Early Modern / Midcentury Moderne apartments

Early modernism for the masses took the form of sleek brick boxes, with windows at the corners and raised bands of brick for ornament.

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6014-6024 N. California, 1948. The Tribune indicates that this was the George Eisenberg Unit, a “child treatment center” for foster children run by the Jewish Children’s Bureau. In later years, the building became an apartment complex. By 2007, when I shot these photos, it was tired, run down and vacant.

With the land slated for a condo product, the building was demolished around 2008. The condos (a sad historicist pastiche compared to this elegantly simple building) never happened, of course.

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Granville Gardens, West Ridge – more info here.

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Wolcott Gardens – 4901-4959 N. Wolcott Avenue, 1939, architects Michaelsen & Rognstad. This project started as soon as Granville Gardens finished. Like that project, Wolcott Gardens was backed by Federal government loan guarantees.

If you’ve ever ridden Metra’s Union Pacific North line, you’ve seen the backsides of this complex, which sprawls for an impressive length near the Ravenswood stop.

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The courtyards are fenced off, sadly. The buildings are arranged to form a giant U-shape running along the back of the block, with two smaller U-shapes nestled within it – an ingenious layout that takes advantage of the long, narrow, and rectangular site plan.

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301-11 Custer, Evanston – a near-total mystery! I can’t find it in the city/county database. A classified ad announces the building’s opening, with units ready for occupancy in March 1948, also naming the building as the “Custer-Mulford Apartments”, at 301 Custer, and operated by Draper and Kramer, Inc.

One other thing about Moderne? It looks GREAT at night.
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7375-83 N. Winchester – the Pottawattomie Park Apartments

Four sets of courtyard apartments, in two pairs, sit on the 7600 block of Winchester in Rogers Park. They’re all the same design, though the pair on the west side of the street has been badly remangled with super low-budget tack-on metal balconies.

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7328-36 N. Winchester

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7314-22 N. Winchester – ugh!! Those doors!

On the east side of Winchester, however, the other pair remains gloriously intact, with its thin metal-framed windows still in place.

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7363-71 N. Winchester – the Pottawattomie Park Apartments

At the street, the complex features beautiful brickwork, half-turned stacks and raised bands that beautifully complement the corner windows.

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The whole group seems to have gone up in 1953, though the Chicago CityNews site is pretty confused, listing one as dating to 1898 (!!) and listing seemingly outdated addresses for the east-side buildings. Plans for the buildings were announced in the Tribune in 1949; they were part of a large group of apartments privately constructed with FHA loans.

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Chicago’s Midcentury Moderne

Chicago builders, as I’ve harped on before, would glom on to just about anything in designing their mass produced buildings. The International Style and Art Moderne were no different; they served as inspiration for a series of buildings across Chicagoland in the 1950s and early 1960s. Combined and agglomerated into the already-developing local builder style, these buildings form a mini-style of their own. Call it Chicago Midcentury Moderne.

This set of photos is all single family houses and small multi-family apartments, but there are also larger apartment buildings in a similar style, which I’ll cover in another post. The construction dates are all from the Chicago CityNews site, whose accuracy can be on the variable side – but I’m betting they’re all in the right ballpark, at least.

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6549 W 28th Street, Berwyn – 1952

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2820 W. Glenlake, 1950

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2854 W. Berwyn, 1956

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2926 W. Fitch, West Ridge – 1944?? I’m not sure I buy that.

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5776 W Ainslie at N. Menard Avenue – 1956

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9301 S. Winchester, Beverly – 1952

It doesn’t seem to be a hugely appreciated genre; there’s not a word about any of these buildings online. I’ve previously photographed a small group of similarly-styled houses in the Fairview neighborhood of Skokie.

2 Moderne houses in Wilmette

Below are a couple of Art Moderne houses in Wilmette that I stumbled upon in recent months. They’re only a mile or so apart in a quiet neighborhood, surrounded by more traditional houses.

