Madison Street West, Part 2: The Gothic Block

On the 4100 block of West Madison Street, a trio of commercial buildings in the Gothic Revival mode:

4100 W. Madison Street

From left to right, they are:

  • 4138 W. Madison Street – most recently Westgate Funeral Home
  • 4132 W. Madison Street – Garfield Counseling Center
  • 4128 W. Madison Street – vacant and covered in an melange of overlapping signs

The little two-story funeral home is quite overshadowed by its larger neighbors, but harmonizes perfectly with them. It is Tudor Gothic by vintage, with a two-toned material pallet of red brick and cream terra cotta. Th ornament includes faux quoins of stone at the windows,  crenelations along the roofline, and tiny blind arcades of cusped arches in terra cotta, along the outer piers and above the main windows.

4138 W. Madison Street

Opened by 1927, the funeral chapel here did a steady business for five decades. In the 1970s, the business there was the Baldridge Funeral Home; in the 1990s, the Westgate Funeral Home, whose signs still adorn ground floor canopies. The commercial portion of the building is shuttered today. The narrow building runs the full depth of the block; the Cook County Assessor’s database says it contains three apartments and a garage – where it all fits is a bit of a mystery.

4100 W. Madison Street

Next door is 4132 W. Madison Street, a four story building with a Gothic-ornamented facade in creamy terra cotta. Four slender piers, capped by faux statuary niche canopies, demarcate three bays. Double rows of blind pointed arches fill the spaces between windows and march across the roofline, giving the facade a busy, heavily shadowed appearance. The original ground floor design is long lost.

No definitive word on the architects or date of construction, but 1928 is a good bet. That’s the year  that Joseph Marschak Sons Furniture began appearing in ads with this address. By 1948, it was owned by the Amber Furniture Company – who had a long run in the building next door – and by 1951, it had been taken over by Baer Brothers & Prodie. They in turn went out of business in 1967; the building housed the Erie Clothing Company for a few years.

West Madison Street, Chicago

By 1973, it was occupied by Debbie’s School of Beauty Culture. In 1980 the school became a subsidiary of Johnson Products, sellers of cosmetics and hair care products, and began developing its own line of cosmetics. The school would later expand to five locations around the city and eleven more in other states. The company eventually moved to Houston, but their fading green-and-yellow painted sign still remains on the building’s brick party wall.

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By 1987, the building was home to the Garfield Counseling Center, an outpost in the struggle against the drug abuse which had swept over the neighborhood; in the early 90s, it ran a group home for women trying to break drug habits. The agency operated from at least 1987 and continues today.

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4128 Madison has the most complex decorative program of the trio. Its surviving second floor facade gives some hints as to what the first floor might have originally look liked like, with ornamentally framed windows. Above, three floors of Gothic terra cotta with a faint greenish tint rise to the sky. Four carved bosses in the form of grumpy looking grotesques support the four major piers. The piers are capped with pinnacles, seemingly truncated at the roofline. The spandrel panels, however, are where the real action is: they are laden with heraldic shields, fleur-de-lis panels, a yin-yang shape I’m going to tentatively call a doublefoil, and bits of floral carving.

4100 W. Madison Street

Along the roofline runs a row of large, elaborate blind trefoil or cusped arches adorned with crockets, capped with a row of smaller blind trefoil arches, further capped with a twin parapet cap with a shield motif. It’s quite an extravaganza of terra cotta.

4100 W. Madison Street

Again, my research came up empty on date, architect, original occupant, and anything about that long-lost vertical sign; I’m taking a guess of 1929.

ETA: the demolished Marbro Theater was nearby – and so Cinema Treasures offers up a distant view of this block when new. The giant sign on this building isn’t legible; behind it, a smaller, similar sign for Marschak Sons Furniture next door can be seen.

The building first appears in the Tribune through 1930 ads for Straus & Schram, a furniture refurbishing business. Straus-Schram was bought out by Spiegel in 1945, who promptly opened a new home store at this location on October 13 of that year, complementing their clothing store down the street at 4020 W. Madison. Spiegel was a heavy advertiser who ran weekly ads for years, selling televisions, washers and dryers, sofas, and all manner of mid-century furniture, until quitting the retail furniture business in 1954 to focus on their mail order catalog sales.

