Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Kunisch Barber Shop Building, 1510 Miner

Covered in deteriorating vinyl siding and panel brick, a tattered awning, and a jumble of signs, the Kunisch Barber Shop building (now home to Teresa Tailor and Cleaners - although it is up for lease), is a bit of an eyesore these days. But it is in all likelihood the oldest remaining business building in downtown Des Plaines.
Born in 1859 in Schlesien, Germany, son of a barber, Julius W. Kunisch began his apprenticeship as a barber at the age of 13. Nine years later, he set off for Chicago, working for two years in a shop in Chicago on Van Buren Street. In 1884, he came to Des Plaines and opened a shop, serving the Methodist Campground out of a tent while an assistant ran the shop, and in 1885 bought the lot at what is now 1510 Miner, where he built his own shop - this building - in 1886.

A barber for 78 years, Kunisch was Des Plaines' first, and he would continue to serve the city for 66 years until 1950, when he retired as one of the longest-practicing barbers in the nation.
Julius Kunisch enjoys the scenic beauty of the Des Plaines River near Algonquin Road, 1898

Kunisch was a valued member of the community, because he saw it grow from a tiny community to the sparks of the large suburb it was in 1954 when he died. He went from cutting pompadours to center parts to crew cuts, and watched straight razor shaves fall to the electric razor, all while grooming four generations of Des Plaines citizens. Kunisch reminisced about the morning his shop first opened in 1886, with a line of customers waiting at 9:30 a.m. that lasted nonstop until 1:30 a.m. the next day. He remained the sole barber in town for 10 years, when Harry Rabson's shop opened.
1897 Ad
In those days, barbers were really full service. In addition to scissor cuts and shaves, Kunisch performed facial massages with cream and hot towels. He could cut two or three customers' hair simultaneously, with his wife handling some of the preparations. He was reknowned for his fine European straight razors, and kept his customers' sharp. And at the same time, he sold insurance. His regular customers had their own decorated shaving mugs on hand. Back then, before indoor plumbing was common, the Parlor offered regulation tubs for Des Plaines' men to bathe in. In Germany, where a barbers were expected to serve as doctors in the army, he pulled teeth, set bones, and drew blood.
Around 1935, the building was "modernized" with a stucco front and a row of windows on the second floor. After Kunisch retired in 1949, the new tenant was the Des Plaines Currency Exchange, which moved down the street in the mid-60s. A series of temp agencies (Larson, Zenith, Medical Health, Ivy) then occupied it before Teresa Tailor moved in. With the lease up, maybe it is a good time to restore the facade to its original appearance.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Lutheran General Hospital Turns 50

Lutheran General Hospital was dedicated 50 years ago today. Back then, it looked like this; today, this original part has been enclosed on all sides, including the top; now Lutheran General is sprawling, but still up-to-date.

When construction started on the $5 million Lutheran General Hospital (architects Burnham and Hammond) in 1957, $1.25 million came from private donations. It was originally planned to be five stories with 200 beds and a school for 100 nursing students, but before construction even began, it was expanded to 326 beds (increasing the cost to $5.9 million), and designed to expand further to 450.

It was dedicated 50 years ago today, and the original building is now totally hidden by the spectacular new bed tower. You can read more about the overall history here, so I will go over the building history.

Within three months of opening, the next addition was announced. This would include  more school space for $750,00 (1961), a $300,000 research wing (1962), and long range plans for a $5 million clinic (1965), and 30 more acres of land, which was planned to include a future $10 million medical college for 400 students; housing for faculty, students, interns, and residents; a facility for emotionally disturbed children; and a 100 bed hospital for the elderly. Obviously, many of these plans were not carried out.

The three-story rear research wing opened in 1964, and is now enclosed within several larger buildings. Plans for 203 more beds were announced later that year, with a 3 story addition to the original building and a five-story west annex, with three stories underground. Before the annex was completed in 1965, plans for two more stories on the annex were announced, along with a one-story emergency room.

In 1967, the five-story alcoholic rehabilitation center broke ground. Various other major expansions were built in the 1970s and 1980s. In 1982 the six story (two underground) Parkside Center and garage opened. In 1977, when the Nesset Pavilion was announced off Ballard Road.

