Blue on Blonde, Part 1: Most Likely You Build Your Way (and I’ll Build Mine)

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9801-9811 S. Kedzie Avenue, Evergreen Park

In the 1960s, Chicago builders loved do to the same thing over and over and over. You’ll find the same architectural elements on buildings scattered all across the city and its suburbs. One of my old favorites: baby blue glazed brick panels, accents and piers, laid in a stacked bond, on a background of cream, beige or tan brick in running bond. It’s used on dozens of mid-century apartment buildings from Evanston to Burbank and beyond; there is a particularly heavy concentration of them in Rogers Park and West Ridge.

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Here we’ll look at a group of a dozen or so that share many distinctive elements: corner piers; rectangular ornamental groups of blue brick, sometimes outlined in limestone; sculpted glass blocks;  long, vertical, open rectangles of blue brick with single blue bricks floating in the center; and windows grouped into horizontal bands by limestone surrounds, with the intervening space filled by blue brick.

Whether you just skim the pictures or read every detail, bear in mind the old question I’ve raised again and again on this blog: was it one designer cranking out variations on a theme, or was it multiple designers copying and adapting ideas from each other?

SPOILERS: I found almost no evidence of a common point of origin. However, at best I have only the names of “builders” – which could simply mean the contractor who constructed the building using plans from an independent architect, or a design-build development company with an in-house architect, or even a real estate development company who contracted out all aspects of design and construction to others. It’s entirely possible that a single architect sold drawings to multiple developers and construction companies, and equally possible that several architects swiped details from one another. Several “builders” were responsible for multiple similarly-styled buildings on the list, but multiple builders can also seen using the same details and styles as each other.

You can see most of the basic decorative elements on our first example, below:

2740 W. Pratt Blvd.
2740 W. Pratt, West Ridge – Chicago. David W. Schultz Co., builder; opened by 1965.

Vertical piers of blue brick punctuate the building’s bays. Decorative elements include the open rectangle of blue brick above the entrance – a motif found on several other buildings around the Rogers Park area, in a variety of brick colors. A large section of blank wall is dressed up with a grid of square blue panels floating on a field of cream brick.

1322 W. Chase Avenue
1322 W. Chase Avenue, Rogers Park – Chicago. Opened 1965, by Birger Construction Co., replacing a converted house previously on the site. Birger also did  an apartment building at 7621 N. Sheridan that uses the same corner-pier vocabulary, but in reddish-orange brick. 

This building and the previous one share similar entry detailing as well as the blue corner piers. The “tower”  – a raised bay marked by colored piers on both sides – lends interest to the building’s massing.

 

Paulina
6116 N. Hermitage Avenue, opened 1964, with studio, 1- and 2-bedroom apartments; operated at the time by the McCarthy Management Corporation. No word on the builder.

This is a third building with corner piers. Sculpted glass block marks the entryway, as well as a tiny folded plate canopy. It also shares the same “tower” massing as the previous building, as well as nearly-identical window treatment – windows rimmed by a limestone band, with blue brick in the surrounded wall space.

Ohhhh, snazzy.
Stacks and angles

 

Somewhere on Paulina.
4850-4856 N. Paulina Avenue – opened by 1966, by Luna Construction Co., replacing a house on the site (previously home to a family whose four sons all served in World War I.)

A U-shaped courtyard building. The piers, the open rectangle, the folded plate entry canopy, and the banded windows all recur. There’s also a band of colored brick near the roofline, looking a bit like a sweatband on a jogger’s forehead which becomes a cross motif at the courtyard.
Cream & blue courtyard!

 

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7256 N. Bell, Rogers Park – Chicago. J. & H. Construction Co. builders, 1967.

Piers and a grid of squares recur from previous buildings. The balcony railings are similar to those at our next stop…

7241 N. Claremont Avenue

7241 N. Claremont Avenue, West Ridge – Chicago. Opened in 1962, replacing a 4-unit apartment building on the same site.

In addition to the prominent blue corner pier and “tower” massing, banded windows, outlined rectangles of stacked-bond brick, and sculpted glass block modules over the entryway, this one features lovely matching metal balcony railings. The entry canopy is probably not the original. If my dates are all correct, this would seem to be the prototype for the others in this group.

The vertical bands of glass block over the entryway recur on our next two buildings:

1635 W. Touhy
1535 W. Touhy, Rogers Park – Chicago. Open by 1968, possibly by 1965.

Piers, banded windows, glass block entry. The grid of stripes is a variant on the grid of squares seen earlier. It is echoed in the bands of glass block over the entry, whose verticality is further emphasized by the unusual decision to turn the blue brick on end.
YAY!

 

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1631 W. Farwell, Rogers Park – opened in 1964. This site follows a familiar historical arc for the time period – in April 1963, a doctor living at this address passed away. In August, the “old house” and its lot went up for sale for $26,000. Thirteen months later, the new building was ready. 

A particularly stylish example with multiple stepbacks as it moves back through its lot. It breaks with the others by banding its windows vertically. Lots of decorative activity, from the framed rectangles to smaller unframed squares, curly-cue canopy supports, and glass block at the stairwell.
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The vertical bands of brick and glass block are nearly identical to those at 1535 Touhy, but banded and with plain clear block in addition to the colored geometric ones.

 

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1918 W. Touhy Avenue, Rogers Park – opened 1966. It was under the same rental management as the previous building (1631 Farwell).

A much simpler example with banded windows and a grid of rectangles.

 

 

1615 W. Touhy
1615-17 W. Touhy, Rogers Park – Chicago. Doesn’t appear in the classifieds until 1971, which would make it rather a latecomer, but would also perhaps explain the unusual gabled roof.

Piers, banded windows (minus the limestone outlines), open rectangle at the entry, grid of unframed rectangles.

 

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7555 N. Oakley Avenue, Rogers Park – Chicago. Open by 1965, M. Chapelski Construction Co. builders.

A dark-blue variant with simplified detailing, south of Howard Street. Piers, a stack of framed rectangles, banded windows.

