The Northway Hotel

On a Labor Day visit to Chicago, I was taking a long, long walk up Milwaukee Avenue, when I suddenly began to see one terrazzo storefront floor after the next – a whole run of them. All of them mid-century renovations. All of them vacant. All of them ringed with original 1920s ornament. I was intrigued! I had arrived, of course, at the amazing 6-way intersection of Milwaukee, Diversey and Kimball.

Milwaukee at Diversey
Photos from September 2015 except as noted

This handsome wedge of a building has held down this lot since 1928. Designed by the architectural firm of Rissman & Hirschfield, it was designed around the hotel-apartment model that would eventually be known as the Single-Room Occupancy hotel.

Red brick makes up the bulk of the building, with cream terra cotta marking key points on the roofline as well as the recessed entryways to the residential portion. The ornament follows a Spanish Renaissance Revival pattern – curvaceous, lush, almost dripping like stalactites.

Milwaukee at Diversey

Milwaukee at Diversey

The recessed entryways occur on both street facades, with the tiny residental lobby running through the building.

Milwaukee at Diversey
September 2008

Erected by the Northwest Building Corporation at a cost of $1,100,000 (on bonds valued at $700,000, CT Oct 2 1935), the Northway opened in April 1928 (CT classified) as an apartment hotel offering furnished 1- and 2-room units with Pullman kitchens, tiled bathrooms, and “24 hour switchboard, refrigeration, gas, light, maid service”. The El, two trolley lines and a bus line offered easy transport to the Loop and elsewhere. As built, it contained 100 furnished rooms (CT Oct 2 1927) as well as a dozen storefronts at street level. Though SRO hotels are often associated today with life on the skids (or just barely off of them), they were once a common and perfectly respectable means of housing. Early tenants here included newlywed couples.

Rissman & Hirshfield were a prolific Chicago architectural firm, designing many apartment buildings around the city including several highrises along the lakefront. Principal Leo S. Hirschfeld (1892-1989) was an Armour Institute graduate, and later became lead principal of the firm. Through various changes, the firm endures today as Fitzgerald Associates.

Northwest Building Corp. went bankrupt and wound up in court on racketeering charges; in the early 1930s the building’s ownership passed to the 3335 Diversey Building corporation. In 1939 it was sold to Albert I. Appleton. By 1952, it was being advertised as the Diversey West Hotel, a name it would retain at least into the 1980s, when it was modified to the Diversey West Apartments.

Milwaukee at Diversey

Milwaukee at Diversey

The building’s many storefronts give it a rich commercial presence at the street. The original ornamental borders survive at most of them, an extreme rarity for a pre-World War II building. On the Milwaukee Avenue side, several of the storefronts underwent mid-century renovations to modernize them, most likely in the 1940s when terrazzo was at the peak of its popularity as an entryway material.

Milwaukee at Diversey

Milwaukee at Diversey

Milwaukee at Diversey

Milwaukee at Diversey
July 2008

The corner storefront, at the base of the building’s prow, has had a number of tenants over the decades:
– 1931: Washington Shirt Co.; still there in 1949
– 1979: Bresler’s 33 Flavors Ice Cream; still there in 1985
– 2009: Costa Alegre Mexican-American restaurant; closed in 2011

Other stores present in 2009 included a furniture & electronics store and barber shop on the Diversey side, and a cell phone store, salon, jewelry store, boutique clothing store, shoe store, and a money transfer outlet on the Milwaukee Avenue side.

Milwaukee at Diversey
The Diversey Avenue facade in July 2008

Around 2011, the building’s fortunes took a turn when ownership was taken over by M. Fishman & Company. Fishman’s company began a long process of renovating the apartments as leases ran out over the course of several years. In a story common to SROs in gentrifying areas, renters faced significant rent increases as their leases came up for renewal (1, 2, 3, 4), compelling many to leave. At street level, the storefronts have been systematically emptied and are likewise undergoing renovation. Marketing materials promote the storefronts as available for rent; most of the former businesses seem to have closed up rather than relocating.

Milwaukee at Diversey

Madison Street West, Part 2: The Gothic Block

On the 4100 block of West Madison Street, a trio of commercial buildings in the Gothic Revival mode:

4100 W. Madison Street

From left to right, they are:

  • 4138 W. Madison Street – most recently Westgate Funeral Home
  • 4132 W. Madison Street – Garfield Counseling Center
  • 4128 W. Madison Street – vacant and covered in an melange of overlapping signs

The little two-story funeral home is quite overshadowed by its larger neighbors, but harmonizes perfectly with them. It is Tudor Gothic by vintage, with a two-toned material pallet of red brick and cream terra cotta. Th ornament includes faux quoins of stone at the windows,  crenelations along the roofline, and tiny blind arcades of cusped arches in terra cotta, along the outer piers and above the main windows.

4138 W. Madison Street

Opened by 1927, the funeral chapel here did a steady business for five decades. In the 1970s, the business there was the Baldridge Funeral Home; in the 1990s, the Westgate Funeral Home, whose signs still adorn ground floor canopies. The commercial portion of the building is shuttered today. The narrow building runs the full depth of the block; the Cook County Assessor’s database says it contains three apartments and a garage – where it all fits is a bit of a mystery.

4100 W. Madison Street

Next door is 4132 W. Madison Street, a four story building with a Gothic-ornamented facade in creamy terra cotta. Four slender piers, capped by faux statuary niche canopies, demarcate three bays. Double rows of blind pointed arches fill the spaces between windows and march across the roofline, giving the facade a busy, heavily shadowed appearance. The original ground floor design is long lost.

No definitive word on the architects or date of construction, but 1928 is a good bet. That’s the year  that Joseph Marschak Sons Furniture began appearing in ads with this address. By 1948, it was owned by the Amber Furniture Company – who had a long run in the building next door – and by 1951, it had been taken over by Baer Brothers & Prodie. They in turn went out of business in 1967; the building housed the Erie Clothing Company for a few years.