In 1996 reknowned architectural firm Cesar Pelli & Associates worked with Watkins Carter Hamilton to create the new Yacktman Pavilion Children's Outpatient center and master plan, which resulted in new landscaping and a 1,200 space parking garage. A new ER was added in 2002, three times the size of the old. In 2003, a $25 million operating room expansion opened.

Most recently, the Cancer Center, Parking Garage, and eight-story, 192-room addition opened.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

The Old Bandstand - Right for Metropolitan Square Plaza?

Here's an idea.

Photo courtesy Des Plaines Historical Society

Since Metropolitan Square opened, people have been saying that the crescent-shaped plaza in the middle seems unfinished - it's just an expanse of brick.

 To my understanding, it was designed to have a feature of some sort in the middle, but it was cost-engineered out. So really, it's unfinished: it's Metropolitan SQUARE and this is the "town square" component (yes, it's a crescent, but architecturally it functions as a square), and you generally have a feature on a Square. It works well for things like the Christmas trees that are there now, but through most of the year, there's just no center piece. It was obviously planned that way; it's axial with Center Street. If you stand in the middle of the square, and look towards Miner Street, it frames two other key parts of downtown, the Metra station and the Library. There should be another civic feature on the plaza to draw the eye and draw in people and shoppers. Metropolitan Square has had problems from the get-go, but it's not going to disappear and we need to make the best of it.

There have been vague ideas for something like a fountain in the middle, but that probably wouldn't work that well - it would be noisy for the sidewalk cafes for the restaurants around it, and the canyon of condo buildings and parking garage would echo and amplify that. Like all other outdoor fountains in Illinois, it would also be shut off half the year. Still pretty, but less pretty. It would also cost a lot in maintenance and probably insurance.

So, instead, what if we look back to how our predecessors addressed a similar need. Park Place (which was basically moved a few feet when Metropolitan Square was developed and is now called Market Street) had been run through to Jefferson Street, leaving a triangular sliver of land that still exists next to the choo-choo. This island has been reconfigured a lot since then; neither Jefferson nor Park runs through anymore, and the streets have been curved to make the turns on and off Lee safer.
Ellinwood & Lee - Sent 1909 - Colorized Theide Photo
It was 1892, and Des Plaines was swelling with civic pride. It had installed its first plank sidewalks that year, and on September 22, the first Village Hall would be dedicated (where American Mattress now stands at Ellinwood and Lee). At the same time, the treasury dwindled to $64.82 in 1893. In August 1892, an octagonal bandstand with a 6' platform was built for the Des Plaines Band on that otherwise useless triangle of land; it was a place the community could gather. It stood there until the 1920s.

Wouldn't a replica of this bandstand be a perfect centerpiece for Metropolitan Square, a half-block away from the original location? There's nothing downtown that serves the function this gazebo did over 100 years ago, and the plaza is designed for the same use. The historical society already has a small-scale replica of it, and uses an image of it as one of its emblems, but a full-size replica (in less flammable materials) would work great in Metropolitan Square. While helping us reconnect to our roots, it would also provide a place for speakers and entertainment in the square.

The Historical Society's Replica Bandstand in the late 1960s
What do you think?

Friday, December 11, 2009

Dumb Ideas Dept.: City May Buy and Demolish Sim's Bowl

Why is the city so obsessed with putting more development on this block? The last council almost allowed a gargantuan condo building, the Arredia administration kept talking about vague "entertainment" proposals that were never made public. Even in the 80s there was a big condo proposal that never flew. The senior tower itself went through a series of proposals before something eventually went up.

City Eyes Sims Site: Under $1 Million Asking Price May Be 'Cheap', But Not All On Council Agree

WE DID THIS BEFORE AND IT DIDN'T WORK. In 1985, the historic core of downtown, Ellinwood Street between Pearson and Lee, was torn out in the hopes of redevelopment. Instead we got a gravel parking lot for almost 15 years until Library Plaza came along, and that went through a series of proposals before a working one was found. In the meantime, what had been a struggling strip of stores choked out by the Behrel Parking deck was replaced by a gravel lot that nobody walked through, because nobody likes walking through an empty lot. The Behrel deck was a Berlin Wall that divided downtown north and south; that empty lot was an invisible barrier further separating the east and west of downtown. It made a bad situation that much worse. And if that bad call hadn't been made, we might have rehabilitated historic buildings instead of the glorified strip malls to either side of the library. Leaving a parking lot (parking for what, exactly?) puts up one more barrier between people and  businesses like Oliveti's.