Art Moderne is exactly what the name suggests – part Art Deco, part International Style, with some Streamline thrown in, yet not quite any of them. There’s ornament, but it’s more about abstract patterns and geometry than anything applied or figurative. Curved walls contrast with blocky massing, and focal points are provided by round windows, art glass, or glass block. The style tended to produce rare but lovely houses like these.

1910 Greenwood Avenue, Wilmette – Andrew Rebori, 1936

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1708 Lake Avenue, Wilmette – John Burns House, 1937, Roy Walter Stott

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See also – a student report from School of the Art Institute of Chicago, featuring a few additional houses of similar vintage and style in the area.

St. Joseph Catholic Church, Wilmette

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A most imposing edifice, towering over the suburban houses and 2-story commercial buildings around it, stands at Lake and Ridge in western Wilmette. St. Joseph Church is that rarest of beasts, a church constructed during the lean years of the 1930s, a time when even the Catholic church slowed its building program.

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St. Joseph is unusually tall and imposing. Its most striking feature is the indented front entrance, which looms like a shallow cave sculpted out of a mountainside.

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The building is a mild update of traditional church styling. It’s historicist in bent, but the influence of Art Deco is inescapable. It’s nothing radical or stylized; the Deco is in the details.

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The tower, in particular, is faintly reminiscent of Bertram Goodhue’s 1922 capitol building for Nebraska.

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Inside, St. Joseph is clean and spare. Applied ornament is almost absent.

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Angular Deco details can be seen in the hanging lamps, the wall sconces, and the side aisle arches.

The style of the stained glass windows matches the building itself: leaning toward traditional, with inoffensively faint traces of Modernist influence, such as the geometric patterns bordering this window.

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St. Joseph was designed by McCarthy, Smith & Eppig, and dedicated in 1939.

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And a coda: Across the street, a beautiful associated school building harmonizes with the church’s style, and somehow fails to have the sun on it every single time I pass by.

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Paneled Storefronts Again

Every week on our blog we choose a theme, and then bring you a variety of different buildings on that theme.

This week: revisiting old posts.

Act 2: More 1940s Storefronts.

Sometimes I find that just the very act of posting a blog entry generates more information. Just putting the post out there gets me thinking more about the topic, and maybe I think of a place to research that I missed earlier, or just realize that I need to take a closer look at the building itself. And of course, readers post comments. Sometimes they’ll know the answer to a question, or have the architect’s name, or – as in this case – they’ll know where to look to find more examples of the buildings I’ve just posted.

Both of these porcelain enamel panel storefronts are near Roscoe Village, and in fact one of them I’d photographed before, and then totally forgotten about it.

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The history of this Belmont Avenue storefront can literally be read right off the facade. Currently it’s home to a pub called Hungry Brain. Before that, it housed a laundromat, its applied letters leaving faint outlines. Originally, it had an attached neon sign, whose lettering was not legible.

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Orange Garden has obviously been a Chinese restaurant for a long time, what with the vintage neon sign. Combined with the stainless steel fluting and the porcelain panels, this storefront’s a real winner!

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And then, once I started looking for it, I realized that the panels, and the oatmeal texture porcelain enamel in particular, are everywhere. There’s a stretch of Broadway where three buildings in a row have paneled storefronts.

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One of my favorite Clark Street facades is made of metal panels:
Bell Auto

And then there’s this spectacular multi-store example on S. State Street:
Blue Star Auto

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With its battered neon sign, flaking painted signs, and 1940s-style blue paneled facade, Blue Star Auto Store is worthy of a whole post.

And just to round out the set, here’s one more black Vitrolite facade. Belle Kay on Lincoln Avenue is now home to LuLu’s vintage clothing store, and a more appropriate reuse I cannot imagine.

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And “belle” is indeed the word to describe that angular font.

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Vitrolite, sadly, isn’t a very good material for meeting the ground. It’s a type of glass, and glass snaps and shatters when anything hits it hard enough.