West Madison Street, Chicago

By 1973, it was occupied by Debbie’s School of Beauty Culture. In 1980 the school became a subsidiary of Johnson Products, sellers of cosmetics and hair care products, and began developing its own line of cosmetics. The school would later expand to five locations around the city and eleven more in other states. The company eventually moved to Houston, but their fading green-and-yellow painted sign still remains on the building’s brick party wall.

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By 1987, the building was home to the Garfield Counseling Center, an outpost in the struggle against the drug abuse which had swept over the neighborhood; in the early 90s, it ran a group home for women trying to break drug habits. The agency operated from at least 1987 and continues today.

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4128 Madison has the most complex decorative program of the trio. Its surviving second floor facade gives some hints as to what the first floor might have originally look liked like, with ornamentally framed windows. Above, three floors of Gothic terra cotta with a faint greenish tint rise to the sky. Four carved bosses in the form of grumpy looking grotesques support the four major piers. The piers are capped with pinnacles, seemingly truncated at the roofline. The spandrel panels, however, are where the real action is: they are laden with heraldic shields, fleur-de-lis panels, a yin-yang shape I’m going to tentatively call a doublefoil, and bits of floral carving.

4100 W. Madison Street

Along the roofline runs a row of large, elaborate blind trefoil or cusped arches adorned with crockets, capped with a row of smaller blind trefoil arches, further capped with a twin parapet cap with a shield motif. It’s quite an extravaganza of terra cotta.

4100 W. Madison Street

Again, my research came up empty on date, architect, original occupant, and anything about that long-lost vertical sign; I’m taking a guess of 1929.

ETA: the demolished Marbro Theater was nearby – and so Cinema Treasures offers up a distant view of this block when new. The giant sign on this building isn’t legible; behind it, a smaller, similar sign for Marschak Sons Furniture next door can be seen.

The building first appears in the Tribune through 1930 ads for Straus & Schram, a furniture refurbishing business. Straus-Schram was bought out by Spiegel in 1945, who promptly opened a new home store at this location on October 13 of that year, complementing their clothing store down the street at 4020 W. Madison. Spiegel was a heavy advertiser who ran weekly ads for years, selling televisions, washers and dryers, sofas, and all manner of mid-century furniture, until quitting the retail furniture business in 1954 to focus on their mail order catalog sales.

Amber Furniture was the next occupant, taking over by 1955. Their run didn’t end well; in 1961, a public auction was held of all the store’s inventory and equipment.  The vacant storefront was used as a Civil Defense information center for a while that year, at the height of Cold War nuclear fears, distributing information on “first aid, home protection, fallout, and other survival information.”

The store was still vacant in December 1963 when a team of robbers entered it, cut a hole through three and a half feet of brick and concrete walls into Baer Brothers & Prodie next door, and stole 750 suits. The robbers were caught in the act when a security patrolman spotted one of them in the store, prompting an escape attempt and police pursuit that ended with a car crash and three of the four in custody.

By 1968, the shuttered Amber Furniture had been replaced by *E*mber furniture, who almost certainly chose their name based on the economy of altering the exterior signs the least amount possible. This store had it going on – they had their own slick soul-styled promo 45, “The Ember Song” by Sidney Barnes in 1969, now widely available again thanks to the magic of YouTube. Give it a listen and feel the vibe of late 1960s Chicago.

Alas, Ember was not forever, and the store disappeared from the Tribune after 1983. 4128 Madison was subsequently absorbed by its neighbor, Debbie’s School of Beauty Culture, whose faded blue and yellow logo is one of several overlapping painted signs still visible on the storefront today. “Amber Furniture – Since 1872” can also be made out in red, and a third occupant’s lettering in white is also visible. Tattered signs in the windows still advertise long-ago furniture lines, while the equally tattered storefront and facade signs are barely legible through the melange of paint and letters. Even the 2nd floor windows still bear the painted logo of a “Family Dental Offices”. The vertical facade sign, meanwhile, still reads “May” and “Easy Credit Terms”, along with a painted-over section I have not been able to decipher. The building is apparently vacant, though some facade work was done in 2008; despite an ancient banner hanging from its signage, it’s no longer listed as for sale online.

4100 W. Madison Street

Research log, 4138:
1924 – Ben Gross Jewelers, from December 14th Tribune ad – likely an earlier building
1927 – funeral home chapel – from July 21st Tribune death notices, for George D. Fletcher
1971 – last appearance in Death notices
1978 – Baldridge Funeral Home – from April 9, 1978 Tribune column
1997 – Westgate Funeral Home – from Jan 3, 1997 Tribune obituary
Now closed – per Yelp

Research log, 4132:
1928 – Joseph Marschaks Sons furniture – Oct 7 1928 display ad for Chase Velmo mohair upholstery; May 4 1930 display ad for Vanity Fair mattresses – through 1950, Jun 25 diplay ad for Arrow Sport Shirts
1950 – October 1950 – address appears in classifieds 2x
1948 – Amber Furniture Company – Dec 5 1948 display ad for Thor Gladiron
1951 – Baer Brothers & Prodie – Apr 15 1951 display ad for Cricketeer Sport Coats
1967 – Baer Brothers & Prodie goes out of business – display ad Jan 26, Feb 23
1967 – Erie Clothing Company – Dec. 10 display ad for Florsheim dress shoes
1973 – Debbie’s School of Beauty Culture – Feb 15 1973 feature article.

