Thursday, June 10, 2010

Monkey! Monkey! Monkey!

A long while back I wrote briefly about the strange Midcentury 3-flats on Kominsky at 55th Street, with their low-relief sculpture panels in place of the usual glass block over the stairwells.

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I was already aware of another set of sculpture plaques just around the corner, a trio of charmingly chintzy "See No Evil" monkeys at 5516 S. Pulaski.

MidCentury See, MidCentury Do

Speak No Evil


Then I found a third set of plaques, this time on three breezeway apartment buildings on Division near Concordia University:

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The name plate above the "Hear No Evil" monkey (7213 W. Division) reads "The Alexandrian", as if someone thought they could convince students they were moving into a Colonial-era Grecian mansion.

This batch definitively ties the first two together, sharing the common background elements of a rising sun and a strange "cobblestone" pattern. The Concordia University set also led me to the story behind the monkey sculptures. And the story is... there is no story.

An article from the Chicago Tribune, dated June 24, 1956, is titled "No Reason, But Monkeys Adorn Dwelling Units". General contractor Angelo Esposito explains that the sculptures were added to the Division Street apartments for no other reason than to generate buzz about the company's latest buildings, and likewise for sculptures added to previous developments. No mention is made of who did the actual designs.

Esposito and Company, Contractors, were headquartered at 1515 N. Harlem Avenue, and got their anonymous sculptor's work on at least one more building, a large breezeway apartment at 1305 N. Harlem Avenue, just south of North Ave:

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Harlem Avenue, I think.  In Oak Park.

It may look like a duplicate of the flute player on Komenski, but it's actually a completely new rendering of the exact same pose. Likewise, the Concordia monkeys are completely new sculpts of the same idea used on the Pulaski building.


Other likely Esposito buildings feature geometric abstractions. One can trace a path of repeated design elements from the fourth member of the Komenski/55th group...

5500 S. Komensky Avenue


...to this 55th Street area 3-flat...

Somewhere southish

...to another 3-flat around 95th Street.

Somewhere around 95th Street



Past that, it gets more and more dodgy. Did they do "The Treehouse", an apartment at 8101 S. Maryland Ave.? The sculpture and the building do fit the style; notice those gray stone stripes.

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How about this 6-flat at 7322 N. Harlem in Niles? Could be, but the connection's more tenuous.

Niles


Angelo Esposito's company did not come to a happy end. In 1960 a bankruptcy suit was filed against the builder, and over a dozen buildings in states of partial completion were put in the trusteeship of the court and sold off, including "two 4 story apartments in the 900 block of Pleasant avenue; a completed one storey office building at 6807-09-11 North av.; a partially finished residence at 1115 N. Harlem av.; a completed two story apartment house at 1111 N. Harlem av.; and a completed one story commercial building at 6817 North av." Others included 7026 North Avenue, 1915 Robincrest Lane in Glenview, unnamed properties in Niles, and a partially constructed "mansion" at 936 Ashland Avenue in River Forest, a "stately shell" of a house that quickly became a reputed neighborhood nuisance in its unsecured condition (city inspectors found no particularly egregious conditions at the house.)

6 comments:

adgorn said...

Most people just pass these kinds of things by without giving a second thought. It is great that you have taken the time to document these interesting artifacts. I'll make a point to visit some of these locations. Thanks.

HIM said...

I actually live a few blocks from the see no evil monkeys on Pulaski. I often wondered about them, I think I may follow your lead and put in some nice blogs like this here, thank you for this.

Peebles said...

I used to live in the 3 monkeys building in River forest back in 1997. I always loved the monkeys and referred to the building as See No Evil.
It did not have "The Alexandrian" plaque then, so it must be fairly new.
I love your site and it is awesome that I intimately know one of the many great places you have captured. Thanks, also, as always, with all the crazy info you pull up and history of contractors, bankruptcies, etc.
I look forward to continuing to love your site, keep it up!!!!
thanks,
Matt Peebles

Terry Murray said...

When I was in Chicago in July 2010, I saw the flute player on Harlem and wondered about it. (I've written a book about architectural sculpture in Toronto, and I look for it wherever I go.) Thanks for this information.

Carmen said...

Hi,
I am a producer at WTTW Channel 11. We just received a question for our Ask Geoffrey segment on Chicago Tonight specifically about the monkey reliefs. I would love to talk to you more about your research. Please contact me at cschmidt@wttw.com. Thanks!

JadeB said...

I used to live in this neighborhood and would always look for the building with the See No Evil monkeys on car trips with my family. It's good to know the building is still there!