Sunday, October 25, 2009

Giacomo's on Check, Please!

Congratulations to Giacomo's Ristorante Italiano, at Wolf & Central, for being featured on WTTW's Check, Please! this weekend. The reviewers got it right: friendly atmosphere, great food. Anybody remember when it was a Dog 'n' Suds, Dilly Deli, C&M Sandwich Shop, or D'nunzio's?

You can watch their segment here.

Quite an achievement!

Thursday, October 22, 2009

The Des Plaines Masonic Temple at 85: A History

Miner & Lee - Circa 1940s - Cameo RPPC

This month marks the 85th anniversary of the opening of the Des Plaines Masonic Temple Building. It lies at the very heart of Des Plaines, Lee & Miner Streets, and occupies a very important place in our culture. In addition, it is some of the best architecture. (Above: 1923 Chicago Tribune Rendering, 1930s Postcard, 1940s Postcard - All Author's Collection)

(Des Plaines Historical Society Photo, Late 1960s; Author's Recent Photo)
Despite being fully leased, in better shape than it has been in years, and more actively used than it has been in a long time, the Temple is under threat. The City of Des Plaines had targeted it and the Choo-Choo as potential demolition sites for a new City Hall and Police Station. The budget crunch has put police station plans on hold for now, but the building remains under contract to the City, which may want to clear the site for redevelopment. When I first heard about the threat, I began working on nominating it to the National Register of Historic Places. While the official nomination remains in process with the Illinois Historic Preservation Agency, it has been determined eligible for the register. As a result of a recent change to the Illinois Tax Increment Financing law, TIF funding cannot be used to demolish eligible or listed properties. Thus, because of the economy, the Masonic Temple is likely to remain standing for now, and may become eligible for federal tax credits if it is listed and rehabilitated in the future. It would be great to see the Miner storefronts cleaned up and the big plastic panel sign gone - the 1960 postcard above is probably the best way to handle the signage, with a projecting sign from the corner.

The following history is taken from the National Register nomination that I wrote; I apologize for its length and level of detail.

The Des Plaines Masonic Lodge Number 890 was chartered in 1906. Its first home was in the Village Hall, which was always intended as a temporary home; a permanent home was officially sought as early as February 1907, and over the years a number of parcels were bought and sold. The Des Plaines Masonic Temple Building Association was formed to sell shares to fundraise for the new building.

The building was approved February 9, 1924 and announced in the Des Plaines Times on February 15, 1924. Ground was broken February 27, 1924. The building was projected to cost $150,000-$200,000 and was to contain a large and a small Lodge Hall, an auditorium with complete stage equipment, six stores, one shop, four bowling alleys, a billiards parlor, and several offices to support operations. It was designed to house not only the Masonic bodies, but also for the use of other community organizations and social activities, thus enriching downtown Des Plaines both culturally and commercially, through the addition of commercial space and visitors seeking entertainment.  The complete and modern stage equipment was hailed as making possible “excellent performances by home talent which has been so much handicapped heretofore by the wholly inadequate stage facilities”, which were primarily at the nearby 1913 Echo Theater, Village Hall, and saloons. The auditorium was designed with a flat ballroom floor and non-fixed seating, making possible a dual use as a ballroom for two to three hundred couples. Fixed seating was provided on the balcony of the auditorium, for those who wished to sit and watch dancers.

Each lodge hall in the building contained parlors and smoking rooms, while the main lodge hall was designed without any outside openings except for a skylight, with most electric lighting concealed in coves. This skylight was executed in art glass by Gustave Brand, who had recently redecorated Chicago’s Medinah Temple.   The main hall was to be used by the Blue Lodge, Eastern Star, White Shrine, Chapter, and other local Masonic organizations.

In addition to the auditorium and main Lodge Hall, both on the second floor of the building, a third, smaller hall was on the third floor.  A rendering appeared in the Chicago Daily Tribune on February 24, 1924, showing the building with differently configured windows than appear in the completed building.

The announcement of the Masonic Temple was projected to spur further interest in Downtown Des Plaines; the Des Plaines Times called it “the turning point in the rapid growth of the community as such an institution has long been needed.” The auditorium was described as ideal for weekly dances from various community organizations, Commercial association dinners, and crowds for School graduations.  Within a year, the monumental Des Plaines State Bank Building and Des Plaines Theatre were both announced, and Des Plaines adopted the City form of Government after annexing Riverview.

In early March, construction was temporarily halted, as the community chose to move the building back three feet to establish a uniform building line along Miner Street. This was accomplished by vacating three feet of the alley to the rear of the building. The Des Plaines Times stated that “development of the main streets must be carried on correctly, to set an example for the rest of the town, for we will be judged largely by the appearance of these prominent through highways, of which Miner Street, to be known as Northwest highway, will be an example.

