1940s Storefront Facades

We cap off our little survey of commercial Art Deco with a style that’s not really Deco: the circa-World War II paneled storefront.

Lincoln Tap Room
Lincoln Tap Room – Lincoln Avenue

Western Automatic Music – Western Avenue

R.V. Kunka Pharmacy
R. V. Kunka Pharmacy – Archer Avenue



This one, on Armitage, actually has more in common with the corner Deco buildings from previous posts. But the colors are more 1940s-style.

Kiltz’s Bakery – W. 63rd Street

Kiltz’s shares a material and finish style with the next two, a sort of smooth-finished texture with a lumpiness to it. For a while it fooled me into thinking it was terra cotta, but if you walk up and tap it, you’ll discover that it’s a hollow metal panel with a baked-on coating, presumably a form of porcelain enamel.

Parkway Cleaners and Taylors – Diversey Parkway

Ed & Erv’s Centrella Food Mart – Touhy Avenue

Parkway and Ed & Erv’s also share enough design elements to make them look like the same designer’s work. The white polished cleanliness of the designs is highly fitting for their occupants.

At the other end of the health spectrum, the Rothschild Liquors chain became their own mini-genre of storefront, all paneled in red and finished out with stylish neon signs:

717 East 87th Street

1532 West Chicago Avenue

425 East 63rd Street

A quick Google search turns up two more Rothschild stores with facades of the same vintage, one in red, one in white.

And finally, the black Vitrolite panel storefront, exemplified by two fine northern city storefronts:

Erickson’s Jewelers, Clark Street in Andersonville

Paul J. Ouetschke & Co., Lincoln Avenue in Lincoln Square



Unlike the baked metal panels above, Vitrolite is basically a form of glass, about a quarter inch in thickness, and sadly prone to breaking under impact.

And with those dimensional letters, we’re clearly on the path to full-blown Midcentury. Bring it on!


Gold-Plated Deco Bits

You remember these guys from last week, right?

Grand Avenue

Devon Avenue I

Devon Avenue II

The three buildings share more than just a similar design style; they actually have the exact same gold-hued catalog ornament.

Grand Avenue

Devon Avenue I

Deco detail
Devon Avenue II

And they’re not alone. Several other Deco buildings were designed by contractors with their finger in the same catalog.

Lawrence Avenue, directly south of the previous two


Bryn Mawr at Sawyer, west of the river


It looks like the supplier made the same ornament in multiple finishes. Consider these two details, the first from the Lawrence Ave. building, the second from another Devon Ave. building:
Devon Deco

The two designs are identical, just flipped and rendered in a different finish.

Round Corner Deco

The Streamline Deco style really lent itself to commercial buildings. They could be built with extremely simple designs, and still be considered stylish and modern.

6747 W. Cermak Road, at Oak Park Avenue

Bryn Mawr, west of Sheridan


2755 W. 63rd Street at California

This one is the most basic model – rectangular blocks with a glazed, colored face, with horizontal banding lines on top and bottom. This model serves on countless storefronts around the city, both on corners and in the middle of the street wall.

Clark Street – Lakeview. Whatever this building may have once been, it’s now buried under an awful asphalt shingle mansard roof, except for this forlorn little corner peaking out at the alley.

Here on Chicago Avenue, the worst slipcover job ever has partially given way to reveal the stock Streamline facade beneath.

The same idea was used to greater effect on Devon Avenue, where a corner didn’t require the entry to be round.

Devon Avenue

The same model is used on a tiny free-standing building where Grand and Chicago intersect.

And again in a storefront at 6719 Northwest Highway.

On this North Avenue building, the same effect is achieved with metal panels. This building has had a renovation / add-on that really fights against its host building. Apparently, Streamline just doesn’t have the same allure as rustic Swiss Alpine.


You could pull the same effect off in concrete or limestone, too:
Gandhi Electronics

Simple and Streamline weren’t the only word in corner commercial chic, however. The varied vagaries of Art Deco offered an array of options for the shopkeeper willing to spend a bit more on his facade, and there are some beautiful examples here and there.

3001 W. 63rd Street

3324 W. 55th Street

Archer Avenue at Richmond Street

Angley Jangley Deco

Two handsome Art Deco specimens from out west.

The Medical Arts Building, Oak Park

715 Lake Street is hard to miss if you’ve visited Oak Park; it’s a rare tall building in a low-rise suburb. Architect Roy J. Hotchkiss designed the Deco/Nouveau skyscraper near the end of a highly productive career, in 1929; still in use as office space, it’s a contributing member of a National Register district.



It’s also quite dramatically illuminated at night.


4500 W. Division

O & G Spring and Wire Forms Specialty Company occupies this low, long factory building, the front facade of a fairly large complex.


The factory’s entire facade is nicely decorated with mosaic tile and brick patterns, but it’s the entry tower that makes you swerve to the side of the road for a longer look.




Hey…. aren’t those the same wall sconces as the Medical Arts Building?