The citizens and the market have made it clear that downtown doesn't need more condos any time soon. What downtown needs is places to go and things to do. The focus on reviving downtown has been on restaurants and entertainment - attractions, not just condos. There's nothing wrong with having a bowling alley downtown, it's one more entertainment option. Sim's was tired and not totally inviting; it has potential to be fixed up and relaunched as a retro bowling alley and cocktail lounge. Why waste money to throw away that option?

Tearing down buildings in hopes of development puts the city in a desperate position. With no building, and especially city-owned property, there is much less property tax generated, and the city is forced to take whatever a developer comes up with. If you want quality development, you raise the bar.

The city has to spend its money wisely instead of throwing it into a landfill. Spend the money to make downtown better, not to tear it down. If the city wants to control what happens there, it should try to purchase an option on the property and work to find a developer, for a bowling alley or something else. There's no sense in throwing away your resources. Use the TIF to reverse blight, not create it.

 Des Plaines Journal
Story posted Friday, December 11, 2009
City Eyes Sims Site
By TODD WESSELL Journal & Topics Editor
The city of Des Plaines is in the process of purchasing the former downtown Sims Bowl property on Ellinwood Street east of Pearson Street. However, not all aldermen support the idea...

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Cumberland Station to be Replaced in 2012

Cumberland Station 1952

The Chicago Tribune reports that as part of a $136 million state-funded public works program, the Cumberland Metra Station and platforms will be replaced starting in 2012, at a cost of $4.5 million.

The station is definitely due for replacement. It is severely underutilized, with only about 400 passengers daily.

if you had 20 minutes to wait for the train in the middle of "nowhere" and "nowhere" had these plastic chairs, you'd be doing this too
(photo by katherineofchicago)
Would you want to wait for a train here? It's not so inviting. Given the choice, I think most people would go to one of the nicer stations down the road.

However, the RTA has recognized that there is a lot of potential for growth, and clearly the station is the centerpiece of that potential. So they have funded the creation of a Transit Oriented Development plan, which I blogged about in October. Transit oriented development is a great idea to enhance the neighborhood as long  as it doesn't overwhelm the existing residents and businesses. And a new station house can be a focal point and inspire future growth around it. That is the main reason train stations usually have such distinctive architecture.

I think it would be wise for the new station to either replicate or imitate the old Tudor-style station.

Cumberland Station 1952

The old station wasn't just one picked from a stock book of train station plans. Rather, in 1927, the H.M. Cornell company was creating the Cumberland neighborhood, its site chosen for its proximity to major highways (Golf, Wolf, and Northwest) and the train. So a train station was a necessity. And since the Tudor style was the architectural style of the subdivision, it only made sense to make the station Tudor. Tudor is the character of the neighborhood - and it WAS transit-oriented from the start. If the goal now is to enhance the character of the neighborhood and give it an identity, the new station should follow the lines of the old. It had neat streetlights too - maybe matching new ones should be used in the new platforms and Northwest highway.

That old station burned to the ground in 1956, victim of young boys accidentally starting a fire. So the current station has now stood more than twice as long as the old one. I don't think anyone will be sorry to see it go, though - what good is an ugly, ill-maintained train station you don't even notice when you drive by?


Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Gillespie Printery, 1488 Miner

This building is probably best known for its longtime tenant, Bremer's Stationers, but it has a deeper story than that.

It was built in 1913 for use as the Gillespie Printery, home of the Des Plaines Suburban Times under publisher David A. Gillespie. It opened just before its neighbor, the First National Bank, with the Cook County Herald reporting on November 14, 1913,
Mr. and Mrs. David A. Gillespie and the people of Desplaines have just reason to feel proud of their new printing office with modern appointments. It is a handsome brick building with business office in front, composing room and job shop in a tasty well lighted apartment back of office.

The cylinder press and stock room are located in a spacious basement with cement floor. The Suburban Times proprietors and force of printers gave a public reception in honor of their grand opening in their new quarters Tuesday afternoon and evening and were delighted with many compliments.

We congratulate Mr. and Mrs. Gillespie on their success and happy surroundings.

