Some of the city’s most beautiful neighborhood commercial buildings are on Lawrence Avenue in Albany Park. Diverse, charming, and beautiful, these structures nicely represent the community they’re a part of.
The corner buildings featured in this walking tour were constructed during Albany Park’s meteoric rise in the early 20th century, from 1907 to 1930.
An Albany Park Primer
Before we look at the architecture, it is important to understand the neighborhood’s history. A few highlights from the Encyclopedia of Chicago’s entry on Albany Park:
The completion of the Ravenswood Elevated line set off a building boom clustered around the train terminal at Lawrence and Kimball. Commercial development included small shops, department stores, and theaters. Land valued at $52 per front foot in 1909 sold for $2,750 per front foot by 1929. Residential builders constructed bungalows and two-flats at a furious pace during the 1910s and 1920s, by the end of which Albany Park was almost completely developed. The 1910 census counted 7,000 inhabitants; that number nearly quadrupled by 1920, to 26,676, and then doubled again by 1930, to more than 55,000.
After the 1970s, Albany Park became a port of entry for immigrants from Asia and Latin America. In 1990 the community area claimed the largest numbers of Korean, Filipino, and Guatemalan immigrants in Chicago. The Korean community played important commercial and civic roles in the revitalization of the area. The number of homes sold increased 125 percent between 1980 and 1989. Albany Park’s pattern of population shifts continued in the 1990s, as more prosperous Korean immigrants began moving to northern suburbs. Throughout the twentieth century, Albany Park acted as a gateway community for aspiring middle-class ethnic groups.
The neighborhood has continued its upward trend started in the 1980s. According to an April 2014 Chicago magazine article, it ranks #7 of all neighborhoods in home value growth compared to 2012.
Architectural Styles of Lawrence Avenue’s Commercial Buildings
Albany Park is a microcosm of Chicago’s boom years (1910-1929), but it is also a symbol of a time that survived a series of demographic and social changes. Unlike many of the neighborhoods closer downtown, which have predominantly Victorian influences, Albany Park was formed during the era of Neoclassical, Edwardian, Art Deco, and Spanish Revival. Its building styles are as diverse as the people who continue to reside there.
Most are in the two-part commercial block type.
Corner Buildings and Independent Retail
Corner buildings are ubiquitous in Chicago as a result of the city’s layout, and as a result are overlooked by most residents. But these structures are more than just a common neighborhood trait.
Across the whole of Albany Park exist some 1,100 businesses, many single-location enterprises wedged into 25-by-125-foot storefronts, Griffiths says. Those shops and the foot traffic they spur are a big reason the streets crackle with an electricity that has nothing to do with their countless neon signs.
–Jeffrey Steele, Chicago Tribune
Acting on the knowledge that location is everything, many enterprising entrepreneurs took advantage of the city’s grid layout. Fortunately, they also realized the value of an aesthetically pleasing commercial structure.
Now that we’ve caught up on the neighborhood and its architectural background, let’s start the tour.
The walking tour begins at Kedzie and Lawrence, and continues west along Lawrence until it meets Pulaski. To get to the starting point, take the Brown Line to Kedzie Station, and walk north toward Lawrence Avenue.
Kedzie Apartments is an early 1920s building with mostly restrained flair.
The distinguishing feature of this building is an eagle standing watch over the entryway.
The Willis Building features balustrades, detailed ornamentation, bold use of color, and straddles two architectural styles–Neoclassical Revival with a hint of Art Deco.
One of the crown jewels of Albany Park is an Art Deco building at Lawrence and Spaulding. Featuring elaborate windows with columns and arches, there are hints of neoclassical influence. The cornice has terra cotta faces that resemble a lion separating each window grouping.
Above the rounded corner entrance are twin, winged creatures set against a floral pattern.
At the southwest corner of Lawrence and Spaulding is another mixed-use Art Deco structure built at the beginning of Albany Park’s boom years. Though not as elaborate as other corner buildings, it features solid brick construction and detailed, glazed terra cotta.
3322 W. Lawrence (Lawrence and Christiana)
Similar to the downtown Fisher Building, the Fish Furniture building has ichthyological ornament paying tribute to the building’s namesake. This Art Deco building was constructed at the tail end of Albany Park’s boom years.
Sea shells, fish, and blue accents are prominent features.
Most of the decorative corner buildings on Lawrence Avenue in Albany Park are early 20th century commercial structures. CTA’s Kimball Brown Line station is a modernist exception.
Part of what was then called Ravenswood Elevated, the station was the main source of the neighborhood’s growth.
The area around Lawrence and Kimball is not only an important terminal, but also home to Kimball Yard and Shops.
