Monday, August 13, 2012

A Chicago Sojourn has moved!

Just a quick reminder, for anyone who missed it: A Chicago Sojourn is now located at WordPress. The new site is here:

If you haven't come to the new location, you've got several months of posts to catch up on. Come on over and dig in!

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

A Chicago Sojourn is moving!

Another one of those meta posts, but an important one.

Blogger has instituted a new format for their post management system, or dashboard. And, to be blunt, I really hate it. It is awful. It makes writing posts far more difficult and aggravating than it used to be, and it actually damages the page layout in ways I am unable to repair. The unilateral way that this defective and under-tested system was rolled out, to me, speaks volumes about Blogger's attitude toward its user base, and indicates that future changes will be equally irresponsible and ill-considered. So I am doing what many people have suggested over the years, and moving to WordPress.

The new address for A Chicago Sojourn is:

I apologize to my readers for this. I know how annoying it is to have to reset URLs and bookmarks and RSS feeds. But Blogger has gone off the deep end, sacrificing usability for no apparent reason, except newness for newness's sake. On a technical level, I simply can't continue working with it.

The new site has all the old posts, all the comments, everything. And it's already got a month's worth of Monday morning posts ready to roll out. I'll see you there!

Monday, April 23, 2012

Church Conversions

What happens to a church when the congregation moves on? There are four basic answers: demolition, abandonment (which often leads to demolition), reuse (by a new congregation), or adaptation.

Adaptation is rare. Church sanctuaries are specially suited to their particular purposes: the frequent meeting of a large group of people witnessing a singular recurring event. Functionally speaking, the only similar purposes in modern society are movies and plays, and the world only needs so many playhouses. Most adaptations require some radical alterations to the space.

Nobody likes to see the grand space of a church sanctuary obliterated, but if the alternative is the complete loss of the building, it seems like a palatable trade-off. And, surprisingly enough, it is a compromise that's been made quite a few times in Chicago.


3516 N. Sheffield, in Wrigleyville, is one of the more extreme examples. Here, almost the entire existing building was hacked away, leaving only the front facade and a low portion of the side walls. Out of this fragment grows an entirely new condominium-style building. Even the front window was removed, covered up with a new bay window projection.


This was originally the Lake View Swedish Church (later the Lake View Evangelical Free Church), a congregation begun in 1887. Faced with the relocation of its members to the suburbs, the church moved out in 1954 to a new building at Touhy and Melvina in the northwest suburbs, becoming the Edgebrook Evangelical Free Church.

The old building on Sheffield was occupied by the Church of Christ, Presbyterian, a Japanese congregation formed during World War II to serve relocated Japanese residents; it held services in both English and Japanese to meet the needs of first and second generation Japanese-Americans. This congregation in 1998 moved out west to the Albany Park neighborhood, near Kimball & Peterson; the old building was converted to residential use by a developer who hoped that preserving the old structure to some extent would give him a better shot at a zoning variance. 1 The most ingenious use of the old structure is here, where a former sanctuary window opening now admits light and air to an enclosed porch.



A similarly radical reconstruction happened to 916 N. Western Avenue, an 1888 church building previously home to Our Lady of Good Counsel Catholic Church, a Bohemian and Slovak church that closed in 1989 due to a dwindling congregation and rising debts.2 3 The conversion removed the roof and interior, and includes new balconies on the front facade.


But not all church conversions are so destructive. This 1893 church at 2558 W. Cortez retains its original form and still has the sanctuary space largely intact4 Of course, it's easier to keep such a space intact when it's being changed to a single family home.


This was originally the Evangelical Bethany Lutheran Church, built in 1893 in what is now Ukraine Village. Around 1925 the congregation relocated west (to a building that still stands at Wabansia and Narragansett, near Oak Park); the Good Shepherd Polish National Catholic Church congregation - Kościół Dobrego Pasterza - moved in, presumably in 1929, based on the cornerstone. It's not clear when the congregation moved out, but today this modest little church has been converted to a not-so-modest home, which sold for $600K in 2010. No word on what the adjacent rectory house is now used for.


A series of conversions in Lakeview near Belmont best illustrate the common church conversion, in which new floors are constructed within the existing building envelope.

The former Elim Swedish Methodist Church, 1021 W. Barry at Kenmore, was built in 1898, with the cornerstone laid in September of that year. Swedish-language services were discontinued in 1942, when the Swedish conferences were merged nationwide with English-only ones. The building was converted to condos in 1983.


Upper floor units in this conversion retain some of the rafters and eaves of the original sanctuary. 7 A ground-level garage has been added as well.

Trinity Swedish Evangelical Lutheran Church - 3101 N. Seminary at Barry - is an 1896 building, constructed to house a congregation founded in 1883. The church's second pastor, who served from 1901 well into the 1920s, gained some notoriety for his remarkable resemblance to President Hoover. Trinity Swedish Lutheran was followed by the Church of the Valley Assemblies of God - per the sign which remains attached to the building!


3055/3057 N. Clifton at Barry is a deep mystery - I can find only 1931 and 1937 references to it as Lake View Baptist Church.



Church conversions do not have to be pedantic or mundane. Witness the former First German Baptist Church (Ersten Deutsche Baptisten Kirche), 1658 Superior at Paulina, now the "Sanctuary on Superior". This handsome converted church, dating from 1888, still retains a portion of its stained glass5 6, making for some truly spectacular residential spaces.7



Monday, April 16, 2012

Church of St. Luke

Inner city Chicago is not the best place to hunt for grand Mid-Century architectural statements. Nonetheless, at 1500 W. Belmont, just east of Ashland, you'll find one of the region's most fantastic post-war churches.