Amber Furniture was the next occupant, taking over by 1955. Their run didn’t end well; in 1961, a public auction was held of all the store’s inventory and equipment.  The vacant storefront was used as a Civil Defense information center for a while that year, at the height of Cold War nuclear fears, distributing information on “first aid, home protection, fallout, and other survival information.”

The store was still vacant in December 1963 when a team of robbers entered it, cut a hole through three and a half feet of brick and concrete walls into Baer Brothers & Prodie next door, and stole 750 suits. The robbers were caught in the act when a security patrolman spotted one of them in the store, prompting an escape attempt and police pursuit that ended with a car crash and three of the four in custody.

By 1968, the shuttered Amber Furniture had been replaced by *E*mber furniture, who almost certainly chose their name based on the economy of altering the exterior signs the least amount possible. This store had it going on – they had their own slick soul-styled promo 45, “The Ember Song” by Sidney Barnes in 1969, now widely available again thanks to the magic of YouTube. Give it a listen and feel the vibe of late 1960s Chicago.

Alas, Ember was not forever, and the store disappeared from the Tribune after 1983. 4128 Madison was subsequently absorbed by its neighbor, Debbie’s School of Beauty Culture, whose faded blue and yellow logo is one of several overlapping painted signs still visible on the storefront today. “Amber Furniture – Since 1872” can also be made out in red, and a third occupant’s lettering in white is also visible. Tattered signs in the windows still advertise long-ago furniture lines, while the equally tattered storefront and facade signs are barely legible through the melange of paint and letters. Even the 2nd floor windows still bear the painted logo of a “Family Dental Offices”. The vertical facade sign, meanwhile, still reads “May” and “Easy Credit Terms”, along with a painted-over section I have not been able to decipher. The building is apparently vacant, though some facade work was done in 2008; despite an ancient banner hanging from its signage, it’s no longer listed as for sale online.

4100 W. Madison Street

Research log, 4138:
1924 – Ben Gross Jewelers, from December 14th Tribune ad – likely an earlier building
1927 – funeral home chapel – from July 21st Tribune death notices, for George D. Fletcher
1971 – last appearance in Death notices
1978 – Baldridge Funeral Home – from April 9, 1978 Tribune column
1997 – Westgate Funeral Home – from Jan 3, 1997 Tribune obituary
Now closed – per Yelp

Research log, 4132:
1928 – Joseph Marschaks Sons furniture – Oct 7 1928 display ad for Chase Velmo mohair upholstery; May 4 1930 display ad for Vanity Fair mattresses – through 1950, Jun 25 diplay ad for Arrow Sport Shirts
1950 – October 1950 – address appears in classifieds 2x
1948 – Amber Furniture Company – Dec 5 1948 display ad for Thor Gladiron
1951 – Baer Brothers & Prodie – Apr 15 1951 display ad for Cricketeer Sport Coats
1967 – Baer Brothers & Prodie goes out of business – display ad Jan 26, Feb 23
1967 – Erie Clothing Company – Dec. 10 display ad for Florsheim dress shoes
1973 – Debbie’s School of Beauty Culture – Feb 15 1973 feature article.

Research log, 4128:
Straus & Schram – Apr 6 1930 Tribune display ad for Vanity Fair mattresses (also includes their competitors Joseph Marschaks Sons, right next door); Nov. 18 1940 Tribune display ad; Dec 6 1944 display ad; Feb 25 1945 display ad – last one.
Spiegel bought out Straus-Schram in 1945 (article, Jan 19 1945)
Spiegel Store – Opend October 13, 1945 (display ad, Oct. 12.). Ran weekly partial or full page display ads for years. Goes out of the Chicago furniture business  – display ad Sep 2, 1954
Amber Furniture – display ad Feb 27 1955 – newly opened
Apr 10, 1961 – public auction of inventory and store equipment. (notice Apr 9 1961). T
Civil Defense information center – article, Oct 22 1961

Lane Tech revisited

Lane Tech alumni, you got my attention.

Albert G. Lane Technical School

You see, A Chicago Sojourn is a quiet little blog, highly specialized, written for a niche audience that’s pretty tiny. On a typical day, I get 100 to 300 page views. My best day ever, since moving to WordPress 18 months ago, was about 1,100 page views.

