the city, looking for places I hadn’t been.  I realized I couldn’t remember ever venturing west on Irving Park, so, off I went.

I saw lots of neat stuff, including beautiful Portage Park, but the king find was St. Pascal’s Church, a 1930 Catholic structure which was a bit of a jackpot for me.

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There is a paucity of Art Deco churches in general. I know of two in St. Louis, and perhaps half a dozen in Chicago, and I am still looking for one that carries the style all the way into the interior. St. Pascal’s is no exception; despite all those geometric details on the outside, the inside is pure Mission Style.

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St. Pascal’s is a close stylistic relative of St. Joseph’s, the church in Wilmette that I covered previously. Both are tall and massive, with a shallow carved entry cove, bearing a massive cross with a rose window behind it.

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Other examples:

St. Ferdinand, 5900 W. Barry Avenue, out west near Belmont Avenue, filters Art Deco through a 1950s Midcentury prism:
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Designed by Barry & Kay in 1955, this building is an amazingly simple collection of powerful geometric forms, overlapping and rising. Construction began in 1956 and the building was dedicated in 1959. It was noted for being air conditioned, and for an underground tunnel connecting it to the rectory (no doubt a cherished feature in the dead of winter.)

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Then, there is Hyde Park’s St. Thomas the Apostle Catholic Church – 1929, Barry Byrne, architect.

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St. Thomas is one of the city’s most outlandish churches, mishmash of styles and influences that defies exact classification. I mention it here in conjunction with Art Deco churches – but it could just as easily stand alongside Byzantine or Spanish Baroque Revival.

Inside, it’s surprisingly restrained – the closest thing I’ve yet seen to an Art Deco styled religious interior.

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Outside, brick and terra cotta run wildly amuck.

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And finally, Andrew Rebori’s spectacular Madonna Della Strada chapel at Loyola University, opened in 1938,  is the most unambiguously Art Deco example – perhaps the only one, in fact.

Madonna della Strada Chapel

The Madonna della Strada (“Our Lady of the Wayside”) chapel was the dream and brainchild of Father James P. Mertz, who wanted a chapel honoring the patroness of travelers – such as young college students far from home. Father Mertz raised the money to fund the construction of the building’s shell, then continued the work of gathering materials to fit out the interior for another decade.

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Compared to the radically sculpted exterior, the interior seems a bit tame, particularly the traditional-styled artwork and stained glass –  but it’s still sumptuous in materials, with curved forms that echo the Art Deco style, and full of surprising little details. Dozens of marbles from around the world give the interior a lavish finish.

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When the chapel was built, the assumption was that Lake Shore Drive would soon be extended further northward. As a result, the “front” faces the lake, whose waters are only a few feet away.

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Peterson Ave MidCentury Architecture, Part 2

If you are a fan of 1950s and 1960s design, it is well worth your time to park your car on Peterson, just west of Western Avenue, and take a long walk west. You’ll find a variety of architectural gems, both quiet and prominent. Here are some of my favorites:

2440 W. Peterson Avenue

Currently, 2440 Peterson is home to Oral Surgery Associates. Like many buildings along this stretch of road, it has been home to dental practices since it  opened  in 1964.
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2440 is a plain brown brick  building with a wide open east-facing glass facade. Its primary point of interest is the startburst-shaped entry canopy which shelters much of the courtyard and intersects the front facade. The result is a cozy and intimate space – an  ideal setting for the rock garden that currently inhabits it.

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2518 W. Peterson Ave

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Previously Dental Touch.

The winning component on this tiny office building is the concrete screen that shields most of the front windows. This lacy double layer of thin blocks filters light and views, allowing privacy while maintaining connection to the outdoors.

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Best guess for date of construction is 1965, the only time it pops up in the <i>Tribune</i> archives.

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2600 W. Peterson / 2606 Peterson – The Cardamil Building

At first glance, it’s a fairly stock scheme, a 1961 building with blue and cream bricks accented by a random cobblestone wall section at the lobby. Can lights in the overhang illuminate the walls at night.

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Then you move down the street and realize that this extra bonus building is attached to it.

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2606 W. Peterson is (or was) home to the architecture firm of Simon & Co. Generous windows are screened by heavy curtains, and the upper walls are given interest and volume by the addition of a screen of metal hoops.

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Early tenants in the main building at 2600 Peterson included F.C. Power, an appliance distributor, in 1961; Wilbur-Ellis Co, beverage distributors, in 1962; by 1965 it was home to Engler, Schwechter & Associates, a legal or accounting firm.