The yellow brick and terra cotta building across from the Brown Line station was in the press recently when Walgreens wanted to demolish and replace it with a cookie-cutter building with a large front surface parking lot.
Residents protested the lack of consideration given to pedestrians and the potential loss of character for the neighborhood. Several meetings resulted with Walgreens representatives balking at changed plans. Ald. Deb Mell pushed back and the process is now stalled.
Attached to this building is the Huddle House Grill, a greasy spoon diner that has been here for decades.
The corner of St. Louis and Lawrence features a building constructed at the height of neoclassical fashion, inspired by the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition. Ridged pilasters, arched entryways and windows, with a highly detailed cornice are some of the style’s identifying characteristics.
The Peking Mandarin restaurant has been a staple of Lawrence Avenue for over 30 years. Service is sometimes slow, but the food is always fantastic.
This neoclassical building is very similar to its neoclassical neighbor across the street. It also features patterned pilasters and a detailed cornice, but lacks arched windows and entryways.
A closer inspection shows that this building has a mural honoring the neighborhood’s CTA bus and train services.
A brick building with lightly ornamented terra cotta is at the northeast corner Lawrence and Central Park.
Across the street on the southwest corner of Lawrence and Central Park is a unique structure with green accents, similar to the one at Lawrence and Spaulding.
An Albany Park bike tour guide [PDF] lists the architect as Albert Ruttenburg.
At Lawrence and Ridgeway is an empty storefront with puzzling Seoul Video Fishing boards covering the windows.
The only information I can find on what was once here is from a 1001 Chicago Afternoons article:
Left in the windows of an abandoned corner storefront below abandoned apartments on an abandoned little shut-down stretch of what the highway sign claims is Korea Town, there are signs that say “Seoul Video Fishing” in English. The Korean characters above it presumably say the same.
One of the window shows a man fishing.
Inside, there’s nothing. Another empty storefront. Dust and carpet and a flattened cardboard box lying on the ground. Nothing to indicate what went on here, whether it was fishing videos, some 1990s VR simul-angling or some unique and heretofore unseen combination of videos, fish and the 10.5-million resident capital of South Korea.
If you know more about what this place was, please let us know in the comments section.
Spanish Revival (or Spanish Baroque) is a style that was briefly in fashion during the Roaring Twenties. The building at 3825 W. Lawrence has many of the defining features: arched and highly ornamental window surrounds, twisted columns with pointed spikes rising above the roof.
Perhaps one of the more interesting corner buildings of this walking tour is at the corner of Lawrence and Avers. Built in the Edwardian Baroque style, flourishes including rustication, repeating patterns, symmetry, and ornate detailing are characteristics that reveal the style.
There are several repeating bands of terra cotta that give this building a playful feel.
Less dramatic than its neighbor on the northwest corner is a yellow brick and terra cotta commercial style structure.
The cleverly named Lawrfield Building doesn’t feature a distinct corner entrance as many others of Lawrence Avenue do. With subtle ornamentation, it has Spanish Revival and Neoclassical influences.
The walking tour ends at Lawrence and Pulaski. This neoclassical corner building has a few Korean commercial tenants, as well as a Middle Eastern restaurant.
The building where L&P Liquors and Tap Room resides is a fitting end to the tour. Step inside and enjoy a cold beverage!
Albany Park’s Architecture Sampler Platter
By comparing the build year and appearance of corner buildings on Lawrence between Kedzie and Pulaski, you can get a good sense of how tastes changed between the 1900s and when new construction slowed in the mid-1930s. The high density and rapid construction gives a wide look at styles within a short walk:
- Neoclassical (1900s-1930s): buildings with columns, balustrades, arches, and a lighter/whiter appearance, and came into fashion as a result of the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition
- Edwardian Baroque (1900-1910): Late Victorian style with extensive patterns, grand arches, symmetry, detailed ornament, rusticated exterior
- Commercial style/Chicago School (1900s-1920s): restrained ornamentation, flat and rigid shapes, vertical emphasis
- Spanish Revival (1910s-1920s): concrete ornament, twisted columns, and sculptural figures, often with asymmetrical patterns
- Art Deco (1920s-1930s): Brilliant colors, reliefs with animals, geometric shapes, and symmetry
Share Your Story
Do you have memories or more information on any of the buildings in this article? Please share your thoughts in the comment section below.
References and Additional Information:
- Albany Park (Encyclopedia of Chicago)
- Albany Park Neighbors
- History of Albany Park, Chicago (Albany Park Chamber)
- Albany Park: A patchwork of cultures (Chicago Tribune)
- Albany Park Memories (Me and my shadow)
- Albany Park Auto Clinic and the Forty Year Misspelling
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