Research log, 4128:
Straus & Schram – Apr 6 1930 Tribune display ad for Vanity Fair mattresses (also includes their competitors Joseph Marschaks Sons, right next door); Nov. 18 1940 Tribune display ad; Dec 6 1944 display ad; Feb 25 1945 display ad – last one.
Spiegel bought out Straus-Schram in 1945 (article, Jan 19 1945)
Spiegel Store – Opend October 13, 1945 (display ad, Oct. 12.). Ran weekly partial or full page display ads for years. Goes out of the Chicago furniture business  – display ad Sep 2, 1954
Amber Furniture – display ad Feb 27 1955 – newly opened
Apr 10, 1961 – public auction of inventory and store equipment. (notice Apr 9 1961). T
Civil Defense information center – article, Oct 22 1961

Wallpaper Buildings

IMG_6705a

1048 N. Marshfield Ave. at Cortez

Robert Venturi famously grouped the ornamentation of buildings into two types: “The Duck”, a building with an iconic and usually literal exterior shape (named for a souvenir shop on Long Island built in the shape of a giant duck), and “The Decorated Shed”, a constructed box with ornamental systems applied to it – exemplified by the Gothic cathedrals with their huge ornamental facades standing in front of vast warehouses of religious space.

IMG_2135a

Our Lady of Sorrows Basilica, 3121 W Jackson Boulevard

Nearly all common Chicago architecture falls squarely into the second group, to the extent that the city’s architecture is often a structural system with a layer of cladding and ornament applied to the front, visible in the most literal (and sometimes comical) of ways. My own shorthand for these is “Wallpaper Buildings”.

IMG_1017a

2900 N. Mildred Avenue at W. George Street. This is the back and side of a massive U-shaped courtyard apartment. At left, the facade continues on minus the structure without missing a beat, adding one last bay to shelter the rear stairs from the street. We are not meant to notice the disconnect.

When you see it, you’ll see it everywhere. It makes you think about the nature of a building, of construction and design. Is architecture a frame with an elaborate weatherproof sculpture in front of it? Is it still architecture if you remove the frame? What happens when the sculpture ceases to be sculptural, or ceases to have mass, or ceases to have decoration? The story of the Wallpaper Building, its evolution over the years, is the story of architecture itself.

Most Chicago buildings are meant for urban settings, where the front facade is more visible than the sides or back. As a compromise between cost and quality, builders would load up the front facade with higher-grade materials and most if not all of the building’s ornament. The sides and alley-facing walls usually were built of beige-colored Chicago common brick, a softer, cheaper, lower-quality material than the highly finished brick used on the front.

Polish housing

1363 N. Bosworth. This building does a double downgrade. The front facade (above) is the most heavily composed side, with stone and heavily articulated finish brick; the side comes second, with a lesser grade of brick but still ornamented with considerable corbeled brickwork; the utterly plain backside (below) is done in Chicago common brick.

Polish housing

Sometimes, though, the sides and back weren’t nearly as invisible as the designer would like to imagine. My favorite example is in Buffalo, New York (where Louis Sullivan’s towering Guaranty Building has two insanely ornate sides facing the streets… and two completely plain brick wall sides facing the alleys) but there are plenty of similar instances in Chicago. The idea, obviously, is that a tall neighbor would eventually cover up the sides not facing the street. Sometimes it might have even worked out that way.

And sometimes it didn’t.

IMG_1336a

A view north  from the Wilson Red Line stop in Uptown shows no less than 5 buildings with decorative facades and unornamented sides.

The design strategy was not limited to low-budget buildings. Some of the city’s most ornate and lavish buildings switch over to cheaper common brick on the sides. Many feature bay windows projecting from the common brick sides, a pointed acknowledgement that the sides are indeed visible and always would be.

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2424-2428 N. Geneva Terrace, Lincoln Park

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 1547 N. Dearborn Parkway, Gold Coast – an 1891 mansion by architect August Fielder, still a private residence. Yours for only $13.75 million!

The approach was more successful with mid-block buildings on neighborhood streets, where a builder could count on having similarly scaled neighbors only a few feet away from his sidewalls.

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3000 block of S. Bonfield Avenue, Bridgeport

IMG_4791
2700 block of S. Wallace Street, Bridgeport. The exposed wall bears a faded ghost ad for long-vanished Selz shoes brand, possibly a reference to the Selz Good Shoes Lady.

At some point, this common design response changed from an adaptive strategy to a default setting, used even when it didn’t make a lot of sense. Hence the full-lot houses in many neighborhoods with their plain brick sides exposed for all the world to see. A more cohesive design approach might have found a middle-grade material to use on all sides while evening out the cost between expensive front facade brick and cheap common side brick, or just left off the front facade upgrade altogether, since in these cases it only serves to call out the lower quality materials adjacent to it. But builders of the time just weren’t rolling that way. Why? I have only guesses.

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1329 W. Chicago Avenue at Throop, West Town

IMG_6728a

1500 N. Walton Street, West Town

Polish housing

1301 N. Greenview Avenue at Potomac, West Town – Chicago

All this stuff drove the early Modernists crazy. They couldn’t stand the notion of buildings having hierarchy, fronts and backs, important sides and secondary sides, decorative skin and hidden structure. To the most dogmatic among them, these things reflected the hierarchies of unjustly stratified societies, the moral decay that precipitated the First World War.

Today, of course, we take a different view. The ornate facade is seen as a gracious gesture, a polite and noble contribution to the public space of the street. Decorating the front of the building is about living up to social norms and expectations, treating your neighbors well, showing respect for the people around you, saying “hello”, enhancing the public space.

IMG_6598

1901 N. Bissell Street at Wisconsin, Ranch Triangle – Chicago

It does still raise the question, though: why is the person riding the Red Line or walking through the alley somehow less deserving of social graces than the person on the front sidewalk? Is the Bridgeview Uptown Bank building a gracious neighbor, or a dowager in a hospital gown, with the backside hanging open and flapping in the breeze, mooning the rest of the world?

The disconnect between the artistically designed components of a building and the bulk of its mass was a driver of Modernist philosophy, as its young masters sought to design buildings as complete entities – respectfully and properly clad on all sides, among other things. There would be no hidden back; all sides of the building would be forever visible as it sat on its site in splendid isolation.