2722-26 W. Peterson – Fairfield-Peterson Cosmetic Dental Center

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Opened circa 1961, this building shares a similar scheme to 2440 Peterson – a rather plain brick box, open on one side, facing a courtyard sheltered by an elaborate canopy. In this case, rectangular steel tubes old up a thin covering. The fence seems like a later addition, as the gate forces one to enter from the Fairfield side rather than the more logical axial approach from Peterson. This building was home to a variety of offices, but over time – like many others nearby – it has settled into a suite of dental practicesIMG_1898a

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The dark bricks are a thin facade – on the west face, a few of them are peeling away, showing that they are less than an inch thick.

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3414 W. Peterson Avenue – 3414 Professional Building

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3414 Peterson is another suite of dental offices. Past inhabitants have included medical practices. The building is a mini-grab bag of stock 1960s design elements – the folded plate roof that shelters both the exterior porch and part of the interior lobby; hanging globe lamps;  brown brick arranged in a dimensional pattern; and a wall of rough stone.

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There is precious little information available about any of these buildings – the names of their architects have not found their way online – but together they exemplify the commercial exuberance of the Mad Men era.

Peterson Avenue Mid-Century Modernism, Part 1

My attention span is like the beam of a lighthouse – narrowly focused, always roving. I write about a topic; it’s out of my head and I’m on to the next thing, and the old topic is over and finished, left behind in the dark. But sometimes, like the lighthouse, it comes back around for another look. Case in point: I was surprised to look back on one of my earliest posts and discover just how little I’d written about Peterson Avenue and its amazing post-war architecture.

St. Louis has its Hampton Avenue – a major commercial artery that seemingly sprung into existence all at once in the decades after World War II. And Chicago has Peterson Avenue – essentially the exact same thing, in northwest Chicago instead of southwest St. Louis.  Both are at the start of early suburbia (or last-gasp urbanism); both are lined by a collection of one- and two-story buildings that individually range from forgettable to remarkable, and  together form an astonishing collection of late Modernist architecture.

The architectural integrity of the buildings on Peterson have been slipping in recent years, as original businesses close up and move out, or new owners decide to “freshen up” their aging buildings. A prime example is the Executive Building, 3530 W. Peterson, built circa 1962 with 17 office suites inside.
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It contained one of the most wonderful hanging light fixtures to be found anywhere, a multi-colored confection. Now, it’s been replaced by something bland and gaudy.

A recent realtor’s ad for the building claims it was “designed by [a] famous architect” but doesn’t specify who. The building is currently “bank owned” and will be auctioned off 3 days after this writing, on August 9th.
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Further east, Shaw Electric Co. has recently departed the premises of their long-time home at 2539 W. Peterson Avenue. The building’s facade features a lower portion in rough-cut lava rock, with glossy black brick above; the company’s name and services offered a counterpoint in precisely spaced lettering. Shaw Electric was not the first business at this address; MinitMart grocery store ran ads in 1950, and the furniture and appliance dealer Gerry Moberg & Co. was here from 1952 until 1964.  At that point they vanish from the listings; my guess is that the Shaw company bought the lot and built their building at that point. The building has two parts. On the right, 2541 W. Peterson is a separate storefront that was home to Arlene’s Interiors, opened in 1972 and in business until the owners retired in 2002. The larger portion used by Shaw Electric Company contains a garage and workshop in back.

Shaw Electric moved or closed up around 2010; the building was sold in 2011. Since then the lettering, and even the attached globe lamps, have vanished.
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Hopefully, the new owner will retain the primary elements of the building’s astonishing lobby, with its time-period clock, chairs, globe lamps and reflective wall:
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The wonderful 1958 building at 2617 W. Peterson  was also remuddled within the last few years, with the glass block panels replaced by open glass.
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The former main hallway has been chopped off and turned into a tiny waiting room:
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Above, 2009; below, 2011.

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Worst of all, however, is the loss of the original doors; they were removed and replaced with a glass wall, while the entrance was moved to the side:
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The insertion of the large vertical beam indicates some kind of roof failure was underway.

Opened in 1958 as “The Office Promenade”, 2617 Peterson was touted by its marketers as “excitingly different”. Special features included natural light from the skylights and individual Hi Fi systems and air conditioning in each office suite. More recently it was home to Appell Dental Group, PC; they left around 2010. The post-remuddle occupants are Windy City Orthopedics and Sport Medicine.

Fabulous entrance

Despite these and various other afflictions, Peterson Avenue still retains a great deal of Mid-Century architecture worth celebrating. We’ll look at some of the stand-outs next week.