 

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7418 N. Oakley Avenue, Rogers Park -Inside, 6 apartments: three 1-bedrooms and three 2-bedrooms. No word on the builder, but in 1963 it was owned by the First National Bank of Skokie.

Very nearly the same building as the previous one, with the more common light blue accents, right down the street. Piers, banded windows, and framed rectangles recur from previous buildings; the vertical stripes on the side are new.

 

IMG_16304744-46 N. Paulina, opened in 1967.

Folded canopy, corner piers, and the open rectangle. The lack of banding at the windows leaves the front facade feeling disjointed and ad hoc.

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There are some buildings – again, around Rogers Park – which use the same decorative vocabulary, but in different shades of brick.

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2700-2704 W. Pratt Avenue, West Ridge – Chicago. A 15-apartment building opened by 1967; builder David Schultz, who also built the blue-toned one across the street.  Familiar elements include the piers, the grid of rectangles, and the open rectangles over the entries.
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2001-2007 W. Touhy  Avenue, Rogers Park – Chicago, open by 1968.

A third building by David Schultz; this one uses the piers, and the same sweatband/cross banding seen at 4850 N. Paulina. But that building was put up by a different company!

 

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1844-1846 W. Birchwood Avenue – an 11-apartment building open by 1967; builder Sam Toporek Construction Company. Piers and the open rectangle.

 

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1813-1819 W. Touhy  Avenue, Rogers Park – Chicago. Open by 1966; builder: Sam Toporek Construction Company, same as the previous building. Piers, grid of rectangles, sweatband, open rectangle.

 

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 1534-1536 W. Farwell  Avenue, Rogers Park – Chicago; opened by 1968. Builder: Louis Bender.  Piers, grid of framed rectangles, open rectangle.

 

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1623-27 W. Greenleaf Avenue, Rogers Park – Chicago.  Piers, grid of unframed rectangles, open rectangle.

 

IMG_00511538-40 W. Chase Avenue, Rogers Park – Chicago. Open by 1966; builder M. Chapelski Construction.  Piers, grid of unframed rectangles, open rectangle.

So, taking the open rectangle as a sample, we’ve got at least five different builders (Schultz, Bender, Luna, Chapelski, Toporek) using the same ornamental detail. Did they share an architect, or just an idea?

 

Returning to our color theme, there are plenty of blue-on-blondes which don’t use the distinctive design vocabulary outlined above. Some examples:

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8308 Kilpatrick Avenue, Skokie IL

A suburban outlier that is also a design outlier, this building demonstrates how the features seen before aren’t necessary or unavoidable, but rather were intentional decisions. Here we have no corner piers, no glass block, no brick rectangles, and no banded window groups. Ornament is instead formed by raised vertical stripes and grids of single blue bricks between the windows. Is it merely chance that this building is far away from the others in both style and geography?

Here’s one more outlier, down in Berwyn:

Cermak Road
Kenilworth Arms Apartments, 6850-54 W. Cermak Road, Berwyn – a 1959 building by George V. Jerutis & Associates builders.

This one uses the blue brick in a completely different way, framing and outlining windows groups with it.  The white panels appear to be some kind of plaster or stucco, and might not be original.

Many other buildings beyond the core Rogers Park group use the same material palette and color scheme, though without the distinctive sense of style and fewer recurring design elements:

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7744 N. Eastlake Terrace, Rogers Park – opened in 1963, advertised by Sunset Realty.

This elevator building features both vertically and horizontally banded windows; the entry is marked by glass block and a dimensional Flemish bond brick pattern. The little baseball cap brim overhang on the outer bays also hearkens back to the core group.
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Just south of Warren Park
2155 W. Arthur Avenue, West Ridge – Chicago, south of Warren Park. 

Awkward massing, but the horizontal bands of accent brick give it some style.

West Ridge - Granville Avenue
6117 N. Mozart Avenue – Chicago

This building limits itself to one big flashy move, as its blue brick window bands wrap around the most visible corner. Like almost all these buildings, the blue brick is laid in a stack bond rather than the running bond used on the common brick; here especially it adds some geometric punch to the fields of blue.

 

Lest you think all this is a given, or somehow obvious: there are some which are almost painfully dull, almost willful in their refusal to ornament beyond the bare minimum. What do you think of a building that only does the bare minimum?

1628 W. Touhy
1628 W. Touhy, Rogers Park – Chicago

1236 W. Touhy, or thereabouts.

1236 W. Touhy, Rogers Park – Chicago

Lawrence Avenue
5710 W. Lawrence Avenue, Portage Park – Chicago. Opened 1964. Vertical window bands, diamond patterned doors and not much else. The gabled roof looks bizarrely out of place, like it landed from another city.

 

Below are a trio of larger and slightly older buildings that used the blue-on-blonde color scheme before any of the previous buildings did. Naturally, like the no-effort ones above, they don’t follow the Rogers Park vocabulary, but they show the color scheme in a slightly earlier incarnation.

Evanston - Ridge
737 Ridge Avenue at Madison, Evanston – opened in 1960 as “Madison Tower Condominium”.  It was meant to be condos, but was rented out as apartments, not going full condo until 1976. The developer at the time noted that the building was “a bit ahead of its time” regarding the then-new condo concept.

A rather dreadfully plain building, which uses blue glazed brick to infill the space between window bands in the projecting windows bays.

Not sure if this one counts.

6107 N. Kenmore – today it’s the Sacred Heart Friary, home of the St. Bonaventure Province of Conventual Franciscans. In 1959 it opened as The Charleroi, an apartment building of 1 bedrooms and efficiencies advertised by Meister-Neiberg & Associates. It’s not clear when the friars moved in, but they renovated a ground-level space as a chapel, with small stained glass windows.

A blue accent at the corner, smaller blue accents at the entryway. The brick here is not stacked bond.

 

N. Kenmore Ave

Kenmore Place, at 6012 N. Kenmore – a 4-Plus-1 near Loyola University. Appears to have opened 1958, which if correct would make it the oldest building in this set.

