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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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.

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.

Green on White

In the years leading up to World War I, a popular facade style for small commercial buildings consisted of white glazed brick with dark green brick for accents and ornament. Examples can be seen all over Chicago.

Damen
Damen Avenue

near Irving Park Road
Elston Avenue

Little Village 26th Street
26th Street

Milwaukee Avenue
Milwaukee Avenue

Archer Avenue
Archer Avenue

I am familiar with one or two cultural trends that would have made the style appealing. The notion of hygiene was on the rise, and glossy white brick – sometimes referred to as baker’s brick – was the perfect reflection. Easily cleaned, naturally pure and pristine, glazed white brick would have had great appeal to a populace looking for ways to elevate the filthy, smoke-ridden city.

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Western Avenue

Why the olive green accent, though? While it certainly is a beautiful color scheme – the olive green comes in a variety of tones that make each brick unique – there are a half dozen other tones like blue, maroon, and caramel which would harmonize equally well with white glazed. Yet green is almost exclusively used as the accent color.

I have found one or two examples in St. Louis, too, but it seems to be more of a Chicago thing.

I have yet to locate the magical research key which will let me unlock this mystery; I have no info on any of these buildings, and little special knowledge of Chicagoland brickmaking. If any knowledgeable reader can suggest further leads to trace, I would welcome it.

Clark Street Andersonville
Andersonville

S. Michigan Ave
S. Michigan Avenue

The co-monarchs of the style are two twin buildings at Fullerton and Clark, facing one another diagonally across the busy intersection. They are both tricked out with lush terra cotta ornament, catalog blocks applied as a cornice.

Clark Street at Fullerton

Clark Street at Fullerton

Clark Street at Fullerton

Clark Street at Fullerton

If the Clark Street pair are the kings, then the prime minister must be this block-long assembly on Western Avenue, where seven out of a group of eight buildings feature the green-on-white brick pattern.

Western avenue

Even with this plethora of addresses, my searches turned up nothing besides occasional random factoids about the doings of this or that tenant over the years – not even a builder’s name.

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Western Avenue

Mexican Grocery Store signs

They come in a rainbow of colors (mostly neon, entirely bright), and you can find them all across the city, from Pilsen and Little Village to Logan Square to Rogers Park.

Pulaski grocer
Near West Side

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Little Village
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Rogers Park

Chicago has tons of Mexican grocers – there are three within a block of my residence alone – and a disproportionate number of them advertise with signs just like these.

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The style is universal: wavy lines top and bottom, in bright neon colors. Huge blocky numbers for the price, in red. Smaller font for the letters, but still in a bouncy, informal, chipper mood.

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Like the builder’s Mid-Century style, it’s one of those cases of curious convergence. A quick chat with our local grocer reveals that they get them from varying places, sometimes making them themselves, and sometimes hiring guys to do it. I’ve seen the stamps of at least two different sign makers on these posters, though most of them remain anonymous.

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Why are they all the same style? Is it demanded, expected, or simply unexamined? Does it relate to some deep cultural strain, or is it just a thing that is?

Reinforcement

Last post, I made a protracted and over-detailed claim that basically, builders were stealing ideas from each other left and right in the 1960s. Here’s a simpler argument for the same idea: look at just one recurring decorative element, and see how many different builders you can find who used it.

I’ve chosen the horizontal band of stone, set in a brick wall. There’s no reason to think this particular element is inherently obvious or necessary; you can look at other buildings in the photos and see a dozen other ways to use field stone, and I can make up plenty more out of my head.

5223 N. East River Road
5223 N. East River Road – Redelco Corporation

6173-6175 Northwest Highway
6173-75 Northwest Highway – Losacco and Springston Builders

6847-49 and 6853-55 Olmsted
6847-49 and 6853-55 Olmsted – Guiffre Brothers

7418 N. Harlem Avenue
7418 N. Harlem Avenue – Parisi Brothers Construction Co. Inc.

7610 and 7614 W. Belmont Avenue
7610 and 7614 W. Belmont Avenue – Nick S. Theodorau, architect. No word on the builder.

No master plan, no guiding hand

After long study and research, I have reached a conclusion: there was no single guiding force that created the Chicago Midcentury style. It was simply an amazing confluence of factors.

When I first noticed how prevalent this style was, the most obvious thought was that, perhaps, a single large builder developed huge swaths of Chicago. But I have encountered dozens or hundreds of builder names. The O’Hare neighborhood, which I marveled at recently, makes a great case study, containing many homogeneous blocks. Consider, for example, this three-block stretch of Berwyn, lined with nigh-identical 2-flats:

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At a glance, these buildings are totally homegenous. They share identical massing, height, footprints, and unit layout (stairs on one side, two stacked units, giant picture windows.) Yet a careful look at their details shows that each builder did things a little bit differently, and had their own distinctive details that they used and re-used.

Take these buildings by the Relias Building Corporation, for example:
8359 and 8361 W. Berwyn Avenue
8359 and 8361 W. Berwyn Ave. The glass block design on the right is used on many Chicago MCM buildings.

8356 W. Berwyn Ave.
8356 W. Berwyn Ave

8300 block north, W. Berwyn Avenue
The 8300 block, north side. 8356 from the previous shot is at left. Notice the brick vestibule walls of each successive house – the first is the same as 8356, the next is a variation, and the next is a variation on the variation, and uses the same stairwell/glass block details as 8359 and 61 from the first shot. It’s a good bet that Relias built this entire block.

