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Morning Shift

What's That Building? The Lightning Round

For our latest installment of What’s That Building, Morning Shift contributor and Crain’s Chicago Business real estate reporter Dennis Rodkin answers a few questions from WBEZ listeners. Special thanks to our friends at Curious City for sharing some of their building-related questions.

Screenshot via Google Maps
2434 N. Greenview in Lincoln Park

An anonymous listener pointed out this castle-like structure that sticks out among Lincoln Park’s conventional homes. Located on the corner of Greenview Avenue and Montana Street, it looks like it was made out of red-granite Legos. But the most eye-catching features are the windows--virtually every window opening is filled with glass brick and covered with wrought iron. The doorways are tightly secured as well.

For at least 15 years, 2434 N. Greenview has been owned by Dr. Robert Goldman, co-founder and chairman of the American Academy of Anti-Aging Medicine. The 12,000-square-foot building serves as an office for the A4M and may also be Goldman’s part-time home, though WBEZ was unable to confirm this. (He has not responded to calls.)

A4M is not a place to learn how to beat aging, but rather a controversial association of physicians who study the field. They've been criticized for non-scientific methods, and for stigmatizing aging as a horrible disease that should be avoided. 

The 56-year-old Goldman is a fascinating character. He's written and co-written dozens of books with titles like Stopping the Clock and Fight Aging! He's also a co-founder of the International Sports Hall of Fame, which presents an annual induction celebration co-hosted by Goldman and Arnold Schwarzenegger.

He's also a world record holder for one-arm pushups and handstand pushups, feats he accomplished in the early 1980s, while in his 20s. He once did 321 consecutive one-arm pushups. At another time, he did 13,500 situps.

Screenshot via Google Maps
1663 S. Blue Island in Pilsen

Listener Carol tweeted me this: "What is this building: NE corner of 18th and Blue Island (best viewed from McDonald's). Lots of blue and gold enamel."

This four-story red brick and limestone building constructed in 1892 is by far the oldest building on the block, though at one time it probably had contemporaries. Now, its neighbors are mostly industrial and retail structures from the 1920s through the 1990s, when the McDonald's was built.

It looks like many other buildings of its vintage, but this one stands out because of its painted facade – vivid blue and gold, with mermaids, nymphs, and a snake-headed gorgon.

It's an apartment building, owned by Giuseppe Burlando, an artist born in Rome. Since the late 1990s, he and his wife, Kristin Walker, have renovated other Pilsen apartment buildings in similarly fanciful ways, although I haven't determined exactly how many. 

Screenshot via Google Maps
Workers cottages around 13th Street & Western near Illinois Medical District

A listener named Virginia submitted this question: “What's the story of the workers cottages around 13th & Western? There's a little neighborhood there that must be a remnant of another time.”

Yes, Virginia, that’s exactly what it is: a remnant of a different era. In the 1880s, Chicago was growing explosively, with scores of new industrial jobs in the meatpacking, rail and farm-tool manufacturing industries. New immigrants arrived looking for those jobs – and for housing. 

Located in the 1300 South blocks of Claremont and Heath Avenues, these “Queen Anne” cottages were built between 1886 and 1889 by a real estate development firm, Turner & Bond, which built houses by the dozens in Chicago in the 1870s through the 1890s. Like many of the workers cottages we still see all over the city—often with a simpler look – these were built as starter homes for workers and their families. 

Some were as small as 600 square feet--and their lots were extra-small. Heath Avenue runs between Oakley and Claremont, where an alley would typically have been placed in other neighborhoods. In other words, there were three blocks of homes squeezed into what elsewhere would have been two blocks.

The best information I can find suggests that the families who would have lived here originally were likely to have been rail workers, because of the intersection of at least five rail lines in the yards to the south. 

Screenshot via Google Maps
Clark-Devon Hardware, 6401 N. Clark St. in Rogers Park

Jasmyn submitted this question: “What did the building that currently houses Clark-Devon Hardware used to be?”

One look at the grand brick and terra cotta building on the northeast corner of Clark and Devon, and you know it can't possibly have started life as a hardware store. It's clear something fancier was intended than a place to pick up some new drill bits. 

All that finery was there to elevate the moviegoing experience. 

The Ellantee Theater opened in 1919 with its entrance on 1554 W. Devon. The 1200-seat venue was owned by Lubliner & Trinz, a former florist business that started opening vaudeville and stage theaters all over Chicago in the early 20th century started. They all bore their initials, L and T. 

The company’s empire grew to 26 locations, including some we still know of as theaters today: the Congress, the Biograph, and the Davis. (Another property, the former Belmont Theater, was redeveloped into residential lofts.) 

In 1920, the first year of Prohibition, a janitor at the Ellantee was arrested for making moonshine in the basement. 

Later, under different ownership, the theater became the Ridge Theater, and finally closed in 1952. It's housed Clark-Devon Hardware since the 1980s. That business started in 1924 and is still owned by the same family, the Walchaks

It's not the only Chicago hardware store with a theatrical past. Thirteen miles south, at 315 E. 35th Street, is Meyers Ace Hardware. Built as a garage, the building in 1921 was turned into the Sunset Cafe, a jazz club where greats like Louis Armstrong and Ella Fitzgerald performed. Count Basie, Dizzy Gillespie, Charlie Parker, Benny Goodman, and many others performed at the club, which later was renamed the Grand Terrace Cafe. 

It was a political office for a while, and since the 1960s has been a hardware store. Everything about it looks like an old-school hardware store, unless you get to go into the owner's office at the rear of the store. The office is on what was the stage, not a grand stage, just a raised boxy space. But the murals are still there on the walls of the stage, depicting a drummer in a loincloth and other musicians. 

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