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This one doesn’t even feature blue brick – just 1×1 mosaic tile in three bordered bands between the windows – but still follows the same color scheme to infill the space between windows in its large projecting bays.

You might think this is enough of a single color scheme to last a blog for a lifetime, but dear reader, you’d be mistaken. Tune in next week, when Blue on Blonde plugs in, sells out and goes commercial!

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Green on White, Volume 3 – A Baker’s Dozen of Bakery Brick

Another batch of white and green glazed brick storefronts – about a dozen total. At this point I have documented well over 50 of these buildings in and around the city, all featuring the same material and color pallet, and often the same style of design and ornamentation. And still no answer to the simple question of why! Why this color combination, why so many of them, why this style, why right in this one concentrated time period around 1920?

IMG_2894a741-749 W. 79th Street at Halsted. The westernmost of the four storefronts was the Auburn Park Library from the late 1930s until 1963. This building was next door to the corner commercial building demolished several years ago following a wall collapse.

 

Clark Street, Rogers Park7051 N. Clark Street, Rogers Park. Originally the Casino Theater, one of a legion of early theaters, most of which lasted only a few years before larger and more modern competitors overtook them. Cinema Treasures lists the Casino as operating from 1913-14; it was cited by the city in 1913 – along with dozens of other theaters – for a total lack of any ventilation. By 1919, it was a car dealership. In recent years, the building has lost a curved parapet wall.

Before this building went up, the site was home to Patrick Leonard Touhy, an early settler, businessman and land trader in the area, who married the daughter of Phillip Rogers, platted Rogers Park, and lent his name to one of the area’s major east-west arterial streets. Separated from his wife, Mr. Touhy lived at this address alone until he passed away in 1911; his house was demolished and replaced with the theater. His wife’s mansion, at 5008 Clark (old system, 7339 Clark new system) was torn town in 1917 and is now the site of Touhy Park.

Western Avenue

2241 and 2245 N. Western Avenue

 

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2403 W. Chicago Avenue – Liz’s Pet Shop, with thin triangular and diamond patterns surrounding a beautiful bulls-eye of stained glass above, and a completely altered storefront below. In the 1930s it was the office of Dr. Marco Petrone (1902-1966), a gynecologist and city Health Department inspector whose office also seemed to have a knack for attracting crime victims seeking emergency treatment. By 1945 it housed the Roncoli Grill.

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4230 1/2-4234 and 4236 S. Archer Avenue – two adjacent buildings with matching facades.

The lower, longer building on the right contains three retail storefronts; the peculiar 4230 1/2 address indicates that the third was shoehorned in at some point. 4234 was a Brighton Hobby store in the 1970s; recent occupants include the recently departed Vision To You, a pizza parlor, and a salon.

4236 S. Archer opened as the Crane Theater in 1916 – hence the grand archway; it operated as a theater into the 1950s. More recent retail tenants included a Color Mart wallpaper store in the 1970s, the Brighton Flower Shop until around 2007 (with a great neon sign), and the China Spa in 2008.

Both stores were refaced with modern red brick recently, first the theater in 2012 and then the storefronts on either side in 2013. All three came out much the worse – though at least the now-anomalous archway is no longer covered with a giant banner. The renovation included installation of bulbs into the long-disused sockets of the arch; the milky stained glass in the arched window appears to be an earlier addition by the short-lived China Spa. The current tenant, responsible for the red brick ruination, is the Gads Hill Center, a family and community support organization.

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6901 S. Halsted Street – green brick striping punctuated by terra cotta medalions. The building contains apartments above and four retail outlets at the street level. The Family Loan Corporation was a long-time tenant, from the late 1940s through the 1950s. A liquor store came later, in the 1960s.

 

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711 W. 47th Street – another curious specimen, a wood framed house tarted up with masonry accents at the street. The house is likely much older than the other buildings in this post, which likely date from the 1910s.

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IMG_0646a2209 W. Cermak Road, at far right – another apartment-over-storefront configuration. It was a music store in 1919, likely the first tenant. After that the storefront housed a series of doctor’s offices, including one who practiced there for many years before moving out in 1942. The address made headlines in 1977, as another physician operating there was one of several who carried a notable new type of glasses case that the Tribune reviewed. The same doc made headlines again in 1981 under less auspicious circumstances – he and another physician were busted for supplying drugs to street gangs. 

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3311 W. Montrose Avenue – Chicago Import, Inc. The storefront has been infilled with blonde brick, and the limestone panels in the center appear to be a Mid Century addition.IMG_9070a

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2107 N. Cleveland Avenue – Custom Hair Lounge + Spa – the green brick is merely a small accent amid handsome corbelling and an arched parapet wall, capped with limestone trim. It opened as a grocery store in 1919, and was the White House tavern in the 1950s (when an out of town patron tried to commit suicide in the restroom.) 

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6241 N. Broadway, Uptown – Green Element Resale. Like the Casino Theater, this building has lost its upper parapet wall – as evidenced by a geometric design that is abruptly sliced off at the roofline. It was the Leon Beloian Rug Company in 1981.

 

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3707 W. 26th Street. Civic Savings and Loan in 1957. Vanek Travel Service in 1960. Mena Mexico Travel Agency today. This is actually a storefront addition – there’s a wood frame house behind it, still in use as a residence in 1964 when Mr. Arthur Vanek, owner of the first travel agency, passed away. The green was painted over some time between 2007 and 2011.

 

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Diversey-Sheffield Building, 946-958 W. Diversey / 2801 N. Sheffield Avenue. Built in 1916, according to Chicago Architecture Info, this one featured an actual name emblazoned on the corner facade.  As with the Archer Avenue buildings, that facade was recently lost. According to the architect’s Facebook page, “the glaze on the brick was failing, the walls were deteriorating and the cornices falling off due to rust.” Modern brown brick replaced the 100 year old white glazed look. Its multiple storefronts have, and still do, housed a variety of tenants.

