The 1920s were the heyday of magnificent auto showrooms, many of which drew from the same stylistic inspirations as the movie palaces being built in this decade.
The current home of Richard’s Body Shop began its life as an opulent auto showroom. When traveling on Lawrence Avenue in Chicago’s Albany Park neighborhood, it is likely that this building at 3041 W. Lawrence Ave will catch your eye.
In a 1927 article for Architectural Forum, writer William F. Wharton made this observation about auto showrooms:
[They’re designed with] an air of luxury and leisurely detachment from any insistent suggestion of mere commercialism. The patrons, who presumably are accustomed to and appreciative of luxury, and who are looking with fastidious eyes at the qualities of the cars before them, are to be welcomed amid congenial surroundings. They are to be entertained, not hurried, in their inspection. The technicalities and formalities of sale and purchase are not to be over-emphasized by an obtrusive array of desks, typewriters, filing cabinets and office paraphernalia.
The building that currently houses Richard’s Body Shop was built in 1925 to house Capitol Motor Sales Company, a Chrysler dealership owned by Isadore and Isaac Burnstine. Ithas a magnificent terra cotta façade, designed with an appealingly eclectic mix of Classic and Venetian Gothic stylistic influences. It beckons gracefully; go in for a closer look and you’ll see lovely leaded glass windows, and a Mediterranean-inspired interior with a whimsical opulence that whispers of a bygone time.
This dealership was opened shortly after the Burnstines opened Riviera Motor Sales Company at 5948-60 N. Broadway, in a building very similar to this one. The old Riviera Motor Sales Building also exists today. It is in good condition, and waiting for a new tenant.
In a Preliminary Summary of Information presented to the Commission on Chicago Landmarks in 2010, the author gave this analysis of the auto showroom design trends of the decade:
More and more, auto showrooms were seen much like art galleries…conceived almost as stage sets meant to inspire both fantasy and longing. Upon entering, tall ceilings and elaborate ornamental walls, ceilings and floors were meant to provide customers with a sense of luxury and good taste, putting them in the mood to buy. In their use of exotic architectural styles, especially those associated with “Mediterranean” cultures such as Italy, Spain and Latin America, the most elaborate showrooms of the period were akin to motion picture palaces and popular ballrooms.
Though the building currently serves a different purpose, it’s not difficult to look at the showroom space and imagine how beautifully it conjured the design aesthetic and luxurious auto shopping experiences that were unique to its heyday.