Riotous Restaurants

An early discovery in my time in Chicago – probably before I even lived there – was Gulliver’s Pizza (2727 W. Howard Street, Chicago), just across the border from Evanston.

Gulliver's Pizza, Evanston

Gulliver’s lets you know something’s going on before you even walk in the door. The front facade of this totally ordinary one-story building is festooned with architectural ornament of all kinds – sculptures, brackets, ironwork, lamps, columns, and more. Gulliver's Pizza, Evanston

Inside, the place is a riot of lamps and woodwork.

Gulliver's Pizza, Evanston

Gulliver's Pizza, Evanston

Gulliver's Pizza, Evanston

Gulliver's Pizza, Evanston

Gulliver’s opened in 1965 as a partnership between restauranteers Jerry Freeman and Burt Katz. The name came from Katz’s affection for the classic novel Gulliver’s Travels. The independent-minded Katz soon left, starting a series of other pizza joints around town (with likewise literary-themed names). Freeman stayed and grew the business, expanding into the storefronts next door as they became available. The architecture bits come from the late owner’s collecting habits, as I was told by the staff, and were obtained from antique shops as well as buildings slated for demolition.

Gulliver's Pizza, Evanston

Gulliver's Pizza, Evanston

Gulliver's Pizza, Evanston

Mr. Freeman passed away in 2006, but Gullivers continues to this day.


An all-too-late discovery, coming only in my last year or so in the city, was Walker Brothers Original Pancake House (153 Green Bay Road, Wilmette IL).

Walker Brothers Original Pancake House

Walker Brothers is a Chicago institution, the kind of restaurant that always has a line out the door on weekend mornings. That line moves quickly, though, and once you’re in you’ll be treated to mountains of comfort food, fresh squeezed orange juice, and a stunning interior.

Walker Brothers Original Pancake House

While Gulliver’s goes for the overwhelming look of an antique shop, Walker Brothers has a more refined if not restrained aesthetic. Wood and stained glass panels separate rooms and diners. There is a unified emphasis on an early 1900s Arts and Crafts style. It is claimed around the internet that the look dates to the filming of the 1980 Robert Redford flick Ordinary People at the location. Certainly not all the stained glass is vintage, though much of it is, if not of verifiable heritage. In common with Gulliver’s, no info on the history of individual pieces is available.

Walker Brothers Original Pancake House

Walker Brothers Original Pancake House

Walker Brothers Original Pancake House

Walker Brothers Original Pancake House

Ironically for a “Chicago institution”, Walker Brothers is actually a franchise restaurant. Opened in 1960, the restaurant combined the local Walker Brothers Snack Shop name with Portland, Oregon’s Original Pancake House chain. This was back in the days when franchise outlets were allowed to have a bit more personality; there was also a Walker Brothers Kentucky Fried Chicken. Today, the pancake house is one of over 100 “Original Pancake Houses” around the country, but still a unique place, beloved by thousands. Locals Phil Donahue and Bill Murray have been among its repeat customers.

Walker Brothers Original Pancake House

Walker Brothers Original Pancake House

Walker Brothers Original Pancake House

 

Walker Brothers Original Pancake House

Walker Brothers Original Pancake House

This is certainly the first time – and likely the last – that you will find food on this blog. It’s just too good to leave out.

Walker Brothers Original Pancake House

Careful, though. You’ll have a heart attack just looking at it.

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Green on White, Chapter 2 – More Bakery Brick Facades

Back in April I posted a collection of buildings facades made with white glazed brick and olive green accent brick.  At the time, I put up every one I was aware of.  But as often happens when you have 65,000 digital photographs of a city, sometimes things get lost. I’ve since found and tagged more such buildings – a LOT more.

Sadly, what I have not found is further information on the architectural style or its manufacturers and designers.  As usual, though, I’ve included some of the anecdotal histories I’ve found among the Chicago-Tribune archives and elsewhere.

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3760 Fullerton Avenue at Hamlin – west of Logan Square

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3740-46 Fullerton Avenue – west of Logan Square

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1111 W Wilson Avenue – Uptown – most recently home to Rokito’s Mexican Streetside Kitchen. 

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The Greenleaf Building, Wilmette – home to 9 separate storefronts. The building appears to have gone up in two parts, with the eastern portion replacing a house in 1912. The 1137 Greenleaf storefront housed a Western Union telegraph office from the 1930s into the 1960s, then the Butt’ry Tea Room & Pastry Shop from 1979 until circa 2010.   At 1141 Greenleaf, the storefront housed a tire shop in 1920, Bob’s Radio Shop in 1925, a belly dance studio in 1973, and a coffee soup & sandwich shop today. 

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2906 Central Street, Evanston. This curious case appears to be a 1910s storefront with a later second-story addition. On top of that, a 1960s storefront renovation added a flagstone base under the display window, and an angled entryway.