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IMG_8726aThe fate of the two refaced stores flags up a major issue facing all these buildings – the glazing tends to flake off as the buildings age, particularly if water gets into the walls (due to poor roof or parapet maintenance) and can’t get out (due to a variety of factors.) The glazing is the brick’s finished surface, and without that surface the brick decays faster. These buildings could become an endangered species if owners continue to defer maintenance.

The Stripes Make It Go Faster

One of my favorite Mid Century Chicago decorative motifs is also among the simplest: patterns of overlapping vertical and horizontal bands, usually done in contrasting colors of brick, on the building’s walls. It’s a simple and stylish way to dress up a large wall space with no windows, particularly one on the building’s street frontage. They’re most powerful when used on a completely blank, flat, rectangular wall – a bold mass with a bold pattern inscribed on it. Often the accent brick is a bright color with a glazed finish, contrasting with the matte background brick around it.

These geometric patterns show up on MCM buildings across Chicagoland, but especially on the south side and inner south suburbs. Sadly, I was not able to uncover much about these buildings’ builders or designers, but there are some definite correlations among disparate sites that raise the old question of whether a single designer was repeating their style, or multiple designers were copying one another.

Chicago Mid-Century apartment building 7859 S. Rutherford Street at 79th, Chicago Ridge. Inevitably, those fantastic Mid-Century doors have been replaced by something cheap and inappropriate, some time during 2011-2012. This building is one of a row of four along 79th Street, and the last to retain its original entryway configuration. All four give street addresses for the side streets, rather than for their primary entries along 79th Street. Chicago Mid-Century apartment building   Chicago Mid-Century apartment building 10200, 10216, 10232 S. Crawford (aka Pulaski) Road, Oak Lawn – opened in September 1960, this trio of breezeway apartment buildings features a blank wall at the street, providing some measure of protection against the noise of busy Pulaski (aka Crawford); the geometric pattern serves as adornment for what would otherwise be an unfriendly gesture toward the street. These apartments are located only a block from Saint Xavier University and are home to many students. Chicago Mid-Century apartment building The backs of the same buildings features simple vertical stripes in a corresponding spot facing the alley: Chicago Mid-Century apartment building Chicago Mid-Century apartment building     Chicago Mid-Century apartment building The Riviera Apartments – 9739 S. Kedzie / 9732-9742 S. Troy Avenue, Evergreen Park. Opened 1962. Another breezeway building, with ornamental patterns on the end walls and the sheltered exterior stairwells.  Large light blue band, small red rectangle, connecting black stripes – if it is not the same designer as the Crawford buildings, then it’s at least someone who noticed them.  Chicago Mid-Century apartment building Chicago Mid-Century apartment building     Chicago Mid-Century apartment building 1436 W. Farwell Avenue, Rogers Park – Chicago, built by 1964

1131 W. Lunt 1125-1131 W. Lunt Avenue, Rogers Park – Chicago – opened 1963, replacing an “8 room brick” house that had stood on the lot previously. Developed by L & L Builders as luxury condominiums, when condos were a brand new commodity. The developers, apparently unaware of the doings down at south Kedzie, billed this building as “The Riviera Condominium at the Lake”.  (Or maybe they knew all too well, but figured nobody from that deep on the south side would ever venture up this far on the north side!)Chicago Mid-Century apartment building

 

Chicago Mid-Century apartment building Deanville Condos at 9105-9111 S. Roberts Road, Oak Lawn – a pair of back-to-back walkup buildings with lower-level garages between them. Here, the vertical band is made of lava rock. Seemingly of a later vintage than the previous buildings, this pair also makes dramatic use of a quasi-mansard roof over the entryways.Chicago Mid-Century apartment building

Chicago Mid-Century apartment building 6616 S. Stewart Avenue, Englewood – Chicago. The entryway is marked by a pattern of colored geometric glass block.

Chicago Mid-Century apartment building 2030 N. Cleveland Avenue, Lincoln Park – Chicago, opened 1963. Perhaps the simplest possible iteration of the motif, but accented with a grid of raised bricks. The raised brick grid is itself another common Mid Century architectural motif that appears on many buildings across the region.

 

Chicago Mid-Century apartment building 5439 S. 55th Avenue at 25th Street, Cicero  – a unique example that uses concrete panels to form its decorative pattern.

 

Chicago Mid-Century apartment building 4343 W. 95th Street at Kostner, Oak Lawn, opened 1963. A variation on the theme, with thicker vertical bands and glass block accents. The color pattern is very similar to the alley wall of the Crawford/Pulaski buildings.Chicago Mid-Century apartment building

Some designs dispensed with the horizontal accents altogether, instead using a simple column of stacked brick banding.

Chicago Mid-Century apartment building 6148 Gage Avenue, Rosemont  

 

Chicago Mid-Century apartment building 9600? -9610? N. Greenwood Avenue, Niles – almost certainly the same builder as the previous example. The style is startlingly similar to that used on S. Harlem Avenue by Western Builders.

Chicago Mid-Century apartment building10425 & 10433 S. Longwood Lane, Oak Lawn – again, top to bottom vertical brick bands on a blank sidewall.

Structural Gymnastics in Wood

America, in my opinion at least, has had two golden eras of church building.

One was the Modernist decades, from the late 1940s into the late 1960s. It was driven by the freedom to design new forms and shapes, to play with light and pure geometrical spaces. It came accompanied by its own decorative elements and ornamental style, including its own genre of stained glass, but its defining aspect was the uniqueness of each building as an individualistic composition. I’ve written about many examples from this period, and have many more still to share.

The other began after the Civil War and reached its peak in the 1880s and 1890s. The Gothic style set the tone, supplanting the moribund Greek Classicism that America had long clung to**. Chicago is rich in surviving examples from this movement.

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Central-plan churches were the greatest creations of this movement. The switch away from a long, linear church to one where the congregation is arranged circularly around the pulpit created a new type of space. New possibilities arose as iron and steel came into play. Heavy wood timbers rose and soared, accented by carvings, iron fastenings, and decorative details.

