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 Inevitably, those fantastic Mid-Century doors have been replaced by something cheap and inappropriate, some time during 2011-2012.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.


Swiss Chalet or Atomic Ranch?

An occasional recurring theme I’ve found on Chicago’s Mid-Century south side is the Swiss chalet look, a vaguely historicist style heavily filtered through the lens of Chicago’s 1960s builder vernacular. These buildings may feature broad, shallow-pitched roofs, rough-cut stone and brick siding, generous overhangs, and ornamental wood railings, brackets and shutters. The apparent intention is to invoke the cozy security of a warm ski lodge, well-defended against the cold of winter. Lyons, in particular, has quite a few of them.

Readers may note that the list of features isn’t too dissimilar to what one would find on a typical mid-century ranch house, and it’s a blurry line at best between the “atomic ranch” and the “Mid-Century chalet”.

8133-8139 Ogden, Lyons
A pair of L-shaped breezeway apartment buildings apartment buildings, built circa 1963. Note the free-standing screen wall with the plastic window panels, protecting the stairway – it recurs on the next two structures as well.

6300-6324 W. 63rd Street, Chicago

A group of five related buildings, with fieldstone and brick patterns across their facades. The two end buildings are L-shaped structures with the “Swiss chalet” design, while the three in the middle are more conventional flats. Built by Olsick & Gaw (later Olsick-Gaw-Hartz), architect unknown.


Above: the western most building, 6324 W. 63rd Street at S. Mulligan.


8735 W. Ogden, Lyons
A breezeway apartment building, with the same stair screen and facade design patterns as the two previous groups. Whoever designed this one almost certainly did the previous two groups as well.

Roadway Inn – 8640 Ogden, Lyons

If the Swiss connection weren’t clear enough, this split-personality building calls it out explicitly – as did its original name, the Chalet Motel. Built circa 1962; D.F. Hedg, builder.

4319-23 S. Harlem Avenue, Stickney
Part of a larger grouping of apartments, these three buildings have the same shallow-pitched roof, and the same facade pattern with a sharply angled change in materials – not to mention those same corny shutters.

Plank Road Inn – 7307 W. Ogden, Lyons
In the 1980s, it was Sullivan’s Motel. The broad drive-in overhang, the massive brick pillar, and the wood balcony evoke the Swiss Chalet style.

The Presidential Inn & Suites Motel – 3922 S. Harlem Avenue, Lyons
Opened in 1961, this swooping Mid-Century motel offered “early Americana decor”… as well as integrated auto service right next door. Originally advertised as a family vacation destination, it has fallen on somewhat harder times in recent decades. Like the Plank Road motel, this one has a broad pitched overhang, with massive stone pillars.

Zarzycki Manor Chapels, Ltd. – 5088 S. Archer Avenue

Where to stop? In the world of builder vernacular, the lines are never clear. This funeral home has the low pitched roofs, the massive chimney, the flagstone siding… but no brackets, no massive overhangs. Does it count? Is it just a close cousin, or a similar result arrived at through totally different influences? Without knowing the mind of the builder, it’s hard to say.

The Zarzycki Manor Chapel building opened circa 1963, and has been in continuous operation here ever since.

And finally, there is the Chalet Nursery, in Wilmette – a place which, abysmally, I have never photographed. Click here for a Google StreetView image. The oldest portion is a pre-war building, but a large expansion was added in the 1950s.

The Round Bank on Ogden Avenue

Brookfield Federal Savings and Loan
Pavlecic and Kovacevic, 1960

Brookfield Federal Savings & Loan dates back to 1925, and opened its Ogden Avenue headquarters in June 1961 with a opening day celebration that included free gifts and “free orchids for the ladies”. Architects for the new bank building were Pavlecic and Kovacevic (previously Pavlecic and Kovacevic & Ota; later Pavlecic, Kovacevic & Markovich) a Serbian firm who also designed St. Gall Catholic Church at 55th and Kedzie.


Architects William Pavlecic and Rodoslav Kovacevic brought a beautiful modern design to the site. A full circle, the bank is lined by stainless steel-clad columns around its perimeter. Inside, period elements include a wonderous suspended stairway to the mezzanine level and a constellations of hanging globe lamps. A two-story wall of glass in front gives generous natural light to the interior (a 1963 ad by glassmaker Libbey Owens Ford touts the bank as an “Open World design” for a modern-day “money store”, enhanced by their Thermopane insulating glass.) Blue glossy glazed brick fills in the back exterior walls, while red and maroon brick forms points of contrasting color at the rear smokestack and in an interior wall.



Ogden Ave. Citibank

In 1985, Brookfield Federal Savings changed its operating status and became Brookfield Federal Bank for Savings. Six years later, in 1991, it was bought out by CitiBank, who continues to operate the property today – and have been remarkably good caretakers.

Ogden Ave. Citibank

Ogden Ave. Citibank


If all that isn’t enough, there is a micro-sized version of the bank across the street, operating as a remote drive-through:


In addition to St. Gall, Pavlecic and Kovacevic also did the modernist design of St. Jane de Chantal at 53rd and Austin in 1964, Christ the Mediator Lutheran Church at 31st and Calumet, and St. Simeon Serbian Orthodox Church, a more historically based building at 3737 E. 114th Street.

Ogden Ave. Citibank