This week, y’all smashed that but good. Twice over and then some.

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I don’t know through what channels my Lane Tech post from 2011 is getting bounced around, but clearly it struck a chord with lots of alums. I love big numbers as much as the next blogger… so by way of thanks, here’s a second look at Chicago’s biggest high school. Hopefully you’ll enjoy this outsider’s look at your alma mater. Maybe it will even let you see from a new perspective… literally!

Lane Tech from the air

If you’re flying into Chicago on a clear day and you get lucky, your flight’s approach to O’Hare airport will take you over the city’s northern reaches. The flight line is roughly aligned with Bryn Mawr Avenue, so if  you’re on the left side of the plane you’ll get a sweeping view of the north side, including Lane Tech’s expansive campus.

It’s about two miles away, though, so if you really want a close look, you’ll need binoculars. Or a good zoom lens.

Lane Tech from the air

Likewise for the view from the other direction – looking north from the Sears Tower.

Lane Tech from the air

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I haven’t been back to the school’s campus since my original visit, but I usually shoot lots more than I post, so I always have at least a few shots in reserve. Likewise, I didn’t do much research last time; this time I’ll dig a little deeper into the school’s history.

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Lane Tech is named for Albert Grannis Lane, superintendent of Chicago schools from 1891 to 1898. Originally opened in 1908, Lane was soon moved into a new 1912 building at Division and Sedgewick. Faced with the great demand for industrial training, the building was soon overcrowded beyond reason, and plans for a replacement began in 1926. Once Lane moved out in 1934, the old building would be occupied by Washburne Trade School until 1958, then became Edwin G. Cooley High School, serving students from the nearby Cabrini-Green housing projects (and documented in the 1975 film Cooley High). Cooley closed in 1979 and was demolished sometime thereafter.

The new building’s planning and construction were long and drawn out. The School Board first began eyeing the land – previously a golf course and a brickyard – in 1926; the option of buying out nearby Riverview Park was rejected as too expensive. Architect John Christensen drew up plans which then sat idle for several years; foundation work began in 1930 but halted due to Depression-fueled funding problems. Construction sputtered along into 1931, with most walls going up, only to halt again due to money issues. Some creative financing by Mayor Kelly got building moving again in 1933. After two more years of construction, and a total cost of $6 million, the new structure was ready to receive its 7000 students.

Albert G. Lane Technical School

The Albert G. Lane Technical School opened its new building on September 17, 1934.  The event was heralded by an effusive article in the Chicago Tribune. On the opening day, some 6,000 students – all boys – marched from Wrigley Field to their new educational home, and were addressed by Mayor Kelly on the athletic fields.

The curriculum on opening day included a huge range of skills and training programs – from stone cutting to automotive repair and engineering. Dozens of labs, studios and workshops augmented the school’s classrooms, including an aviation shop with “sliding doors sufficiently wide to admit an ordinary airplane” as well as facilities for welding, forging & foundary work, and machine and motor testing. The superintendent of schools noted that the sectionalized coursework meant that students would leave Lane having learned something useful and adaptable to the job market – “no matter when they drop out”. Different times, indeed!

Albert G. Lane Technical School

The legacy of that time still stands, greatly changed but still fulfilling its original mission. The focus on manual and technical training has been replaced with a more modern range of subjects, including a STEM focus; the student body is now highly diverse, including many children of recent immigrants.

Lane remained a boys-only school until 1972, when the first girls were admitted. The student body initially protested this break with tradition, with some 1,500 boys marching outside the school board building chanting “We don’t want no broads!” “Why are the girls coming to Lane? Because not being admitted violates their rights?” wrote one Tribune reader. “What about all of the boys whose programs will be curtailed? What about their rights?” Despite the trauma surrounding the idea, the school rather calmly went co-ed in 1972, one of the last in the city to do so. The Tribune recorded one anonymous student’s reaction: “We don’t mind girls in school here if they look pretty. We could do without the ugly ones.” Different times indeed!

Albert G. Lane Technical School

Albert G. Lane Technical School

Albert G. Lane Technical School

Above: the exquisite library, the finest space of those I was able to visit. The lamps are especially beautiful in their detailing.

