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After our last column, Paul Ilmer submitted the following question for historians at the Evanston History Center:
I was wondering what the original construction and use of the building was which is today owned, or at least houses, Oscar Isberian rugs, at 1028 Chicago Ave. It appears to have a fly loft at the rear up against the train tracks. It’s as if there was a performing stage with fly space and perhaps a stage there. What can be discovered?
Thank you for the question and your interest in the building! The tall, windowless addition at the rear of the building is particularly apparent because it is surrounded by lower buildings and parking lots. The original building was designed for the Isberian rug company and has served the purposes of the business since it was built.
The building permit for the original structure, including the tall section at the rear, is dated Sept. 4, 1929. This building replaced a large frame house that had been on the site since the late 1800s. The wrecking permit for the house was dated Aug. 8, 1929. The new building contained a showroom space for the rug store, storage and cleaning areas, and two apartments. The southern bay was to be a driveway through to the rear of the building, but was enclosed shortly after the building was completed. The three-story rear section of the building was not included in the first draft of the plans, but was added and the plans amended before the permit was issued, according to letters approving the change in the building file in the archives at the Evanston History Center.
The building was constructed of brick and limestone, as seen in this undated historic photograph. The facade had smooth cut limestone on the first floor with “Isberian Brothers” etched above the first floor entry and showroom window. The second story is buff colored brick, and two bays with limestone ornamentation flank a green tile roof. Notable design elements include the arched windows, the medallions above the windows and the ornamental parapet walls topped by stone urns. All these motifs reference architectural revival styles that were popular during the building boom of the 1920s and reflect a neo-Byzantine or classical historicism.
The architect listed on the building permit is Vittner & Company. This is likely Clement Vittner (1892-1948), a Chicago architect who graduated from Armour Institute of Technology (precursor of Illinois Institute of Technology) with a degree in architecture in 1915. According to the 1910 U. S. Census, his grandparents had immigrated from Bohemia, or Czechoslovakia. He lived most of his life in Cicero and designed many noted bungalows, apartment buildings, and hotels.
The building was commissioned by Oscar Isberian (1897-1987) and his brother Megerditch for their growing rug business. The Isberians belonged to an Armenian minority in Turkey who were brutally persecuted beginning in the early 1910s. Oscar Isberian would later speak of leaving his home in Turkey to escape this persecution. Mr. Isberian stated that he joined an uncle here. According to the 1925 Evanston City Directory, Oscar Isberian was the manager of Torcom Brothers Rugs. Epram Torcom was an Armenian immigrant. He and his wife and two daughters lived on Park Place in Evanston and ran a successful rug company, located in a frame house at 1409 Sherman. Haig O. Cartozian had a rug store in another frame house on the adjacent property at 1419 Sherman and lived at 1417 Sherman. They were all part of an Evanston community of Armenian immigrants who operated rug businesses selling the product of their native culture.
When Isberian commissioned this building, his business was located at 1244 Chicago Ave., the present location of Minasian Rug Company. The Isberian business, established in the 1920s, had grown sufficiently to warrant its own dedicated building. Construction began shortly before the stock market crash that marked the beginning of the Great Depression. As his son-in-law, Haig Pedian (Pedian Rugs) would later observe in an Evanston Review article marking Mr. Isberian’s 85th birthday, he struggled during the Depression to keep the business afloat. Census records and directories indicate that Oscar Isberian, his wife Lucy (Lucintak, nee Klujian, 1903-1975) and their two daughters lived in the building’s apartments.
By 1956, the company was flourishing and had grown enough to enable Mr. Isberian to purchase the lot to the north of the building, an old frame house then used as a commercial building at 1030 Chicago Ave. He also apparently built a house for himself and his family at the corner of Golf Road and Harding Avenue, leaving their home at 1028 Chicago Ave. where they had lived for 25 years.
Mr. Isberian continued to rent out the house at 1030 Chicago Ave. to a boat and outboard motor sales company until the 1960s. During that time, he built several additions to the rear warehouse on the 1030 lot. In 1970, the house was demolished, and a one-story extension of the showroom area was added to the original building. The first-floor facade of the original building was updated in a contemporary style of brown brick and rough-cut stone to unify the design with the new extension. These additions were designed by a relative, architect Martin P. Aznavorian. The new lighted signage “Oscar Isberian Rugs” was added in 1974.
Oscar Isberian was active in the Evanston business community. Records show he petitioned against the Sunday closure laws in 1968 and supported the World’s Largest Garage Sale held by the Chamber of Commerce in the old Evanston parking garage on Sherman Avenue for many years. His descendants continue to operate the rug business at 1028 Chicago Ave. to this day.
The Evanston History Center is happy to partner with the Evanston RoundTable to share the insights that our expansive collection of Evanston history provides. Public records, newspapers, letters, maps, photographs, and artifacts all carry messages from the past to inform our lives today. The differences and changes can be compelling, disconcerting, educational, but always fascinating and often downright funny.
Since history looks at the past but also influences the future, and today will be history tomorrow, we have titled this column “Dimensions.” We are living in a historic time, and you can help us tell future generations what it was like. We are located in the National Historic Landmark Charles Gates Dawes House at 225 Greenwood St.. Please visit our website, evanstonhistorycenter.org, to learn more about how you can participate and contribute to the collection.
What are you curious about in Evanston history? Let us know what you’ve wondered about! Send your queries to email@example.com.
Eden Juron Pearlman, Executive Director