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

 

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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.

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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.

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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.

 

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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.

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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. 

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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

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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.) 

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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.

 

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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.

 

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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.

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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.

The Mutilation of the Esquire

The Esquire Theater was a 1936 Moderne beauty at 58 Oak Street, just off the Magnificent Mile. Ultra-modern for its time, it retained its sleek, clean looks up into the present day.

Esquire Theater

Note the use of past tense. In 2012, the building was converted into a retail and dining complex, housing a mix of stores in keeping with the high-priced shopping along Oak Street. In the process, most of its facade – and its Streamline Moderne style – was obliterated.

Esquire Theater

The marquee, the mass of mottled dark granite, the checkerboard grid of the vertical sign supports, the grain elevator styled bulge of the auditorium – all gone.  In their place, more of the same bland minimalism that passes for elegance on Oak Street.

Esquire Theater

Esquire Theater

Considering the incredible elegance of the original interiors, it’s ironic that the owners chose to gut the building to accommodate top-tier retailers today. Those interiors were lost in a 1989 remodeling, but imagine recreating that space as a boutique mini-mall. That would be some high-end shopping!

Esquire Theater

Also lost in the remodeling: a couple of Victorian houses with Gothic detailing; they were demolished and replaced with a three-story building whose storefronts match the dullness surrounding them.

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Two little theaters

Two of Chicago’s earliest surviving movie theaters – the Park Manor Theater and the New Devon Theater – were built in a similar material palette, a common scheme of white glazed brick with dark green glazed brick trim. It’s an often-seen style from the years just before World War I. I will cover it more expansively in a later post; however, in the process of researching these two, I came across so much info that it seemed fair to give them their own separate writeup.

Both were relatively small houses, running what the Tribune referred to as “photo plays”. They were built at the declining end of the nickelodeon era, when features were short, admission was five cents, and “talkies” were still over a decade away. These smaller theaters often could not compete against the much larger movie palaces which began appearing only a few years later, though some stayed in business into the 1950s or later.

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In Rogers Park, the short-lived New Devon Theater, 1618 W. Devon Avenue, was built in 1912 (previously covered in this post.) Among its earliest listings were the photoplay The Diamond from the Sky, a drama hyped with a full-page ad in the Tribune. The New Devon only lasted a few years as a theater, and housed a series of businesses in the following decades. The first was a Ford auto dealership in the 1920s, the Hughey Motor Company.

The former theater included a residence during the Depression (one tenant died in 1940; another was busted in 1948 for operating gambling equipment in Northbrook), and served as a meeting hall for the 50th Ward Republican Party (where a 1939 speaker histrionically declared that the “New Deal-communist alignment [has] made the Democratic party the party of dept, depression, disorder, and destruction. For many years the democrats have been destroying the country.”)

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In 1941 it housed the Rogers Park chapter of America First, an anti-war group which had trouble finding lodgings in the area due to landlords’ fear of being seen as pro-peace while war raged in Europe. The group had been summarily kicked out of another meeting space after only a few weeks of occupancy, no reasons given.

By 1952, it appears to have been home to Devon-Clark Radio, which changed to Devon-Clark Television by 1954, an electronics store selling Westinghouse electronics, air conditioners (“Sleep in an ice cube on hot muggy nights”, only $2.66 a week!) and other goods – though some ads list the address as 1612 Devon, a different building entirely. Want to give them a call to check? The number is Ambassador 2-3081.

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The former New Devon Theatre has been the Assyrian American Association since 1963. The one-time competitor that put it out of business, the Ellantee Theater, is visible just down the street and today houses Clark-Devon Hardware.


On the south side, the old Park Manor Theater, 321 E. 69th Street, opened in early 1914 and lasted till 1950 as a theater.
321 E. 69th Street
Its early screenings in 1914 included serials such as The Adventures of Kathlyn (also showing at the New Devon). A Tribune listing notes the theater among contributors to relief funds in the wake of the Eastland disaster on the Chicago River in 1915; the theater commonly ran the Selig-Tribune newsreel (“The World’s Greatest News-Film”, according to their ads; again, also showing at the New Devon). A 1970 column and response letter sees old residents of the neighborhood reminiscing about their childhoods, with the Park Manor’s nickel-a-show serials and Punch and Judy shows figuring prominently.

