Saturday, July 13, 2019

The History of the Rogers Park Telephone Exchange at 1622 West Pratt Avenue, Chicago.

The first telephone exchange in Rogers Park was established in 1903 in a rented space at the northwest corner of Lunt and Clark. Soon increasing demand and specialized equipment required a purpose-built structure. The Chicago Telephone Company contracted with the architecture firm of Holabird and Roche, which had already designed their buildings downtown and many smaller neighborhood exchanges. Good examples of these remain throughout Chicago.

New technology has a tendency to make people uncomfortable. One way to offset this discomfort is to create a traditional image to reassure the public. Holabird and Roche was masterful at creating sturdy classical designs. The Rogers Park Exchange is a simplified version of the Georgian Revival style. And what could be less intimidating than Georgian Revival?
The building itself is reinforced concrete construction with Colonial brick and white Bedford stone trim. Originally the entrance vestibule was pink Tennessee marble, but it is unknown if it is still there. Note the addition of a fourth floor, along with substantial rear additions. This was a part of the original design intent, and the foundation was built to accommodate another floor as needed. The stone cornice was rebuilt, but it looks like it lost some detail in the process.
The L-shaped area emphasized in red is the original footprint of the building. The area in blue was added in 1940 as well as an additional floor to the pink portion of the building. In 1960 an additional floor was added to the blue portion, raising it from two stories to three. 

The work force consisted of three supervisors, one clerk, one matron, and forty-nine operators. Yes, that's right, a Matron. And both day and night chief operators were women. And those forty-nine operators?  Probably young women. At the turn of the century switchboard operator joined teacher and nurse as an acceptable occupation for middle-class women.

But there was an ongoing discomfort about the thought of professional young women working and living in the big city on their own. The fear was that it would be too easy for these women to get into trouble, perhaps not of their own doing. Several organizations opened boarding houses for working women, where they could enjoy communal activities and close supervision. It's telling that the president of the Rogers Park Women's Club, Mrs. E.A. King, was in attendance for the opening ceremony. 

Compiled by Neil Gale, Ph.D. 

Mrs. Emma C. Kennett built over 80 apartment buildings in the Rogers Park and West Ridge communities of Chicago, in the 1920s.

Emma Kennett, 6341 Sheridan Road, who, with a Negro partner, built more than 80 buildings in the Rogers Park and West Ridge communities. She designed the buildings herself in the Gothic, French, and Spanish style. By the mid-1920s, she was worth over $5,000,000 ($72,625,000 today).

Farwell and Oakley Avenues, Chicago. 1928
Chicago owes a lot to small-scale neighborhood developers. This role is generally unsung, despite being responsible for the overwhelming percentage of buildings throughout the city.
The block plan of Kennett's Subdivision, recorded in January of 1928. The depth is about 125 feet (typical for Chicago) and the frontages on Farwell range from 50 to 58 feet. The corner lot has a larger frontage of 77 feet. Corner lots are typically larger in order to offset the loss of a private backyard and the exposure to traffic from two directions. In urban areas the corner lots are often used to develop a greater number of less expensive units. This development consisted of five 6-flat buildings and one 18-flat building, although some of the 6-flats have since been subdivided.

Mrs. Emma C. Kennett was the head of Kennett Construction Company and an experienced developer by 1928. Her maiden name was Anderson, her parents were born in Norway, she apparently grew up in Chicago.

The Chicago Daily Tribune wrote a number of articles about her, in part because of the novelty of a woman succeeding in the construction industry. 

By 1928 she had developed more than 80 buildings in the Jarvis-Ridge-Howard area while raising three young children. Mrs. Kennett worked in the office of a builder prior to marrying James Kennett, a Chicago building contractor. 

When the marriage to James C. Kennett, Sr. ended Mrs. Kennett re-entered the building profession to support her young family. She continued sending her ex-husband checks until he disappeared, later found murdered in California [1] in 1935. 

By the late 1920s she had begun developing clusters of buildings. This subdivision is in the West Ridge community, but most of her work is found in Rogers Park. In one article she notes her horror of long barrack-like apartments, which she attempts to avoid using various eclectic architectural styles popular at the time. 
North side of Farwell, west of Oakley.
Above you can see examples of Tudor Revival, Italian Rennaissance Revial, and Spanish Mission Revival. She claimed to have designed these buildings herself, although she worked with architects to make the plans technically correct. This is not beyond her skills at all. In fact, she especially enjoyed designing the details of construction, including the interior decor, lobby ornamentation and landscaping. Officially Arthur Bucket is listed as the architect of record for the corner building and J.T. Fortin for the 6-flats.

Her assertion that the buidings she created resemble private homes, doesn't make sense in Chicago. Maybe it's the distance of 90+ years, but in no way do these look like individual homes. They look like apartment buildings. Even 1920s single family homes of comparable square footage in the North Shore wouldn't resemble these. Still, the attempt to create unique buildings that avoid regimentation was certainly accomplished.
Entrances along Farwell (in order).
You have to admire the level of detail that went into these buildings and their constuction and appearance are so typical for this area and time period.