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Stained glass in earthy tones of greens and yellows, influenced by the rising Arts and Crafts movement, painted the interiors in subdued, serene light. Unlike fussy Classical churches, where every surface was covered in decorative murals or painted patterns, these grand, sublime buildings needed no ornament. The space, and the structural gymnastics at play, are the entire show. And Chicago is as good a place to witness this remarkable era as any.

Ravenswood Methodist Episcopal Church

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4501 N. Hermitage, Ravenswood
Architect: John S. Woollacott, 1890

The Poor Man's Fisheye Lens

On the outside, straight-up walls, rough-faced masonry, and rounded arch windows characterize this Romanesque style building. Inside, the sanctuary is a square space laid out with curving pews that bring congregants close to the pulpit. The space is a beautiful study in contrasts – plain white walls with spots of ornamental detailing, against a heavy, massive wood ceiling supported by great wood beams. The curving elements are false hammerbeams, possibly non-structural (in a true hammerbeam arrangement, the arch would support a horizontal beam, and a vertical post would spring from the end of the arch, allowing a longer roof beam to be composed of multiple pieces of timber.)  Above them are tie beams, upon which rest a hornet’s nest of wood elements.

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As with the hammerbeams, it’s not clear which if any of the elements are structural and which are purely decorative. The thin size suggests there might be iron tie rods under those round spindles, pulling the two sides of the truss together.   The stained glass was pre-existing, with the new windows designed to accommodate it.

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Greater Union ME Baptist Church

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1956 W. Warren Blvd.
Architect: William LeBaron Jenney, 1885<

Even from the outside, the stained glass on this Romanesque church is utterly spectacular.  Within, it glows, shimmers and twinkles with a thousand rich colors.

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The wood ceiling beams are no less impressive, with A-frame beams meeting and crossing in the center of the space, decorated with inverted finials and a grid of thin timbers above the tie beams. The crossing, where the church’s gable roofs meet, is a simple intersection of these elements.

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As with Ravenswood Methodist, the squared space and round pews serve to pull the congregation into closer proximity – to the pastor, and to each other.

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First Congregational Baptist Church

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1613 W. Washington Boulevard
Architect: Gurdon P. Randall, 1871
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A French Gothic church very nearly in the round, with balconies running nearly all the way around the sanctuary. Architect Gurdon Randall is credited as the originator of this style of planning, first built here and widely utilized around the nation in the following two decades. The white painted plaster ceiling shows off the dark wood ceiling beams well.

The wood beams are heavily ornamented, but their structural role seems very simple – nearly plain beams with a small scissor truss element at the top, nearly buried in non-structural ornament. Small wood arches create a place for the trusses to land on the walls, visually if not structurally.

Comparing the inside ceiling slope to the exterior roof pitch reveals that this is a false ceiling with considerable enclosed space above it; the church’s site confirms there is a 20 foot high attic space above.

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Lincoln Park Presbyterian Church

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600 W. Fullerton Parkway, Lakeview
Architect: John S. Woollacott, 1888

Built as Fullerton Avenue Presbyterian Church IMG_6142a IMG_6156a

Designed by the same architect as Ravenswood Methodist, in the Richardsonian Romanesque style on the outside. Inside, the ceiling structure includes a tangle of false hammerbeams near the base of the roof beams, with kingpost trusses near the roof peak. The kingpost is the vertical beam at the center of the truss – it hangs from the peak, and helps support the cross-beam member below it. The cross-beam is tied in to the ends of the roof beams, and pulls them together so they don’t push the walls outward.

The structural complexity reaches its fantastic climax at the center of the space, where the two kingpost trusses cross through each other:

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The stained glass, meanwhile, has much in common with other churches of the era. Patterns of color are used as much as images, reinforced by jeweled glass ornaments that throw slivers of sunlight into the space.

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Church of Our Savior Episcopal

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530 W. Fullerton Parkway, Lakeview
Architect: Clinton J. Warren, 1888

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The 4-panel scissor truss structure here might appear simple at a glance due to the straight members, but it’s probably the most complex beam system of all these churches. A series of horizontal and vertical web members complicate the wood connections, while the lower beams actually pass through the upper beams, projecting a bit beyond them to support the roof over a row of clerestory windows.

The finest space in the church is the least accessed – the balcony, occupied only by the organist and choir, is flooded with colored light on sunny days. It also makes it the warmest space in the church – several fans were going when I visited. But the light was breathtaking.

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For more churches of this era, see: Suburban in Their Day.

The structural picture painted by these visible wood beams isn’t the whole story. First Congregational Baptist, for example, has considerable augmentation to its structure above the false ceiling. Iron tie-rods were commonly used during this era as an affordable way to keep trusses from pushing horizontally on the walls, allowing the walls of neo-Gothic churches to be built without the massive and complex stone buttresses that vintage Gothic churches required; however, not a trace of iron is visible in these sanctuaries – suggesting it was hidden beneath wood veneer or between joined beams. Nevertheless, these fantastic flying beams still say a lot about the tremendous weights and forces at work in the roof of any great space – a story too often hidden in Classical style churches.

** I don’t HATE Classical (eg Greek Revival) style, but I definitely find it boring, stodgy, pompous, stifling and unoriginal when compared to the freeing expressiveness of Neo Gothic and the various Romanticist styles that flowed out of it, including the Romanesque. The overwhelming popularity of Classicism remains a continual source of bafflement to me; I tend to feel that once you’ve seen one faux Greek temple bank/church/funeral home/whatever, you’ve seen ’em all – while the Gothic church unfolds in endless variety.

The Terrazzo Entryways of Chicago

Sherman Shops

Sherman Shops – 3113 Lincoln Avenue. Now the Kabbalah Centre, this was originally an part of a clothing store chain with dozens of stores across the Midwestern and Southern states, including more than 20 in Chicagoland. This one was open by 1940.