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741-743 W. 79th Street at  Halsted – built by 1917.

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3650-52 W. Chicago Avenue – Near West Side. Built by 1917, when it was home to J. Faust, dealer of Emerson records. (Records as in 78 rpm singles, with such famous tunes as “He’s Had No Loving for a Long Long Time”, “Some Day I’ll Make You Glad”, and “How Are You Goin’ to Wet Your Whistle?”)

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3814 W. 26th Street – Little Village. Now the 26th Street Medical Center. Built by 1915, this was a family-owned building and business from its construction until the end of the 1970s.  The first name associated with it is Vaclav M. Urbanek, in 1915; V.M. Urbanek & Son were listed as one of the many undertakers called upon to serve the victims of the steamship Eastland disaster that year. His son Edward Urbanek became an undertaker and seems to have opened a full-fledged funeral home around 1930 – possibly when the anomalous first floor facade was added.  A snazzy mid-century side entrance came later still. Funerals were held here in the Urbanek Funeral Home until 1970; by 1981 it was a doctor’s office.

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3916 W. 26th Street – Little Village – Taquerias Atotonilco has occupied the space since the 1980s.

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3519 W. 26th Street – Little Village

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4226 W. 26th Street / 4222 W. 26th Street – Little Village

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1011 N. Western Avenue

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949 N. Western Avenue – Ricky’s Deli

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1730 W. 18th Street  (orig. 756);  1726 W. 18th Street (orig. 754) – Pilsen.  The left-hand building was built by 1912. 

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1623 N. Milwaukee Avenue – Wicker Park – Red Hen Bread. A 1912 ad shows the National Bedding Company at this address. In 1923, Sigman’s Music Store, a short-lived piano dealer, is advertised. Only 2 years later, ads show the Western Brass and Iron Bed Company at the address. Today, fragments of a demolished neighbor cling to the party wall.

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1657 W. 47th Street, Back of the Yards – La Baguette Bakery

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4601 South Marshfield Avenue, Back of the Yards – a curious brick upgrade to a much older building otherwise sheathed in wood siding.

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5048 S. Indiana Ave. Occupied by 1918 – when some inhabitants were arrested for gambling.

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1467 E. 53rd Street at Harper,  Hyde Park. The corner retail store was originally home to a branch of Mesirow & Jacobson Pharmacy, who in 1921 were proud distributors of “Yeast Foam Tablets – A Tonic Food”, and four years later were selling “Vapo Chlorine” as a surefire protection against influenza. By 1940 a grocer occupied the space. 

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4200 W. Madison

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2149 W. Division Avenue – Nabi Cleaners.  Real estate ads show that the upstairs apartments retain some rather lovely woodwork.

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11021 S. Michigan Avenue, Roseland.  In the 1920s, the Peoples Store, a general store.  In the 1940s and 1950s, a Firestone tire dealer.  In the 1970s, a TV store. From the early 80s, Major Motor Auto Supply, whose signs still adorn the party wall, along with a painted over sign in front that remains faintly visible today.
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Searching for Architecture in Northbrook

As a preface to this post, I had written out a fairly long rant about how much I hate suburbs in general, and Northbrook in particular. But my M.O. on this blog is to celebrate, not denigrate, so we’ll skip all that and get straight to the point: even a far-flung exurb like Northbrook has its moments.

Part 1: 20th Century Northbrook

Lakeside Congregation for Reform Judaism – Lake-Cook Road
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Fitch, Larocca & Carrington Inc., finished 1973 for a congregation dating back to 1954.

Kingdom Hall of Jehovah’s Witnesses – Pfingston and Maria Avenue
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A tiny confection rendered in Brutalist language. The building was designed in 1967 by architect Salvatore Balsamo, and built by members of the congregation over the next two years. It’s still in use by them today. Having designed it to be built primarily by unskilled labor, Balsamo commented in the 1970 Tribune that “the unions and building department did not bother the workers because the project was a house of worship.”

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CitiBank – Lake-Cook Road
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A giant square roof hovering over a transparent body below. The roof extends to shelter the drive-through ATMs in one unified swoop. The bank building went up in the mid-1970s as home to First Federal of Chicago.

The bank is an outparcel of the adjacent Northbrook Court, a development fought tooth and nail by neighboring Deerfield, but opened nevertheless in 1976. The mall was designed by Architectonics, Inc., who also worked with developer Sears on another mall in Joliet.

Great Lakes Structural Steel
237 Melvin Drive
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A plain warehouse with a bold International Style office building up front, built for a company relocating from Skokie. The style has been tweaked a bit, making it a bit more flamboyant than orthodoxy might have allowed – and allowing the original tenant to show off the effectiveness of their signature product. 1969, by the local firm of Alper & Alper.