Ground was broken for the Evangelical Lutheran Church of St. Luke in April 1959 after two years of planning, and the building - designed by Chicago architect Charles A. Stahl - was dedicated in October 1960.

The St. Luke campus has a complicated history. The congregation has met at this location since its founding in 1884, originally in a fairly stock brick Gothic building with a central tower. In 1905, a new school building was erected next door. Though the school building retained its original facade when the new sanctuary went up, subsequent additions and alterations have rendered it almost unrecognizable.1.

The 1950s church bears what might be a trace of Frank Lloyd Wright's ubiquitous influence - but St. Luke is indisputably a vertical building - soaring as any Gothic cathedral, tall and narrow within. Long wood laminate beams rise straight up, turning at their top to support the shallow gabled ceiling.


The choir loft is a balcony in the form of a bridge at the rear of the sanctuary, spanning between the walls and supported only on the sides. This enables the back of the sanctuary, behind the balcony, to function as a grand foyer, connected to the main space but somewhat separated from it as well. This foyer space is as tall as the main sanctuary.




A second balcony functions as the children's choir loft; it is a small room on the west side of the sanctuary overlooking the altar.

The Church of St. Luke is wonderfully artful - literally. The congregation holds a substantial art collection - and the sanctuary features both permanent and seasonally rotating elements that complement and enhance the space. Some of the more permanent elements are shown below.







Stained glass

The stained glass is strategically concentrated. A grand burst of rising waves of color emerges from behind the altar at the head of the sanctuary, bringing the space to its dramatic climax.

At the back of the church, facing south onto Belmont, the corners of the building are wrapped by tall, narrow windows with biblical and saintly symbols with two vines making their way sinuously skyward.

Stained glass


I have not found any notes on who designed or installed the stained glass - not even a signature.

An interesting postscript - the preliminary design of the church was much less ambitious, as shown in an illustration from the Chicago Tribune of March 10, 1957:


Between concept and execution, the tower was joined to the sanctuary (and now contains the stairwell leading to the balcony, as well as some dressing and storage rooms for the choir). The overall design became more sharply vertical, the materials of the shield wall in front changed from flat panels to rough-faced stone masonry, and the large text was dropped.


Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Green on White

In the years leading up to World War I, a popular facade style for small commercial buildings consisted of white glazed brick with dark green brick for accents and ornament. Examples can be seen all over Chicago.

Damen Avenue

near Irving Park Road
Elston Avenue

Little Village 26th Street
26th Street

Milwaukee Avenue
Milwaukee Avenue

Archer Avenue
Archer Avenue

I am familiar with one or two cultural trends that would have made the style appealing. The notion of hygiene was on the rise, and glossy white brick - sometimes referred to as baker's brick - was the perfect reflection. Easily cleaned, naturally pure and pristine, glazed white brick would have had great appeal to a populace looking for ways to elevate the filthy, smoke-ridden city.


Western Avenue

Why the olive green accent, though? While it certainly is a beautiful color scheme - the olive green comes in a variety of tones that make each brick unique - there are a half dozen other tones like blue, maroon, and caramel which would harmonize equally well with white glazed. Yet green is almost exclusively used as the accent color.

I have found one or two examples in St. Louis, too, but it seems to be more of a Chicago thing.

I have yet to locate the magical research key which will let me unlock this mystery; I have no info on any of these buildings, and little special knowledge of Chicagoland brickmaking. If any knowledgeable reader can suggest further leads to trace, I would welcome it.

Clark Street Andersonville

S. Michigan Ave
S. Michigan Avenue

The co-monarchs of the style are two twin buildings at Fullerton and Clark, facing one another diagonally across the busy intersection. They are both tricked out with lush terra cotta ornament, catalog blocks applied as a cornice.

Clark Street at Fullerton

Clark Street at Fullerton

Clark Street at Fullerton

Clark Street at Fullerton

If the Clark Street pair are the kings, then the prime minister must be this block-long assembly on Western Avenue, where seven out of a group of eight buildings feature the green-on-white brick pattern.

Western avenue

Even with this plethora of addresses, my searches turned up nothing besides occasional random factoids about the doings of this or that tenant over the years - not even a builder's name.

Western Avenue

Monday, April 9, 2012

Mexican Grocery Store signs

They come in a rainbow of colors (mostly neon, entirely bright), and you can find them all across the city, from Pilsen and Little Village to Logan Square to Rogers Park.

Pulaski grocer
Near West Side


Little Village
Rogers Park

Chicago has tons of Mexican grocers - there are three within a block of my residence alone - and a disproportionate number of them advertise with signs just like these.


The style is universal: wavy lines top and bottom, in bright neon colors. Huge blocky numbers for the price, in red. Smaller font for the letters, but still in a bouncy, informal, chipper mood.



Like the builder's Mid-Century style, it's one of those cases of curious convergence. A quick chat with our local grocer reveals that they get them from varying places, sometimes making them themselves, and sometimes hiring guys to do it. I've seen the stamps of at least two different sign makers on these posters, though most of them remain anonymous.


Why are they all the same style? Is it demanded, expected, or simply unexamined? Does it relate to some deep cultural strain, or is it just a thing that is?