Thursday, September 30, 2010

Chicago's Midcentury Moderne

Chicago builders, as I've harped on before, would glom on to just about anything in designing their mass produced buildings. The International Style and Art Moderne were no different; they served as inspiration for a series of buildings across Chicagoland in the 1950s and early 1960s. Combined and agglomerated into the already-developing local builder style, these buildings form a mini-style of their own. Call it Chicago Midcentury Moderne.

This set of photos is all single family houses and small multi-family apartments, but there are also larger apartment buildings in a similar style, which I'll cover in another post. The construction dates are all from the Chicago CityNews site, whose accuracy can be on the variable side - but I'm betting they're all in the right ballpark, at least.

6549 W 28th Street, Berwyn - 1952

2820 W. Glenlake, 1950

2854 W. Berwyn, 1956

2926 W. Fitch, West Ridge - 1944?? I'm not sure I buy that.

5776 W Ainslie at N. Menard Avenue - 1956

9301 S. Winchester, Beverly - 1952

It doesn't seem to be a hugely appreciated genre; there's not a word about any of these buildings online. I've previously photographed a small group of similarly-styled houses in the Fairview neighborhood of Skokie.

Monday, September 27, 2010

2 Moderne houses in Wilmette

Below are a couple of Art Moderne houses in Wilmette that I stumbled upon in recent months. They're only a mile or so apart in a quiet neighborhood, surrounded by more traditional houses.

Art Moderne is exactly what the name suggests - part Art Deco, part International Style, with some Streamline thrown in, yet not quite any of them. There's ornament, but it's more about abstract patterns and geometry than anything applied or figurative. Curved walls contrast with blocky massing, and focal points are provided by round windows, art glass, or glass block. The style tended to produce rare but lovely houses like these.

1910 Greenwood Avenue, Wilmette - Andrew Rebori, 1936



1708 Lake Avenue, Wilmette - John Burns House, 1937, Roy Walter Stott



See also - a student report from School of the Art Institute of Chicago, featuring a few additional houses of similar vintage and style in the area.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

St. Joseph Catholic Church, Wilmette


A most imposing edifice, towering over the suburban houses and 2-story commercial buildings around it, stands at Lake and Ridge in western Wilmette. St. Joseph Church is that rarest of beasts, a church constructed during the lean years of the 1930s, a time when even the Catholic church slowed its building program.


St. Joseph is unusually tall and imposing. Its most striking feature is the indented front entrance, which looms like a shallow cave sculpted out of a mountainside.


The building is a mild update of traditional church styling. It's historicist in bent, but the influence of Art Deco is inescapable. It's nothing radical or stylized; the Deco is in the details.


The tower, in particular, is faintly reminiscent of Bertram Goodhue's 1922 capitol building for Nebraska.



Inside, St. Joseph is clean and spare. Applied ornament is almost absent.





Angular Deco details can be seen in the hanging lamps, the wall sconces, and the side aisle arches.

The style of the stained glass windows matches the building itself: leaning toward traditional, with inoffensively faint traces of Modernist influence, such as the geometric patterns bordering this window.


St. Joseph was designed by McCarthy, Smith & Eppig, and dedicated in 1939.


And a coda: Across the street, a beautiful associated school building harmonizes with the church's style, and somehow fails to have the sun on it every single time I pass by.


Monday, September 20, 2010

Chicago's Holy Corner

From the downtown intersection of Clark and Madison, you're within a two minute walk of a Catholic church, a Protestant church, and a Jewish synagogue. And all three are well worth the visit.

First United Methodist Church (The Chicago Temple)

The Chicago Temple is the tallest church building in the world, and the only skyscraper in Chicago with a religious spire. It's a 1922 design by architects Holabird & Roche, in a French Gothic style. When it opened in 1924, it was the city's tallest building.




At ground level, the wood-lined main sanctuary is open for most or all of the day; you can wander in just about any time for a look. (Being downtown, that means there's sometimes a few homeless folks hanging out in the colder months, though the forbidding entrance lobby with its security guard makes it a bit uninviting.)



Those stained glass windows are an illusion - there's no trace of them on the outside of the building, and they remain brightly illuminated day and night.



The stained glass is done in a traditional style, but with some contemporary subject matter, including Jesus blessing the skyline of the city and the highrise itself.


The sanctuary reaches some impressive heights, particularly when you consider the load of an entire skyscraper is carried above it.


But those heights pale compare to those of the Sky Chapel, just below the spire.




Long-planned, the chapel wasn't fitted out until 1952, when a bequest by the widow of the founder of the Walgreens chain made it possible. Despite the changing times, the chapel is fairly conservative in style - though the stained glass continues the theme of bizarre subject matter begun in the sanctuary below.




And once again, just in case you forget where you are...



City Hall's green roof

Chicago Loop Synagogue


This Midcentury confection is slotted neatly into the street wall. Designed by architects Loebl, Schlossman and Benett in 1957, the Loop Synagogue opened its doors in 1958. The building is adorned by a 1969 sculpture entitled "The Hands of Peace" on the outside, by sculptor Henri Azaz, with stylized hands against a background of Hebrew and English letters spelling out a traditional Jewish prayer.


There's a sort of slow, deliberative elegance to this building. You can almost feel the architects pausing contemplatively, stroking their chins in thought perhaps, before finally selecting these wonderful huge wood door paddles.


Beyond those doors lies a simple passageway with offices and other spaces. The main worship space is on the second story.

The beautiful wall of stained glass was designed by American artist Abraham Rattner and installed in 1960. Based on the "let there be light" Torah passage, it depicts an abstract, metaphysical cosmos flecked with ancient Hebrew symbols.



The rest of the space is spare and clean, befitting its Modernist origins.




St. Peter's Church


Wedged between two adjoining buildings, St. Peters Catholic Church gives the impression that it was carved out from a solid rock face. Solid, planar walls contrast startlingly with deeply hewn entrances and window openings, creating one of the best facades in the city. Unlike the contemporaneous Queen of Heaven mausoleum, this 1953 church (architects: Vitzhum and Burns) shows a mix of modern and historical influences.

A three-story high crucafix by Austrian sculptor Arvid Strauss completes this compelling composition.


Like the Chicago Temple, the doors of St. Peter's are always open (again, meaning there's usually a few homeless guys hanging around, along with a smattering of curious tourists and the usual downtown office workers.) The space inside is vast, befitting the epic facade outside. Seemingly every surface is gleaming polished stone.



Deprived of natural light, the designers had to turn to other tricks to give the space a sense of holiness. Illuminated sculpture niches serve in place of stained glass windows, portraying the life of St. Francis of Assisi.


The building's lobby is notable primarily for its wonderfully ornate doors.


If you've walked past this place, take five minutes to duck inside. It's well worth the time.


  • A history of the church from Heavenly City at Google Books.