The cornerstone was laid April 12, 1924, accompanied by a parade featuring the St. Elmo Commandery fife and drum corps and about a thousand spectators. The cornerstone contained a copper box with the names of local members of Masonic bodies, a list of the installing grand lodge officers, a copy of the Masonic Chronicler, a copy of the Suburban Times, a copy of Masonic Ritual, and a one cent piece.

In April, a new charter was obtained for the Des Plaines Masonic Temple Building Corporation, which would own and erect the building. At this time, construction was projected to be complete by October 15, with the stores set to open in August.  By early July, the building was ready for a roof to be installed.  Plastering was carried out in mid-August. The stores were ultimately opened in mid-October, and detail was given about the building’s thoroughly modern infrastructure, including two large Utica boilers for automatic oil heat and a modern blower ventilation system.  Work was primarily held up by a shortage of plasterers, and many were pushing for the temple to be ready for a Thanksgiving Eve dance, following Eastern Star custom. Full completion was not expected at this time, but it was felt that this was important to show the interest of the community. The temple project also resulted in the widening of Lee Street and removal of excess trees, which was hoped to inspire further improvements on Miner and Ellinwood streets.  Unfortunately the building was not complete enough by Thanksgiving, and the dance was held at the high school gymnasium. Blame was placed on several contractors for “stalling and hindering the progress.”   In early December, a banner was stretched across Lee Street announcing a “surprise night” of entertainment for December 15.   A dancing party was held on December 20 with Hesse’s orchestra to benefit temple association lodge meetings, although some of the building’s hardware with special monograms was not yet installed. The first play in the auditorium would be the comedy “Are You A Mason?”, on January 19, 20, and 22.  The first Blue Lodge meeting was slated for January 3, with the official dedication on January 31 featuring a social afterwards, and a High School senior play for January 29.  Over 400 dancers and spectators attended, and another dance was held on New Year’s Eve. Carpeting and furniture was being installed just before the first Lodge meeting. 

After opening, the acoustics of the hall were judged excellent, and well-insulated from train noise, which had complicated many events in the Village Hall.  The first meetings of the Eastern Star were held on January 12, the R.A.M. on January 15, and the White Shrine some time after. The first meeting of the Arimithea shrine was held on December 14 and the Royal Arch Masons January 22. The Lions club also used the Temple weekly, as did the Builders for Boys and other organizations.  Shortly after opening, the Temple proved its community value, as the merits of adopting a city form of government were debated following the July 20th Lions meeting. The following Saturday, the city form of government was adopted by voters.  

The building’s billiards and bowling alleys never opened, due in part to the ten alleys and eight tables at the Des Plaines Recreation Parlor, opened October 15, 1925.   Instead, this space was used for the Des Plaines Post Office, which had previously been located  in the middle of the block of Miner between Pearson and Lee. Although the space was somewhat obscure for a post office, the extra space and central location was judged suitable for such uses, until a new Post Office was built at Graceland and Webford in 1930. The Temple would go on to host many dances, including talent from Chicago brought in on the train, and many meetings, such as those of the Lake-Cook Farm Supply Company, which also featured WLS entertainment.  The building supported the Army Reserve during World War II.  The building would continue to serve as a community center, with the Sixteen Screen educational film company opening in 1946 , the Lyric School of Music and Dancing opening in 1952-1960  , YMCA classes in 1955 , the Army Reserve Youth Group in 1956 , and the Des Plaines Church of Christ before 1957 . The Des Plaines Theater Guild took it as a permanent home beginning in 1963.  The guild remodeled the auditorium, adding a sloped floor and reconfiguring support rooms into unified spaces to facilitate theater operations.  In 1981, the guild spent $22,000 replacing electrical wiring, seating, stage improvements, and painting.

Upon completion, it was both the largest and tallest building in downtown Des Plaines.

The auditorium has since had fixed seating on a pitched floor installed. The main lodge hall is now set up as a ballroom, without fixed seating. The skylight has been replaced with plain glass.

The building’s architect, Clarence Hatzfeld, is well-recognized, with several listings on the National Register of Historic Places: Indian Boundary Park, Eugene Field Park, Jefferson Park, Portage Park, and the Villa Historic District.

Hatzfeld was born in 1873. From 1899-1901, he was a partner in the firm of Julius Huber & Company. He worked as a draftsman for the Chicago Board of Education and also designed a number of houses in Chicago’s developing bungalow belt. During this time, he worked under Dwight Perkins.