O & G was founded in 1966 by a Polish immigrant and employs about 75 people today. The company made unfortunate headlines in 2008, when a supervisor shot and killed an employee after a quarrel.

The Tribune library archives are not working correctly, or I might have more info on the building itself. But maybe it’s enough to just bask in its geometric glory.

The Artist Colonies of Old Town

Two remarkable enclaves of artistic thought, expression and craft thrived in Chicago’s Old Town neighborhood, starting in the 1920s and peaking in the 1950s. Both sprung from the artistic ambitions of prolific artist Edgar Miller, who spent decades carefully crafting his studio and the surrounding properties.

The first and more extensive compound is the Carl Street Studios on W. Burton Place, a single-block street between LaSalle and Wells (it was renamed in the 1930s.) I will not try to explain their architecture or layout; I can hardly claim to understand them myself. Suffice to say that most of the block is involved in Miller’s work in some way or other. Several tightly wound buildings somehow squeeze courtyard space onto tiny urban lots, each adorned with sculpture, mosaic tile, woodwork, stained glass and more.









Prairie Style and Art Deco / Streamline are clearly visible influences; on the whole, however, the houses on this block are unique creations.

The second location is on Wells Street, a few blocks above North Avenue. Now housing high-end apartments, it’s frustratingly inaccessible, a bit of a walled fortress compound insulated against the bustle of the city. Sporadic bits of tile decoration and two elaborately carved doors hint at the wonders that surely await within.







Turns out, Edgar Miller was professionally involved with another luminous Chicago designer, architect Andrew Rebori. Miller’s mini-sculptures line the first-floor cornice of Rebori’s Fischer Apartments, nearby on Wells.

The outside of these buildings is a paltry consolation prize compared to the interiors. Interior photos are well worth seeking out – they are stunning indeed.

A full history at Wikipedia: Carl Street Studios

Skokie Fairview

At the southwestern border of Skokie lies this peculiar little pocket of neighborhood. It is isolated by design, with several roads just not going through to the nearest artierials like Pratt and Niles Center. Thus, it’s a really easy little corner to miss.





I’ve posted garage doors from this area before. The neighborhood is home to some particularly idiosyncratic MidCentury ranch houses, the kind that can’t make up their mind whether they represent western frontier living, or Jackie Kennedy and Camelot fashion. They all went up in the mid- to late-1960s, hot on the heels of the 1964 creation of Coyle Park, now Norman Schack Park. They were built by Shaf Home Builders (still in business today), though the Tribune archives are stubbornly unforthcoming about the company. Shaf offered home models that went by slighly outlandish names such as the “Cleopatra”, the “Queen Cleopatra” (the “ultimate in Colonial elegance”) and the “Casa del Encanto”, some of which were built here.






Those houses are the main attraction, or so I thought. On a whim, I passed by a second time recently… and discovered just how odd are the houses in this little corner of southwest Skokie.


The big showstoppers are this trio of brick houses, with clear Art Deco influences. The tidy, compact footprint and the brickwork style both point to the inter-war years, and the hand of a professional architect. The Cook County database at CityNews, however, dates it to 1962. 1962?? This doesn’t look anything like 1962. BlockShopper.com dates the group to 1948, and another site says 1946, both of which make a lot more sense.


The databases have the rest of the block as going up between 1940 and 1950. Those houses follow the same small-footprint plan, but only the first floor is sheathed in brick. Ranch house touches are added in. The separate mass of the entryway, and the raised brick stripes at the corners, peg the entire block to a single designer and make the buildings relate to their more high-minded neighbors on the corner.


Then, a block north, amid some typical raised ranches, sits this lovely 1950s house.


…which has a grown-up cousin amid all the Shaf Builders strangeness nearby.


It’s a real box-of-chocolates neighborhood, well worth a repeat visit.

Double Deco

Pure coincidence let me find out about the fantastic Art Deco-facaded building at 6420-6424 N. Western Avenue: the Rogers Park Historical Society was headquartered there in the 1990s, and thus mention the building in their online history.

It was designed by William C. Presto, an associate of Louis Sullivan – the same guy who called in Sullivan to do the Krause Music Store facade, the final work of Sullivan’s career. The Western Ave. building was home to Cutsler’s Cafe in 1931; beyond that, there’s not much about it in the Tribune archives, my usual research stop. It’s a beauty, though, with a design vocabulary that brings to mind vaguely Egyptian imagery but is a unique creation.



Well, I thought it was unique, anyway… till I had occasion to venture through the small town of Dekalb, IL, where the exact same design style appears on a small commercial facade, the Wedberg Building. Presto must have figured nobody would notice if he recycled a design in a small town a hundred miles away!

DeKalb main street

Of course, the Internet isn’t very forthcoming about this one, either. Best guess is it was built for an Albert T. Wedberg (his 31-year-old wife’s name appears on the 1930 census), who may have been a photographer (he’s credited with a photograph of the town from the same time period).