Below: the cafeteria, whose main attraction is a multi-paneled mural. It also has Gothic tracery in wood over the main entrance… a sharp contrast with the green-and-beige floor tile which looks like it walked straight out of 1959.
Albert G. Lane Technical School

Albert G. Lane Technical School

One thing that made Lane Tech so interesting to me was just how much it retains traces of the eras through which it has passed. The interior finishes span a range of ages – from original brick to Mid-Century floors and more.  Incidental signs from many decades could be found, from the painted glass letters of the Faculty Dining Room to a simple, elegant Men’s Room sign, clearly dating from a long-vanished time.
Albert G. Lane Technical School

Albert G. Lane Technical School

And of course, there’s those wonderful World’s Fair murals. I could do a whole blog post just about them.

Albert G. Lane Technical School

Albert G. Lane Technical School

Albert G. Lane Technical School

Albert G. Lane Technical School

Albert G. Lane Technical School

One commenter noted that I had not covered the stadium – a fair question. Truth be told, I wasn’t too happy with any of my shots of it; and to my dismay, I never photographed the front facade, which faces northward onto Addison Street.

Albert G. Lane Technical School

It’s a peculiar structure, a horseshoe open to the south. The bleachers are permanent, built of limestone carved into Gothic forms, but they’re not especially big or towering compared to their length. In fact the whole thing looks like the base level of a gargantuan Gothic cathedral that never made it past the first story.

Planning for the stadium began in 1939, and it was dedicated in 1942. Built by WPA labor, the 5,000 seat stadium conceals a number of team, training and locker rooms under its stands. The dedication was combined with a music festival to make a rather elaborate and extensive event.

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And since I’ve maybe got the attention of a few alumni – did anybody ever make it up into that big clock tower? It is a fascinating structure. Younger me – and present-day me, too – would have jumped at the chance to sneak inside that thing, especially to see what remains of the clock mechanisms.

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  • From the blog Chicago Historic Schools, a more comprehensive history, including a shot of the original building at Division and Sedgwick, now lost.

 

Cermak Road, between the wars

Travel the major commercial streets of Chicago, and you’ll find a particular breed of structure that I have short-handed as the “corner commercial” building –  2- and 3-story structures with brick exteriors and terra cotta ornament, trending toward the Gothic in their details, more often than not sited on a corner lot. Apartments or office space on the upper floors, small storefronts at the sidewalk.  They are plentiful on streets like Western, Lincoln, Cottage Grove, and many others.

A particularly large and outstanding collection of corner commercial buildings can be found on Cermak Road as it passes through Cicero and Berwyn, both of which boomed in the 1920s.  The population at the time was dominated by Czech immigrants, whose immigration to the US had reached a peak just before World War I; their descendants have largely moved onwards, replaced today by Hispanic populations – but some traces of their presence remains in their buildings.

Virtually all of the examples below were erected between 1921 and 1929. Curiously, I can find no record of them in the Tribune before 1930 – and yes, I did check under Cermak’s prior name, 22nd Street. I suspect that, in the tightly wound immigrant community, advertising in a regional paper like the Tribune simply wasn’t necessary to fill your apartments and hawk your wares.

Cermak Avenue pre-war commercial

Queen of them all is the Sokol Slavsky building (“Slavic falcon”), constructed in 1927 to the designs of architect Joseph J. Novy (6130 W. Cermak). The building takes up the entire block; in the center is the Olympic Theatre, built as a grand ballroom and concert hall, and later converted to a movie theater. The theater is decorated with sprawling painted murals. Built as a home to the Sokol youth fitness and community movement – a Bohemian equivalent to the German Turner clubs – the building was a center of Bohemian life in Chicagoland, with a gym, pool, restaurant and more. The movement reportedly didn’t last long in the building, which was foreclosed on in 1933, but the Sokol maintained a presence there at least into the 1950s, and theater has continued on in various incarnations to the present day.

Cermak Avenue pre-war commercial

Cermak Avenue pre-war commercial

If Sokol Slavsky is the queen, then the prince is the Majestic Building (6114-6126 W. Cermak, Cicero), just to the east.

