Monday, December 5, 2011

Gold Coast International Style: Mid 60s

By the mid-1960s, the hour for Modernism was growing late. High-minded design ideals had largely (ahem) left the building when it came to multi-family residential development - even the city's most expensive and luxurious tower paid little heed to exterior design.

1000 Lake Shore Plaza - Sidney H. Morris & Associates, for Chicago Highrise Corporation, 1963

1000 Lake Shore is a 55-story reinforced concrete building, a tall (590 feet) and slender tower with a low garage box attached to the back, fronting onto Oak Street. The building held 137 apartments, at 2 and 3 apartments per floor.


The garage and the building's spandrels are sheathed in glossy olive green brick that's close to, but not quite a match for, the cladding on the older 1000 Lake Shore Drive building next door, by the same architect and developer.

Left, 1000 Plaza; at right, the older, more textured bricks of 1000 LS Drive.

1000 Lake Shore Plaza, was a big deal in its day. Developed by Harold L. Perlman, the building was widely touted as the tallest reinforced concrete apartment building ever built, as well as Chicago's most expensive and most luxurious residential address. The tower was billed by a book-sized sales brochure that cost some $5 a copy to produce and promised "the right to be pampered with luxuries not available even to Cleopatra".

Ground was broken in January 1964 in a ceremony attended by Mayor Daley. On the building's tall, narrow mechanical penthouse was a transmitter used by the Chicago Educational Television Association's channel WTTW Channel 11, donated rent-free by the building's owners. Drawn by the public generosity, Illinois governor Otto Kerner spoke at the December 28, 1964 topping out ceremony.

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Amenities included a 9-hole putting green on the garage roof, which should immediately make clear who the target demographic was. Other luxuries included a pool, sun decks, and a "fine restaurant", commissary, and valet shop on the premises.

Even more than other Lake Shore towers, 1000 Plaza was hyped by its owners: "the most beautiful and spacious apartment in America", for "sophisticated men of affairs", aimed at "136 of Chicagoland's finest families", "rising majestically to become the tallest apartment building in the world." The apartments were "designed to satisfy every fastidious desire". Rents ran as high as $1,400 a month.


It wasn't all talk, either: square footage ranging from 2000 to 3300 sf, they were quite large. It wasn't all talk, either. 9 foot ceilings were provided throughout, as was central air conditioning. Maid service was available. The Otis elevators were listed as the fastest residential elevators ever built. Exterior windows were double paned with a 2" insulating gap with venetian blinds inside. The water supply to the building was softened, "to assist M'Lady in cooking and laundering, and to improve hair and skin care!"

Left, 1000 Plaza; right, 1000 Lake Shore Drive


One item I haven't been able to figure out is the faux double-height space seen above, on the 8th or 9th floor. It corresponds to the top of the garage and presumably contains access to the rooftop putting green space. The balcony space is doubled in height, but the interior floors seem to continue on as normal.

Sheridan-Hollywood Tower - 5650 Sheridan - Loewenberg & Loewenberg 1960

Clad in textured blue brick, the design ideas of this common apartment tower are hardly distinguishable from those of its high-priced cousin at Michigan & Oak Street. The design is an exposed concrete column structure, with glass and brick infill. The major point of interest is the handsome blue brick itself.


Opened in May 1961 as the 5650 Sheridan Road Apartments, the building featured a rooftop sun deck and solarium, still present today. Studio apartments started at $130 and 4-rooms at $165.



The Statesman - 5601 Sheridan, Milton Schwartz & Associates, 1963
The Statesman
Just around the corner geographically, but a world apart in design terms, is the Statesman building - one of the lakefront's finest buildings, in my opinion. The building's profile is wrapped in continuous horizontal bands, broken up into a zig-zag pattern by the projecting balconies. The balcony rails enhance the horizontal motif with their slender horizontal railings.


The ground floor is an odd departure, with a startling driveway and parking ramp that curves up over a ground floor garage entrance. Shoehorned into the tight space, amid descending columns, is a double height glass lobby. Capping off the semi-private spaces is a large full-wrap balcony that extends itself out to become a sun deck, sheltering additional parking spaces.


