A Lotta Terra Cotta


It was a random comment by a friend that made me realize concretely something that I was already dimly aware of: Andersonville is just loaded with great terra cotta. It is terra cottalectible. Terra cottalicious. It’s terrificotta. It’s terra cottacular. It’s the place to go when you gotta terra cotta.





The king and queen of Clark Street are this pair, the former Swedish American Bank Building on the left, and the ex-Calo Theater at right.






That last pic there is one of two mostly-nude maiden bedecking the Calo Theater facade. Their rather decadent leers take on a whole new meaning with Andersonville’s ascendancy as a popular gay and lesbian destination.

There’s no shortage of lush ornament and no end to the variety of styles. Beaux Arts reigns, but Sullivanesque, Deco, and Classical are all represented.





If you’re willing to stretch the definition of Andersonville a bit, you can pick up still more impressive buildings. Most people probably consider the neighborhood to end somewhere around Foster, but in architectural terms it essentially runs all the way down to Montrose, the continuity bolstered by several large and beautiful buildings.





And remember our Egyptian car repair friend? He’s located in this neighborhood too!


Small wonder that Andersonville is on the National Register of Historic Places.

Egypt comes to Chicago

Pure Egyptian Revival was briefly all the rage in the early 1920s in the wake of various archeological expeditions, and any American city worth its architectural salt has a few examples scattered about. In Chicago, we have two outstanding examples in the northern neighborhoods.


The first is in Uptown, at 4015 N. Sheridan north of Irving Park, and is currently home to Nick’s Uptown. It was built in 1920 as the Marmon Hupmobile Showroom, and designed by architect Paul Gerhardt.



The second and more prominent is a fireproof store warehouse on Clark, the Reebie Storage and Moving Company. It’s a beauty, festooned with stylized decoration, including virtually the same “winged” design as the Uptown bar.


Much like the fireproof warehouse up near Howard Street, this one is basically just a huge brick box, with applied decoration on the front. But oh, what decoration it is!




Gotta face the face

A mini-theme: three buildings with human faces as a prominent decorative element. The first is on Clark Street in Andersonville:




This is 5006 N. Clark, originally the Fred Heyden branch of the Chicago Motor Car Company circa 1916; today the New Clark Auto Repair and Body Shop.

Much further down the road, a heavily Deco-styled face on Clark Street in Lakeview:


Back up the road – Devon at Clark – a more traditional face, on the Assyrian American Association, 1618 W. Devon. Originally this was the New Devon Theater, built in 1912, playing “Photoplays” in 1915, and converted to a car dealership by 1923.



If you were wondering about the secondary decorations on that first building, it’s a winged wheel, a common element in the 1920s:


Same idea, different style, on Halsted Street:


Former Jewel Food Stores

In the 1930s, during the height of the Art Deco craze, Jewel Food Stores constructed a series of identical stores all across Chicagoland. Many of these buildings, with their distinct glazed white facades, survive today. I’ve found six to date, but I imagine there are many more.

I can’t find the first word about these buildings online; it’s only thanks to Jacob at Forgotten Chicago that I even know what they used to be. Even the exhaustive research at Pleasant Family Shopping barely mentions the 1930s style buildings. I can speculate that the white glazed tile appealed to the sense of modernity and hygiene, which was becoming a more common concern at the time.

The little storefront buildings are quite adaptable; they’re serving all kinds of purposes today, from clothing and furniture to liquor sales. Several are home to independent ethnic grocers.

Bryn Mawr Fresh Market
Bryn Mawr, west of the river

Devon Avenue - Kamdar Plaza groceries
Devon Avenue

4315 N. Broadway
N. Broadway in Uptown

1952 W. Lawrence Avenue
Lawrence Avenue, west of the Red Line

5409 W. Devon
Devon Avenue, way out west by the Metra tracks

Foremost Liquors
Cicero at 33rd Street

Mather Tower

Mather Tower

The AIA Guide to Chicago likens it to “a terra-cotta Gothic rocket poised for takeoff”. Unbelievably slender, the Mather Tower rise some 42 stories above the Chicago River at the north edge of the Loop. It is one of a half-dozen skyscrapers from the 1920s which form an unparalleled ensemble where Michigan crosses the river. Together with the river, the vast sidewalks, the ornate bridges, and the multi-level streets, these towers collectively make this intersection one of the world’s greatest urban spaces.

Mather Tower

Designed by Herbert Hugh Riddle, the building was once the Linocln Tower, and now goes by the uninspired title of 75 E. Wacker Drive; however, it was built as the Mather Tower in 1928. It was headquarters for the Mather Stock Car Company, a manufacturer of railroad cars. Plans for an identical twin next door were scrapped with the coming of the Great Depression.

Mather Tower

Mather Tower

Mather Tower

In the 1990s, the building’s terra cotta skin was deteriorating. Pieces had fallen off and reportedly hit pedestrians on the sidewalks below. Much of the building was wrapped in netting, prior to a complete restoration of the exterior.

Mather Tower
October 2000

Mather Tower

The building’s cap is actually a prefabricated replacement, installed in 2002 after the deteriorated original had been removed. Unfortunately, though intended to be a duplicate of the original cupola, it doesn’t integrate with the original tower in form or color. Compared to the original, it clearly reads as the tacked-on replacement that it is.

Mather Tower

Still, we’re lucky to have the cupola at all. Restoring it involved a few million buck in TIF money and tax abatement.

Mather Tower

Mather Tower

Mather Tower

Schulze Baking Company

Here is a building I have longed to photograph for many months, maybe even years. Today, I finally got my chance.

Schulze Baking Company

Amid the houses, apartments, and low-grade commercial enterprises along Garfield Boulevard, this gleaming, towering industrial building stands out like a jewel. Seeing it for the first time is a take-your-breath-away, holy-crap-what’s-that kind of moment.

German immigrant Paul Schulze founded his baking company around the turn of the century, and worked to promote sanitary conditions in industrial bakeries (or at least the perception thereof.) The building went up in 1914, designed by John Ahlschlager & Son.

Schulze Baking Company

Schulze Baking Company

Among the building’s lavish ornament are some flagrant Louis Sullivan knockoffs, enhanced with sculpted ears of corn.

Behind the five story main building is a long, low industrial complex, still in operation today.

Schulze Baking Company

Schulze Baking Company

The building appears to be having some problems; a piece of the terra cotta cornice is missing, and this side wall has been propped up with wood beams. Walkway coverings ring the building, as if to protect passersby from further terra cotta loss. One of the stairwells, visible from the street, has been tagged with spray paint, hinting at an under-used if not outright abandoned building.

Schulze Baking Company