Look down in the right parts of town, and you’ll see them – stylized, stylish lettering in the pavement outside of a store, usually proclaiming the name of some long-gone business – maybe a well-known regional chain, maybe a one-off store that has drifted into obscurity.

2514 Devon - *LLAY'S

2514 W. Devon Avenue. In 1938 this was home to Robertson & Co., “The House of Liquid Tiling”, “the modern finish” for woodwork and walls; they left some time after 1944. By 1949, Gollay’s, Inc. had moved in, imprinting their name on the entryway. Gollay’s was an interior decorator and furniture store for “lamps, gifts and occasional furniture”. The founder, Charles Gollay, passed away in 1955; the store continued as Gollay’s Gifts. Gollay’s Lamp and Gift Shop ran a Going Out of Business sale ad in early 1962, and by 1964 they had been replaced by J.C. Cooper, a men’s clothier (later David Cooper, Inc.) which lasted into the late 1970s. Most recently it was home to Bombay Electronics, which has since gone out of business. Today the entry is partially covered by an alteration to the storefront as well as a thin concrete coating that has mostly been removed (or worn away). The legible portion of the name reads “LLAY’S” and gives the street address.

Terrazzo is a pourable substance with fragments of a material – marble, stone, etc. – embedded in a cement-like adhesive, then ground smooth after it has set. Thin metal strips are used to create patterns by separating different colors or materials.  The material enjoyed widespread popularity at midcentury, peaking in the 1940s when it appeared in numerous storefront entryways. They were added to many styles of buildings – both older buildings with post-War remodelings at street level, and on newer, smaller commercial buildings, almost always in conjunction with a modern style of storefront. They aren’t always fancy; they may be as simple as a solid color with no design at all.

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A typical terrazzo entryway on Devon Avenue. Photo courtesy of Joan Sillins.

Chicago had dozens, if not hundreds, of examples, many of which survive today. They can be tough to spot, though – you won’t see them if you’re driving or even biking; you have to be on foot. They are very frequently hidden by door mats, sometimes obscured by display racks or shelves, and occasionally covered up entirely by later remodelings. But their durable nature means they are rarely removed – in fact, in almost every case, they far outlast the businesses that they advertise.

Anchor

3433 W. Fullerton Avenue – an anchor inscribed on a stylized letter “B”. Home to a tavern in 1955 (license revoked in 1961 because it was reportedly “a hangout for sexual deviants”, 1960s-speak for a gay-friendly bar.) Now the Acapulco Night Club, opened in 1987.

Milwaukee Avenue is one of the city’s most architecturally rich streets, and one of the best  for finding terrazzo entryways. Along its considerable length may be found many markers of successful commercial strips – jazzy storefronts, elaborate neon signs, and many stylish terrazzo floors.

Feltman & Curme

Feltman & Curme shoe store – 4049 N. Milwaukee, Portage Park neighborhood. In 1926, this had been Frost’s Men’s Shop; by 1929, it was a Loblaw Groceteria, a grocery chain with many outlets across the city; by 1934, a Jewel food store, which lasted until 1940. The spectacular storefront was installed when Feltman & Curme moved in circa 1941, and is similar to an outlet on State Street which got a full-page grand opening ad in 1942.  This entry and the one next door (below) harmonize but are not the same design at all. Both speak of the streamlined elegance common in commercial settings before World War II. Feltman lasted through 1955, and the real long-term beneficiary of their superb taste was Siegel’s Shoe Store, who had taken their place by 1958 and lasted well into the 1980s.

Bernard's

Brandt’s Shoes – 4047 N. Milwaukee Avenue, Portage Park neighborhood. In 1926 this was a Wurlitzer musical instrument store; by 1928, a Lyon and Healy radio store, which seems to have closed in 1932. In 1938, the social pages mention a “Goldammer’s Garden recreation” here, in connection with a bowling tournament. By 1940, Brandt’s Shoes had opened here, the most likely candidate for having installed the stylish terrazzo floor and display cases; they were replaced in 1947 by Kinney’s shoe store and most recently by Bernard’s Electronic Outlet.

This particular motif – a circle with offshooting lines, which can represent several letters including B, D, J or P  – was common enough that I recently saw the same design on a floor in Washington DC.

Nu-Dell

Nu-Dell Apparel Shops – 1341 N. Milwaukee – a local clothing store chain, in business here by 1940, replacing the W.L. Douglas Shoe Company which had operated here previously since the 1920s. Now Milwaukee Furniture. A razor-thin sans-serif font gives the air of 1940s moderne, as does the off-yellow color. Another Nu-Dell terrazzo floor exists on Archer Avenue.

Wein

Wein’s Department Store – 2994 N. Milwaukee, open in 1959 but surprisingly absent from the Chicago-Tribune. Later Buen Hogar Furniture, now closed.

M.J. Petrie

M.J. Petrie – 2768  Milwaukee Avenue – part of the Petrie Stores chain of women’s clothing shops; later Rainbow Shops – now Shoe Source Shoes and Clothing. A scan of the classified ads pegs this location to a 1946 opening. The simple style and the use of initials hearken back to the conventions used on modest commercial buildings of the 1880s and 1890s.

Though it’s not as rich a source of terrazzo floors as Milwaukee Avenue, there are still a few to be found in the vibrant Little Village corridor along 26th Street.Malina

Malina apparel, 3625 W. 26th Street – first appears by 1951; lasted until 1971. Now Happy Dollar Plus. The stripes give it a bit of Streamline flare, an effect diminished by the revised storefront which covers part of the design.

Three Sisters

Three Sisters, 3407 W. 26th Street – originally a clothing chain, opened here in 1948 and still in business in 1960; now Game Time Soccer Store.

A third hot spot for terrazzo entries is Archer Avenue, a lengthy boulevard running diagonally southwest, from the edge of downtown to far out into the countryside. Along the way, it passes many neighborhoods and holds an almost endless parade of fascinating architecture – and so many terrazzo storefront floors that I was originally going to limit this post to Archer Avenue only.