His first major building, with his firm, Hatzfeld & Knox, was the 1911 Myrtle Masonic Temple on Irving Park road in Chicago. Around this same time he began work on his best-known project, the Villa Historic District, a distinctive bunglow neighborhood featuring many homes by Hatzfeld & Knox. He also designed a number of apartment buildings, commercial buildings, banks, Masonic temples and at least one movie theatre. Starting in 1922, Hatzfeld began his prolific career working for the park districts of Chicago, beginning with the Portage Park fieldhouse. With these fieldhouses, Hatzfeld began to re-imagine the possibilities of public parks by providing structured, mixed-use recreation facilities. Throughout his career, he proved himself fluent in many styles: Prairie, Craftsman, Beaux Arts, Tudor, Spanish Revival, and others. Following the Great Depression, Hatzfeld worked as an employee of the combined Chicago Park District. In 1936 he was named director of the Burnham Park headquarters of the Chicago Park District. In 1941, he became recreation technician for the federal works agency and died in 1943.

The primary street facades divided vertically into three sections. The single story base is mostly devoted to retail purposes and also functions as the piano nobile to the Temple spaces above, acting as both the physical and financial foundation to the fraternal uses. The southern Miner Street façade contains three stores and a corner store fronting both Miner Street and Lee Street. Along the eastern Lee Street Façade are the entrance lobby to the upper stories and apartments at the midpoint, and in the north end, a smaller shop and three storefronts. The base of the first story is a course of limestone, with brick piers seperating the glass and metal storefronts. Above the storefronts is a continuous flush limestone belt course. Above this is a brick spandrel intended for signage. The base is terminated with a projecting limestone moulding. The storefronts themselves received varied treatments according to their size and structural considerations. The westernmost two storefronts, 1452 and 1454 Miner, share a single recessed entryway on either side of a pier. The pier is within the 1452 Miner bay, resulting in a partially obscured doorway and a smaller display window. This storefront is the most dramatically altered portion of the exterior, with a shingled mansard covering the original transom windows, the storefront plate glass windows replaced with inward-tilted ones, and piers and base also covered in shingles. All other piers and bases along Miner have also been painted to match their respective storefronts. The door has also been replaced. The 1454 Miner storefront is largely intact, although its base and copper window frames have been painted, its plate glass window has been replaced with two windows horizontally seperated with a muntin, and a backlit plastic sign is now over the transom windows. The 1456 Miner storefront, with its recessed single entrance to the eastern side of its bay, is in similar condition, with its recessed entrance to the eastern side of its bay, except with painted wooden shakes covering the transom as a backdrop to a molded letters sign. The 1460 Miner corner storefront retains its full-size plate glass, has a recessed entrance at the corner to either side of its pier, has had its door replaced, and has an awning sign covering its transom windows. Along the Lee Street façade, the entrance to the upper stories of the building, at 620 Lee, is demarcated by the only bay to project from the plane of the façade for the building’s full height. This bay is also the only break in the belt course running through the base. The entrance is a double door surrounded by sidelights and a segmental arched transom. The doors and windows have been replaced several times. The doorway surround is quoined limestone and also features an ornamental cast bronze lantern to either side of the entrance. Service doorways flank the entrance; the southern door has been replaced with an all-metal door, and the northern door has been converted into a display window for the shop. The storefront to the south of the entrance, at 614 Lee, is a smaller shop which retains its original door within an entrance at the south end less recessed than the Miner Street storefronts, has had its display window replaced by a divided one, and has an awning over the transom.  The 612 Lee storefront also has its original, less-recessed door to the north side and appears to maintain all original historic fabric. The 610 and 608 Lee storefronts also appear to retain much of their original fabric and share a paired, fully recessed entryway.

