Chicago’s lost Polish Stores

IMG_1647a

3067-69 N. Milwaukee Avenue – July 2008

POLSKI SKLEP, read the painted signs – red letters on white painted brick, surrounded by a riot of merchandise ads that covered every inch of the plain Chicago storefront building on Milwaukee Avenue, turning it into a giant undisciplined Polish flag. This stretch of road through the Avondale neighborhood was one of Chicago’s predominant Polish neighborhoods for many decades, nowhere more visibly than in the two storefronts of the Polish Store Chicago, “Little Poland’s Dollar Plus Store”.

IMG_8842a

3331 N. Pulaski Avenue, a wood frame house with a brick storefront addition  – March 2008

A modern, local, low-rent version of a five-and-dime, the stores were crammed with all sorts of merchandise, from knickknacks and everyday needs to pots and pans,  housewares and bedding, as well as Polish-specific goods including CD and tapes, flags, stickers, and other patriotic goods. Cigarettes, lottery tickets, video rentals, power converters, phone cards, key cutting – all for sale in one stop!  Tucked in there somewhere was an employment agency as well. And a cookware sales point.

Advertising was equally unsubtle, spreading to sidewalk signs, vehicles, and the building’s party wall.

 

IMG_4838a

IMG_1645a

 

DSC_5727a

September 2015 – closed.

Having been open since at least the 1980s, they’ve both closed recently, seemingly in 2012 – victims of the times as the Polish population has drifted westward into the suburbs. The larger store’s signage has been painted over as a more commonplace mattress outlet has taken over the space. A mile north, the smaller Polish Store yet remains, empty and waiting for a new tenant.

Advertisements

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.

IMG_4693

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.

IMG_4700a

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

Green on White, Volume 3 – A Baker’s Dozen of Bakery Brick

Another batch of white and green glazed brick storefronts – about a dozen total. At this point I have documented well over 50 of these buildings in and around the city, all featuring the same material and color pallet, and often the same style of design and ornamentation. And still no answer to the simple question of why! Why this color combination, why so many of them, why this style, why right in this one concentrated time period around 1920?

IMG_2894a741-749 W. 79th Street at Halsted. The westernmost of the four storefronts was the Auburn Park Library from the late 1930s until 1963. This building was next door to the corner commercial building demolished several years ago following a wall collapse.

 

Clark Street, Rogers Park7051 N. Clark Street, Rogers Park. Originally the Casino Theater, one of a legion of early theaters, most of which lasted only a few years before larger and more modern competitors overtook them. Cinema Treasures lists the Casino as operating from 1913-14; it was cited by the city in 1913 – along with dozens of other theaters – for a total lack of any ventilation. By 1919, it was a car dealership. In recent years, the building has lost a curved parapet wall.

Before this building went up, the site was home to Patrick Leonard Touhy, an early settler, businessman and land trader in the area, who married the daughter of Phillip Rogers, platted Rogers Park, and lent his name to one of the area’s major east-west arterial streets. Separated from his wife, Mr. Touhy lived at this address alone until he passed away in 1911; his house was demolished and replaced with the theater. His wife’s mansion, at 5008 Clark (old system, 7339 Clark new system) was torn town in 1917 and is now the site of Touhy Park.

Western Avenue

2241 and 2245 N. Western Avenue

 

IMG_1172a
2403 W. Chicago Avenue – Liz’s Pet Shop, with thin triangular and diamond patterns surrounding a beautiful bulls-eye of stained glass above, and a completely altered storefront below. In the 1930s it was the office of Dr. Marco Petrone (1902-1966), a gynecologist and city Health Department inspector whose office also seemed to have a knack for attracting crime victims seeking emergency treatment. By 1945 it housed the Roncoli Grill.

IMG_4679a
4230 1/2-4234 and 4236 S. Archer Avenue – two adjacent buildings with matching facades.

The lower, longer building on the right contains three retail storefronts; the peculiar 4230 1/2 address indicates that the third was shoehorned in at some point. 4234 was a Brighton Hobby store in the 1970s; recent occupants include the recently departed Vision To You, a pizza parlor, and a salon.

4236 S. Archer opened as the Crane Theater in 1916 – hence the grand archway; it operated as a theater into the 1950s. More recent retail tenants included a Color Mart wallpaper store in the 1970s, the Brighton Flower Shop until around 2007 (with a great neon sign), and the China Spa in 2008.

Both stores were refaced with modern red brick recently, first the theater in 2012 and then the storefronts on either side in 2013. All three came out much the worse – though at least the now-anomalous archway is no longer covered with a giant banner. The renovation included installation of bulbs into the long-disused sockets of the arch; the milky stained glass in the arched window appears to be an earlier addition by the short-lived China Spa. The current tenant, responsible for the red brick ruination, is the Gads Hill Center, a family and community support organization.

DSC_0155a

DSC_0156a

IMG_9256a

6901 S. Halsted Street – green brick striping punctuated by terra cotta medalions. The building contains apartments above and four retail outlets at the street level. The Family Loan Corporation was a long-time tenant, from the late 1940s through the 1950s. A liquor store came later, in the 1960s.

