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.

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.

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!


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.





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


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.


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


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.


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.



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!

Storefront losses

It’s not hard to walk the commercial streets of Chicago and find recently vacant storefronts, their former occupants victims of the Great Recession. The economy of the last few years has claimed several local and personal favorites. The little watch shop and jeweler that once operated out of the ground floor of this Lincoln Square flatiron, for example, disappeared in 2009.


Lincoln Square

Around the corner, the long-standing Meyer Delicatessen vanished in 2008, along with its two fantastic neon signs.


Meyer Delicatessen

This story has a happy ending, though. The space has been completely remodeled by a boutique grocer, adding a second story and a handsome new facade.

Lincoln Square

And inside, the mounted sign has returned, now hanging proudly at the head of a new staircase. I nearly did a backflip when I saw it – it’s a wonderful repurposing of a wonderful bit of neon.

Lincoln Square

My only complaint is that the store’s deli is actually to the left. And downstairs.

Perhaps my favorite back-lit plastic sign disappeared with the closing of the Rogers Park outlet of the Dulcelandia Mexican candy store, a local chain.


The most architecturally alarming loss is Erickson Jewelers. This Andersonville storefront features a sleek black Vitrolite facade, elegantly engraved with the company’s name and signature product, combined with a delightful neon sign and clock advertising Omega Watches. Dating from the 1940s, the renovation that created this sleek commercial space is sufficiently obscure that not even the AIA Guide can identify an architect or exact date.


Occupied – 2007

Vacant – 2010


In business since at least 1924, Erickson Jeweler was still open in 2007, but closed by the end of 2009. Much to my regret, I never photographed the neon sign while it was in operation, and it would take an unusually enlightened and daring tenant to leave the business-specific facade intact.