UofC Law Library

University of Chicago D’Angelo Law Library, Eero Saarinen, 1958

 

P5120523

The Esplanade Apartment Buildings at 900-910 Lake Shore Drive, Mies van der Rohe, 1956 – essentially an expansion of his famous 860-880 Lake Shore Drive Apartments from 1949, next door.

Structure and cladding would become one. The facade ceased to be a thing of mass, of sculpture, of elaboration, of separation; it became a mere cladding, a pattern, an expression of the structure that lay just beneath it.

Pre-war buildings are sometimes subjected to “facadectomies”, with everything but the decorative front wall torn down and a new structure erected behind the old facade. It’s physically possible because old masonry facades are structural entities, capable of carrying their own weight even if they weren’t structurally integral to the building behind them.

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The facade of the Fine Arts Building Annex, 421 S. Wabash Ave, suspended in place after the rest of the building was demolished in 2010. It was subsequently had a new Roosevelt University building grafted onto it from behind.

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Group facadectomy on the 000 block of S. Wabash Avenue, 2008

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Citizens State Bank of Chicago, just off Lincoln Avenue, creatively remade into loft apartments circa 2007.

Chicago’s had its fair share of them, though usually the city’s ethos is just to knock everything the hell down and start over, because, hey, history don’ make money, know what I’m sayin’? An anyway, all dem old things is old, y’know? (By comparison, stronger preservation laws mean the practice is absolutely rampant in downtown Washington DC, where almost no pre-war buildings remain in their original state.)

No orthodox Modernist building could survive such an operation. Take down the building and the skin has to come with it.
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The IBM Building – 330 N. Wabash Avenue, Mies van der Rohe, 1969

You do not tear down the building while leaving behind a Modernist facade; if you were interested, though, you could rip off the facade while keeping everything else, and transform the building into something different. This possibility was painfully rendered evident during the recent demolition of Prentice Hospital.

Prentice Hospital

Prentice Hospital
The “pedestal” portion of Prentice was a steel and concrete frame supporting a thin, non-structural outer skin.

However, late Chicago Modernists, as I’ve discussed before, weren’t always adherents to orthodoxy. Finish brick on the front, common brick on the side – step away from the Loop, and the old patterns rolled right on into the 1960s.

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1111 W. 47th Street, Back of the Yards – Chicago

There’s beauty to be found in both approaches, and some part of me admits: a neighborhood street with a solid wall of elaborate facades is a lot nicer than a more middling approach. Who cares about those side walls anyhow? Some of Chicago’s most beautiful streets have been created this way. It’s not orthodox or pure… just pretty. Pleasant. Human. “Pretty” may sound vapid, but it’s hard to argue with “human”.

Modern construction techniques, however, have come down firmly on the side of the structure-and-skin approach.  One might say that the thin-skinned buildings of today are more covered in something akin to wallpaper than ever before – layers of thin and varied materials, each serving a particular function – sub-structure, moisture protection, framing, insulation. To build a structurally self-supporting facade – a facade with significant mass, heft and depth – requires a massive material, like stone, brick or concrete. Stone is too expensive to transport, cut and lay up; brick has been reduced to just another facade material, just another form of thin skin. Nobody’s managed to use concrete block in a way that doesn’t look hideously ugly, the lessons of Frank Lloyd Wright’s textile block phase apparently having been forgotten.

The last stand of the facade-as-mass approach could be found in Brutalism, since poured-in-place concrete is the last massive material that can be affordably transported. The style died out with the 1970s, when architects found that almost nobody liked the look of exposed concrete (except architects). It is currently one of the most hotly contested architectural styles around as its buildings age into their 40s and 50s, their structural skins flaking and spalling in the weather; beating up on it online is currently in vogue with folks everywhere.

Chicago never had many Brutalist buildings, and as of 2014 it has one fewer still.

Prentice Hospital Most significant remaining examples are likewise Bertrand Goldberg designs.

The Vic Theatre

The Vic Theater, 3145 N. Sheffield Avenue, Lakeview; architect John Pridmore, 1912

With the passing of Brutalism, the victory of attached skin over embedded mass is complete; the Modernists have had their way – though it was via the economies of materials and labor, rather than a triumph of philosophy. The Wallpaper Building as described above is now a relic of a bygone age.

Riotous Restaurants

An early discovery in my time in Chicago – probably before I even lived there – was Gulliver’s Pizza (2727 W. Howard Street, Chicago), just across the border from Evanston.

Gulliver's Pizza, Evanston

Gulliver’s lets you know something’s going on before you even walk in the door. The front facade of this totally ordinary one-story building is festooned with architectural ornament of all kinds – sculptures, brackets, ironwork, lamps, columns, and more. Gulliver's Pizza, Evanston

Inside, the place is a riot of lamps and woodwork.

Gulliver's Pizza, Evanston

Gulliver's Pizza, Evanston

Gulliver's Pizza, Evanston

Gulliver's Pizza, Evanston

Gulliver’s opened in 1965 as a partnership between restauranteers Jerry Freeman and Burt Katz. The name came from Katz’s affection for the classic novel Gulliver’s Travels. The independent-minded Katz soon left, starting a series of other pizza joints around town (with likewise literary-themed names). Freeman stayed and grew the business, expanding into the storefronts next door as they became available. The architecture bits come from the late owner’s collecting habits, as I was told by the staff, and were obtained from antique shops as well as buildings slated for demolition.

Gulliver's Pizza, Evanston

Gulliver's Pizza, Evanston

Gulliver's Pizza, Evanston

Mr. Freeman passed away in 2006, but Gullivers continues to this day.


An all-too-late discovery, coming only in my last year or so in the city, was Walker Brothers Original Pancake House (153 Green Bay Road, Wilmette IL).

