Blue on Blonde, Part 2: Stuck Inside Chicago with the Glazed Brick Blues Again

Devon Avenue

A blue-brick accent at the Devon Avenue storefront of Rosen’s Morseview Drugs. Note the vertical stacking pattern of the bricks, as well as the deeply troweled, straight-edged mortar line between them, both of which emphasize the geometric quality of the pier.

The blue-on-blonde brick combo, so common on multi-family residential buildings, can also be found on a few commercial and mixed-use buildings here and there. Three of them are on Devon Avenue:

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6404 N. Richmond Avenue / 2936-2938-2942 W. Devon Avenue – largely a plain box, this mixed-use building has two levels of apartments over retail at the ground floor. The brick shows up in a few framed panels on the side street, and, more interestingly, in the side walls of the shallow balconies. 

Devon Avenue

2955 / 2957 / 2959 W. Devon Avenue / 6347/6357 N. Sacramento Avenue – opened in 1962. Four stores with one level of apartments above. 

The colored brick pops up a lot more on this one, showing up in a window band, turning a corner, and covering all the building’s retail-level columns, piers and storefront bases.  Limestone trim frames the upper level.

This building has been home to Rosen’s Pharmacy (and its successor, Rosen-Morseview Pharmacy) since the building’s opening. It moved in from across the street, where it had operated since at least 1949.  As a bonus, here’s a shot of the fantastic Rosen Morseview Drugs neon sign shining bright, as it still does to this day; it is the last surviving vintage neon on Devon Avenue.

Devon Avenue

Devon Avenue
3120/3122/3124 W. Devon Avenue / 6401/6411 N. Troy Street – opened by 1960, when the real estate dealer for the building – Bernard Katz & Co. – moved in to have larger quarters. They had previously been located about 9 blocks east; they remained here until moving to Skokie in 1978.

The building is a close sibling of the previous one, with one level of apartments over four retail outlets, one on the side street and three on the main avenue. Also repeating are the blue brick piers and storefront bases at street level, the banded windows, and the limestone framing; this time, however, there’s a far more harmonious composition of windows, infilled not with the usual blue brick but with matching blue pattern blocks.

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These two buildings have a pair of close cousins out on Bryn Mawr, in the commercial district that’s sandwiched between the North Branch on one side and the old TB sanitarium on the other.

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3412-3420 W. Bryn Mawr Avenue – appears in one of People’s Gas ads, nailing its date down to 1963. Architect Irwin A. Sugarman, an Armour Institute graduate in practice since the 1930s; builder Broadway Construction Co.

The building form is the same – 12 solid-walled apartments over 5 glass-walled storefronts – but the color scheme is inverted. Glazed white bricks form the piers, the infill panels, and the base of the storefronts, while a dull blue brick is the primary wall material. The doorway to the apartments upstairs is dressed up with 1×1 mosaic tile and a snazzy mid-century door.

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3401-05 W. Bryn Mawr / 5552 N. Kimball Avenue – open by 1963.  The address made headlines in 1982 when a resident claiming to be a sea captain, and to own a vessel in Florida, offered to transport local residents’ relatives from Poland. The cops arrested him in a full captain’s outfit.

The color scheme here becomes cream-on-blonde, but the form is the same. This building has lost the piers, and the windows are inexplicably smaller than their decorative brick surrounds, leaving L-shaped patches of cream brick.

 

California, south of Devon
6329-6331 N. California, south of Devon – opened 1965?

A sad and tattered little specimen. Three piers of blue brick demarcate two bays, with angled storefronts between; the building is utterly bereft of ornament or interest otherwise. Those actually are a couple of apartments over the stores, accessed through a little door in the right-hand storefront bay.

 

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6259 W. Touhy Avenue, Chicago –  1966.

Taking a big leap west, we come across this lovely specimen on the northwest city limits. The blue brick accents the building multiple times: at a single window band on the second floor, on a couple of outlined rectangles on the side, on a pier at the entrance, and in a delightful little geometric design over the door that combines brick elements and geometric glass block with limestone frames. The primary brick is a much dirtier blonde than on previous examples.
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Howard Street
4348-4356 W. Howard at Kostner – open by 1965

An unusual mixed-use building. At ground level, the building is currently home to four storefronts including the Kostner Korner convenience store, a dry cleaners, a barber shop, and a daycare center. Above, it houses four breezeway apartments with front and back access, reached by a single-run stairway projecting out from the building; thanks to that stair, it has a most curious relationship with the storefront building next door (4346 W. Howard), as they share a wall and are both part of the same daycare business. Somehow I missed their symbiotic relationship when I was standing in front of them and hence never got a shot showing them both, but from the Google Streetview it’s obvious, and makes it seem likely they went up together.

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The railings, and the screen separating the apartment balcony from the roof of the one-story building, are particularly lovely.

Howard Street

Reflecting the walk-up vocabulary of the Rogers Park buildings, blue brick is used in a corner pier, accent stripes, window bands, and ornamental rectangles, all in stacked bond. The awning overhang has been painted to match, approximately.

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And that’s not all. Tune in next week for Blue on Blonde part 3, when we’ll be bringing it all back home!

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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:

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.

Where to get your neon

It’s not a sure-fire indicator, but there are very often clues when you’re getting close to a neon sign store.

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Elaborate and not-especially-necessary neon displays become more common in the storefront windows, the obvious result of good salesmanship from the neighborhood neon shop – in this case, N. Broadway’s Neon Express Signs, in Uptown.

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Quite a few of these little stores pepper the north side of Chicago, and the smarter ones use their store as a form of advertising, leaving it brightly illuminated at night.

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The Independent Neon and Signs neon shop stood on Irving Park, right next to the Brown Line, until its building was demolished fairly recently. They’ve relocated to a new building on the opposite side of the Brown Line, but sadly their replacement digs aren’t as exuberantly marked as the old ones.

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Neon Design, Inc. on Ashland puts on a particularly good show inside.

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But hands down, the best window display is at The Neon Shop Fishtail on Western Avenue. Not only is their sign the best, they also leave the most signs on at night inside the store. AND they have the most beautiful old storefront, to boot.

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