Above, the building holds 90 condominums, mostly 1- and 2-bedrooms. It was converted from apartments in 1979.

3470 Lake Shore Drive - Raggi & Schoenbrod Inc., 1966

A few miles south, 3470 LSD provides a contrast to show just how artfully the Statesman was handled. This building likewise uses its balconies to powerful effect in creating horizontal banding on its eastern face - but lets the architectural design completely drop on the equally-visible north and south faces.
A powerful composition is left incomplete.


3740 Lake Shore is a 27-story condominium building, opened in May 1967 with one, two and three-bedroom units ranging from $27,000 to $70,000. Amenities include 30-foot long balconies, a 3-story garage in the building's base, and a pool, sauna and "sky lounge" on the tower's roof. Larger units include sunken living rooms, and the building provided an interior decorator to help residents finish out their new homes.


Like so many other Lake Shore skyscrapers, it rose on the site of a Victorian mansion, this one erected by Robert D. Lay, president of the Chicago Athletic Association. Mr. Lay died in 1940; his house became an apartment building, then was wrecked in 1966.


Monday, November 21, 2011

Gold Coast International Style - Early 50s

There was an all-too-brief period after World War II when Modernism really flourished and flowered in America, from the end of the war into the early 1950s. Unfortunately, it was not a time of significant construction, so buildings from the era are all too rare. Those that were built, however, are often knockouts. Take for example:

3410 N. Lake Shore Drive - Louis R. Solomon & Associates w/ Josef Guivaner, 1950

A stunning and startling composition, easy to miss due to the incongruous white paint scheme it has been saddled with in later years. A bold C-shaped rim of limestone gives the building the appearance of being set within an incomplete picture frame.

3410 north lake shore drive 1951 ad

When new, the building's visual impact was far greater; the tiles between the raised sections of windows on the front facade were black, and the bricks in the recessed areas were red. At some point, both were painted white, greatly diminishing the intended contrasts of horizontal and vertical elements.

3410 north lake shore drive historic 02a
Image from the collection of the University of Michigan, donated by Edward Olencki


3440 Lake Shore was built with 220 rental apartments, ranging from studio units (rents starting at $37.50 per month) to two bedrooms up to $182.50 a month. A second-floor parking garage holds 117 cars.

Architectural Record found the building worthy of notice, publishing a short article in October 1951, and small wonder - this is one of a very few Chicago apartment towers to truly aspire to high Modernism, rather than a localized pastiche.


After holding out for two decades while its neighbors went condo, the building was converted to condominiums in the late 1990s.

3440 Lake Shore Drive Apartments - L.R. Solomon & Associates, 1954
A sibling to its slightly-older neighbor, 3440 directly abuts 3410. Construction began in late 1954 and continued into 1956. Though at a casual glance, one might mistake the two for a single building, 3440 is a far less adventurous building than its neighbor, symmetrical and conventional in its form and massing. It is clad primarily in glass and white brick.

3440 included full air conditioning when built, as well as "Cloric built-in ovens and stainless steel sinks with Formic atops. Magnetic door G-E Refrigerators...Bathrooms by Crane - distinctive colored fixtures accented with matching Ceramic tile. Handsomely mirrored with new Lavinettes." "So advanced it could not have been built before 1955." It was converted to condominiums around 1981.

3180 Lake Shore Drive at Belmont - Shaw, Metz & Dolio, 1953

Begun in 1953, opened by 1955, this building at the corner of Lake Shore and Belmont is the most stridently 50s structure on the lakefront. Geometric details animate its base on all sides, and its color scheme can't be mistaken for any other decade.




3180 N. Lake Shore was converted to condominiums in 1975.

1000 Lake Shore Drive - Sidney H. Morris & Associates, 1953

Begun in April 1953 and opened in mid-1954 after a record-breaking construction pace, 1000 Lake Shore contained 183 apartments when new. 185 cars could park in the garage at the base, which is sheathed in glossy green brick.

The target market was well-to-do, as 6 months' advance rent and a 5-year lease was required to move in. Tenants included the Owings from Skidmore, Owings and Merrill, and a president of Borg-Warner. The building cost $4.5 million to construct.