Walker Brothers Original Pancake House

Walker Brothers is a Chicago institution, the kind of restaurant that always has a line out the door on weekend mornings. That line moves quickly, though, and once you’re in you’ll be treated to mountains of comfort food, fresh squeezed orange juice, and a stunning interior.

Walker Brothers Original Pancake House

While Gulliver’s goes for the overwhelming look of an antique shop, Walker Brothers has a more refined if not restrained aesthetic. Wood and stained glass panels separate rooms and diners. There is a unified emphasis on an early 1900s Arts and Crafts style. It is claimed around the internet that the look dates to the filming of the 1980 Robert Redford flick Ordinary People at the location. Certainly not all the stained glass is vintage, though much of it is, if not of verifiable heritage. In common with Gulliver’s, no info on the history of individual pieces is available.

Walker Brothers Original Pancake House

Walker Brothers Original Pancake House

Walker Brothers Original Pancake House

Walker Brothers Original Pancake House

Ironically for a “Chicago institution”, Walker Brothers is actually a franchise restaurant. Opened in 1960, the restaurant combined the local Walker Brothers Snack Shop name with Portland, Oregon’s Original Pancake House chain. This was back in the days when franchise outlets were allowed to have a bit more personality; there was also a Walker Brothers Kentucky Fried Chicken. Today, the pancake house is one of over 100 “Original Pancake Houses” around the country, but still a unique place, beloved by thousands. Locals Phil Donahue and Bill Murray have been among its repeat customers.

Walker Brothers Original Pancake House

Walker Brothers Original Pancake House

Walker Brothers Original Pancake House

 

Walker Brothers Original Pancake House

Walker Brothers Original Pancake House

This is certainly the first time – and likely the last – that you will find food on this blog. It’s just too good to leave out.

Walker Brothers Original Pancake House

Careful, though. You’ll have a heart attack just looking at it.

Blue on Blonde, Part 3: Brick-Skin Pillbox Flats

I’ve never been shy about loving the Chicago Mid-Century 3-Flat**. I love how within such a simple form there are endless varieties of decor – variations on materials and colors, with ornament ranging from glass block to elaborate wood doors, ironwork porch columns and built-in planters. I love how you can find entire blocks of the things, marching along with a repeating rhythm – same height, same width, same spacing, same setback, same design vocabulary – and no two are the same.

I’ve found only a handful that use the blue-on-blonde brick color scheme. They are simple creatures; the only place the blue brick appears on these buildings is in horizontal panels between the main windows. The standardized blue-on-blonde vocabulary that appears all over Rogers Park is not used on these structures. There are no corner piers, no grids of squares or single bricks floating on a field of beige, no horizontal or vertical bands – just a couple of big panels that work to group the large picture windows into a single element. 3-flats have their own vocabulary of style, and the blue brick becomes simply one option out of a whole range, rather than the basis for a group of elements.

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3006 W. Touhy Avenue, West Ridge – Chicago. Opened by 1964. This one had its blue brick covered up or replaced with some kind of Permastone-like facing between 2009 and 2011.

That’s not to say there’s nothing else going on on these buildings. They have a variety of massing elements, main doors, storm doors, stairwell decorations, and entryway variations. It’s just that none of those elements are distinctive to the blue-on-cream color scheme; they all appear on all kinds of 3-flats in all kinds of colors and materials.

Archer Avenue
3919 W. 47th Street – possibly 1961 by Wiercioch Brothers. A delightful assemblage of parts – raised piers, gray flagstone at the door, angled brick canopy walls, an angled canopy roof, and rainbow-hued plastic windows over the stairwell.

Nevertheless, builders retained this color combo quite consistently. Blue accent brick always shows up against blonde or tan primary brick – as if every designer was choosing from a set palette or a common catalog. It’s not that it wouldn’t work with other colors; it’s just that nobody tried it. (The inverse did happen on occasion – I’ve seen exactly one yellow-on-blonde building in the same style, and a couple of orange-on-blondes and tan-on-blondes. But they are quite rare by comparison.)

And anyway, this color combo does look pretty sharp – very fitting for the dressed-up era of JFK and Mad Men.

 

West Ridge - Granville Avenue
6229 N. Whipple Street, West Ridge – Chicago. With a stylish Moderne building next door.

West Ridge - Granville Avenue
6052 N. Fairfield, West Ridge – Chicago. Opened 1965. 

Very often, they’d drop a garage door down in the basement, rather than having a full basement or third apartment. This sometimes created rather awkward front yards.

Just off of Touhy
3321 W. North Shore Avenue – with a garage in the place of the basement. This building faces a near-twin directly across the street.

West Ridge - Granville Avenue
6049 N. Richmond, West Ridge – Chicago. Opened 1964.

 

West Ridge - Green Briar Park
6100 N. Artesian at Glenlake – curiously, the entry door is on the side of the vestibule, facing the away from the main facade.

Main Street, Skokie
3510 W. Main Street, Skokie – opened 1964, by Birger Construction, who did another blue-on-blonde at 1322 W. Chase. It sports the same kind of colored plastic windows as the 47th Street building. 

If blue-on-blonde flats are uncommon, then single family houses using the scheme are vanishingly rare – to the point that this is literally the only one I’ve ever documented.

Somewhere out west.
5300 N. Melvina Avenue – western single-family. It’s a lovely little raised ranch house, with blue lining the doorway and connecting the basement windows with the large picture window above, and a couple of decorative colored glass blocks by the door. The blonde brick is Roman brick – longer and thinner than the normal 4×8 brick.

One final side note – in researching all these buildings, I finally figured out that advertisers back in the day referred to the blonde brick as “yellow brick”. It’s not really yellow, but I guess the name made more sense to people; it shows up in many real estate ads, so it must have been considered virtuous – clean and modern, if I had to take a stab at it.

 

** I use “3-flat” to mean both 3-flats and 2-flats, because for discussion purposes they’re the same thing – two stories above ground, one half-basement level below. Whether that lower floor is a standard basement or another apartment generally doesn’t have any influence on the building’s massing and decorative style.

