Mid-Century Office Space on Lincoln

Lincoln Avenue’s western reaches benefited from the same office construction boom in the early 1960s that blessed Peterson Avenue with so much great Mid-Century design. Between Western Avenue, and its intersection with Peterson, Lincoln holds quite a few fine examples of 1960s office design (in addition to its famed skeezy motels):

5700 Lincoln Avenue
Lincoln Avenue Mid-Century

Opened in 1962 as the headquarters of Liberty Federal Savings (then celebrating 75 years in business), this bank building is today home to a Charter One branch. It follows a common basic scheme for 1960s banks – a big wall of glass, with a double-height atrium behind it, and a mezzanine balcony above. A surprising amount of the original fixtures are still in place, including railings and check-writing stands.

Lincoln Avenue Mid-Century

Lincoln Avenue Mid-Century

Lincoln Avenue Mid-Century

5940 Lincoln Avenue
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This angular little building first appears in the Tribune classifieds in 1953. Today it houses a Christian Science Reading Room, and still has its original ceiling vents inside.

EDITED TO ADD: This was originally the Slick Chick Drive-In restaurant, open for about 10 years (it drops off the classifieds after 1962.) It was robbed in its first year by three teenagers. In 1965, it was converted to the CS Reading Room – so the interior likely dates to that year. Thanks to reader Brian W. for identifying the original occupant and their matchbook ad campaign (see here) which they shared with the motel next door.

Lincoln Avenue Mid-Century

5875 Lincoln Avenue – Lincoln Office Building
Lincoln Avenue Mid-Century

Comprising several sections, the Lincoln Office Building is dominated by a long International Style facade. This main portion went up in two parts, the second built in 1957 to the designs of architects Eugene A. Meyers & Associates. At the corner of Richmond and Lincoln, two other sections at 5865 Lincoln continue the building’s materials and style, in a different design.

Lincoln Avenue Mid-Century

Lincoln Avenue Mid-Century

5850 Lincoln Avenue – Simgreen Building
Lincoln Avenue Mid-Century

Following the same pattern as the bank building, this little office building includes a delightful tile mosaic in its lobby – as covered here.

5757 / 5765 Lincoln Avenue – The Executive North Building
Lincoln Avenue Mid-Century

A stylish International Style building in blue-black paneling, this building opened in 1961 and retains much of its original decor in the lobbies – stainless steel railings, geometric railing screens, and wood paneling.

Lincoln Avenue Mid-Century

Lincoln Avenue Mid-Century

Lincoln Avenue Mid-Century

Lincoln Avenue Mid-Century

The nearby Stephen Tyng Mather High School is yet another Mid-Century complex, done entirely in white brick. Designed in 1957 by Loebl Schlossmann and Bennett, it appears to have had a small addition or two, but mostly remains as originally built.

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1×1 Tile Mosaics

I love finding convergent architectural elements scattered about the city. Geometric glass block, Midcentury 2-flats, green-on-white glazed brick storefronts – whenever I see something popping up in a variety of places all over town, I’m hooked.

My latest find in this vein – 1960s-era 1×1 tile mosaics. Using common construction materials, which could be installed by commonly-skilled workers, 1×1 tiles allowed an artist to create colorful additions to a building’s exterior. For curves and added levels of detail, the titles could be cut in half with a 90-degree angle.

I have found about half a dozen examples of note scattered around Chicagoland:

169 Grove Avenue, Oak Park

An apartment building from circa 1960 turned condo, with wonderful projecting balconies on two of the corners, trimmed out with blue metal spandrel panels.  Inside, the lobby features  a wonderful abstract mosaic along one side. The mosaic extends through the glass front wall into the vestibule.

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1040-1044 Ontario Street,  Oak Park

A curious little courtyard apartment building from around 1963, with 4-Plus-1 style parking under one wing, and the other wing at ground level. On the street facades, two tile mosaics reflect Native American or Aztec themes. Unfortunately, the eastern mosaic was mostly covered by climbing vines when I photographed it.
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El Lago

A residential highrise at 6157 N. Sheridan, by architect Irving M. Karlin Associates (J.J. & I.M. Karlin). Planned in 1957, El Lago broke ground in Sept. 1958, built on the site of the George Leahy home, president of Republic Coal and Coke.  The structure was built utilizing federal housing insurance that covered mortgages. 22 stories, 268 apartments.

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The El Lago tower was built with a “Mexican motif” meant to convey a warmth missing from contemporary buildings. The primary result seems to be the two tile mosaics flanking the entrance, portraying a man and a woman of Mexican heritage.
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5850 Lincoln Avenue, the Simgreen building

This multipurpose commercial building was built for real estate developers  M. Suson & Associates, circa 1959. Inside the curvaceous lobby, a tile mosaic depicts the building trades at work, reflecting the primary tenant’s occupation. Other offices located here over the years include  Vacations Enterprises in 1959  and Simgreen Jewelers by 1989. Today it houses an alderman’s office and a gold shop.