The second and third floors are within the middle vertical section of the building’s massing, and contain the most ornamentation. The second and third floors are unified through the use of fluted Doric pilasters which span both floors. A limestone belt course runs along the window sill of the third floor along the principal plane of the façade, interupted by pilasters and other projections, emphasizing the importance of the second floor. Another limestone belt course indicates the actual floor division, but is only utilized within the corner bays and the central Lee Street bay, where it instead defines a window sill within the central stair. These courses lend a hint of Prairie style to the building. A larger belt course architrave runs above the third floor windows along the entirety of the Miner and Lee facades, defining the base of an entablature. Above this is a brick frieze, containing a name panel and ornament displaying Masonic symbols. A limestone cornice runs above this. The entire Miner Street façade is effectively horizontally symmetrical, with the exception of window openings to one end which denote a change in function, and the necessarily irregular storefronts. The upper portion of the front façade is treated as three bays, with the corner bays each occupying one quarter of the total frontage, or one storefront. The central bay is recessed from the principal plane of the façade, which is shared with the storefronts below, by a course of soldier bricks at the base of the bay. It is ornamented with projecting brickwork in a Mediterranean harlequin pattern, a motif shared with the Des Plaines Theatre across Lee Street, built one year after the Temple Building. This pattern is divided into a large central part with an accent panel to either side. Above the sill course, a pattern of three stacked recessed rectangular panels and one large recessed panel is used. In the frieze, a limestone nameplate with rabbeted corners has the words “DESPLAINES MASONIC TEMPLE” engraved. In the corner bays, a soldier course continues up to the outermost anta along the primary plane, but not to the corners. This soldier course pattern occurs throughout the base of the middle section. Applied to this bay is a pair of doric brick antae with limestone bases and capital. The centers of these antae are recessed, suggesting fluting. Between these antae is a pair of slightly narrower fluted limestone pilasters with identical bases and capitals. Above each pilaster, within the frieze, is a circular limestone medallion, blank on the south facade and each with a different Masonic symbol on the east facade. The easternmost Miner Street bay has a single window between the pilasters and antae and a pair of windows between the pilasters. The corresponding space on the western bay has recessed panels to maintain symmetry. Decorative recessed panels are also above these openings. The windows on the east bay indicate the hallway within this volume, and the third floor portion of this bay contains the small lodge hall. The center and west bay contain the two story volume of the lodge hall, and therefore lack windows. The two bays on the southeast corner have had large rectangular backlighted plastic signs installed between the second and third story windows as attraction boards. The original double hung sash for this building had an upper sash vertically divided into two lights over a single light lower sash. All double hung windows have been replaced with single light sash. The Lee Street façade utilizes the same corner bays, except with the addition of smaller windows for the third floor. This façade uses symmetrical ornamentation, although the northern half of the building is actually considerably larger. The center bay is largely the same, except third floor windows extend to the floor belt course due to the interior hallway; the second-floor windows below this are shorter, corresponding to the Men’s Lounge. The center recessed panel in this bay, above the entrance, displays a limestone panel showing the Masonic square and compasses. A sign hangs from this bay over the sidewalk to advertise the theatre. The two bays alternating with the projecting corner and center bays contain windows. On the second floor, there are five tall and narrow double hung windows. The windows at either end of the bay are enframed in limestone Greek Revival tivoli eared window surrounds. The three central windows have no surrounds, but are topped with a semicircular recessed stacked header brick panel topped with a round arch with limestone springers and keystones and brick voussoirs. The second floor windows within these bays open onto the respective foyers of the main lodge hall (South) and the banquet hall (North). The third floor windows are quite short, topped by the architrave and based by the sill course, with projecting limestone sills. The southern bay fronts on the small lodge hall, and the northern bay on the balcony of the banquet hall.

The top vertical section is the parapet of the building, which follows the planes of the middle portion. The parapet is brick, with a solidier course at its base, and is topped with a limestone course, which is taller at the central portion of the projecting bays.

The rear façade fronted on an alley and is faced in common brick with no articulation. The first floor has several short irregular windows which would have originally fronted on a planned bowling alley within the building. The second floor contains three window openings topped with segmental arches, each of which contains a pair of double hung windows
fronting on the banquet hall. A fire escape is at the western end, although its stairs have been removed. The third floor contains a faded painted billboard for a real estate agency. A brick chimney rises from the northwest corner.

The eastern façade faces another building, and as such is designed for utility. The first floor has several small windows for the apartments, a stairway leading to the basement, emergency exit doors, and doors to an auxiliary stairway. The second and third floors contain three more small windows. The stage portion of the lodge hall extends over  the gangway, supported by a pair of iron posts.

The first floor interior contains the retail stores and their associated service spaces, the lobby and staircase to the upper floors, and apartments, in the northwest corner of the building behind the Lee Street storefronts. The apartment space was originally planned as a bowling alley and billiards parlor, which would have used the smaller shop as a professional shop. However, due to the simultaneous building of a larger bowling alley in downtown, this never found an operator, and within a year was converted to a Post Office for about five years. Later, this space was divided into several apartments.

The main building entrance has a terazzo floor and the building’s cast iron staircase. A drop ceiling has been installed. A display case is to the left side and the apartment mail boxes are to the right. The iron newel posts of the staircase have small applied Masonic square and compasses on their faces, some of which are damaged or missing. Behind the main stairway is a light well, which has had its windows partially bricked in and filled with glass block. The second floor landing has the entrance to the main lodge hall at its south end and entrance to the banquet hall at its north end.