Ironically, it’s now home to HDO Productions – a company that provides large event tents.

AA Service Co. Heating and Cooling – Anthony Trail
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This shockingly dramatic arch was once an airport hangar for Sky Harbor Airport. Dating from 1929, it was opened to great aplomb in the days when the Northbrook area was far more sparsely settled. An incredibly stylized club house and control center stood to the south on Dundee Road, but did not survive the Great Depression which closed the airport. Abandoned and vandalized, the clubhouse was torn down in 1939 and the field re-opened as a training center, largely for military pilots. After three decades of use as a popular private airport, Sky Harbor closed in 1973 in the face of rising land values, to be replaced by light industrial development.

The original hangar building was abandoned for a few years but survives to this day, now housing a heating contractor. In an utterly bizarre arrangement, it now has a narrow two-story seafood restaurant tacked on to its side.

The Courts of Northbrook
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Opened in 1988, the Courts stand directly west of the shopping mall of nearly the same name. What I like about this place is that it’s such a great model for a suburb. It’s nothing particularly special or overwrought; and yet, it shows how pleasant a neighborhood can be when the right architectural tools are used to control space. This is not some high-falutin’ architect’s theoretical experiment – any developer could come up with this place if they put their head to it.

Perhaps unsurprisingly for such an enlightened development, this is the work of the Optima Inc. company architect David Hovey.

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The enclosed porch is an especially nice touch. What a pleasant place to sit and read on a sunny day!

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360-370 Lake Cook Road

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Lacking any name, this low, long building hunkers down under its wonderful green metal roof and behind its low brick walls, scowling out at the rushing traffic on Lake-Cook Road. Inside, a pleasant courtyard greets visitors.

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And wander around a bit, and you’ll find the requisite 1950s ranch houses, still looking fantastic 50 years after they were built.

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Following on 1950s houses came 1960s churches.

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And the story doesn’t stop here… next time we’ll look at some more recent additions to the landscape.

Baha’i House of Worship

It is far and away the most grandiose building north of the city limits; even within Chicago, it has few peers. As Sheridan Road leaves Evanston, the Baha’i House of Worship stands like an alien spaceship by the Lake Michigan shore.

Baha'i House of Worship

This fantastic building was made to be a landmark. Construction took over thirty years, beginning in 1920 and not completed until 1953. Only 25 years after completion, it was nominated to the National Register of Historic Places.

Baha'i House of Worship

Architect Louis Bourgeois worked on the design for eight years. Though he strove to create a timeless style that incorporated symbolism from the world’s major religions, you can take one look at his ornamental style and tell right away he was looking at the works of his contemporary, Louis Sullivan. Unsurprisingly, he worked in Sullivan’s office in the late 1880s.

Baha'i House of Worship

Baha'i House of Worship

Gracefully overlapping curved forms evoke the idea of vegetation and geometry, all the while tautly bound within the confines of the building’s surface. The lamp, by contrast, reveals the building’s long period of assembly, spanning two architectural eras: it is pure MidCentury Modern.

Baha'i House of Worship

Likewise, columns on the periphery of the interior are utterly unadorned.

And what of that interior? What payoff awaits within that grand dome? Oh, it’s worth it!

Baha'i House of Worship

Your gaze is drawn up… and up.

Baha'i House of Worship

The dome is beautiful by night…

Baha'i House of Worship

But by day it truly and literally shines, as flecks of daylight slip in between the curving openwork of the dome.

Baha'i House of Worship

Just how they constructed this magnificent trick remains a mystery to me.

This building shines gloriously by day or night, in all weather. Even in the dead of night, it casts warm light onto its surroundings.

Baha'i House of Worship

The Bahá’í House of Worship is one of only seven such buildings currently in existence. They share with it several design concepts, such as the 9-sided circular design, a single open space within, a lack of any representational decoration, and a surrounding setting of gardens. The building is open daily, and if you arrive at the right time you might just have the whole magnificent space to yourself. It won’t last, though, as a steady trickle of visitors comes to see this unparalleled marvel.

A period revival cluster

Plenty of period revival homes grace the north shore. Yet a sadly large proportion of them draw on Classical influences, a sad reflection of America’s adolescent growing pains, in which the far more interesting (in your humble narrator’s opinion, at least) Gothic and associated styles were passed over in favor of dime-a-dozen, staid, stolid, snoozy Greek influences.

For that reason, this batch of period revivals along Tower Road stands out in particular.

Tower Road period houses #1, 2 and 3

The centerpiece is this brightly colorful, cheery home, of striking gables.