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2411 W. Fargo / 7420-7428 N. Western

A mixed-use building with commercial spaces facing Western Avenue, and access to the upper-floor residences on the side street. The apartment entry is marked by an abstract design in 1×1 tiles.

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1809 N. Harlem Apartments

his  pair of 6-flat apartments is  part of a long row on Harlem Avenue of the same vintage and scale. These two  feature an abstract pattern of colored tiles, with a minor echo of the motif around the entrance.
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West Leyden High School

1000 Wolf Road, Northlake. A 1957 building with somewhat workmanlike mosaics decorating its wings, portraying the various areas of academics, learning, athletics and high school life.
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And the kitchen sink

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The year is 1964. After his latest round of projects, a contractor finds he still has a lot of little architectural decorative bits left in his supply yard, none of them enough to work on any one building by itself. What to do, what to do? Find the next client that walks in the door and just throw everything at their project!

At least, that’s the story I picture behind the building of North American Heating and Air Conditioning, 5915 Lincoln Avenue in Morton Grove.

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The tiny office portion of this building packs a grab bag of architectural materials, including a brown brick, black lava rock, and metal spandrel panels. Adorning it are a bronzed window screen, funky Mid-Century address numbers, and three columns of randomly spaced colored glass block dripping down the side. If that ain’t enough, a brick and pattern block fence once lined the parking lot, too, with brick posts topped by lamps. IMG_9475a IMG_9469a

The end result is just way too much stuff packed into one tiny facade, but I love it.

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It seems that North American Heating & AC eventually moved further west; the building has looked empty and for sale since at least 2010, though the name “Service Packaging Inc.” remains on the door and on that company’s enigmatic website. (Curiously, all the real estate ads peg the construction date as circa 1970, a good five or more years later than the actual date.)

Seed & Sin: Lincoln Avenue’s Motel Row

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Lincoln Avenue plays host to a large number of independent motels as it runs its northwestern course out of Chicago, mostly in a stretch between Foster and Peterson, west of Western Avenue. Informally known as Motel Row, this two-mile length of road once had fourteen motor hotels built after World War II. Nine of them survive today, though for how much longer is anybody’s guess.

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Fans of vintage neon signs, Mid-Century design and roadside architecture love these old places. Travelers, by contrast, are not so kind – a quick perusal of guides like Yelp and Yahoo shows a number of scathing reviews by guests who describe deteriorating rooms, mysterious (or not-so-mysterious) stains, aging utilities, and a generally unsavory atmosphere. But weekend travelers are not the only demographic of these establishments – they are commonly used by transients who might stay a few weeks or months. More notoriously, the rooms at many of the motels have played host to any number of unsavory activities, including drug dealing, prostitution, and crimes of assault.

This wasn’t always the case – originally, these motels served families and other road trip travelers, the adventuring pioneers on the new frontier of highways and suburbia. After opening in the 1950s, they settled down for a quiet life for the next few decades. But the pull of the Interstates – begun in the 1960s – was irresistable, and business tumbled. By the 1980s, the names along the strip began to appear regularly in newspaper crime stories. Lincoln’s motel strip was well known as a magnet for crime, a reputation bolstered by hourly rates at some motels. Some fought the decay; others embraced it.IMG_2002
By 1998, the city of Chicago had had enough. It acquired three of the motels via eminent domain – the Spa Motel, Riverside Motel, and Acres Motel – and demolished them in 2000. Their lots became a police station, parkland, and a library, respectively. The survivors banded together and fought back against condemnation procedures, driving the buyout price up and delaying further acquisitions. In 2002, the city of Chicago was actively working to acquire and redevelop seven more of the motels, but it would be four more years before it acquired two more motels and tore them down. Nine remain in operation today.

Though the redevelopment bid has ended, changes are still coming rapidly. Of the great neon signs that once gave these motels their flair, only a few remain today – one standing alongside an empty lot where the Stars Motel once stood. In recent years, the Diplomat has been resurfaced in EFIS, the Summit, the Tip-Top, the Patio and the O-Mi have all lost their neon signs, and the Patio Motel and O-Mi have been repainted without their signature bright colors. The Spa, Riverside and Acres are all long gone; the Stars Motel was demolished around 2006, followed by the Lincoln Motel in 2007.

With enough research, any of these motels could be worth a lengthy post of its own, but I present here a condensed introduction to Lincoln Avenue’s Motel Row. We start south, just north of Foster, and move steadily north.