Blue on Blonde, Part 2: Stuck Inside Chicago with the Glazed Brick Blues Again

Devon Avenue

A blue-brick accent at the Devon Avenue storefront of Rosen’s Morseview Drugs. Note the vertical stacking pattern of the bricks, as well as the deeply troweled, straight-edged mortar line between them, both of which emphasize the geometric quality of the pier.

The blue-on-blonde brick combo, so common on multi-family residential buildings, can also be found on a few commercial and mixed-use buildings here and there. Three of them are on Devon Avenue:

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6404 N. Richmond Avenue / 2936-2938-2942 W. Devon Avenue – largely a plain box, this mixed-use building has two levels of apartments over retail at the ground floor. The brick shows up in a few framed panels on the side street, and, more interestingly, in the side walls of the shallow balconies. 

Devon Avenue

2955 / 2957 / 2959 W. Devon Avenue / 6347/6357 N. Sacramento Avenue – opened in 1962. Four stores with one level of apartments above. 

The colored brick pops up a lot more on this one, showing up in a window band, turning a corner, and covering all the building’s retail-level columns, piers and storefront bases.  Limestone trim frames the upper level.

This building has been home to Rosen’s Pharmacy (and its successor, Rosen-Morseview Pharmacy) since the building’s opening. It moved in from across the street, where it had operated since at least 1949.  As a bonus, here’s a shot of the fantastic Rosen Morseview Drugs neon sign shining bright, as it still does to this day; it is the last surviving vintage neon on Devon Avenue.

Devon Avenue

Devon Avenue
3120/3122/3124 W. Devon Avenue / 6401/6411 N. Troy Street – opened by 1960, when the real estate dealer for the building – Bernard Katz & Co. – moved in to have larger quarters. They had previously been located about 9 blocks east; they remained here until moving to Skokie in 1978.

The building is a close sibling of the previous one, with one level of apartments over four retail outlets, one on the side street and three on the main avenue. Also repeating are the blue brick piers and storefront bases at street level, the banded windows, and the limestone framing; this time, however, there’s a far more harmonious composition of windows, infilled not with the usual blue brick but with matching blue pattern blocks.

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These two buildings have a pair of close cousins out on Bryn Mawr, in the commercial district that’s sandwiched between the North Branch on one side and the old TB sanitarium on the other.

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3412-3420 W. Bryn Mawr Avenue – appears in one of People’s Gas ads, nailing its date down to 1963. Architect Irwin A. Sugarman, an Armour Institute graduate in practice since the 1930s; builder Broadway Construction Co.

The building form is the same – 12 solid-walled apartments over 5 glass-walled storefronts – but the color scheme is inverted. Glazed white bricks form the piers, the infill panels, and the base of the storefronts, while a dull blue brick is the primary wall material. The doorway to the apartments upstairs is dressed up with 1×1 mosaic tile and a snazzy mid-century door.

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3401-05 W. Bryn Mawr / 5552 N. Kimball Avenue – open by 1963.  The address made headlines in 1982 when a resident claiming to be a sea captain, and to own a vessel in Florida, offered to transport local residents’ relatives from Poland. The cops arrested him in a full captain’s outfit.

The color scheme here becomes cream-on-blonde, but the form is the same. This building has lost the piers, and the windows are inexplicably smaller than their decorative brick surrounds, leaving L-shaped patches of cream brick.

 

California, south of Devon
6329-6331 N. California, south of Devon – opened 1965?

A sad and tattered little specimen. Three piers of blue brick demarcate two bays, with angled storefronts between; the building is utterly bereft of ornament or interest otherwise. Those actually are a couple of apartments over the stores, accessed through a little door in the right-hand storefront bay.

 

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6259 W. Touhy Avenue, Chicago –  1966.

Taking a big leap west, we come across this lovely specimen on the northwest city limits. The blue brick accents the building multiple times: at a single window band on the second floor, on a couple of outlined rectangles on the side, on a pier at the entrance, and in a delightful little geometric design over the door that combines brick elements and geometric glass block with limestone frames. The primary brick is a much dirtier blonde than on previous examples.
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Howard Street
4348-4356 W. Howard at Kostner – open by 1965

An unusual mixed-use building. At ground level, the building is currently home to four storefronts including the Kostner Korner convenience store, a dry cleaners, a barber shop, and a daycare center. Above, it houses four breezeway apartments with front and back access, reached by a single-run stairway projecting out from the building; thanks to that stair, it has a most curious relationship with the storefront building next door (4346 W. Howard), as they share a wall and are both part of the same daycare business. Somehow I missed their symbiotic relationship when I was standing in front of them and hence never got a shot showing them both, but from the Google Streetview it’s obvious, and makes it seem likely they went up together.

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The railings, and the screen separating the apartment balcony from the roof of the one-story building, are particularly lovely.

Howard Street

Reflecting the walk-up vocabulary of the Rogers Park buildings, blue brick is used in a corner pier, accent stripes, window bands, and ornamental rectangles, all in stacked bond. The awning overhang has been painted to match, approximately.

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And that’s not all. Tune in next week for Blue on Blonde part 3, when we’ll be bringing it all back home!

Blue on Blonde, Part 1: Most Likely You Build Your Way (and I’ll Build Mine)

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9801-9811 S. Kedzie Avenue, Evergreen Park

In the 1960s, Chicago builders loved do to the same thing over and over and over. You’ll find the same architectural elements on buildings scattered all across the city and its suburbs. One of my old favorites: baby blue glazed brick panels, accents and piers, laid in a stacked bond, on a background of cream, beige or tan brick in running bond. It’s used on dozens of mid-century apartment buildings from Evanston to Burbank and beyond; there is a particularly heavy concentration of them in Rogers Park and West Ridge.