The banquet hall entrance is a double door opening onto a hallway on the east-west axis, with a men’s lounge at the east end and a women’s lounge at the west end. The south wall contains offices and support spaces and the north wall contains entrances and exits to the banquet hall. The east entrance, which is directly in front of the main entrance, is the primary entrance. Floors in the banquet hall area are primarily hardwood in public spaces and cement elsewhere. The hall entrance opens onto a foyer which may have initially been part of the volume of the hall itself. A small office has been added on the right side of the doorway. A stairway leading to the balcony, which is directly above the foyer, is at its north end, and the doors to the hall are on the west wall. The hall itself has been outfitted as a theatre. It originally had a flat floor and movable seating, but has since had a sloped floor and fixed seating installed. As a consequence, the doors to the hall lead to short stairways to compensate for the slope. The stage has also been enlarged through the addition of a thrust platform ahead of the proscenium and stage side wall, a lighting booth has been added in the balcony, an additional egress door to the third floor hall from the balcony has been added, and light rails have been installed in several locations. The north wall contains three paired windows which originally lit the space for banquets and dances but are now covered by heavy curtains for theatrical purposes. The east wall, to the rear of the balcony, has five small windows, which have been covered over. The space is decorated with extensive Beaux Arts plaster ornamentation, including frames on the piers, a string of medallions on the architrave, and urns, filigree, and mythical scenes applied to the balcony front. The stage wall has the most extensive ornamentation, including applied decoration on the pilasters of the proscenium and swags on the frieze, as well as ornamental hoods over the plaster vents to either side of the proscenium. The banquet hall also retains its original cast bronze light fixtures, including chandeliers, sconces, and ceiling lights.

Clarence Hatzfeld – Architect
Arthur R. Niemz – Contractor
A.L. Webster – President, Chairman of Groundbreaking, President of Des Plaines Masonic Temple Corporation
Henry H. Talcott – Secretary, Finance Committee, Legal Committee, Leader of Project, Made pledge to fellowship at groundbreaking “One man who has done heavy work on this temple proposition, and who is destined to do a whole lot more. The legal services alone which he has rendered, the counsel on the plans and specifications, the work on financing and the countless hours of looking after endless details for the trustees entitle him to all the honor that this community can offer to one who gives so much of his time and substance to such an enterprise.” “Carried the big lead in making the temple possible.” “Has been a tower of strength to every committee and when the pages of history are written of “How Des Plaines Built Its Masonic Temple,” mention and recognition must be made in as large letters as his modesty will permit.” Organized stock issue and bonds for Des Plaines Masonic Temple Corporation
B.L. Franzen, Jr. – Treasurer, Building Committee, Treasurer of Des Plaines Masonic Temple Corporation
Richard H. Lanigan – Trustee, Cornerstone Committee, Furniture Committee, Shoveled at Groundbreaking, Represented trustees at Groundbreaking, Past Master of Lodge 890, Vice President of Des Plaines Masonic Temple Corporation, Handled rental bookings
William Hulke – Trustee, Finance Committee, Board Member of Masonic Temple Corporation
Glenn C. Tolin – Finance Committee
A.E. Clarke – Building Committee
Theo. B. Gray – Building Committee
B.F. Kinder, Jr. – Building Committee
William H. Jiencke – Stock Sales Committee, Head of Blue Stock Selling Team
Jack P. Eaton – Stock Sales Committee, Executive Manager of Stock Sales
Joseph Thornton – Stock Sales Committee, Head of Red Stock Selling Team
William E. Rexses – Rentals Committee
W.L. Plew – Rentals Committee
Ed A. Lockett – Rentals Committee
Jack P. Eaton – Auditing Committee
Fred B. Leyns – Auditing Committee
Ed A. Lueck – Auditing Committee
Ning Eley – Legal Committee, Organized stock issue and bonds for Des Plaines Masonic Temple Corporation
C.A. Wolfram – Legal Committee
Walter H. Tallant – Worshipful Master, Cornerstone Committee, Furniture Committee, represented Blue Lodge at Groundbreaking, Director of Grand Opening
Robert Duthie – Cornerstone Committee, Past Master of Lodge 890
Ed Schlagel – Furniture Committee, Worked to establish Council
A.L. Webster – Publicity Committee
H.T. Bennett – Publicity Committee
Fred A. Fulle – Publicity Committee
Edna Mahn – Party Committee, Represented White Shrine at Groundbreaking, business manager for association
Lola Mae Schagel – Granddaughter and Daughter of Masons, handed spade to Lanigan at groundbreaking
Reverend R.J. Smith – Provided blessing at Groundbreaking
William Wolters – Represented Chapter at Groundbreaking
Louise Reiter – Represented Eastern Star at Groundbreaking
William S. Longley, Sr. – Senior Mason (53 years) present at Groundbreaking
John K. Platner – Grand Marshal for Cornerstone Parade
Mrs. Edward Griebel – Matron of Eastern Star Chapter, chairman of cornerstone luncheon committee
Pansy Talcott – Dramatic Director
Peter Reiter – Director of Grand Opening, Worshipful Master after Opening
August W. Mueller – Director of Grand Opening