Cermak Avenue pre-war commercial

This lovely mixed-use building features apartments on the side, stores at street level, and office space in the front upper floors. It presents a more domestic aspect to the side street, where a U-shaped courtyard faces the street, somewhat softening the transition from commercial Cermak to the bungalows of the neighborhood.

Cermak Avenue pre-war commercial

Fantastic Gothic detailing marks the office entryways on the Cermak side. Tudor Gothic elements show up elsewhere as well, such as the faux quoins around the windows and the plentiful medallions and battlements along the roofline.

Cermak Road, Cicero IL

Cermak Road, Cicero IL

Cermak Road, Cicero IL

A healthy run of storefronts still surrounds the base of the building, some with 1950s or 1960s storefront installations featuring terrazzo floors and Roman brick.

Apart from these two grand dames, there’s a whole cavalcade of brick and terra cotta encrusted buildings lining Cermak.

Cermak Avenue pre-war commercial

Cermak Avenue pre-war commercial

The Berwyn Building, 6440-6450 W. Cermak

Cermak Avenue pre-war commercial

 

Cermak Avenue pre-war commercial

6500 W. Cermak Road, Berwyn. (Inexplicably, I have never photographed this building’s beautifully ornamented corner, so go have a look on Google Streetview instead.)

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6424-6436 W. Cermak Road, Berwyn – featuring Gothic-styled window heads on the third floor, and battlements on the roofline.

 

Cermak Road, Cicero IL

5953 W. Cermak Road, Cicero

Central Federal Savings has a been a corner tenant at this building since 1939 (they replaced a Sears when they moved in.) Their original mid-century storefront has been remuddled into something far less interesting, but they still have an excellent Moderne rotating clock that projects out from the building’s corner.

Cermak Avenue pre-war commercial

The building itself is in a handsome shade of blonde brick, with plenty of white glazed terra cotta Gothic details on the two upper floors. Those floors were most likely apartments when the building was constructed, but the former entrance – at middle-left in the photo above – has been bricked over, and it seems that Central Federal Savings has occupied the entire building.

Cermak Road Mid-Century Architecture

 

Cermak Avenue pre-war commercial

6318-6324 W. Cermak Road, Berwyn – another blonde brick three-story building, with a much more intact ground floor. The rounded corner acknowledges the corner site, while several Sullivanesque terra cotta medallions enliven the roofline. The courtyard apartment building at left is a separate structure, though designed in a harmonious style and built directly against its commercial neighbor.

 

Cermak Road, Cicero IL

The Ruth Building, 6011-6025 W. Cermak, Cicero – a third blonde brick structure augmented with white terra cotta. Like the Majestic Building, this one has an integrated apartment courtyard facing the side street, with this lovely tripartite arcade providing some separation from the sidewalk.

Cermak Road

Cermak Road, Cicero IL

Cermak Road, Cicero IL

 

 

Cermak Road, Cicero IL

6127-6133 W. Cermak Road – a red brick building with cream terra cotta ornament in a Classical vein, with faux ballusters and dentalated cornice over the corner window, and vase-shaped finials and large cartouches at the roofline. Down on the ground floor, some of the storefronts have been bricked in, leaving only small 1940s Modern windows. An apartment courtyard faces the side street.

Cermak Road, Cicero IL

Cermak Avenue pre-war commercial

6241-6243 W. Cermak Road, Berwyn – orange-toned brick with carved limestone ornament in the classical mode. The crest over the round corner includes a faux ballustrade, capped with a medallion.

Cermak Road

 

 

Cermak Road

6226-6232 W. Cermak Road, Berwyn – Tudor Gothic in red brick and carved limestone. A pressed tin cornice in need of paint sits above the third floor windows.

A number of smaller buildings also contribute to the area’s architectural significance.

Cermak Avenue pre-war commercial

Cermak Avenue pre-war commercial

Cermak Avenue pre-war commercial

The Great Depression put a sharp halt to construction on Cermak; large-scale building would not resume until the 1950s – in a new and different style, influenced by the newly dominant Modernism.