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Finally, a quick update on Erickson Jewelers in Andersonville: A banner announces that it will become a Potbelly’s location. The metal lettering has been removed to allow replacement of some of the Vitrolite panels. The neon sign has also been removed, hopefully / presumably for repairs. I’m hoping both elements will be coming back. The Intarwebs remain silent on the matter.

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Streamline Theaters

Today we visit four vintage theaters from the golden era of theater design, all of them beautifully restored in recent years.

Skokie Theater

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Our first stop is the humble little Skokie Theater, on Niles Center Road in downtown Skokie. The Art Moderne facade is a later addition to a circa-1916 building. After many years as a movie theater of varied genres, today this little gem serves as a small-scale (140 seats) concert venue.

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Of particular interest, the facade shares elements with both the styles I posted last week – the low-budget commercial Deco/Streamline storefronts, and the paneled WW2 storefronts.

  • Skokie Theater web site
  • Skokie Theater at Cinema Treasures
  • Wilmette Theater

    Also on the north shore, this little theater is the most humble of the bunch. Its main interest is that it shares the same porcelain enameled panels as most of the 1940s storefronts from last week.

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    The Wilmette Theater is part of the Metropolitan Block, a World War I-era building that got a partial face lift during the Depression.

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    Lake Theater

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    A fully-illuminated theater is something that should be seen by both day and night. Sadly, I haven’t made it out to Oak Park in the daylight since finding this remarkable Deco waterfall.

    The Lake Theater (on Lake Street, natch) dates from 1936 (architect Thomas W. Lamb). The spectacular marquee remains fully illuminated, as does the vertical theater name sign, which lights up letter by letter, top to bottom, before blinking off again. Inside, the theater has more recently become home to salvaged artifacts from other Chicago theaters that no longer stand.

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  • Lake Theater at Cinema Treasures
  • Official history at Classic Cinemas
  • York Theater

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    The York Theater (York Road, Elmhurst) looks sharp by day… but it’s at night that this facade truly comes alive.

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    Curved neon follows the sensuous lines of the facade, uniting the building and its marquee into a single entity. The structure was only 14 years old in 1938, when architect Roy B. Blass replaced its Spanish-influenced facade with a new, ultra-up-to-date facade in the Art Moderne style.

    Like the Lake Theater, the York is owned by the Classic Cinemas company, who have taken superb care of both places and runs on a business model of celebrating historic theater design. Also like the Lake, the York has survived into the present as a viable first-run theater by gobbling up adjacent retail space for conversion to additional theater screens. Combined with the triplexing of the original auditorium, this has brought the York up to a total of nine screens.

    If you visit the York and your timing is right, you can also visit the offices of the Theatre Historical Society of America – they’re located in an upstairs office right next to the theater.

  • Official history at Classic Cinemas
  • York Theater at Cinema Treasures
  • Art Deco Moralizing

    If you’ve browsed the spectacular Unexpected Chicagoland (Camilo Jose Vergara and Tim Samuelson), you surely remember the equally spectacular Laramie State Bank of Chicago (architects Meyer & Cook, with the Northwestern Terra Cotta Company, 1927.)

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    It’s a beauty, one of the finest Deco facades you’ll find in the city. It’s also covered in fine and, to my mind, rather amusing detail.

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    The theme of the entire facade is “hard work and savings”, and the artists laid it on thick and heavy. Across its columns and around its windows, industrial workers labor in factories, surrounded by rivers of coins. Atop the columns, squirrels and bees prepare their hordes for winter, while a wise owl watches in sage approval.

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    And above the door, a contented family gathers for their meal.

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    Meanwhile, on the eastern facade, the American eagle sinks its claws into the entire globe. Hard work + savings = American hegemony!

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    The building is located at 5200 W. Chicago Avenue, most of the way out to Oak Park. This is a pretty hardscrabble neighborhood today, but the building survives as a combination of banquet hall, carryout restaurant, church, and I’m not sure what else.

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