In 1937, it was involved in a discrimination suit for refusing to sell tickets to a black couple. In November 1950, the theater was listed for sale and described thus:

378 seats, fully equipped, including $800 popcorn machine; lobby and front need painting, a few seats need repair, otherwise in first class condition. Oil heat, washed air heating and cooling system, double Western Electric sound, new projector head, new strong low intensity arc lamps, rectifiers and Martin converter, new screen…rent $150 per month…a real opportunity for the right party.

Alas, the $800 popcorn machine would not see service here again; the building was home to the Philadelpha Church by 1961, followed by the Grace Eden Church – both African-American congregations, ironically (or perhaps fittingly) enough. At some point during this era, it gained a low-budget but funky Midcentury colored window across its entrance.

In 1961 it served as a back-up site for a “mixed revival” – a racially integrated prayer rally – which was disrupted by mob violence and broken up by police at its original location at the Ogden Theater, ostensibly on grounds of the building being unsafe. Threatened by demolition in 1967, it nonetheless has survived to the present, currently housing the First Born General Assembly Church.

Streamline Theaters

Today we visit four vintage theaters from the golden era of theater design, all of them beautifully restored in recent years.

Skokie Theater

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Our first stop is the humble little Skokie Theater, on Niles Center Road in downtown Skokie. The Art Moderne facade is a later addition to a circa-1916 building. After many years as a movie theater of varied genres, today this little gem serves as a small-scale (140 seats) concert venue.

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Of particular interest, the facade shares elements with both the styles I posted last week – the low-budget commercial Deco/Streamline storefronts, and the paneled WW2 storefronts.

  • Skokie Theater web site
  • Skokie Theater at Cinema Treasures
  • Wilmette Theater

    Also on the north shore, this little theater is the most humble of the bunch. Its main interest is that it shares the same porcelain enameled panels as most of the 1940s storefronts from last week.

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    The Wilmette Theater is part of the Metropolitan Block, a World War I-era building that got a partial face lift during the Depression.

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    Lake Theater

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    A fully-illuminated theater is something that should be seen by both day and night. Sadly, I haven’t made it out to Oak Park in the daylight since finding this remarkable Deco waterfall.

    The Lake Theater (on Lake Street, natch) dates from 1936 (architect Thomas W. Lamb). The spectacular marquee remains fully illuminated, as does the vertical theater name sign, which lights up letter by letter, top to bottom, before blinking off again. Inside, the theater has more recently become home to salvaged artifacts from other Chicago theaters that no longer stand.

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  • Lake Theater at Cinema Treasures
  • Official history at Classic Cinemas
  • York Theater

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    The York Theater (York Road, Elmhurst) looks sharp by day… but it’s at night that this facade truly comes alive.

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    Curved neon follows the sensuous lines of the facade, uniting the building and its marquee into a single entity. The structure was only 14 years old in 1938, when architect Roy B. Blass replaced its Spanish-influenced facade with a new, ultra-up-to-date facade in the Art Moderne style.

    Like the Lake Theater, the York is owned by the Classic Cinemas company, who have taken superb care of both places and runs on a business model of celebrating historic theater design. Also like the Lake, the York has survived into the present as a viable first-run theater by gobbling up adjacent retail space for conversion to additional theater screens. Combined with the triplexing of the original auditorium, this has brought the York up to a total of nine screens.

    If you visit the York and your timing is right, you can also visit the offices of the Theatre Historical Society of America – they’re located in an upstairs office right next to the theater.

  • Official history at Classic Cinemas
  • York Theater at Cinema Treasures
  • Howard Street

    Howard Street marks most of Chicago’s northern-most limit, though the city line jumps a few blocks northward from Clark Street to the lake. Walking down Howard, though, you wouldn’t suspect you were on the farthest hinterland of the great metropolis. Howard is fully qualified to be the main street of an entire town, with grand commercial buildings, a magnificent theater, and highrises both old and new.

    Howard Street

    The catch, of course, is that Howard marks the end of Chicago in technical terms only. To the north lies the great suburban town of Evanston, only the first of many suburban outliers that stretch nearly to the Wisconsin border. In that sense, Howard is not very far from the center, and its compelling architecture merely reflects that fact.

    Howard Street

    Howard also benefits from its status as a transportation hub. The Red Line, one of CTA’s busiest rail lines, terminates there, handing things off to the suburban Purple and Yellow lines. Numerous bus lines arrive here as well.