Tower Road period house #2

Tower Road period house #1

It is surrounded by a trio of homes in a comparatively rare style, which doesn’t seem to go by any one name. It’s not truly Tudor Revival; “English Medieval Cottage” is more a description than a name. “Cotswold Cottage” includes some houses with that same sort of wavy, curvy-cornered, crazy simulated-thatched roof, but it doesn’t seem to be requisite to the style, whereas I would call it the defining element of these homes. “English cottage” or “Medieval Revival” might be as close as you get. One expects to see Hobbits coming out of their charming confines.

Edit: After some further research, these three are Storybook Style houses. Unsurprisingly, given their charm, there’s a whole web site and even a book devoted to Storybook architecture. The author, right up front, shares my assertion that there should be Hobbits on the premises.

Tower Road period house #4

Tower Road period house #3

Whatever they’re called, they’re fantastic, a treat for the eye.

Tower Road period house #1

These three also have a cousin a few miles south, in Evanston.

Period house - Evanston

Period house - Evanston

Period house - Evanston

North Shore MidCentury, Part 2

231 N. Burnham Place / Sheridan Road
1973 – Pure expressive massing. This house’s interior volumes strain to break free, pushing the facade to the limits of thinness. Every one of those boxes is filled with livable space. “Ornament” consists of the house’s own volumes, and the interplay of glass with a couple of solid facing materials. Delightful, and it must surely be awash in natural light all day long.

2770 Sheridan Road

2770 Sheridan, Evanston
1977 – Everything about this house screams 1960s, from the vertical wood slats to the mixed-color brick, but it evidently came down the pike about ten years later than it looks. That front entry facade is pure art!

2776 Sheridan Road, Evanston
1978 – Next door, this awkwardly realized concrete bunker tries, but just doesn’t have much in the way of poetic massing. The near-total lack of windows just kills it.

1331 Sheridan Road, Wilmette
1978 – Another fortress in concrete, but this one succeeds beyond all expectations. This elegant house raises the primary living spaces up above the ground – a strategy used 70 years earlier in Frank Lloyd Wright’s Robie House. Up top, the living room (or whatever it is) glows like a beacon at night. Thirty years old now, but it could just as easily be brand new.

718 Sheridan Road, Evanston
1983 – Again, my first guess was late 1960s, perhaps a facade tacked on to an older house. Well, the facade is certainly tacked on, but the house is surprisingly new. Given the date and the strangely pretentious front elevation, one is tempted to call it a PostModern work. A split driveway (surrounding a planted island!) descends to twin single-car garages, with stairs leading up to the main entrance. Miniature grandeur, or a house with its foundations washed out from under it? You be the judge!

The North Shore MidCentury tradition

The 1950s saw a burst of construction throughout Chicagoland, and the moneyed, historicist-drenched north shore was no exception.

207 N. Burnham Place / Sheridan Road
1952 – One of the north shore’s oldest post-War modernist houses is this split level. It stands in a virtual forest today, largely obscured by trees and bushes even in the dead of winter, but its simplicity of style and contemporary massing are evident nonetheless.

1325 Sheridan Road, Wilmette
1957 – This house must have been shockingly minimalist among all the elaborate bungalows and NeoClassical mansions lining Sheridan Road. Its incredibly thin and flat roof and utter lack of ornament still stand as a stark contrast to the houses around it, even its ranch house contemporaries. The pattern of yellow and slate blue brick colors is wholly unique.

400 Sheridan Road, Wilmette
1957 – A few miles south, a pair of MidCentury houses went up across the street from the famed Baha’i House of Worship. This one, the senior by one year, has many classic Chicago MidCentury elements – two tones of horizontal flagstone, the banded facia lining the flat roof, and stylized geometric porch railings.

416 Sheridan Road, Wilmette

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1959 – The neighbor to the north is predominantly built of brick, now covered in white paint (not original, I’m guessing). It has a more volumetric massing.

930 Sheridan Road
1959 – A mile or so up the road, this ranch house hews more closely to the standard Chicago MidCentury model. Flagstone walls, a broad picture window in front, and gently pitched roofs are all typical of the more mass-produced builder houses from the same era. The angle-intensive red pediments also draw on a common Chicago builder element, but having them repeated in triplicate really gives this little house some eye-catching pop.

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1958 – Well, someone had paid a visit to Villa Savoye, and here attempted to translate that iconic house into Chicago terms. The results are interesting but definitely awkward. That flagstone, for example, was never meant to float through the air like like that. This poor house is also crammed into a fairly narrow lot, leaving it no room to breath, nor any room to be viewed as a singular object. The architect knew it, too; the sides are faced with cheaper brick, giving the house’s elevations a distinctly split personality. The house has sat vacant for a while, and I nearly had a heart attack the morning I saw a construction fence going up around the lot. The permits, however, seem to be for renovation rather than demolition.

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1128 Sheridan Road, Wilmette