Klas Bohemian Restaurant

Cermak Avenue is a fascinating road. It begins at the convention center on the south edge of downtown, heading west. It forms one of the major arteries of Chinatown shortly thereafter, then becomes an industrial corridor south of Pilsen – and then a commercial strip that’s part of Pilsen. Then another mile or two west it becomes one of the two commercial spines of Little Village, then a residential boulevard. And then, a few miles further along, it marks the terminus of the Pink Line El – at which point it becomes one of Chicago’s most rewarding places for hunting Mid-Century commercial buildings.

Then, apart from all that, there’s the Klas Restaurant.

Klas Restaurant, Cicero

Standing at 5734 West Cermak Road in Cicero, Klas’ Restaurant would be an institution by virtue of its age alone, having been open since 1922. Founder Adoph Klas was a native of Bohemia, who established his Czech restaurant at a time when Cermak bustled with Eastern European immigrants, and was known as the “Bohemian Wall Street”. On a 1939 return trip to Czechoslovakia, Klas was reportedly imprisoned by the occupying German government, which prohibited the carrying of money out of its territories. No word on when or how he was freed.

The elaborately decorated restaurant was a neighborhood fixture, hosting everything from 50th wedding anniversary parties and Dale Carnegie speaking courses to famed gangster Al Capone, who dined regularly on the second floor. Klas passed away in 1962 but the restaurant has persisted. More recently, President George Bush (the elder) also dined there.

Klas Restaurant, Cicero

Klas Restaurant, Cicero

The restaurant was built in at least three stages, visible in the three distinct facades along the street, as well as in the parapet walls separating each section through the length of the building. The eastern-most section appears to have come first, appearing by itself in an early black and white postcard photo. All three sections were completed by 1954, when they appear in a Chicago Tribune ad.

Klas Restaurant postcard

Klas Restaurant, Cicero

The front facade is a riot of architectural detail, overwhelming in its volume, which makes the exterior a treat to visit time and again. The westernmost section, rendered in smooth gray limestone with steep copper roofing, takes its cues from the grand civic architecture of Prague, folded down to the scale of a neighborhood funeral chapel; the other two sections are both variations on medieval German house styles, embellished with every Eastern European trope imaginable – from faux half-timber and plasterwork to elaborate battenboard trim, and lots of sculpted detailing tacked on – including a little bronze Statue of Liberty in the niche of the central gable as a tip-of-the-hat to the new country.

It’s not all Ye Olden Style, however; steel beams support a massive vertical sign with plastic backlit components spelling out the restaurant’s name and mission.

Klas Restaurant, Cicero

There have been some minor changes since this circa-1950s postcard view was taken.
Klas Restaurant postcard

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The little cupola at right, once a bell tower and later a clock tower, is now blank. A few bits of trim have vanished, and some of the colors have become more muted. The copper roof, seemingly new in the postcard view, has gained the green patina of age. The woodwork needs a new coat of paint. But overall, the place is remarkably intact.

I have never had the good fortune to venture within, but the interior is reportedly tricked out to match, with heavy woodwork that’s a reflection of the heavy food served there. I offer up instead a couple of vintage postcard views, featuring Mr. Klas himself in an inset.

Klas Restaurant postcard

Klas Restaurant postcard

Klas Restaurant is open for lunch and dinner on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays, with the bar only open on Wednesdays.

Castle Apartments

It’s not terribly uncommon. Get a bunch of apartments together, and there’s enough money left over to decorate them in a royal fashion, a kingly style. Yes, truly, you can make these men’s homes… their castles.

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Park Castle Apartments – 2416-2458 W. Greenleaf Avenue, at Indian Boundary Park, West Ridge. 1925, architect Jens J. Jensen; developers Gubbins, McDonnell and Blietz. The Park Castle, along with the neighboring Park Gables, is famed for its elaborate design and its wonderfully designed swimming pool.

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Manor House apartments – 1021  Bryn Mawr Avenue, 1907 – architect John E.O Pidemore 

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2548 -2458 W. Fitch at Rockwell – just northwest of Indian Boundary Park, West Ridge. 

Castellated architecture has its roots in the Gothic Revival and its Romantic views of the middle ages. In the eclectic 1920s, when a tidal wave of revival styles swept across America, a variety of castellated styles were used on large apartment buildings around Chicagoland. The implications of luxurious living – worthy of a monarch – would make a powerful advertising statement for the developers trying to fill their newly constructed buildings, as well as pleasing neighbors concerned about the aesthetics of a large new building in their neighborhood.