Tenants through the years
Original tenants: Mrs. Kraft's Gift Shoppe, Ocober 11, John Kern's Sanitary Market

1452 Miner

Bouquets, Baskets, and Balloons
Titan Comics/Des Plaines Comics
1998-2000 - Diana Petersen Collectibles
1988- Vittorio Fine Jewelry
1969-1988 Slavin Jewelers
1965-1966 Fred Astaire Dance Studios
Aug 23, 1951-1961 - Violet Fashions
Des Plaines Barber & Beauty Parlor

1454 Miner
1996 Jory Ives Chelin Law/The Letter Box Center
1987 - Paddock Construction
1983 - Lyric Music
1976-1980 - Cooper Private Employment
1971-1972 - Des Plaines Building Department
1924-1963 - Public Service/Northern Illinois Gas Company

1456 Miner
Hi-Lite Cleaners
1973-1982 - Books & Briars
1965-1970 - Broasted Chicken Royal
1959 - Best Appliance Service
1955-1958 - Maria Shaefer
Music Shop

1458 Miner
1947 - Singer Repair Service

1460 Miner
1985- Re/Max Northwest
1961-1965 - Courtney & Akerman Optometry
1956-Dooley Real Estate
1951-1956 Choo Choo
Des Plaines/Vesely Drug Store
1924: Temple Sweet Shoppe

614 Lee
Sweet Remembrance
Puppet Parlor
2004 Andy's Food Store
Hodge Podge, A Party Place (never opened?)
Blue Spider Art Studio
Western Union

612 Lee
Twice A'Round Consignment
Health Systems Inc/Seattle Sutton's Healthy Eating

610 Lee
Alcholicos Anonimos
1968-1970 - Temporary Office Service
1965-67 - Business Service Corp

608 Lee
Everybody's T Shirt Co
Pathway Community Church
A-Adams School of Driving
2002-2004 - Association for Research and Enlightenment Heartland Region
1994 - Perdue & Associates
1971 - Kelly Girl

624? Lee -
03-22-1937 - Laura Lee Beauty Salon
11-1936- Ell-see Shop (from 705 Center)
1928-1935 - Bremer's Stationers

622 Lee -
1949 - Dr. Ivan F Lundsted, Optometrist
1947 - Meyer Watch Repair

Take a slideshow tour of the building:

Des Plaines Masonic Temple Building

Friday, October 9, 2009

2/3 of Des Plaines Historical Society Funding on the Chopping Block

Daily Herald: Des Plaines weighs its history against maintaining budget
This is a terrible place to look to fix the budget, ESPECIALLY when next year is our 175th anniversary, when the historical society is poised to grow and become even more important. When you cut out all the things that make your city special, you take away any reason to live there and not somewhere else. The Historical Society does important work to archive our heritage and educate. It is worth more than the TWO-TENTHS OF ONE PERCENT of our budget. If we as a city have that little pride, it is truly shameful.

But Historical Society President John Burke does say something that gives me pause. "There's an awful lot of people in town who have seen with their own eyes the visible reminders of our past are disappearing so rapidly."

Except for the Kinder House itself, the historical society has never made much of an effort to save historic places, including Kinder Hardware. The society's job is to record and archive history and artifacts, and to educate. Des Plaines is 175, it's time we do something to encourage saving our heritage. Des Plaines has 0 protected historic places. Des Plaines has 0 historical markers. Des Plaines has 0 incentive to restore anything. Is it any wonder we've watched it hauled to the landfill?

The city needs create a Heritage Conservation Commission to encourage keeping our history outside the walls of the historical society alive, encouraging investment and making Des Plaines a better place to live. A city without a history is hardly worthwhile.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

3rd Ward Newsletter - Featuring History of the Alfini Homes, Rememberances of Des Plaines in the 40s

Check this out, on Alderman Bogusz' excellent is the inaugural 3rd Ward newsletter. It includes a nice article on the Alfini home developments and another one with remembrances of Des Plaines in the 1940s and 1950s.

Tour the Des Plaines Methodist Campground October 17!

The Methodist Campground is one of the most unique, interesting and historic places in Des Plaines, yet few residents ever venture inside. The Des Plaines History Center and the Campground are offering a walking tour on Saturday, October 17 from 9:30-11:30 for the low price of $5 per individual and $10 per family. Don't miss this opportunity!

via: Des Plaines History Center

View full-screen

Monday, October 5, 2009

Notes on the Rand/River TIF Final Draft Plan

As previously mentioned, the TIF 4 Final Draft plan was released at a meeting on September 29. This will guide the redevelopment of the River/Rand/Golf area. Here are the Herald and Journal reports on the meeting.

