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.

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Capital-M Modernism in Rogers Park

Granville Gardens
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It’s always nice when the AIA Guide to Chicago notes a building I’m interested in, since that means most of the legwork (who, when, what style, original use, for what client) is already done. However, you’d think guys as educated and smart as the authors would, in a city like Chicago, know better than to tempt fate with statements like the following:

“Amazingly, the entire complex is in close to original condition.”

Granted, it’s been 17 years since those words were published in the first edition copy of the Guide, in reference to Rogers Park’s Granville Gardens apartments. But sure enough, when I first paid a visit to photograph the Moderne garden apartment complex, there was construction work underway in the courtyards. On a recent repeat visit, I discovered that the interior courtyards were being converted into parking lots. Augh!!

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To be fair, the lots appear thoughtfully designed, retaining the two mature trees in the center of each of the two courtyards as well as a sizable band of grass around them. And hey, parking lots can always be removed. In theory.

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Granville Garden – now partially renamed Granville Court Apartments – stands amid the sides streets between Peterson and Devon, on the corner of Hoyne and Granville. It’s a complex of 14 buildings, connected by open terraces in groups of three and four, and arranged around the two courtyards. It’s a lovely, thoughtful way to manage housing, dense but not crowded.

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The buildings went up as a privately financed venture under government insurance and supervision, in a time when not much was being built in Chicago or elsewhere. The architects were Rissman & Hirschfeld, the year was 1938, and the styling is Moderne, with prominent corner windows and thin mullions which (knock on wood) still remain intact. For now. Architectural interest is provided by brick banding at the exterior corners, curved concrete entry canopies with scalloped edges, glass block and curved walls in the entry foyers, and the stepped massing of the buildings. Look close at the entryways and you may find some surprisingly sleek original door hardware still in place.

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Winchester-Hood Garden Homes
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Granville Gardens are not the only early Modernist housing development in Rogers Park, nor even the only one in this neighborhood. Just down the street is an even bigger complex, occupying parts of four contiguous, partially-developed city blocks. The Winchester-Hood Garden Homes were built from 1948 to 1951, to the designs of Holsman, Holsman, Klekamp and Taylor.

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HHK&T liked their angles. Not only do short angled bay windows form the buildings’ most distinctive feature, but the site plans place nearly all of them at slight angles to the streets and to each other. The four block plans are all different, as none of the available parcels were the same shape and size. The result is a delightful variety in the resulting garden spaces between buildings, with no two alike. Meandering sidewalks lead through the buildings and to their doors.

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The buildings themselves are almost Spartanly simple, though many feature three sculptured designs piercing the walls of their stairwells. The three sculptures – stylized versions of Zodiac figures Aeries, Pisces, and Capricorn – were designed by architect Coder Taylor. Each is only semi-solid, allowing light from the stairwell to illuminate its outlines at night.

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Winchester-Hood apartments

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The resulting effect in the evening, of lantern-like lights filtering from the buildings, the curving paths, and the mature trees, is like walking through some celebratory forest village.

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Winchester-Hood has a near-twin down on the south side, the Parkway Gardens apartments at 6415 S. Calumet. Fenced off, surrounded by parking, and in a generally rough section of town, it’s not nearly as inviting. I have yet to photograph it.

Lunt Lake Apartments
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HHK&T were busy after World War II. In addition to Winchester-Hood and Parkway Gardens, they acted as consulting firm to Mies van der Rhohe’s famous Lake Shore Apartments. And in 1948, the firm designed a second Rogers Park complex, the Lake Lunt Apartments.

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Consisting of three buildings on a single large lot, Lunt Lake stands on one of the many dead-end street stubs east of Sheridan, that end at the lakefront. Lunt Lake isn’t as bucolic as its sister development, but its structures are cut from the same cloth.

One might expect a U-shaped arrangement facing the lake, but instead the buildings are simply arranged in a line along the street, doing little to take advantage of the lakefront location. Only one receives lake views. These structures also lack the the fascinating stairwell sculptures of the other complex, and the view of them from lakeside is a bit underwhelming.

Lunt-Lake Apartments

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Lunt-Lake was finished at a cost of $1,000,000 – quite a steal for putting up three buildings! Lunt-Lake and Winchester-Hood were both featured in Architectural Forum of January 1950, which noted the unusual brickwork. Designated “rowlock bond”, it was combined with poured, steel reinforced concrete to create a very thin, strong bearing wall.

Today, the buildings look as good as new. May they remain unblemished for another 60 years to come!

Chicago Main News Stand

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The Chicago Main Newsstand in Evanston is a real oddity, a little mutant of a Modern building. At first glimpse, it seems easy enough to suss out — it’s a classically Modern 1950s building, now and perhaps always functioning as a news stand, complete with a vintage neon sign on top, and thin sans-serif fonts announcing its purpose on the side.

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But it’s too perfect. There’s no sign of aging at all. Those thick window mullions are not very 1950s. And the interior uses varnished wood trim and exposed ductwork. No MidCentury architect would dare leave ductwork exposed, no more than they would walk out their front door without a pair of pants on. No, that interior, at the very least, is from the 1980s or later.

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Turns out, the stand originally went up in the 1940s. Named for the streets upon whose intersection it stands, the Chicago-Main Newsstand operated until 1993 as a mainstay of Chicago readers from across the region. After years of neglect following its closure, it came close to demolition in 2000, but was spared. In 2001, it re-opened after an intense renovation that included an entirely new roof and structure, relaying of the north and south walls, and the restoration of the original neon sign, which glows to the delight of sign fans across the city.

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Today, the City Newsstand sells “60 newspapers and 6,000 magazines”, according to its web site. And it looks pretty cool, a beautiful modern box glowing in the night and gleaming in the day.

Chicago Main Newsstand