In 1972, my family moved to Evanston from Chicago. One thing I knew about Evanston was that if I needed a new car, I could shop at any of the many car dealerships along Chicago Avenue, with their colorful flags inviting us to visit and buy. Our longtime first home of 30 years was just off Chicago Avenue, on Judson. I can still close my eyes and see the street as it was, and as it remained, for so many years.
Now I walk along Chicago Avenue and see all the recently built housing. When I severely criticized the red brick condominium on the northeast corner of Chicago and Main in my first article in November 2001, little did I know that building would be the first of many eyesores.
Two of the new buildings are not so bad. The street façade of 809-811 Chicago Ave. is well-organized and pleasant. The beige brick condo on the northwest corner of Chicago and Main would have been acceptable had it carried through with colorful window frames and high-quality metal grills instead of junk that fails to hide the mess it was designed to cover up. It would also have helped had the City not been misled by the developer about planting that does not exist.
Even the tasteless color combination of masonry at 817 Chicago Ave. and the criminally narrow sidewalk of the complex north of the Jewel have become so familiar that we tend to overlook their poor design. We grow accustomed to what becomes part of our cityscape, no matter how bad it is; this has been true, too, of the banal, immensely dense townhouses at Chicago and South Boulevard.
Main Street Station, under construction at the southeast corner of Chicago and Main, does not hold great promise either. The beige and white masonry with blue accents does not mask the disorganized elevations and the lack of setbacks. It will be interesting to see if the promise of second-floor greenery will be upheld.
None of these disappointments comes close to that of the building at the northeast corner of Chicago Avenue and Kedzie Street, an irrational design that mixes ideas, materials, and architectural expressions. The first floor of the building on Chicago and halfway across the building on Kedzie is a glass storefront. Where the storefront ends on Kedzie is the garage — two stories of brick with narrow vertical glass slots.
On Chicago Avenue and two-thirds of the way along Kedzie, the rest of the building is in yet a third style: vertical metal siding with punched windows. Above that are three floors of glass curtain wall. The upper floors, on the rest of Kedzie, are projecting brick bays with balconies (these, incidentally, are charming and by far the best part of the building).
The crowning confusion is the top of the building, a recessed, metal-siding penthouse. There is no consistent rhythm or pattern determining window placement in the metal siding. Some windows interrupt the seams, some do not; some line up with the seams, some ignore them. Perhaps, though, no better could have been expected of a building in which the second bedroom of several two-bedroom apartments has no exterior window and only “borrows” light from another room.
This arrangement, born at the time of high-ceiling loft conversions, is problematic for spaces with normal ceiling heights. It is no longer legal under current building code, though it was when the permit for this condominium was issued. Happily, the City Council recently changed this, and all bedrooms now must have natural light and ventilation.
It occurred to me, as I finished my walk along Chicago Avenue, that even those car lots looked better than the visual assault of these poorly designed condominiums.