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Here we’ll look at a group of a dozen or so that share many distinctive elements: corner piers; rectangular ornamental groups of blue brick, sometimes outlined in limestone; sculpted glass blocks;  long, vertical, open rectangles of blue brick with single blue bricks floating in the center; and windows grouped into horizontal bands by limestone surrounds, with the intervening space filled by blue brick.

Whether you just skim the pictures or read every detail, bear in mind the old question I’ve raised again and again on this blog: was it one designer cranking out variations on a theme, or was it multiple designers copying and adapting ideas from each other?

SPOILERS: I found almost no evidence of a common point of origin. However, at best I have only the names of “builders” – which could simply mean the contractor who constructed the building using plans from an independent architect, or a design-build development company with an in-house architect, or even a real estate development company who contracted out all aspects of design and construction to others. It’s entirely possible that a single architect sold drawings to multiple developers and construction companies, and equally possible that several architects swiped details from one another. Several “builders” were responsible for multiple similarly-styled buildings on the list, but multiple builders can also seen using the same details and styles as each other.

You can see most of the basic decorative elements on our first example, below:

2740 W. Pratt Blvd.
2740 W. Pratt, West Ridge – Chicago. David W. Schultz Co., builder; opened by 1965.

Vertical piers of blue brick punctuate the building’s bays. Decorative elements include the open rectangle of blue brick above the entrance – a motif found on several other buildings around the Rogers Park area, in a variety of brick colors. A large section of blank wall is dressed up with a grid of square blue panels floating on a field of cream brick.

1322 W. Chase Avenue
1322 W. Chase Avenue, Rogers Park – Chicago. Opened 1965, by Birger Construction Co., replacing a converted house previously on the site. Birger also did  an apartment building at 7621 N. Sheridan that uses the same corner-pier vocabulary, but in reddish-orange brick. 

This building and the previous one share similar entry detailing as well as the blue corner piers. The “tower”  – a raised bay marked by colored piers on both sides – lends interest to the building’s massing.

 

Paulina
6116 N. Hermitage Avenue, opened 1964, with studio, 1- and 2-bedroom apartments; operated at the time by the McCarthy Management Corporation. No word on the builder.

This is a third building with corner piers. Sculpted glass block marks the entryway, as well as a tiny folded plate canopy. It also shares the same “tower” massing as the previous building, as well as nearly-identical window treatment – windows rimmed by a limestone band, with blue brick in the surrounded wall space.

Ohhhh, snazzy.
Stacks and angles

 

Somewhere on Paulina.
4850-4856 N. Paulina Avenue – opened by 1966, by Luna Construction Co., replacing a house on the site (previously home to a family whose four sons all served in World War I.)

A U-shaped courtyard building. The piers, the open rectangle, the folded plate entry canopy, and the banded windows all recur. There’s also a band of colored brick near the roofline, looking a bit like a sweatband on a jogger’s forehead which becomes a cross motif at the courtyard.
Cream & blue courtyard!

 

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7256 N. Bell, Rogers Park – Chicago. J. & H. Construction Co. builders, 1967.

Piers and a grid of squares recur from previous buildings. The balcony railings are similar to those at our next stop…

7241 N. Claremont Avenue

7241 N. Claremont Avenue, West Ridge – Chicago. Opened in 1962, replacing a 4-unit apartment building on the same site.

In addition to the prominent blue corner pier and “tower” massing, banded windows, outlined rectangles of stacked-bond brick, and sculpted glass block modules over the entryway, this one features lovely matching metal balcony railings. The entry canopy is probably not the original. If my dates are all correct, this would seem to be the prototype for the others in this group.

The vertical bands of glass block over the entryway recur on our next two buildings:

1635 W. Touhy
1535 W. Touhy, Rogers Park – Chicago. Open by 1968, possibly by 1965.

Piers, banded windows, glass block entry. The grid of stripes is a variant on the grid of squares seen earlier. It is echoed in the bands of glass block over the entry, whose verticality is further emphasized by the unusual decision to turn the blue brick on end.
YAY!

 

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1631 W. Farwell, Rogers Park – opened in 1964. This site follows a familiar historical arc for the time period – in April 1963, a doctor living at this address passed away. In August, the “old house” and its lot went up for sale for $26,000. Thirteen months later, the new building was ready. 

A particularly stylish example with multiple stepbacks as it moves back through its lot. It breaks with the others by banding its windows vertically. Lots of decorative activity, from the framed rectangles to smaller unframed squares, curly-cue canopy supports, and glass block at the stairwell.
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The vertical bands of brick and glass block are nearly identical to those at 1535 Touhy, but banded and with plain clear block in addition to the colored geometric ones.

 

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1918 W. Touhy Avenue, Rogers Park – opened 1966. It was under the same rental management as the previous building (1631 Farwell).

A much simpler example with banded windows and a grid of rectangles.

 

 

1615 W. Touhy
1615-17 W. Touhy, Rogers Park – Chicago. Doesn’t appear in the classifieds until 1971, which would make it rather a latecomer, but would also perhaps explain the unusual gabled roof.

Piers, banded windows (minus the limestone outlines), open rectangle at the entry, grid of unframed rectangles.

 

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7555 N. Oakley Avenue, Rogers Park – Chicago. Open by 1965, M. Chapelski Construction Co. builders.

A dark-blue variant with simplified detailing, south of Howard Street. Piers, a stack of framed rectangles, banded windows.

 

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7418 N. Oakley Avenue, Rogers Park -Inside, 6 apartments: three 1-bedrooms and three 2-bedrooms. No word on the builder, but in 1963 it was owned by the First National Bank of Skokie.

Very nearly the same building as the previous one, with the more common light blue accents, right down the street. Piers, banded windows, and framed rectangles recur from previous buildings; the vertical stripes on the side are new.

 

IMG_16304744-46 N. Paulina, opened in 1967.

