The City of Evanston has a significant number of three- and four-story apartment buildings that wrap around courtyards. They are popularly called “court buildings,” and are located all over the City. They vary from the gracious to the outright exploitive.

To illustrate the contrast: As one enters Evanston from the south, just past Calvary Cemetery, the first building on the left has a courtyard of gracious proportions and a handsome gate. Immediately following, however, upon turning north on Sheridan Road, is a series of court buildings on the left; the yards are extremely narrow and compacted.

What makes the big difference is the width of the court, the distance between windows facing each other. Simplistically, the width should be a minimum of two-thirds of the court depth on a three-story building; more, if taller.

The court can be given identity by separation from the street with a visible barrier, a fence and symbolic gate posts. The court can be further distinguished by rich landscaping, lighting, a fountain, sculpture or benches.

In addition, a few steps up or down – a change in level from the sidewalk – can also help create a sense of privacy. A good example of few steps down combined with  a tasteful gateway can be found at 1509-1515 Hinman.

The same sense of separation can be achieved when the courtyard is raised a few steps above the sidewalk in order to define the private domain. At 1600-1609 Hinman a generous courtyard has recently been rebuilt, stepping up gently with brick retaining walls.

A building that not only has a gatepost but an operating gate as well – a unique combination in Evanston – is at 1318-1320  Chicago Ave. It is too bad that this very handsome red-brick building was built all the way to the northern property line, risking the eventuality of being blocked by a new structure.

One of the most beautiful courtyard buildings – neither with raised or depressed courtyard, nor with a fence or gateposts – is at 2455-2501 Prairie, a charmingly designed building from 1929 with lush landscaping unfortunately so overgrown it is hard to decipher the architecture. Still, it is worth a trip.

It is easy to find and visit court buildings in Evanston because there are so many. A short article cannot  possibly cover them all. If you find some good ones, please, let me know at jgmacsai@uic.edu.