Diplomat Motel
5230 N. Lincoln
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Totally reskinned in recent years, it lost an interesting geometric stainless steel facade, and is now barely recognizable as a Mid-Century design.
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Summit Motel
5308 N. Lincoln
Architect: Arthur P. Salk, 1960
The Summit Motel opened in 1962, a date which one could almost identify solely from the green schist stone facade. The “summit” refers to its location at the top of a small rise (what passes for a hill in the tabletop-flat landscape of Chicago.) Architect Salk was also responsible for downtown’s Ohio House Motel.
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The Spa Motel
5414 N. Lincoln Avenue

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Demolished in 2000 and replaced by a police station, this was a well-known stopover for touring rock bands passing through town. Known guests include Anthrax, Greg Allman, and a long list of more obscure punk and hard rock bands.


The Apache Motel
5535 N. Lincoln Avenue
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Open by 1967. Referred to by a Tribune gossip column as “the most infamous of the hot pillow joints”, it’s actually two buildings joined by a pair of suspended walkways.

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The sign was rebuilt between 2007 and 2009, by the owner who bought the place in 1987 and has worked hard to distinguish it from the more seedy establishments around it.
MOTEL APACHE

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Guest House Motel
2600 Bryn Mawr Avenue
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Open by 1965. Set just off of Lincoln Ave, the Guest House Motel is a secretive brick box with almost no exterior windows. Cars enter through a tunnel-like opening in the front facade, directed a pair of giant neon arrows (one of which still casts a feeble, barely-visible glow at night), and park in a secluded interior lot. A second driveway opens onto the alley for even more discretion.

2600 Guest House Motel

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Guest House Motel

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O-Mi Motel
5611 N. Lincoln Avenue
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Open by 1957, the O-Mi Motel once had an excellent neon sign and a much cooler color scheme. More recent years have seen it sadly toned down, and the original sign has been replaced by a dull plastic backlit one.
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The Acres Motel
5600 N. Lincoln
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Demolished in 2000 and replaced by a library.


Lincoln Motel
5900 N. Lincoln Avenue
Lincoln Motel

Built in 1958, the Lincoln Motel came in amid a court battle over zoning laws adopted just as construction was beginning. It went out much the same way fifty years later. After a four-year court fight, the Lincoln Motel was condemned by the city and demolished in 2007. The planned developer backed out the next year, and the lot remains empty today.


Villa Motel
5952 N. Lincoln Avenue
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Open by 1962. With its angled windows, angled roofline, and angled columns, this is easily the most space-age futuristic building on Motel Row. The current sign retains some space-age styling, but it’s all plastic. The original sign was far more elaborate and eye-catching. Now operated as the Lincoln Inn Motel.
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Compare the above view with a 1992 image on Flickr.


Riverside Motel
5954 N. Virginia Avenue
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Demolished in 2000. The site now serves as an expanded entryway to Legion Park, which runs along the north branch of the Chicago River.


Tip Top Motel
6060 N. Lincoln Avenue
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Open by 1959. Now the River Park Motel & Suites. The little entrance arrow sign is among the very few remaining neon signs on the strip.

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Rio Motel
6155 N. Jersey (at Lincoln)
Open by 1957. The Rio and the Tip-Top are both broad, gentle curves in plan, and literally sit back-to-back, their rear brick walls touching.
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Stars Motel
6100 N. Lincoln Avenue
The Stars Motel

Built in 1956. Rather famously, this motel at the corner of Lincoln and Peterson was demolished in 2006, leaving only the neon sign which was subsequently auctioned off on eBay. The bottom fell out of the economy before anything further could happen. Plans for a 4-story condo building named “Village Center” went nowhere, and the sign  – never claimed by the winning bidder – has presided over a vacant lot ever since.
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The latest sign to pop up on the empty lot announces that the lot will, this summer, function as an outpost of the Peterson Community Garden – which is usually a neighborhood’s desperate plea for a vacant lot to please, please, please just go away.


Patio Motel
6250 N. Lincoln Avenue
Patio Motel

Likely built in 1955, open by 1957, the Patio featured a delightful orange and aqua color scheme and a glassy entrance lobby. It retained its vintage style in 2007:

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But has been toned down since then:
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The bright colors disappeared in 2008, the sign was removed in 2009, and the motel is now the North Park Inn, with yet another color scheme.

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The sign has been chopped off; only the former letterboard remains, now with a backlit plastic sign:
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More on Motel Row:

Purple Hotel on the Wane

The unmistakable, can’t-miss-it building at the corner of Touhy and Lincoln has housed a number of different hotel chains over the decades, but it has long been known by its most obvious description: The Purple Hotel.

Purple Hotel
March 2006

Planned as the Hyatt-Lincolnwood, the Hyatt House-Chicago broke ground in January 1961, on the site of the Allgauers Fireside restaurant at Lincoln and Touhy, destroyed by fire in 1958. One year later, on January 17, 1962, the Hyatt House opened with a ballroom, conference spaces, an outdoor pool, and a million dollar Ray Foley restaurant. Architects for the hotel were Hausner and Mascal, with Freidman, Alschuler and Sincere designing the restaurant.