Archer Avenue Terrazzo
Brighton Specialty Shop – 4220 S. Archer Avenue – now Courrier Agency Insurance Group. This clothing store was in business here from 1942 to 1959, give or take. Sadly, this one’s days are numbered; the owner of the building’s current business plans to have the surface patched and repaired, then painted over with his company’s own logo.

Archer Avenue Terrazzo
4241 S. Archer Avenue – Nu-Dell Apparel. The name is covered up by the welcome mat; the brick is newly applied. Nu-Dell operated here from at least 1935 to 1956. In the 1980s, Palatine Draperies was here. Today it’s home to Gabrielle’s, a florist.

Archer Avenue Terrazzo
4271 Archer Avenue – originally a men’s clothing store, which only appears in the Tribune archives in a series of crime reports involving stolen clothing. Now an auto insurance company.

Archer Avenue Terrazzo
4243 Archer Avenue – originally Katz Exclusive Millenery, a local chain of women’s fashion accessory stores with several outlets around town, founded in 1921. This location opened in 1944.  Their run here lasted through the 1950s; Katz went out of business when its founder Samuel Katz retired in 1964. Now Lucy’s Women and Men’s Wear.

Archer Avenue Terrazzo4249 S. Archer Avenue – A Mid-Century storefront marked by a stylized O shape in the pavement and lot of turnover in occupancy. It’s not clear who installed the entryway. In 1929 it was Brighton Park Clothiers. In the mid-1940s it housed a Spiegel catalog order store, followed by a Grayson clothing store starting around 1947. By 1960, Flagg Brothers Shoe Store; by 1972, O-Kay Shoes was here. Today it’s the campaign headquarters of Jesus Garcia, Cook County 7th district commissioner.

Archer Avenue Terrazzo
Archer Motor Sales – Established 1944 – 3945 S. Archer Avenue. W.K. Archer Motor Sales was in business by 1926; in 1944 they relocated to this new building to sell Fords, lasting through 1957; the next year they were replaced by Power Ford Sales, Inc, who remained there until at least 1968. Now Image Hand Carwash and VP Real Estate.

Malina Shoes

Maling Shoes  (not to be confused with Malina clothing stores) – 4269 S. Archer  – a chain with several outlets around the city; this one opened in 1946 and remained in business here until 1974. Now Cannella School of Hair Design

York

York – 4315 S. Archer Avenue. York Women’s Apparel moved in in 1947. Today it’s conjoined with the building next door, which was an A&P grocer from the 1930s into the 1970s. Now Snow Discount Carpets. The font is a classic no-nonsense typeface used on many International Style buildings in the 1940s and 1950s.

Neisner's

Neisner’s – 4255 S. Archer  – Neisner Brothers was a nationwide chain of five-and-dime stores; “your neighborhood 5 and 10” had opened this location by 1951. The chain closed in the 1970s. Now Archer Discount Furniture Store

Archer Avenue Big Store

Archer Avenue Big Store – 4181-4193 S. Archer Avenue – originally a local department / dry goods store (with a given address of 4187 Archer) –  founded in 1922, operating at this address by 1939, and still going 50 years later. Founder John Brdecka passed away in 1990. The location is now Zemsky’s Uniforms. The stripes are adhesive anti-slip strips, not part of the original design.

And finally, the quasi-famous entryway of Cushman’s on Broadway – proof that a terrazzo installation can outlast not only the business that commissioned it but also the building that housed it.
Cushmann's

Cushman’s Rug Cleaners – 6310 N. Broadway – this carpet cleaning business moved in from a couple of blocks south around 1948. In 1971 a Cantonese restaurant named China Doll moved into the space; in 1984, Santino’s on Broadway, an Italian restaurant, moved in; in 1986, a nightclub called The 86 Club; by 1987, it was back to Chinese with the Bik Har restaurant and lounge. Some post-1990 disaster leveled half the block. In the last few years, a community garden has sprouted up on the slab of the demolished building.

Cushmann's

Terrazzo entries leave no clue as to their creators. Plenty of contracting and flooring companies could install them, and there’s no evidence regarding who did what job – though it seems possible that several of the more stylish ones may have come from a single designer.

I am acutely aware that this is a rather woefully incomplete list, but as they say, sometimes you go to blog with the photos you have, not the photos you wish you had. I don’t have shots of some of Chicago’s most interesting and impressive terrazzo installations, including the “What Petersen Promises, Petersen Does” on Belmont, the Art Deco patterns on the patio of the Davis Theater, and any number of the entries on this Flickr set, which includes some real beauties both in Chicago and elsewhere. If you need an excuse to take a long stroll when the weather lets up, head out to one of the city’s grand commercial streets and treat yourself to a day of terrazzo hunting.

Chicago Mid-Century: St. Thomas More Catholic Church

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St. Thomas More Church sits on S. California Avenue at 81st Street, amid vast stretches of post-World War II semi-suburban cityscape.  Founded in 1947, it was the first new parish established in the city after the war, and is older than most of the development around it. The far south side of Chicago boomed in the post-war years as new, modern houses went up, and the parish’s growth was rapid. St. Thomas More began holding services in a 300-seat temporary building a few blocks east, at Talman and 81st Street. Meanwhile, a series of buildings went up on the larger site on California Ave., beginning with the school, followed by the convent, the main church building, and a rectory.

The parochial elementary school leapt from an enrollment of 250 to 450 in a single year. In 1950 a second story was added to the school building, bringing its student capacity to 800. In the following decade, even that would not be enough, and students would be split between morning and afternoon shifts. A second addition of 8 classrooms followed in 1954, designed by architects Barry and Kay; this building sits on the south border of the property. At its peak, the parish school had 2,000 students. Enrollment fell over the following decades, leading to the school’s closure in 2005. Today the building houses a charter school.

The convent, seen to the left of the church above, was built in 1954 with housing for 21 residents.