But they sure didn’t build the next two blocks!

8426 W. Berwyn Avenue
8426 W. Berwyn – Forest Lane Builders

8410 W. Berwyn
8410 W. Berwyn Avenue – Forest Lane Builders

8400 Block of W. Berwyn
And here’s what stands between the two Forest Lane buildings. The repeating porch wall design makes it almost certain that the three center buildings, and the ones at the far right, were by a single builder. Could it also be Forest Lane? Sure. One of them even re-uses the glass block design from the first Forest Lane building. A look at an aerial view on Google Maps reveals that every building shares the exact same curved sidewalk design, too, meaning the whole north side of the block is probably Forest Lane. But that wall detail… didn’t we just see that a moment ago, on a building by Relias? Did Forest Lane build on the Relias block, or did one company just swipe a detail from the other?

Across the street, another company was busy. Below are two buildings by Frank J. Munao, a wealthy builder who also happened to be into horse racing. He was so prominent, in fact, that some hoods attempted to extort money from him in the early 1950s by threatening his wife and children. They wound up going to jail instead, and Mr. Munao went on to grace Berwyn Avenue with these 2-flats:
8455 W. Berwyn Avenue
8455 W. Berwyn Avenue

8435 W. Berwyn Avenue
8435 W. Berwyen Avenue

Given that distinctive concrete pattern block over the stairwell, it’s a certainty that he also did these:
842? W. Berwyn Avenue
8423 W. Berwyn

8439 W. Berwyn
8439 W. Berwyn

8461 W. Berwyn
8461 W. Berwyn

And the same shape repeats here, minus the pattern block:
8427 W. Berwyn Avenue
8427 W. Berwyn Avenue

So this whole side of the block is probably Frank J. Munao & Son, Inc.

One block west, and we’re still in solid 2-flat territory, but with still more builders:

8555 W. Berwyn
8555 W. Berwyn – C.O.R. Construction Co.

8540 W. Berwyn Ave.
8540 W. Berwyn Avenue – Larry J. Pontarelli & Sons, Inc.

And so, in short, we’ve got three solid blocks of nothing but nigh-identical 3-flats…. by at least five different builders.

Further west on Berwyn, the 2-flats give way to 6-flats. Like the previous area, these buildings are rigorously aligned, and very similar in massing and style… but by a multitude of builders.

5222 N. Reserve Avenue
5222 N. Reserve Avenue – McNerney-Goslin, builder. They did a row of 5 or 6 buildings on this block.

5231 N. Reserve Avenue
5231 N. Reserve Avenue – David J. Cahill

5241 N. Potawatomie Avenue
5241 N. Potawatomie Avenue – Relias Building Corp.

8639 W. Berwyn Avenue
8639 W. Berwyn Avenue, SW corner of Berwyn and Potawatomie – aka 5240 N. Potawatomie. Ferlette Builders & Realty Co. Both this and the previous building (right across the street, and seeming to form a gateway with their prominent lamps) share New Formalist influences, but are by different builders. Clearly one of these buildings is reacting to the other.

Most of these 6-flats, spanning three parallel streets, align so perfectly that you can look through the gaps between them and see through corresponding gaps in two more blocks of identical buildings. And every decorative trick on these buildings shows up on other buildings by other builders. These different builders were clearly borrowing from each other and trying to work together.

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I have no solid explanation, though, for how this incredibly unified style came to be. As we’ve seen, a single builder was buying up a whole block, or large chunks of one, and stamping out the same designs. Zoning codes explain some of this homogeneity within neighborhoods, requiring similar dwelling unit types on blocks, setting setback limits and perhaps height restrictions as well. None of that, however, explains why a six-flat at 7600 N. Harlem Avenue (Parisi Brothers Construction Company) should look just like a 6-flat at 7724 W. Belmont Avenue (Nick S. Theodorau, architect) or one on 5200 N. Potawatomie.

The availability of affordable building materials is a likely factor – blonde brick, for example, was obviously cheap at the time. Brickmakers were experimenting with new cuts and colors at the time, as can be seen on many of these buildings. Many common components were catalog elements, such as the fancy doors and escutcheons and various kinds of glass block, and would have been readily available to any builder. Certain stone types that occur again and again were probably cheaply available as well, perhaps bought in bulk by local suppliers and sold to many contractors.

And then there was probably some good old fashioned peer pressure – all the cool kids are building modern-style apartments. Don’tcha wanna be cool? Builders are risk-adverse by nature; if they were building modern-clad buildings by the hundreds, it had to mean they were popular with the public. Certainly some of these elements were copped from famous designers of the day, and there was also a variety of cultural influences at work, too.

8700 Berwyn

Despite all the explanations, it’s still a remarkable convergence. These factors, and perhaps others still unknown, combined to produce a distinctive Chicago style that appears all over the region, and to my knowledge, nowhere else.

(For the record, most of the builder and architect data comes from a series of real estate advertisements run throughout the 1960s by the Peoples Gas Light and Coke Company, touting the merits of gas heating and appliances. Names of architects appear far less frequently than names of builders, but there is still plenty of variety.)