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!

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Storefront Additions

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6100 Lincoln Avenue – original home of the  Morton Grove Public Library in the 1930s; later home to Philip’s Television Radio Service by 1949.  An electronics shop was still here in the 1980s.

My friend Michael Allen first brought storefront additions to my attention, through his detailed documentation of them in St. Louis. As often happens among architecture fans, his interest rubbed off on me, and I began looking for them in Chicago.

Well, it turns out you don’t have to look very hard. They are everywhere. Major commercial streets like Western and Ashland have dozens of them, often side by side, and they come in every shape, size, material and style.

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Athens Grocery Store in Pullman, E. 113th Street and S. St. Laurence. Appeared in the Harrison Ford film “The Fugitive”; operated here since at least 1972. In the 1950s it was the Busy Corner Grocery.

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4345 N. Western Avenue – a butcher shop in 1928; until recently the Green Briar Pharmacy. Not clear if they are still open.

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2114 Belmont – home to “The Belmont Shoe Hospital” shoe repair shop by 1917; in the 1980s it was a fine arts gallery.

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723 Wrightwood – currently vacant, but has held multiple businesses in the past including an Internet cafe in 2001 and the more standard Box Car Cafe in 2004.

The typical storefront addition is a small commercial structure added to the front of a residential building, often in a sharply contrasting style. The result allows a small business to operate out of the ground floor, and may or may not result in the whole building going commercial. They are common on streets that have transitioned from residential or mixed use to a primarily commercial use, though they can also show up on totally random residential  side streets.

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4000 block, S. Indiana Avenue

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1757 Roscoe Street – a deli in the 1940s; possibly a butcher before that; most recently home to Carmen Electric, Inc.

Neighborhood transitions usually don’t happen until several decades after the neighborhood’s construction; as a result, storefront additions usually are built in a different style than the house they are attached to, if there is any style at all. Many additions are purely utilitarian. Others are more flamboyant than the house itself.

Particularly curious are the little brick boxes tacked onto the front of wood-framed houses. Like the additions themselves, the upgrade in building material speaks to an increase in prosperity.

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4504 N. Central Avenue – home to Glen E. Davis, Realtor, who had operated from this address as far back as 1951.

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1523 / 1525 Devon – Wireless Shack Inc.

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1415 Devon – a 1950s addition for the Perma-Stone company, whose product covers the outside of both house and addition.

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1435 W. Diversey – Chicago Cleaners

Additions could come in any style, as shown with these two Mid-Century tack-ons attached to totally ordinary wood-frame houses.

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Parky’s Hot Dogs – 329 Harlem Avenue, Forest Park

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Dos Compadres Restaurant, 7021 Roosevelt Rd, Berwyn – previously another location of Parky’s Hot Dogs. The “chain” – noted for their fries – dates from 1949; this location was closed and sold some time between 2004 and 2009.

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724 W. Wrightwood – The Burwood Tap, family owned & operated since 1933

Storefront additions can come in all scales, from tiny brick boxes to full-fledged structures that could stand as independent buildings. The Burwood Tap is an extreme example of the latter; it’s a full two-story corner building attached to a wood framed house behind it.

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Nesh Mediterranean Grill – 734 W. Fullerton Avenue, Lakeview. Nesh opened in 2008; before that it was a Planet Sub.

New ones are almost  unheard of today. This  Fullerton Avenue storefront  looks like an exception, but with a grocery store at the address as far back as 1949, and a real estate office for decades after that,  it’s likely it simply got reskinned when remodeled in 2006. The North Avenue storefront below seems like a similar case – bits of stone roofline ornament can be seen poking out from behind a more recent coating of EFIS.

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153 W. North Avenue – Magnifique Nails today; a grocery store in the 1920s; a custom T-shirt shop in the 1960s; office for the Chicago Film Festival in the 1980s.