    Howard Street Red Line entrance

    Howard has a reputation as a not-so-nice place in general, a reputation which tends to spill over to the rest of Rogers Park. It’s a bit inexplicable, given its location. Well-served by rail and bus, sandwiched between tony Evanston and the inevitable northward march of gentrification, only minutes away from the lake, it is only a matter of time before real estate here goes through the roof. When it happens, the architecture will be waiting.

    Howard Street

    Howard Street

    The Paulina Building is just one of many ornate highlights along the strip. Another is the Werner Brothers Fireproof Warehouse, a brick box with a fancy front.

    Werner Brothers Fireproof Storage building

    Werner Brothers Fireproof Storage building

    Werner Brothers Fireproof Storage building

    The high point is the Howard Theater Building (Henry L. Newhouse, who also did the south side’s similarly-styled Atlantic Theater.) Like so many other Chicago neighborhood theaters, it was built in 1917, in the rush of post-World War I escapism. The auditorium was razed in 1999, but the lobby and commercial portion remain, converted to condominiums, and still spectacular.

    Howard Theatre

    Clad in shimmering silk

    Howard Theatre detail

    Heading east, there’s a short gap for a public park, followed by another jewel, a massive 1925 apartment building named the Broadmoor. The entrance and the corner shield ornament are both extravagantly luscious.

    Howard Street

    The Broadmoor

    The Howard Street commercial district comes to its eastern end not with a bang or a whimper, but with a delightful profusion of 2- and 3-story flatiron buildings, a reaction to the acute angles cut by Rogers Avenue as it slices through the orthogonal grid.

    Howard and Rogers

    Flatiron

    Like S. Michigan, the district is a sampler of architectural styles and trends, yet totally different in its atmosphere. Its prospects are likewise different; a huge condominium building recently went up, testifying to this area’s rising future. The problems will pass away in time; residents may well struggle with the rising costs. But the beauty of the architecture will remain.

    Music Box Theatre II

    I found a moment to stop in to the Music Box Theatre this weekend; the staff graciously allowed me to snap some photos between shows.

    The lobby

    The main lobby presages what you’ll find within; its upper ceiling is dimly illuminated as if it were the sky at dusk.

    Inner lobby

    Past the doors is an inner lobby or lounge, tucked under the balcony. It’s a cozy space, with a low ceiling and a few chairs where you can wait for your party. The lighting continues to dim.

    On entering the theater, one’s eyes struggle to adjust to the near total darkness.

    The mood

    The submersion into another world is now complete, particularly if the organ is being played. Slowly, details become visible in the darkness, and you realize what’s around you.

    Almost sinister

    It takes a camera flash to show the profuse ornament of the place, so now I’ll break the mood and share a few details from the main auditorium:

    Sidewall ornament

    Sidewall ornament

    The organ

    The darkened lighting allows the theater to pull a few fast ones. Microphones and wiring sit randomly around the stage, invisible to the audience. Some spots on the walls need paint or plaster repairs, but hey, who’s gonna notice?

    The theater is a lovely experience from start to finish, and I highly recommend catching a movie or three there.

    The Music Box Theatre

    Music Box Theater

    We recently caught The Animation Show here at the Music Box Theatre, on Southport Avenue in western Wrigleyville. We had no idea what a treat we were in for.

    The Music Box is an old-time atmospheric theater, opened in 1929. Atmospherics had a flat auditorium ceiling painted to resemble the sky, which worked in conjunction with the decoration on the walls to create the illusion of being outside. In the Music Box’s case, it’s a cloudless evening sky, with tiny pinprick holes lit up to resemble stars (the lights even blink and dim to simulate twinkling.) The auditorium is designed to resemble an Italian palazzo. With the house lights dimmed, the illusion is surprisingly effective.

    As if that wasn’t enough of a treat, we entered to find that the house organ was playing at full tilt by a very talented organist. The man played for a good ten minutes while we waited for the show to finish; he wrapped up with a flourish to whole-hearted applause from the audience.

    The theater is of modest size for its time, seating “only” 800. Unlike many surviving theaters from the period, the main auditorium has never been subdivided into multiple screens; instead a storefront was annexed to create a small second second theater, also in the atmospheric style. The two screens show a wide array of independent, cult and foreign films.

    Music Box Theater

    The The Music Box Theatre website features original architectural drawings and some colorful history of the building and its staff.

    See also: The Music Box at Cinema Treasures.