The building reacts intelligently to its site; the south-facing windows are protected from summer sun by continuous concrete shades, which also poke out to provide sheltering roofs for the balconies.) On the north side, it's solid glass.


1000 N. Lake Shore has, relatively speaking, a good side and a bad side - and the good side is largely covered up by its looming neighbor. The building did not include central air conditioning, "for reasons of cost", resulting in a grid of pockmarking AC units sticking out of the facade.


The original windows and mullions are still in place, and are showing their age. The variety of individual window treatments, the aging frames, and the air conditioner units give the north facade a particularly unkempt look today - though it's nothing a smart rehab couldn't fix.

The building took some heat in its own time, too; it was among those cited by a 1955 Architectural Forum article that criticized "an incredible rash of imitations and vulgarizations" of Mies van der Rohe's 1946 Lake Shore Apartments; 1000 Lake Shore was cited in particular for its balconies being too small.


1000 Lake Shore Drive went up on the site of the McCormick mansion, designed by Solon S. Beman. One of the city's most famous mansions, the McCormick Mansion was a center of high society at the turn of the century and a holdout in Victorian formality until the end. The death of its matron, Mrs. Edith Rockefeller McCormick (brother of John D. Rockefeller Jr.), was page one news in 1932. After being foreclosed and sold at auction, the house became the private Bateman School for a number of years, until owner Metropolitan Life Insurance booted the school out and sold it to a consortium, which demolished the mansion in 1953. Construction on the high rise began immediately.

Numerous articles and letters lament the passing of the old mansions of Lake Shore Drive - but quite a few feature articles also celebrated the new elegance of living in these clean, spacious, airy and modern apartments, which offered spectacular views of the lake and the city, day and night. The Living section in the Tribune featured quite a few of the apartments' interior decorations, and the vividly described colors make one ache for color photographs: "a turquoise sofa is dramatized against a navy wall" in one; in another, "splashes of briliant color, beginning with the floor carpeting of broad off-white and lilac horizontal stripes."

The building also includes a stylized sculpture by California sculptor Bernard Rosenthal, representing the African Gold Coast, unveiled on the day of the building's topping out.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Gold Coast International Style - Twin Towers

Continuing an exploration of the Midcentury Modern apartment towers along Chicago's lakefront.

Lake View Towers - 4550 North Clarendon Avenue - 1970

A scheme used several times along the lakefront involves a pair of similar or identical high-rise towers, with a low-lying lobby connecting them. The lobby often opens onto a drop-off driveway, usually has a doorman or security worker, and typically serves as a point of architectural elaboration. Some contain large-scale artwork.

Hollywood Towers North - 5701 North Sheridan - Solomon, Cordwell and Associates, 1961

This type of planning keeps a lot of open air on the site, allowing tall towers to retain a view, and fits with the Midcentury trend toward "towers in the park" - a fitting scheme so close to the lake. These buildings made spectacular lakefront views available to thousands of families.

3950 N. Lake Shore Drive - Shaw, Metz & Dolio, 1955

Builders John J. Mack and Raymond Sher broke ground in March 1955 for what was then Chicago's largest apartment building, with 23 floors, 662 apartments and a projected cost of $10 million. The building is precisely contemporary with downtown's Prudential, the first tall building to go up downtown since the Depression.

Features included a 400 parking space garage, 10 high speed elevators, and gas range kitchens. Occupancy began in June 1956 and by December the buildings were more than 2/3 filled; it was heavily favored by young families, with rents running from $140 to $235 per month. A 37-person cleaning staff kept the building running, vacuuming corridor carpets daily, constantly cleaning the 6,000 windows, and hauling out two tons of garbage daily.

It's only clearly visible from the air, but the structure is not symmetrical - the southern tower is offset from the other two, pushed slightly east.


Vacant at the time of construction, the land had 20 years prior been home to the mansion of Countess Sarah Victoria Cavicchia.