You probably know that this is a controversial area; Des Plaines residents voted against creating a TIF in a non-binding referendum, but the government that was in place at that time subverted it by enacting the TIF before the public could vote. It has also been controversial because of the large numbers of businesses that could be displaced by new development.

The argument has been made that the area is not blighted because there isn't any real vacant land. But by the standards of the Illinois TIF law, it clearly fits the definition of blight because the land is inefficiently laid out (because it largely developed before it was annexed to Des Plaines in the 1950s,) because many of the buildings are deteriorated and uninviting, and because of the environmental contamination because this area has long been home to auto-related businesses, since it was one of the first 'strip' developments.

This is an issue that is clearly going to continue being controversial - rightly so - and it is likely going to be the issue focused on in the papers. So we going to sidestep that, and focus on some other issues.
The main focus so far has been on what is known as "Sub-area 5", bounded by River, Rand, and Golf, north of the railroad tracks. This has the greatest concentration of businesses, and it would virtually all be wiped out by new development. This area was the only one where public meetings have been held; several options were presented in May 2009.

Since that meeting, a few things have changed in Sub-area 5. The most prominent of these is that the River-Golf office building is now planned to stay. This has meant that the "big box" of the development (marked in one slide as a potential Target) has moved in front of the planned detention pond, and would be a two-story building instead of one, which would be a positive change. The new plan also calls for a junior anchor, possibly an office supply store, and fewer small stores, also good because it will lessen the impact on downtown and Metropolitan Square. Overall this plan is a little better than the ones presented earlier, and it looks workable, if the market will bear it. This would effect many existing businesses, but nothing historically significant.
One of the infrastructure improvements being studied are an underpass or overpass for River Road. An overpass be about 1900' long and would run from almost Golf Road to Sherman Place (where the animal hospital is). It would have to be at least 32' high. Obviously an overpass would be fairly visually obtrusive and would complicate access to anything between, such as River-Rand bowl, Riverwoods Funeral Chapel, Lions Woods, and the office building on the west side of the tracks. In contrast, an underpass would run 1160', from the Lions Woods entrance to Sherman; this would be less visible and would provide better access. However an underpass would be more prone to flooding. Perhaps someone who was at the meeting could tell us how they plan to make the adjacent businesses accessible. Perhaps it could be configured like Dempster & Milwaukee, with two lanes an underpass and two remaining at grade. Left turns would still be a problem, obviously...

The plan also calls for a lot of streetscape improvements including lighting, sidewalks, and landscaping, modeled on Waukegan Road in Morton Grove.
One of the more interesting parts is that the apartment buildings on the Northeast side of Willow may be purchased with FEMA funding and demolished, with Willow Creek restored (it runs in an underground culvert below the buildings now, causing frequent flooding.) This sounds like a good idea and could increase flood storage capacity.
But it leads to one of the oddest recommendations of the plan. On this side of Rand, Graceland would be turned to meet Rand at a 90-degree angle, by re-routing it through the site of the former gas station on the corner. So far, so good. But it calls for putting new townhomes along Rand, which would presumably front on the new creek with their backs turned to Rand. This seems like it would be better suited for commercial use; I don't see people buying townhomes on Rand, and I'm not sure it would look good from the street either. Redevelopment here would remove the existing buildings including the old Cock Robin/Top's Big Boy/J&J Sliders building that has been a car dealership for many years; I think this building would be good for a place like Paradise Pup, since people love old drive-ins; this would enhance the McDonald's museum too, since it would give an idea what the area was like then.

Speaking of which, the plan calls for closing off the portion of Lee Street between Rand and Elk, and putting more rowhouses along it except for the McDonald's. Evidently, the proposed History Campus is dead (which is probably for the best). I just can't imagine this street, facing a McDonald's and with the flashing neon lights of the McDonald's museum, as an appealing place to buy a new townhome. And it would negatively impact the museum, too - are visitors going to say, "Gee, why did Ray Kroc plop a McDonald's in the middle of a bunch of houses, and not even on an actual street? How did he possibly make that succeed?" It would be better to close off the Rand end of Lee, and leave the existing uses, if not all the existing buildings. Some context is necessary to understand that Ray Kroc built his McDonald's in anticipation of more strip retail development, which proved key to McDonald's future success in real estate. It would be wise to retain a few buildings from that era. Instead of townhomes, maybe this area on Rand and Lee could take some of the businesses displaced by redevelopment.

Oddly, the plan for Rand and Lee does keep the Des Plaines Yamaha & Suzuki building (which started life in the 1940s as an oval-shaped gas station [and possibly a drive-in too- was this a Sinclair?]) in the middle of these rowhomes, and suggests that it build an expansion on the site of the Robert Hall/U.S. Cellular building, roughly the same size as the existing building. Why not just build an addition between the two?

