A building on Broadway in Lake View is undergoing an unusual transition, only part of which pedestrians can see from street level.
The layer of drab exterior material has been removed from 3115 N. Broadway and some handsome, old Art Deco features have emerged.
But behind that rediscovered 1928 façade, there is a far more intriguing transition going on. Built almost a century ago as a six-story parking garage, the building is being turned into a 72-unit apartment building.
John Mengel said his Northfield firm, JSM Venture, bought the six-story parking garage in 2016 with plans to take off everything but the lowest two floors and build new floors of apartments on that platform.
“Nobody wanted to try to take the whole thing down, because this is lot line to lot line, with [neighboring] walls attached,” he said.
The existing structure would only support so much weight, so the new building could not be a lot taller than the existing building. Ultimately, it made more sense to keep the garage and make it apartments.
Most of it, that is.
The back portion of each floor is sloped because of the ramp cars would drive up to get to the next floor. Meanwhile, the front portion is flat, as that was where cars parked. The ramps are staying, and they will allow renters in the building to drive up to the floor they live on, where the flat portion includes both parking spaces and the new apartments.
When it is all done, the building will have 72 apartments and 56 parking spaces, 36 of them available to renters in the building and the rest rented out to monthly parkers.
The structure is an urban version of the “Texas Doughnut,” a building style that conceals multi-story parking garages by wrapping them with usable commercial or residential space. Two uses of it in Chicago suburbs are at the Glen Town Center in Glenview and a Water Street parking garage in Naperville.
The difference is that those were built that way to hide the parking.
This is something that may not have been done anywhere else in Chicago before. Mengel, whose son Charlie is his partner in the firm, has restored other vintage buildings, including an old factory at 2850 N. Pulaski Road and 3636 N. Broadway, the latter of which used to be the home of Curtiss Candy, maker of the Butterfinger and Babe Ruth candy bars and later the Recycled Greetings card company. In both of those, the Mengels’ firm put rental storage facilities.
In this latest rehab, they are adding two floors: a sixth (the old sixth-floor parking was on the roof, hidden from street view by the façade) and an all-new seventh. They also removed the northeast corner of the old parking garage, a portion not seen from the street, to have more flat places for apartments.
They are calling the apartments The Medallion, after the original bronze medallions that appear between one floor’s windows and the next. The monthly rentals for these apartments have not been released yet, the Mengels said.
Built in 1928, a time when Chicago was inundated with cars and trying to come up with places to put them, this building was supposed to be one of three, spanning the entire block from Barry to Briar, according to a September 1928 Tribune article. However, the Great Depression hit and only the one was completed. Described by the Tribune’s Al Chase at the time as a “dormitory for cars,” the 550-car garage was a place where one could drop their car for the night and the uniformed employees there would wash it, check the gas and oil and return the car in the morning ready to roll.
The garage was part of the Ritz chain, which a year later built another of Chicago’s garages at 55th and Lake Park. Now one of Chicago’s favorite old parking garages, the building has a terracotta exterior that depicts cars, dashboards, tires and stop lights from the 1920s.
The same architect designed both that exuberant building and this somewhat more restrained one. The architect, M. Louis Kroman, designed other kinds of buildings — a medical office on South Shore, a retail shop on State Street and an apartment building in Lakeview — but he specialized in designing parking garages.
After the two Ritz garages, Kroman designed a 10-story parking garage in 1938 on Monroe that made it possible to go straight from a parking space into the Carson Pirie & Scott store. In 1940, Kroman designed a six-story parking garage at Wabash and Monroe that was replaced in 1975 by the 49-story Mid Continental Plaza office building.
Dennis Rodkin is the residential real estate reporter for Crain’s Chicago Business and Reset’s “What’s That Building?” contributor. Follow him @Dennis_Rodkin.
Vashon Jordan Jr. is the freelance photojournalist for Reset’s “What’s That Building?” Follow him @vashon_photo.