 

IMG_9280a

711 W. 47th Street – another curious specimen, a wood framed house tarted up with masonry accents at the street. The house is likely much older than the other buildings in this post, which likely date from the 1910s.

IMG_9281a

 

 

IMG_0646a2209 W. Cermak Road, at far right – another apartment-over-storefront configuration. It was a music store in 1919, likely the first tenant. After that the storefront housed a series of doctor’s offices, including one who practiced there for many years before moving out in 1942. The address made headlines in 1977, as another physician operating there was one of several who carried a notable new type of glasses case that the Tribune reviewed. The same doc made headlines again in 1981 under less auspicious circumstances – he and another physician were busted for supplying drugs to street gangs. 

IMG_9065a

3311 W. Montrose Avenue – Chicago Import, Inc. The storefront has been infilled with blonde brick, and the limestone panels in the center appear to be a Mid Century addition.IMG_9070a

IMG_6355

2107 N. Cleveland Avenue – Custom Hair Lounge + Spa – the green brick is merely a small accent amid handsome corbelling and an arched parapet wall, capped with limestone trim. It opened as a grocery store in 1919, and was the White House tavern in the 1950s (when an out of town patron tried to commit suicide in the restroom.) 

IMG_6359a

IMG_5998

6241 N. Broadway, Uptown – Green Element Resale. Like the Casino Theater, this building has lost its upper parapet wall – as evidenced by a geometric design that is abruptly sliced off at the roofline. It was the Leon Beloian Rug Company in 1981.

 

IMG_8966a
3707 W. 26th Street. Civic Savings and Loan in 1957. Vanek Travel Service in 1960. Mena Mexico Travel Agency today. This is actually a storefront addition – there’s a wood frame house behind it, still in use as a residence in 1964 when Mr. Arthur Vanek, owner of the first travel agency, passed away. The green was painted over some time between 2007 and 2011.

 

IMG_8722a

Diversey-Sheffield Building, 946-958 W. Diversey / 2801 N. Sheffield Avenue. Built in 1916, according to Chicago Architecture Info, this one featured an actual name emblazoned on the corner facade.  As with the Archer Avenue buildings, that facade was recently lost. According to the architect’s Facebook page, “the glaze on the brick was failing, the walls were deteriorating and the cornices falling off due to rust.” Modern brown brick replaced the 100 year old white glazed look. Its multiple storefronts have, and still do, housed a variety of tenants.

IMG_8723a

IMG_8726aThe fate of the two refaced stores flags up a major issue facing all these buildings – the glazing tends to flake off as the buildings age, particularly if water gets into the walls (due to poor roof or parapet maintenance) and can’t get out (due to a variety of factors.) The glazing is the brick’s finished surface, and without that surface the brick decays faster. These buildings could become an endangered species if owners continue to defer maintenance.

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.)

Cermak Road

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

IMG_7453a

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.

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.

photo

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.

Best. CVS. EVER.

This is the former MB Finanacial Bank building, 1200 N. Ashland Avenue, as it used to look.

CVS at former MB Financial Bank

And here it is today, after a CVS moved in some time around 2010.

CVS at former MB Financial Bank

Changes for the better – they unbricked the grand lobby windows! And the architectural goodness doesn’t end there. Just step inside…

CVS at former MB Financial Bank

CVS at former MB Financial Bank

CVS at former MB Financial Bank

No cruddy dropped ceilings or bland remodeling here – the CVS was simply dropped onto the existing banking floor, while all the architectural splendor around it was left intact.

The detailing of the bank lobby is magnificent. From the wood beam ceiling, to the plaster moldings, to the still-intact chandeliers, CVS has done a remarkable job of leaving well enough alone.

CVS at former MB Financial Bank

CVS at former MB Financial Bank

CVS at former MB Financial Bank

CVS at former MB Financial Bank

The outside of this place is something special, too. Bas relief sculpture lines the walls between the arched windows. Check out the signs of the age – from a ship’s wheel to a winged car wheel.

CVS at former MB Financial Bank

CVS at former MB Financial Bank

This handsome classical bank building was originally the Home Bank and Trust Company, designed by architects K. M. Vitzthum & Co. in 1925, and built at a cost of $1,000,000, with three floors of office space above. Home Bank was one of a spate of outlying banks opened in the years before the Great Depression, serving neighborhood needs – in this case the heart of Chicago’s Polish community.  Despite merging with Northwestern Trust and Savings, the bank was killed off by the onset of the Depression in 1930, and a successor bank – United American Trust and Savings – only lasted another year.

In 1934, a stable legacy began when the Milwaukee Avenue National Bank opened its doors at Ashland and Division, supported by over 2000 depositors from the previous bank on the premises. With a 1946 name change, it became the Manufacturers National Bank of Chicago, with its name shortened to Manufacturers Bank by 1984. A 2001 merger with Mid-City Bank created MB Financial, who soon built their own headquarters downtown.  The building was designated a city landmark in 2008; CVS opened its doors in 2011.

CVS at former MB Financial Bank