The note in the corner of the rendering at the top of this page tells us that the building was the product of prolific Chicago architect Leon Eugene Stanhope. L. E. Stanhope was partner of prominent architect J.E.O. Pridmore from 1893-1898, and was quite accomplished on his own. He built houses, apartment buildings, churches, and commercial buildings in a variety of styles, with an emphasis on Classical and Tudor Revival, including many of the Tudor Revival buildings in Glencoe. He served as Deputy Commissioner of Buildings in Chicago for several years and later served as President of the Illinois Society of Architects. For a few other examples of his buildings, take a look at the F.R. Long House, Eighth Church of Christ, Scientist, and the streamline moderne Anti-Cruelty Society building on Grand Avenue in downtown Chicago. The Gillespie Printery is one of the only examples of Tudor Revival commercial architecture in Des Plaines - the only other one that comes to mind is the building on Thacker between Webster and Third that I think was the original sales office for the Villas. It has the typical stucco finish with half-timbering (or at least something made to look like wood,) and a tile roof imitating wood shingles.

It even came with its own streetlight, years before Des Plaines put up streetlights throughout downtown. The small picture suggests it was originally more of a putty color than the off-white it is now. At one time, it was painted light blue with white timbers.

The Suburban Times was of course the community's longest-running newspaper, founded in 1885 as the Cook County Record by William Earle of Algonquin, who circulated about 100 papers a week by foot, horseback, and boat. From then until 1897, the paper went through seven owners, including C. E. Bennett, F. Salter, and Frank Sodt, who moved publishing to Feehanville (Maryville) and renamed it the Des Plaines Suburban Times in 1895. Gillespie went to work for Sodt in November, 1896 and purchased the paper the next year. In those days, it was a two page paper, with Des Plaines news on one sheet and Park Ridge on the other. In 1904 he added a flatbed press and a smaller press. In 1921, Gillespie retired and sold the newspaper to the Des Plaines Pblishing Company, with the Herald reporting,
The Suburban Times, published at Des Plaines, Ill, which under the management of Mr. and Mrs. D. J. Gillespie has attained a great success, has passed into the hands of the Des Plaines Publishing Company, the president and editor of which are experienced newspaper men of Wisconsin and other places. Mr. Gillespie has been in his present field (to quote his own
words) from "way back to those days when a Washington hand press, an old fashioned jobber and a few fonts of primitive type, were the office equipment; when a subscriber came
in and planked down a dollar he appeared like the spirit, of an angel."
Now they retire from the present plant with full equipment of presses, type, folders, cutters, linotype and a handsome home for all. No wonder if this long time popular editor feels
a bit of pride in the loyal support accorded him and his good wife by so many friends and patrons throughout these many years.
The reason for Mr. Gillespie's giving over the business is his protracted ill health. Mrs. Gillespie has assumed the burden of the work the past few months and has succeeded admirably.
The president of the new company is John W. Cruger, who will have charge of the mechanical end. His son, Harold J. Cruger is vice president and will act as editor. He has been on the reportorial staff of several large daily papers and with his father comes highly recommended.
The Cook County Herald welcomes these new men into the newspaper fraternity of Cook County.
Crueger then installed a large amount of new machinery, before being sold to employees Fred Fulle and his brother in law, Herman Gaede, in 1923. In 1925 Fulle bought out Gaede and moved the paper to 777 (729) Pearson.

The building thus emptied, the First National Bank expanded into it from 1927-1937. By 1941, the Glad-Mere Beauty Salon was in operation there. Coincidentally, by 1948, the building once again became devoted to the written word, as Frank A. Bremer & Sons, Stationers, moved in.

Bremer's Stationers, in business at 624 Lee Street in the Masonic Temple Building since 1928, became the building's longest occupant. Bremer's thrived in the early years, selling typewriters, office supplies, Parker pens, and Hallmark cards. They were also Des Plaines' school supply source for years. In succession, Frank A. Bremer, S. Charles Bremer, and Charles V. Bremer and Gene Kohl ran the business. In 1987 business began slowing down as mail-order and chain office supplies began to grow rapidly, providing supplies with deeper discounts that Bremer's could not match. Bremer's survived a few more years on the basis of personal customer service, but by 1996 it was time to retire, and with the next generation of Bremers uninterested in taking over the business, the doors were closed for good in November.