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Then there are my two favorites, a pair of Victorian-era houses on Clark Street in Lakeview, which are totally buried by this long commercial building. It’s actually not an addition at all – it doesn’t touch or interact with the to houses, apart from sitting in their front yard. But it swallows them up just as effectively as if they were connected. The two houses remain accessible from Clark via long, narrow passageways, one of which is visible on the right.

The most interesting thing about storefront additions, apart from their stylistic anomalousness, is what they say about the growth and desirability of the city. A proliferation of storefront additions speaks to rampant expansion and a thriving economy – neighborhoods growing so fast they cannot keep up with the demand for commercial space.

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234-238 S. Ashland – an Art Deco storefront built by 1942; a tavern in 1946; Cafe Penelope from 1989 into the 2000s; today, a vehicle registration agency. The house behind frequently appeared in the society pages of the 1890s and 1900s.

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1400 N. Wells Street

They are not only indicators of growth, but incubators for it as well. An existing storefront addition allows a small business to have a home of its own without the undo expense of new construction. This sort of flexibility, in turn, is what makes cities such great drivers of economic growth and diversity. Try starting a new business out in the timid, corporate-run ‘burbs – assuming you can even find someone willing to rent space to a non-franchise company. No, you’re far better off in the well-worn, infinitely adaptable city.

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2807 N. Sheffield Avenue – Shirts on Sheffield

Two little theaters

Two of Chicago’s earliest surviving movie theaters – the Park Manor Theater and the New Devon Theater – were built in a similar material palette, a common scheme of white glazed brick with dark green glazed brick trim. It’s an often-seen style from the years just before World War I. I will cover it more expansively in a later post; however, in the process of researching these two, I came across so much info that it seemed fair to give them their own separate writeup.

Both were relatively small houses, running what the Tribune referred to as “photo plays”. They were built at the declining end of the nickelodeon era, when features were short, admission was five cents, and “talkies” were still over a decade away. These smaller theaters often could not compete against the much larger movie palaces which began appearing only a few years later, though some stayed in business into the 1950s or later.

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In Rogers Park, the short-lived New Devon Theater, 1618 W. Devon Avenue, was built in 1912 (previously covered in this post.) Among its earliest listings were the photoplay The Diamond from the Sky, a drama hyped with a full-page ad in the Tribune. The New Devon only lasted a few years as a theater, and housed a series of businesses in the following decades. The first was a Ford auto dealership in the 1920s, the Hughey Motor Company.

The former theater included a residence during the Depression (one tenant died in 1940; another was busted in 1948 for operating gambling equipment in Northbrook), and served as a meeting hall for the 50th Ward Republican Party (where a 1939 speaker histrionically declared that the “New Deal-communist alignment [has] made the Democratic party the party of dept, depression, disorder, and destruction. For many years the democrats have been destroying the country.”)

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In 1941 it housed the Rogers Park chapter of America First, an anti-war group which had trouble finding lodgings in the area due to landlords’ fear of being seen as pro-peace while war raged in Europe. The group had been summarily kicked out of another meeting space after only a few weeks of occupancy, no reasons given.

By 1952, it appears to have been home to Devon-Clark Radio, which changed to Devon-Clark Television by 1954, an electronics store selling Westinghouse electronics, air conditioners (“Sleep in an ice cube on hot muggy nights”, only $2.66 a week!) and other goods – though some ads list the address as 1612 Devon, a different building entirely. Want to give them a call to check? The number is Ambassador 2-3081.

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The former New Devon Theatre has been the Assyrian American Association since 1963. The one-time competitor that put it out of business, the Ellantee Theater, is visible just down the street and today houses Clark-Devon Hardware.


On the south side, the old Park Manor Theater, 321 E. 69th Street, opened in early 1914 and lasted till 1950 as a theater.
321 E. 69th Street
Its early screenings in 1914 included serials such as The Adventures of Kathlyn (also showing at the New Devon). A Tribune listing notes the theater among contributors to relief funds in the wake of the Eastland disaster on the Chicago River in 1915; the theater commonly ran the Selig-Tribune newsreel (“The World’s Greatest News-Film”, according to their ads; again, also showing at the New Devon). A 1970 column and response letter sees old residents of the neighborhood reminiscing about their childhoods, with the Park Manor’s nickel-a-show serials and Punch and Judy shows figuring prominently.