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April 2008

The place did fine into the 80s, when it was sold by the Hyatt and began a series of name changes. The Purple Hotel monicker was finally made official in 2004 by an independent operator.

The Purple Hotel

Through it all, the Purple Hotel has acquired a rather legendary history in the annals of sleepy Lincolnwood. It was a swinging hot spot in its early days, hosing a variety of performers. In 1983, it was the site of the gangland execution of a mobster. Just a few years ago, convictions were handed down regarding sex parties held at the hotel. And most recently, its rampant building code violations forced the hotel to close in 2007, and have since made it the subject of considerable legal wrangling, as the city of Lincolnwood moves to have it demolished.

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April 2008

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August 2010

In the meantime, the Purple Hotel has gone downhill, fast. The pool courtyard is choked by weeds growing six feet tall. Windows are broken. Doors are kicked open. Carpets are torn out. The interior partitions are rotting, and mold is reportedly all over the place.

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The hotel does have some architectural value, as Lee Bay recently pointed out. The exposed structure gives it a nice rhythm, and those massive windows on the guest rooms just don’t get done anymore. A few elements here and there give it some added 60s funk, not least of which are the titular glazed purple bricks themselves.

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To make it work as a hotel, an operator would have to think way beyond the norm. This building, hanging out in the middle of nowhere in terms of public transit, amenities and attractions, is a non-starter as a standard hotel. The only hope, marketing-wise, would be to capitalize on the building’s funky style and swinging history, and go all-out with a completely crazed renovation. Either total Mid Century classic 1960s style – maybe even a 1950s streamline mode – or else a completely contemporary treatment rendered in shades of purple. Purple neon, purple understair lighting, purple translucent backlit panels, curving purple reception desk, an internally glowing purple bar with bottles lining purple-backlit glass shelves.

Is Lincolnwood ready for an over-the-top celebration of its own history? Somehow I doubt it.

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  • Purple Hotel at American UrbEx blog
  • Purple Razed? – Lee Bay
  • The Eyesore That Is the Purple Hotel – Skokie.Patch.com
  • The Purple Hotel – Global Traveler Blog
  • Decrepit Purple Hotel Outstays Its Welcome – Sun-Times
  • Neons I have known

    It’s no great secret that historic neon signs are steadily disappearing from the Chicago landscape. The difficulty and cost of maintenance, along with the closing of older independent businesses, are the primary causes. Even when the signs are valued by store owners, sometimes they’re impractical to move, maintain or update.

    Altered:

    Jim Fong Chop Suey
    Jim Fong Chop Suey, a modest sign on Touhy in West Ridge.

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    The former Erickson Jeweler sign on Clark Street in Andersonville, now a Potbelly’s.

    American General Furniture...?
    Tasemkin Furniture. Now covered up with generic paneling.

    Replaced:

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    Eden’s Liquor on western Devon Avenue

    Vanished:

    The Washing Well sign
    The Washing Well, Clark Street, Rogers Park. Not a neon, but still interesting.

    E-Z Credit Wheels
    E-Z Credit Wheels, a Western Avenue car dealership

    Meyer Delicatessen
    A.E. Meyer Delicatessen, Lincoln Square. The hanging sign has been relocated to the interior of the new store on this site; however, the storefront sign is gone.

    Jubilee Gas for Less
    Jubilee Gas for Less – this Lincoln Avenue sign has a surviving sister in the lobby of the Chicago History Museum.

    DeMar's Coffee Shop Restaurant
    DeMar’s Coffe Shop Restaurant – Chicago Avenue at Paulina

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    Standee’s Coffee Shop, Edgewater – closed by corporate property managers who did not consider the 60-year-old restaurant “a solid investment”. Brilliant!

    Gone dark

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    The “Z” Frank Cheverolet sign is a Western Avenue icon; however, it hasn’t been lit since around 2007, when the car dealership relocated. In the press, the owner stated that they’d love to donate or relocate the sign, but that it was just too big to move.

    Lincoln Square’s house of mystery

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    2515 W. Carmen Avenue has intrigued me from the moment I saw it. It’s a peculiar little box of a house, a simple rectangle covered in stucco to make a sort of Pueblo Revival style.

    Nothing too strange yet… but the house sits next to a huge yard. Most of it is raw dirt under a canopy of trees. It’s fenced off for what would be privacy if the fence weren’t collapsing at the street.

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    And then there’s the alley building. At first it might seem like an old garage with an apartment above… but there’s only one garage. And on the side that faces the yard, there’s some sort of strange barbecue pit.

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    What did this place used to be? When was it built? Who lived there? What was it used for?

    A sign on the fence notes that the place is for sale by Sperry Van Ness realtors, though it appears to have changed hands a couple of times in recent years.