Lost Warehouse on Ashland Boulevard

You’d be hard-pressed to miss the news – a massive warehouse on south Ashland caught fire Monday night and erupted into a massive conflagration, closing several blocks of the street. The building’s interior was completely consumed in a glowing inferno that flared up again Friday and continues to smolder as of Sunday evening, even as the building is being demolished.

With its wood timber interior ravaged, and its brick walls coated with layers of ice from the firefighting efforts, the building was considered a total loss. What remained of the exterior walls was pulled down Friday and Saturday; by the time I found time to visit Sunday afternoon, there wasn’t much left to see.

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But amid the clamor of this disaster, and the relief that it comes with no loss of life or adjacent properties, relatively little attention has been paid to the building itself.  What history lay behind that beautiful Prairie-influenced facade?

The demolition revealed a major hint: when the sign over the front door came down, terra cotta letters spelling out “Pullman Couch Company” could be seen.

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An offshoot of the well-known rail car manufacturer, the Pullman Couch Company was a large furniture-manufacturing concern, one of the largest in the country, turning out bed davenports with chairs to match, living room suites, and other pieces. A 1914 ad for the Rothchild and Company department store proclaimed that the Pullman Revolving Seat Bed Davenports were “known all over the United States”.

The Pullman Couch stake on the Ashland manufacturing district began at 38th and Ashland, where a five-bay factory in unornamented brick at 3759 S. Ashland was erected in 1911, with an additional story tacked on two years later, both by district architect R.S. Lindstrom (ref).

In 1917, Pullman Couch purchased the empty lot to the north from the Union Bag & Paper Company (December 14, 1917 Tribune), whose 1915 building still stands at 3737 Ashland (S. Scott Joy, district architect – May 22 & 23, 1915 Tribune). In 1919, Pullman Couch filled in the lot with an expansion that doubled the size of their plant, and reskinned the front facade to present a unified building to the street, again to the designs of Joy. 

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The resultant building was a powerful Chicago School statement with Prairie School influences, with red brick piers separating broad expanses of windows. The piers are “pinned” to the roofline by ornamental cartouches, a visual technique used by Louis Sullivan in several famous commercial buildings, including Chicago’s Gage Building. Pullman Couch’s initials (PCCo) were integrated into the building’s ornament.  Lumber and Veneer Consumer waxes ecstatic about the plant’s use of new and innovative machinery in its manufacturing processes (ref).  IMG_8237

Pullman Couch also built the similarly-styled building at 3711 S. Ashland, with its prominent water tank tower, in 1915.IMG_1736

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Pullman Couch remained at this address through the 1950s.

By 1969, 3757 S. Ashland was occupied by the Howard Parlor Furniture Company, makers of upholstered furniture, founded in 1934 by husband-and-wife founders Peter and Rose Niederman. Ms. Niederman died in 1977; two years later, the company’s assets were liquidated at auction (Tribune June 10, 1979).

The final occupant was the Harris Marcus Group, a high-end lamp manufacturer, which remained from the 1980s until around 2003. The old factory had stood empty ever since.  It was threatened with demolition in 2010, boarded up, and still occasionally infiltrated by squatters.

The loss of 3757 Ashland is made all the more keen by its place in the Central Manufacturing District. The area has dozens of vintage manufacturing buildings, many spectacularly ornamented in a unified style. This is truly a district, not just in name or property boundaries, but in style. The gap left by this loss diminishes the whole.
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Castle Apartments

It’s not terribly uncommon. Get a bunch of apartments together, and there’s enough money left over to decorate them in a royal fashion, a kingly style. Yes, truly, you can make these men’s homes… their castles.

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Park Castle Apartments – 2416-2458 W. Greenleaf Avenue, at Indian Boundary Park, West Ridge. 1925, architect Jens J. Jensen; developers Gubbins, McDonnell and Blietz. The Park Castle, along with the neighboring Park Gables, is famed for its elaborate design and its wonderfully designed swimming pool.

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Manor House apartments – 1021  Bryn Mawr Avenue, 1907 – architect John E.O Pidemore 

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2548 -2458 W. Fitch at Rockwell – just northwest of Indian Boundary Park, West Ridge. 

Castellated architecture has its roots in the Gothic Revival and its Romantic views of the middle ages. In the eclectic 1920s, when a tidal wave of revival styles swept across America, a variety of castellated styles were used on large apartment buildings around Chicagoland. The implications of luxurious living – worthy of a monarch – would make a powerful advertising statement for the developers trying to fill their newly constructed buildings, as well as pleasing neighbors concerned about the aesthetics of a large new building in their neighborhood.

The most common castle architectural elements include massive turrets with small “arrow slit” windows, rough limestone bases, and crenelated rooflines. Of course, the need to supply the basics of a modern home, such as windows, mean that the castle motif can only run so far. On most examples, it is combined with a Tudor Revival style, which uses faux half-timbering for some surfaces for a more domestic effect which also happens to be more amenable to larger windows.

The castle craze was part of the period revival craze of the 1920s, when practically every style associated with pre-industrial society came into vogue.

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901-927 Wesley Avenue, Oak Park, IL – the Paulina Mansions Apartments. 1926 – with particularly  strong Tudor Revival components – along with  a cloister screen across the courtyard entrance.

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4205 N Kedvale Ave in Old Irving Park

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5700-5702 N. Kimball Avenue, Chicago – 1929 – billed as “Old English towers” with features including “canvased walls” and rollaway beds.

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2722-2730 W. Lunt, West Ridge – was gutted circa 2008 and remains under renovation in early 2013.

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5651-5659 N. Spaulding at Hollywood, 1929, architect R.H. Johnson, builders Magnuson Brothers (Tribune July 21, 1929) – a particularly fine example, with ample detailing and architecturally decorated lobbies.

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Church View Apartments – 1450-56 Oak Avenue / 1101-11 Lake Street, Evanston – 1926, architect Samuel N. Crowen – Crowen was notable as the designer of Michigan Avenue’s Willoughby Tower and the Biograph Theater on Lincoln Avenue.

Cable & Spitz – the combined firm of Max Lowell Cable and Alexander H. Spitz, both 1916 graduates of the Armour Institute – had a successful practice in the pre-Depression era, turning out a number of castellated Tudor Revival buildings.

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Castle Tower Apartments – 2212-2226 Sherman Ave., Evanston, 1928 – architects Cable & Spitz

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2100 – 2110 W Fargo Ave, 1927 – architects Cable & Spitz. The entire block behind this building is lined on both sides with medieval-styled apartment buildings.

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5711-5717 N. Kimball Avenue, Chicago – architects Cable & Spitz

And here is a design so nice, they built it twice:
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3339-3345 W. Hollywood at Christiana, 1928, architects Cable and Spitz (Tribune July 28, 1928) – the Christwood Apartment Building, North Park

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6101 N. Talman (also 2612-2618 W. Glenlake), West Ridge – 1929, architects Cable and Spitz

Castle elements could even be used on the classic Chicago 3-flat plan, as with these two apartment buildings which have a giant tower form as a bay window occupying most of the front facade. Other castle elements include the crenelated roofline of the tower; also of note is the sloping stone facade over the entryway – an element common on the English Cottage revival houses popular around the same time.

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6705 N. Washtenaw – West Ridge

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6041 N. Talman, across from Green Briar Park

The buildings above, with only one exception, went up in the late 1920s. The Great Depression, of course, put the kibosh on any further such flights of fancy. By the time construction resumed in the 1950s, both style and economics demanded the simplicity of Modernism. Castle apartments were a quaint curiosity – a last hoorah for historicist revivalism.