The most common castle architectural elements include massive turrets with small “arrow slit” windows, rough limestone bases, and crenelated rooflines. Of course, the need to supply the basics of a modern home, such as windows, mean that the castle motif can only run so far. On most examples, it is combined with a Tudor Revival style, which uses faux half-timbering for some surfaces for a more domestic effect which also happens to be more amenable to larger windows.

The castle craze was part of the period revival craze of the 1920s, when practically every style associated with pre-industrial society came into vogue.

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901-927 Wesley Avenue, Oak Park, IL – the Paulina Mansions Apartments. 1926 – with particularly  strong Tudor Revival components – along with  a cloister screen across the courtyard entrance.

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4205 N Kedvale Ave in Old Irving Park

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5700-5702 N. Kimball Avenue, Chicago – 1929 – billed as “Old English towers” with features including “canvased walls” and rollaway beds.

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2722-2730 W. Lunt, West Ridge – was gutted circa 2008 and remains under renovation in early 2013.

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5651-5659 N. Spaulding at Hollywood, 1929, architect R.H. Johnson, builders Magnuson Brothers (Tribune July 21, 1929) – a particularly fine example, with ample detailing and architecturally decorated lobbies.

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Church View Apartments – 1450-56 Oak Avenue / 1101-11 Lake Street, Evanston – 1926, architect Samuel N. Crowen – Crowen was notable as the designer of Michigan Avenue’s Willoughby Tower and the Biograph Theater on Lincoln Avenue.

Cable & Spitz – the combined firm of Max Lowell Cable and Alexander H. Spitz, both 1916 graduates of the Armour Institute – had a successful practice in the pre-Depression era, turning out a number of castellated Tudor Revival buildings.

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Castle Tower Apartments – 2212-2226 Sherman Ave., Evanston, 1928 – architects Cable & Spitz

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2100 – 2110 W Fargo Ave, 1927 – architects Cable & Spitz. The entire block behind this building is lined on both sides with medieval-styled apartment buildings.

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5711-5717 N. Kimball Avenue, Chicago – architects Cable & Spitz

And here is a design so nice, they built it twice:
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3339-3345 W. Hollywood at Christiana, 1928, architects Cable and Spitz (Tribune July 28, 1928) – the Christwood Apartment Building, North Park

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6101 N. Talman (also 2612-2618 W. Glenlake), West Ridge – 1929, architects Cable and Spitz

Castle elements could even be used on the classic Chicago 3-flat plan, as with these two apartment buildings which have a giant tower form as a bay window occupying most of the front facade. Other castle elements include the crenelated roofline of the tower; also of note is the sloping stone facade over the entryway – an element common on the English Cottage revival houses popular around the same time.

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6705 N. Washtenaw – West Ridge

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6041 N. Talman, across from Green Briar Park

The buildings above, with only one exception, went up in the late 1920s. The Great Depression, of course, put the kibosh on any further such flights of fancy. By the time construction resumed in the 1950s, both style and economics demanded the simplicity of Modernism. Castle apartments were a quaint curiosity – a last hoorah for historicist revivalism.

Lane Technical High School

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Lane Technical College Prep High School (architect John C. Christensen) is a Gothic icon on Western Avenue, a break from the relentlessly dense and unplanned commercial onslaught that lines Chicago’s longest street. Lane Tech occupies a full city block (or more); the building is beautifully and artfully planned, with enormous spacious grounds surrounding an equally enormous building complex. Founded as Albert G. Lane Technical School in 1908, it is the city’s largest high school, housing over 4,000 students.

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You would never guess at a glance that this building was finished in 1934. The red brick Gothic style was highly out of favor by that point, both from an artistic and economic standpoint, but apparently it was decided to press onwards rather than redo drawings that had been completed several years prior. The result was a building that was out of style before it was even built – but still remains highly impressive today.

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You could be forgiven for thinking that the prominent clock tower on the Western Avenue side marks the front of the school, but it doesn’t – a look at the building’s floor plan shows that the school is actually oriented to the north. Inside the tower is one of the school’s many stairwells. The clock itself no longer functions.

