Architecture tells a West Side story

March 8, 2010


(photo by Lee Bey)

I was cruising through the West Side a few days ago when I stumbled across this five-story commercial building at 4130 W. Madison.

Built in 1929, it is another vacant West Side building. End of story? Not so fast.‚ ‚ Slow down a bit and you'll notice the eight-decade history of the nearby Madison/Pulaski commercial district is etched across the building's weathered face. The empty, gated-up and boarded-up ground level speaks to the economically downcast present day. The mishmash of painted over signage--a beauty school; a furniture store; a who-knows-what-else--above the storefront speaks to preceding decades. There was some activity, but nothing particularly sustaining.

Then the second floor in dark granite once held a dentist's office. The old fashioned, mid-century window lettering is still there, but the business is long gone.‚  But I bet it had been there a while. Above that, a nicely-detailed Gothic inspired facade that is evidence this building--much like the Madison/Pulaski district--had economic might and power.‚  Maybe a fire once swept through the 4th and 5th floor, judging by the seemingly charred window boards. But dig the muscular, bearded terra cotta gnome above the second floor: he's one of 4 holding up the facade's upper three stories:


(photo by Lee Bey)

I like this:


(photo by Lee Bey)


(photo by Lee Bey)

The building is for sale. But if the structure is a kind of bellweather, what does the future hold for it--and the surrounding area? More decline? Demolition? Or a restoration? As I took these photos, a young man from the neighborhood named Andrew came out from one of the storefronts across from the building and watched me take photos.

"I was just sitting in there looking at that building and wondering what is going to happen to it," he said. "Be a shame if they tore down a building like that."

In other news: A shout-out and a "thank you" to Joe Kunkel, Gary and Joan Gand and the good people at Chicago Bauhaus & Beyond who invited me to speak before the group at its annual board meeting at the Chicago Architecture Foundation headquarters yesterday. CB&B, with Rizzoli, has just published a 208-page coffee table book, Julius Shulman: Chicago Mid-Century Modernism . Photographed by Shulman, the great architectural photographer who died last June, the book shines a long-overdue light on the area's modernist residential architecture. Chicago architect (and friend to this blog) Stanley Tigerman, who spent his early career at Keck & Keck, wrote the book's thoughtful postscript.