In 1937, it was involved in a discrimination suit for refusing to sell tickets to a black couple. In November 1950, the theater was listed for sale and described thus:

378 seats, fully equipped, including $800 popcorn machine; lobby and front need painting, a few seats need repair, otherwise in first class condition. Oil heat, washed air heating and cooling system, double Western Electric sound, new projector head, new strong low intensity arc lamps, rectifiers and Martin converter, new screen…rent $150 per month…a real opportunity for the right party.

Alas, the $800 popcorn machine would not see service here again; the building was home to the Philadelpha Church by 1961, followed by the Grace Eden Church – both African-American congregations, ironically (or perhaps fittingly) enough. At some point during this era, it gained a low-budget but funky Midcentury colored window across its entrance.

In 1961 it served as a back-up site for a “mixed revival” – a racially integrated prayer rally – which was disrupted by mob violence and broken up by police at its original location at the Ogden Theater, ostensibly on grounds of the building being unsafe. Threatened by demolition in 1967, it nonetheless has survived to the present, currently housing the First Born General Assembly Church.

Gold-Plated Deco Bits

You remember these guys from last week, right?

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Grand Avenue

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Devon Avenue I

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Devon Avenue II

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

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Grand Avenue

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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.

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Lawrence Avenue, directly south of the previous two

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Bryn Mawr at Sawyer, west of the river

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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:
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Devon Deco
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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.

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6747 W. Cermak Road, at Oak Park Avenue

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Bryn Mawr, west of Sheridan

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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.

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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.

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

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

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Devon Avenue

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

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And again in a storefront at 6719 Northwest Highway.

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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.

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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.

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3001 W. 63rd Street

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3324 W. 55th Street

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Archer Avenue at Richmond 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

Devon Avenue changes

The recent posting of the Chicago 7 endangered architecture list left me in some confusion over just what the threat to Devon Avenue was. Sunday I took a stroll down Devon to shoot some documentation photos, and by chance found a bit of information.

Rockwell Square Residences
Rockwell Square Residences

The Chicago 7 list shows a rendering of a strange building at 2556 W. Devon Ave., but gives no indication of what it is — new builing? Teardown? Reskin? Turns out it’s a new 30-unit condo development, “Rockwell Square Residences”. It’s got a garage built in, and commercial space for lease at the sidewalk. If I’m reading the rendering correctly, the narrow end will face Devon, while the prominent and boldly-colored longer facade will face Rockwell, a residential side street. I like the forms, and I’ll be beside myself if they actually decorate it with all that color.

Devon Avenue

Most importantly, the land was already vacant before this project surfaced, serving as a surface parking lot.

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Viceroy of India Restaurant

The Avenue’s most impressive Modernist building is this streamline confection in concrete, now serving as a restaurant. The view above is from early 2006; but today, the building looks like this:

Devon Avenue

The vertical sign and street-level awning have been removed, and the facade has gotten a coat of white paint with maroon highlights, as well as some patching and repairs. Once I got past the shock of the long-exposed concrete being covered up, I have to admit that the change looks pretty good, and stays true to the spirit of the building’s form, if not the designer’s exact original intent. My one real complaint was that it no longer matches its concrete contemporaries to the east and west:

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Devon at Western

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The Wallen Block

Devon Avenue

The Devon Building
The Beaux Arts-styled block starting at 2501 W. Devon was actually three buildings, hidden behind a unified series of facades. With a recent fire, however, it’s been tragically reduced to two buildings, with a painful gap between them.

March 2006, looking southeast:
Devon Avenue

February 2008, looking southwest:
Missing tooth

The building’s demolition is a serious loss for urban design in general — this was a magnificent and imposing block, and unless the facade was salvaged for reinstallation, whatever eventually fills the gap is unlikely to match it.