Some sort of preservation should occur for the Northwestern Hospital/Drury Northwestern/Polo Inn building, which the TIF plan calls for demolishing. Although it is now in poor shape, painted and carved up, its facade is very rare Egyptian-style Art Deco terra cotta, and would be beautiful if restored. The building is also historically significant as the Northwest Suburbs' only hospital for 20 years, which tells you just how small the villages were, and is the oldest building in this section of town. This building could serve as an expanded McDonald's Museum. If not, the facade could be disassembled and reused downtown, perhaps next to the Des Plaines Theatre.
Next is the Pesche's triangle. Evidently, Pesche's plans on building a new building; the presentation does not provide any details about that. Some of the 5 old greenhouses should be retained. Des Plaines was long known as one of the leading producers of flowers in the nation, because of its location as a transportation hub. We even had one of the leading greenhouse manufacturer's. Pesche's greenhouses are really the last remaining vestige of that. The other Pesche's buildings are nothing special, but the greenhouses are. Worst-case, maybe they could be disassembled and a section put up in a park.

The plan also calls for removal of the Suburban Transmissions and Geiser-Berner building to provide for a better Pesche's parking lot. Oddly, it also calls for a new restaurant to the south of Geiser-Berner. Why not leave Geiser-Berner alone? Does the 100 foot difference really matter? It is an attractive building (former Kinney Shoes) and a successful business.
Finally, the other side of River. The plan calls for redeveloping River between Sherman and Rand with a small strip center with parking to the side and rear. This would mean the stores would have their backs to the road, inhibiting visibility while still leaving it not pedestrian friendly. This is one case where parking in front is probably a good idea. It would also demolish the Wright Animal Hospital building, an attractive, successful business since 1956.

Also, the plan calls for at least 3 standalone restaurants, plus likely some in the new retail strips. Don't we want our restaurants concentrated in the downtown?

How about all that new pavement? Part of the rationale for redeveloping is that there are too many buildings on the floodplains. Maybe the pavement can be permeable, to decrease flooding. Shouldn't we stop covering all the ground with pavement, and let it soak up some water?

The plan is showing the maximum changes and is still subject to further change; it is projecting suggestions, not actual proposals. But public input is needed to refine this, so that if and when development does occur, there is a solid guideline for it. And there are doubtless other issues. What do you think? Did you attend the meeting? Can you provide further insight?

Friday, October 2, 2009

News Roundup: Coordinating Downtown, Trains on Parade, and Transit-Oriented Development for Cumberland

First Ward Alderman Patti Haugeberg is taking initiative to make downtown Des Plaines work; there is also a creative move to bring fiberglass "art trains" downtown.

This is a good start. The National Trust for Historic Preservation's Main Street Program is the model to follow for downtown, and it rests on just four points: Organization, Promotion, Design, and Economic Restructuring. So far, this is a start towards the first two. The Main Street program has turned around hundreds of communities around the country, and they know what works and what doesn't. And what they tell us is that, like a four-legged table, you need all four for it to work. And they need to follow the eight principles. Des Plaines has the resources for a success story; it needs the plan. Recessions are a time when you don't have money for the "big idea that will save the city" (like Metropolitan Square or the Des Plaines Mall), so they are the time to make a careful plan and initiate the small changes that put you at a competitive advantage when better times come. A nice downtown will be better to shop at, yes, and it will give residents something to do. But in the bigger picture, it improves Des Plaines' marketability - companies look for a vibrant downtown when seeking places to relocate. I hope the leaders will brush up on the Main Street program; conveniently enough, a great book on it just came out in July, Revitalizing Main Street: A practitioner's guide to comprehensive commercial district revitalization.
And Patti has another cool idea up her sleeve: Trains on Parade.

Trains Rolling Onto DP Sidewalks?

So, sure, it's not the most original promotion, but it's fun and it gets people looking at downtown. Sounds like a smart idea to me. The trains aren't going away, so maybe it's time we learned to stop worrying and love the train.
And, again in train-related news, there are plans afoot to take advantage of the Cumberland Metra station and make the area around it more suited for dense, transit-oriented development. That part of Des Plaines has always seemed a little quiet, considering it is on a highway and there's a train stop there. There's a smattering of retail - like the wonderful L&L Snack Shop. But not too many people are walking from home to the train. Rather than continue to overbuild downtown, some new development should probably occur around Cumberland.
If I could make one suggestion:
Maybe this:
Cumberland Station 1952
Might be a little more attractive than this:

It may have burned to the ground on April 5, 1956, but it could use a train station that actually looks like a train station. That's why Metra has replaced almost all of these modernist shack stations, like at Dee Road and Park Ridge.