I must here humbly submit a correction: when I briefly wrote about this building last year, I misread an article about 1550 Lake Shore as being about this building instead. 3950 did not, to the best of my knowledge, have the rooftop dining and party space that 1550 has. Those wonderful curved penthouses look like they're purely for mechanicals, and the tower rooftops don't appear to have any resident access at all.

3600 Lake Shore Drive at Addison - Shaw Metz & Dolio, Architects, 1959
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Twin towers with a vertical emphasis, connected at the base by a common lobby with a landscaped roof. 3600 North Lake Shore is all about rectilinear forms - square tiles, square windows, rectangles of brick outlined by rectangles of stainless steel. Naturally, its two biggest decorative elements are curves - a mesh of steel hoops over the lobby, and the curved front of the porte cochere.



The land was previously home to Issac Miller Hamilton, president of the Federal Life Insurance Company.

Construction on the towers began in April 1959; the buildings opened in June 1960. Its 640 apartments made it the second-largest apartment house in the city. The building, like 3550 just to the south, was a Mack & Sher project. A hair salon named Fred's Coiffures operated in the lobby, along with a small gift shop.


The building's relatively small lake-facing windows apparently generated some controversy and discussion among locals; the smaller windows serve bathrooms, while the larger windows in the center are for the bedrooms. True lake views are intended to be from the south and north facing facades, which are generously glazed. Alfred Shaw explained the decision as a result of his own east-facing windows which required him to draw the blinds every morning.

Apparently geared towards middle-class professionals, the building and its residents made little noise in the headlines during and after its construction.


Shaw Metz & Dolio, the lakefront's most prolific Midcentury architectural firm, formed in 1947 when architect Alfred Shaw withdrew from a previous partnership and allied with structural engineer Carl Metz and electrical & mechanical engineer John Dolio. That same year the firm landed the job of finishing out the interior of the Baha'i House of Worship on the north shore. They firm had a flurry of business in the 1950s as they worked on several large housing projects, downtown buildings, and entered a competition to design St. Peter's Church downtown (their entry did not win.) John Dolio would eventually split off into his own engineering firm, which continued to work with Shaw & Metz.

Much of their work was for developers Mack and Sher, whose portfolio of nearly a dozen major lakefront buildings was run by Lake ShoreManagement Company.



3550 Lake Shore Drive - Loewenberg & Loewenberg, 1961
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Just across Addison Street to the south, another building with the same concept - two massive slab towers conjoined by a low-lying lobby - opened in 1962.


Lake Shore Management Company billed it as a "distinctive twin tower architectural masterpiece...providing fabulous views of lake and city", with studio, one and two bedroom apartments.

3550 Lake Shore Drive

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More on this building's wonderful lobby sculpture here.

Imperial Towers - 4250 N. Marine Drive - L.R. Solomon and J.D. Cordwell & Associates, 1960

Developed by Albert R. Robin, the 29-story Imperial Towers contain 432 apartments per tower. Construction began in 1961; occupancy started in August 1962. It was one of many Chicago projects insured by a section of the national housing act.


The building was marketed as luxury for the budget-conscious, and was intended to attract a mix of older, retired residents and younger families - the owners went so far as to tout a social ambition of giving seniors the choice of "mingling with the younger generations" when and if they chose.

Amenities included an "Olympic" sized rooftop swimming pool over the garage (25 yards, actually, which isn't Olympic sized at all), and several small stores in the lobby including a coffee shop, a beauty salon, Imperial Drug, and the first of several Jewel Pantry stores, high-end groceries in luxury apartment buildings with a large selection of prepared foods, exclusively open to building residents.

The building has a 250 car garage, accessed through a ramp in the courtyard that went right under the lobby. A less-touted feature, detailed in a New York Times article, was that the garage could be "converted into a fall-out shelter" with room for the building's population and hundreds more, equipped with emergency generators, special ventilation, heat, water, light and food. Always reassuring in the Cold War age!

The building converted to condominiums in 1977.


Imperial Towers features a Japanese decorative theme, with what were touted as Japanese gardens in the courtyards as well as on the lobby roof. Like many before them, the developers pulled no punches in describing their building, labeling it "America's most fabulous building" in a 1963 ad.