Folded canopy, corner piers, and the open rectangle. The lack of banding at the windows leaves the front facade feeling disjointed and ad hoc.

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There are some buildings – again, around Rogers Park – which use the same decorative vocabulary, but in different shades of brick.

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2700-2704 W. Pratt Avenue, West Ridge – Chicago. A 15-apartment building opened by 1967; builder David Schultz, who also built the blue-toned one across the street.  Familiar elements include the piers, the grid of rectangles, and the open rectangles over the entries.
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2001-2007 W. Touhy  Avenue, Rogers Park – Chicago, open by 1968.

A third building by David Schultz; this one uses the piers, and the same sweatband/cross banding seen at 4850 N. Paulina. But that building was put up by a different company!

 

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1844-1846 W. Birchwood Avenue – an 11-apartment building open by 1967; builder Sam Toporek Construction Company. Piers and the open rectangle.

 

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1813-1819 W. Touhy  Avenue, Rogers Park – Chicago. Open by 1966; builder: Sam Toporek Construction Company, same as the previous building. Piers, grid of rectangles, sweatband, open rectangle.

 

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 1534-1536 W. Farwell  Avenue, Rogers Park – Chicago; opened by 1968. Builder: Louis Bender.  Piers, grid of framed rectangles, open rectangle.

 

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1623-27 W. Greenleaf Avenue, Rogers Park – Chicago.  Piers, grid of unframed rectangles, open rectangle.

 

IMG_00511538-40 W. Chase Avenue, Rogers Park – Chicago. Open by 1966; builder M. Chapelski Construction.  Piers, grid of unframed rectangles, open rectangle.

So, taking the open rectangle as a sample, we’ve got at least five different builders (Schultz, Bender, Luna, Chapelski, Toporek) using the same ornamental detail. Did they share an architect, or just an idea?

 

Returning to our color theme, there are plenty of blue-on-blondes which don’t use the distinctive design vocabulary outlined above. Some examples:

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8308 Kilpatrick Avenue, Skokie IL

A suburban outlier that is also a design outlier, this building demonstrates how the features seen before aren’t necessary or unavoidable, but rather were intentional decisions. Here we have no corner piers, no glass block, no brick rectangles, and no banded window groups. Ornament is instead formed by raised vertical stripes and grids of single blue bricks between the windows. Is it merely chance that this building is far away from the others in both style and geography?

Here’s one more outlier, down in Berwyn:

Cermak Road
Kenilworth Arms Apartments, 6850-54 W. Cermak Road, Berwyn – a 1959 building by George V. Jerutis & Associates builders.

This one uses the blue brick in a completely different way, framing and outlining windows groups with it.  The white panels appear to be some kind of plaster or stucco, and might not be original.

Many other buildings beyond the core Rogers Park group use the same material palette and color scheme, though without the distinctive sense of style and fewer recurring design elements:

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7744 N. Eastlake Terrace, Rogers Park – opened in 1963, advertised by Sunset Realty.

This elevator building features both vertically and horizontally banded windows; the entry is marked by glass block and a dimensional Flemish bond brick pattern. The little baseball cap brim overhang on the outer bays also hearkens back to the core group.
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Just south of Warren Park
2155 W. Arthur Avenue, West Ridge – Chicago, south of Warren Park. 

Awkward massing, but the horizontal bands of accent brick give it some style.

West Ridge - Granville Avenue
6117 N. Mozart Avenue – Chicago

This building limits itself to one big flashy move, as its blue brick window bands wrap around the most visible corner. Like almost all these buildings, the blue brick is laid in a stack bond rather than the running bond used on the common brick; here especially it adds some geometric punch to the fields of blue.

 

Lest you think all this is a given, or somehow obvious: there are some which are almost painfully dull, almost willful in their refusal to ornament beyond the bare minimum. What do you think of a building that only does the bare minimum?

1628 W. Touhy
1628 W. Touhy, Rogers Park – Chicago

1236 W. Touhy, or thereabouts.

1236 W. Touhy, Rogers Park – Chicago

Lawrence Avenue
5710 W. Lawrence Avenue, Portage Park – Chicago. Opened 1964. Vertical window bands, diamond patterned doors and not much else. The gabled roof looks bizarrely out of place, like it landed from another city.

 

Below are a trio of larger and slightly older buildings that used the blue-on-blonde color scheme before any of the previous buildings did. Naturally, like the no-effort ones above, they don’t follow the Rogers Park vocabulary, but they show the color scheme in a slightly earlier incarnation.

Evanston - Ridge
737 Ridge Avenue at Madison, Evanston – opened in 1960 as “Madison Tower Condominium”.  It was meant to be condos, but was rented out as apartments, not going full condo until 1976. The developer at the time noted that the building was “a bit ahead of its time” regarding the then-new condo concept.

A rather dreadfully plain building, which uses blue glazed brick to infill the space between window bands in the projecting windows bays.

Not sure if this one counts.

6107 N. Kenmore – today it’s the Sacred Heart Friary, home of the St. Bonaventure Province of Conventual Franciscans. In 1959 it opened as The Charleroi, an apartment building of 1 bedrooms and efficiencies advertised by Meister-Neiberg & Associates. It’s not clear when the friars moved in, but they renovated a ground-level space as a chapel, with small stained glass windows.

A blue accent at the corner, smaller blue accents at the entryway. The brick here is not stacked bond.

 

N. Kenmore Ave

Kenmore Place, at 6012 N. Kenmore – a 4-Plus-1 near Loyola University. Appears to have opened 1958, which if correct would make it the oldest building in this set.

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This one doesn’t even feature blue brick – just 1×1 mosaic tile in three bordered bands between the windows – but still follows the same color scheme to infill the space between windows in its large projecting bays.

You might think this is enough of a single color scheme to last a blog for a lifetime, but dear reader, you’d be mistaken. Tune in next week, when Blue on Blonde plugs in, sells out and goes commercial!