In Minnesota, a treasure trove of bygone Chicago architecture

June 22, 2011

Look at this 1937 photo of the old Alberti Jewelers located at 1246 N. Milwaukee.  The storefront at the base of an older building has been renovated to convey the swank modernity of a fine jeweler.

The scene is long gone, of course. The shuttered Palm Terrace banquet hall is in this spot now. But the photo captures a great moment in time for eternity. I found this photograph and others on the University of Minnesota's library site. The library holds photo files from the old American Terra Cotta Company, a business once located near Crystal Lake that churned out ornamental building materials from the 1880s until 1966.

American Terra Cotta was undoubtedly proud of their product. The company hired some of the best architectural photographers of the day to document buildings that employed their terra cotta. The University of Minnesota has digitized those photo files, creating an online repository of the firm's work. Among their collection: Photographs showing early skyscrapers, banks, storefronts, park buildings, factories and warehouses.

If you like architecture, the university's files are a spectacular find.

Terra cotta ornament was used extensively in the first three decades of the 20th century to create neo-classical, post-1893 World's Fair, "City Beautiful" detailing. After 1930 or so, the company wanted to show the material being used in a modern context. So, in addition to the Art Moderne storefront above, there is this 1948 photograph of an O'Connor-Goldberg shoe store at 4025 W. Madison. A grid of terra cotta panels is behind the "O-G SHOES" sign. The facade is still there today, almost unchanged, except for the name of the store:

This furniture store once stood near 63rd and Halsted. The 1919 photo shows classical building details rendered in terra cotta:

 

And, oh, look at this: a 1917 photograph of Interstate National Bank, which was located in the far Southeast Side community of Hegewisch. The Sullivanesque design came from the hand of architect Parker Noble Barry, who was Louis Sullivan's chief draftsman. The bank is one of Barry's first--and, sadly, last--commissions. He died of influenza in 1918 at age 30. And his building was demolished in the 1930s.

This 1930s photo of a bus terminal at 20 E. Randolph is evocative of a certain Edward Hopper painting. The building was photographed by Hedrich Blessing and designed by Graham Anderson Probst & White:

The University of Minnesota archives covers nearly 100 cities and spans from 1900 to the 1960s.