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On the north side, facing Addison Street, twin towers demarcate the school’s primary facade. Between them is nestled the library, a beautiful double-height space with vast north-facing windows that bathe the space in indirect light.

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The school’s corridors are overwhelmingly long and monotonous, begging the question of how students manage to get from one class to another in the paltry 4 minutes they are alloted.
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Though monotonous and monochrome, the hallways are enlivened in a most unusual way. A series of 40 murals, created for the 1933 Century of Progress world’s fair, commemorating the contributions of every state in the union to modern technology.

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The attitude toward industry and manufacturing in these paintings is startlingly divorced from that of today. Whereas we see factories and refineries as eyesores to be minimized and avoided, these paintings celebrate them as welcome additions to even the most bucolic of landscapes. A steel mill alongside a lake is a thing to be celebrated, not mourned. It’s a fitting attitude for a building whose scale is that of a factory, an industrial-sized seat of learning.

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Lane’s early history is literally written on its walls. In the cafeteria, a small metal plaque notes that the sound system was the gift of the class of ’59. Art projects dating back to the 1930s are scattered around the building, including murals in the cafeteria and library, and bas reliefs carved in wood in the library.

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The wood reliefs were carefully restored just a few years ago. One, entitled Evolution of the Book, is in a WPA-influenced style similar to the Century of Progress murals. The other, Control of the Elements by Peterpaul Ott, is pure Art Deco – stylized, geometric, streamlined, and utterly amazing. Both were designed by teachers and executed with the help of students.

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One of the nearby murals was done by members of the 1942 Mural Club.

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Even the utilitarian courtyards are artfully decorated, and used to engender school spirit.

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Both the librarian and a security worker I spoke to had glowing praise for the student body – hard workers, disciplined, well behaved, smart. Many are the children of immigrants. A handful were in the library studying on a beautiful Saturday morning.

More Lane Tech: A followup post, July 2014

Lakefront towers

With the weather having taken its inevitable late-fall turn for the crappy, I’d like to skip up and down the lakefront a bit in photographs, and remember both warmer, bluer and greener times, and also some of the lovely highrises that one glimpses while running Lake Shore Drive.

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One of the first and most obvious lessons here is the evolution of scale. Just contrast the historicist towers – generally from the 1920s and earlier – with their post-war successors. The size of the latter tends to be hugely inflated.

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And yes, the post-war buildings often are a lot uglier. The Modernist ethos of minimalist design soon transmogrified into an ethos of minimal designing. On the flip side, they usually have more generous windows – more light coming in, better views looking out.

But not all pre-war high rises are delicate little flowers! Some are massive chunks of masonry.
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3750 N. Lake Shore Drive / 1540 N. LaSalle

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The lakefront, being Chicago’s greatest amenity, has long attracted its greatest wealth. Apartment houses were dressed up to the nines, as if for a night on the town.
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The Belden-Stratford Apartments, a U-shaped Beaux Arts courtyard building with a Second Empire mansard roofline, is one of my favorites.
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1922 – Fridstein & Company

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Some of the MidCentury buildings are interesting in their own right.
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3470 N. Lakeshore Drive – Raggi & Schoenbrod, Inc., 1967

This one, at Sheridan and Bryn Mawr, is one of the finest towers on the lakefront. Its clean horizontal banding make it an outstanding example of International style architecture.
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“The Statesman” – 5601 N. Sheridan – Milton Schwartz & Associates, architects, 1964

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And this pair of conjoined towers may look like an overmassed monstrosity, but take a longer look. There’s a lovely offset grid of windows, and those two mechanical penthouses on top, with their curved brick walls, just make the whole thing come together. The penthouses cap off wide brick bays that act like visual wrapping paper – a pair of bows tying the whole package together.
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3950 N. Lake Shore Drive – Shaw, Metz & Dolio, 1957, originally with rooftop dining. Built on the site of 1910 Richard T. Crane mansion.

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And whatever you think of it, you surely must admit that it’s far better than the dreadful concrete skeleton that stands behind it.
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The towers tend to get shorter as one moves further north. Here’s a couple of my favorite Rogers Park high rises, long past Lake Shore Drive’s end.

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The Farcroft – 1337 W. Fargo Avenue – Charles Wheeler Nicol

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Learn a bit more about this last one, with its delightful bosses, here.