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All these buildings were designed by Chicago architecture firm Barry and Kay. The firm’s principal was Gerald Ward Barry Jr. (1924-2005). Presumably aided by his prominent family connections (his relatives founded Barry University in Florida; his father, Gerald Barry senior, was also a local church architect), Barry & Kay designed many Catholic churches and school in Chicago and around the country. Other works by the firm include the magnificent St. Ferdinand Church on the far west side and Chicago’s St. Cajetan Church, also on the deep south side.

Planning for the new church building began in 1956, to replace the temporary structure at Talman Street. The cornerstone was laid in November, 1957, and the new building was dedicated at the end of 1958. Described as “ultra-modernistic”, the new sanctuary seated 1,300, was fully air conditioned, and included a large chapel in the basement.

St. Thomas More Church

St. Thomas More’s main building consists of an oval drum sitting atop a one-story rectangular base. The base contains chapels, side wings, the lobby, stairs, entrances and other assorted service spaces. The drum, of course, is the main sanctuary space, distinctly articulated inside and out. Flagstone and harmoniously colored 1×1 tile cover the ground level facade, with orange brick above. A high-relief sculpture group centered on the church’s namesake saint marks the entryway.

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Inside, the sanctuary is simple in form, with a flat ceiling and no columns in the primary space – but elaborate in ornament. Tile mosaics enliven the walls with images and delightfully stylized text, and the hanging lamps are a 1950s delight.

The deeply recessed stained glass windows are made of faceted glass, designed by Gabriel Loire (1904-1996) of Chartes, France; they portray the life of Thomas More, recognizable by his peaked cap.

Stained glass

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The reredos is a curvaceous affair, rising up behind the altar and swelling up to the heavens, covered with a massive tile mosaic and lit from above by three circular skylights.

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Stained glass and details

I am particularly fond of the designs on the window recesses, a melding of abstract shapes and symbolic imagery, and the aggressively whimsical font used on the text.

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Plenty of little period details enliven the rest of the building, as well, such as the holy water basin in the lobby.

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The baptistry gates are another high point, loaded with abstracted imagery.

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A tiled holy dove is emblazoned on the ceiling of the entry canopy, whose tapered columns dissolve seamlessly into the ceiling.

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The same tile pattern carries all the way around the building’s exterior.

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During one visit I was gently greeted by an aged priest; during another, two older women were raptly offering alternating Hail Marys in the sanctuary.  I did not visit during services and so have no notions about the congregation’s size or health, though the school closing obviously speaks to changing local demographics – likely a home-owning population that’s aging in place while their children have moved elsewhere. Regardless, the church building and its harmonious ancillary buildings are one of the area’s best Mid-Century religious complexes, intact and well-maintained to this day.

Down by the Riverside!

Nearly due west of the loop, between Berwyn and Brookfield, you’ll find a grace note along the Metra line – the beautiful planned suburb of Riverside.

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Riverside was laid out in 1869-71 by Frederick Law Olmsted and his partner Calvert Vaux.  Its ample parkland, 100×200 foot house lots, and curving streets and paths were a world away from the crowded, industrialized inner city of the time. About 50 houses (of which only a handful remain today) went up before the Panic of 1872 brought things to a temporary halt. Additional houses went up in the following decades in a variety of styles.

As a National Register of Historic Places site, Riverside has been amply researched and documented; there’s not much I can add factually. But Riverside is exactly the kind of knock-your-socks-off place that got me started writing this blog, the kind of place that a casual tourist would be unlikely to find, the kind of place I’m hoping to stumble across when I wander out beyond the Loop. So I share it here in an act of pure, unabashed enthusiasm.

Riverside is home to several Frank Lloyd Wright houses, two historic water towers, a lovely city hall, several important commercial buildings, many beautiful turn-of-the-century homes from a highly pedigreed register of architects, and even a few Mid-Century buildings of note. It was also the home of Louis Sullivan’s Babson House, lost in 1960.

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Hoffman Tower, 1908

This castellated tower stands alongside the Des Plaines River, on a stretch of road that is a sort of “back door” to Riverside. This route is how I’ve always approached the town, coming off of Ogden Avenue.

The adjacent dam was removed in 2012, and the river re-channelized.

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Water Tower (1871) with adjacent pump house and well house (1890). Architect William LeBaron Jenney.

Major commercial and public buildings:
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Riverside Improvement Company Building, 1871 – architect Frederick C. Withers. The development’s first commercial building.

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The Driver Block, 1891 – architect Charles Hallam

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Riverside Town Hall, 1895 – architect George Ashby

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Riverside Public Library, 1930 – architects O’Conner, O’Conner & Martin

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Central School, 1897 – architect Charles Whittlesey, with later addition

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Riverside Presbyterian Church, 1879 – architect John C. Cochrane. Much of the stone in this church comes from an 1869 church on the same site, destroyed by fire.

A sampling of notable residences:
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Schermerhorn Residence, 1869 – architect William LeBaron Jenney

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Dore Cottage, 1869 – architects Olmsted, Vaux & Co.

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Prairie Houses
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Avery Coonley Residence, 1908 – architect Frank Lloyd Wright. This landmark Prairie Style house is the centerpiece of a whole estate, including the servants’ quarters and the stables & garage seen below.IMG_6120

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Coonley Playhouse, 1913 – architect Frank Lloyd Wright. Originally a school for educating the Coonley children.

IMG_3037Thorncroft Residence, 1912 – architect William Drummond – as home for teachers in the Playhouse school, it was yet another part of the Coonley estate.

This short set of photos doesn’t even include all the highlights; an entire day could be spent exploring every corner of this fantastic architectural wonderland. There are buildings I haven’t even gotten to myself, including another major Frank Lloyd Wright house and a surviving Louis Sullivan house (a service building for the Babson estate which is significant in its own right – 277 Gatesby Road if you’re looking!) For any architecture fan in Chicago, a trip out to Riverside, IL is an absolute must.

IMG_3092aLinks:

  • Riverside Museum online tour
  • National Register of Historic Places nomination form