The building was quickly taken over again by the neighboring Currency Exchange, which has operated AmeriCash Loans there since. They quickly tore out the distinctive Tudor-style windows and doors that gave the building so much of its character, replacing them with characterless aluminum-clad windows that belong on a strip mall.

The upstairs has a bit of history too, having served as Des Plaines' YMCA headquarters in the 1950s before the Lattof Y was built, and later as a halfway house for recovering alcoholics, First Step House (for men, 1980-1992), and  Miracle House (for women, 1992-1996). It also held Alano meetings in the 1970s.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

The (First) First National Bank Building, 1490 Miner

The 1913 First National Bank building (the first of three buildings that bear that name) is another little gem on Miner Street that is overshadowed by the ugly signs and renovations that it has accumulated over the years. But that pretty little building is still waiting to be rediscovered under all that junk.

First National Bank opened January 28, 1913 under the direction of Joseph L. Jefferson, with six charter members and $60,000 in resources. In this first year, it operated out of the Scott Insurance and Real Estate office on Miner Street. By June of the same year, plans were underway for a permanent home. An order was placed for a Terra Cotta facade from the Midland Terra Cotta company of Chicago, designed by an architect named Rowe. There were a pair of architect brothers in Park Ridge named Charles Barr Rowe and Lindley Phelps Rowe at the time, so it is likely they were responsible. Midland specialized in stock, off the shelf terra cotta, instead of only custom work; this building may be composed of such stock elements.
The building opened Saturday, December 6, 1913. It is a single-story white terra cotta building in the Beaux Arts style, typical of the then-popular City Beautiful movement. Built on the site of the Des Plaines Suburban Times' previous printing press, the shiny white temple must have really stood out in Des Plaines then, with its dirt streets and buildings of brick and frame. The building is exceptionally well-detailed, with fluted Roman Ionic columns placed in antis, a frieze reading FIRST NATIONAL BANK with paired consoles, with a dentilled cornice above topped by a toothed plaque reading 1913. Its storefront facade followed this classical theme, with belt courses and fancy iron work. I still have not found a picture of its original interior, but it probably looked similar to the Des Plaines State Bank building.

By the end of 1913, the initial $60,000 had already ballooned to $206,659. In 1916, the officers of the bank were: Joseph L. Jefferson, President; George M. Whitcomb, Vice-President; Charles Boesche, Vice-President; Glenn C. Tolin, Cashier. Directors were Harry T. Bennett, Henry Goede, Louis C. Spiegler, Charles Boesche, Dr. A. M. Purves, Arthur L. Webster, Ning Eley, W. L. Plew, and George W. Sykes.
In 1927, the bank expanded into the adjacent Gillespie Printery building (better known as Bremer's Stationers - the subject of an upcoming entry.) This was at the height of Des Plaines' roaring 20s growth spurt - the highways, Masonic Temple, Des Plaines Theatre, and new homes brought much more attention to Des Plaines. The older and larger Des Plaines State Bank was building its new marble building at the time. In 1937, the bank moved into the much larger, and by then vacant, second Des Plaines State Bank building. At some point a neon sign was added over the frieze, starting the tradition of inappropriate signs.
Soon after, the Des Plaines Agency (Insurance) moved in. The building also started holding a second tenant - over the years Benjamin Electric's employment office, Singer Sewing Machine Repair, Dooley Real Estate, Ladendorf Real Estate, Lutheran General, Becker Roofing, Phillip Mizok, attorney, and more.
The Des Plaines Agency was replaced by the current tenant, Des Plaines Currency Exchange, in the mid-1960s. The frieze sign was changed again and an hourglass projecting neon sign was added. Some time later the upper window was covered by a mansard roof and another big panel sign, and the neon hourglass was replaced by a backlit plastic panel, leaving the eyesore we see now. Surprisingly, most of the original iron work still exists, altered to fit two doors instead of one.
How to rehab this building? First, the signs and mansard need to go. The building needs a good cleaning; it would be bright white again without discolored mortar. With the new casino coming, it is probably not best to have a Currency Exchange in the middle of downtown; maybe there is a less-conspicuous place for it. The building would be well-suited for a number of uses, especially across from the train station. It would make a good coffeeshop, sandwich shop - maybe even a nice little Greek restaurant! And remember, it attaches to the adjacent building, which adds more flexibility. The First National Bank building is another forgotten piece of history downtown with a lot of character and potential.