7440-7455 N. Hoyne Avenue, Chicago. 1929
On the short block of Hoyne between Fargo and Birchwood, Emma Kennett, probably created her most notable project. These six buildings are roughly the same size and shape, but their facades were given the high-style eclectic treatment popular in the 1920s. And of course nothing said good taste and luxury quite like French and Spanish Revival. 
According to an article published in the Chicago Tribune on March 31, 1929, these buildings represented a $480,000 ($7,130,000 today) investment on behalf of the developer. An ambitious undertaking, especially since it was just a few months before the onset of the Great Depression (1929-1939), and lasted well into it.
On the east side of the block are the Spanish Revival styles. They all have various types of wrought iron balconies and a pale cream brick, which was seen as appropriate to the style. There are casement windows and French doors on the upper floors, and double-hung windows with similar pane divisions at the ground level. The casement windows alone are worth a visit. So few original casements survive from the 20s, and this block has an impressive number of them. Imagine how much these buildings would lose with simple double-hung replacements.
The door on the left is not only an arched door in a rounded tower, but the door itself is curved to match the tower radius. The middle door is set within an ornamental stone surround that I can only describe as Art Deco. The simplicity of the door to the right is off-set by a complex portal window, which reflects some of the arched windows treatments on the block. Two have elaborate copper kick-plates and decorative hinges attached with rivets.
The west side of the block is even more elaborate. Curved towers and complex roofs form an anchor to these buildings, which have random-cut limestone veneers at the lower floors and brick above. The half-timbering designs are works of art in themselves. The false mansard roofs (a roof which has four sloping sides, each of which becomes steeper halfway down) on this side of the street are large, making them easier to read than the Spanish-style roof forms across the street.
The doors are great, each with a unique design and window pattern. They all have the same copper kick-plates and hinges seen on the east side of the block. And, unique, is the window pattern found on the center door.

A Tribune article indicates that Kennett designed these buildings with the help of Herbert J. Richter, an architect, but according to the Chicago Historic Resources Survey the architect of record is Arthur Bucket, which makes sense, since Arthur Bucket's name is associated with the corner apartment building at Farwell and Oakley.

Herbert Richter more or less disappears after his World War II draft registration in 1942. He seems to have drifted after his work with Emma Kennett. At the time of the 1940 census he lived in Baltimore, Maryland, and worked for a carnival. He is not in the Social Security database, either because he died young or never paid in.ssss

The account below explains why architectural historians are in constant danger of walking in front of cars while wandering through the city:
7451-7455 N. Hoyne
"Symmetrical facade centers on semi-circular plan bay/stair tower with portal at base and topped with a hexagonal roof and finial. 
Romanseque casement windows on either side of door topped with six-paned fan light. All windows in sets of threes except baseement of simple Roman arch. First floor fenestration repeats casement-fanlight treament with a colonade of counter-spiralled pilasters.

Third floor bays have pairs of French doors opening onto balconies flanked by smaller windows. 

Stylized Italianate eave brackets lead the eye to small windows on 2nd/3rd floors, one with ornated carved limestone surrounds and pilasters. 

Door is carved, paneled oak with semicircular leaded overglass with peep windows at eye level. Keystones, sills, brackets and spiral columns rendered in stone. Limestone coping on south corner gate repeats brackets at roofline. The lion finial weathervane atop tower, false hinges on doors and kickplate are hammered copper."
Compiled by Neil Gale, Ph.D. 

[1] August 23, 1935 Chicago Tribune Article:
The murder of James C, Kennett by the hand of a confessed serial killer. Kennett, who was “in the mountains for his health,” met the 21 year old man in Roseville, about 15 miles from the mine shaft in the Serra Nevada mountains where Kennett’s body was found. The killer, an itinerant prospector, said the two had met and decided to camp together, and that the murder occurred as a result of a quarrel over supplies. He claimed to have murdered 24 other people. He was convicted and hung in May, 1936.

August 30, 1935 Chicago Tribune Article:
Rites Here Tomorrow for J.C. Kennett, Slain in the West.
The ashes of James C. Kennett, Sr., retired Chicago contractor, who was slain in a mining camp near Auburn, California, about two months ago, are being returned to Chicago, it was learned yesterday. Services will be held at 2:30 p.m. in the Mount Olive chapel, Irving Park Boulevard and Narragansett Street. Kennett is survived by his wife Emma of 6341 Sheridan Road, from whom he had been divorced; by two sons, James Jr., 21 years old, and Maynard, 19 years old, and a daughter Joyce, 15 years old.

Friday, July 12, 2019

David Berg and Company, Chicago, Illinois. (1860-1992)

Beginning in 1860 the David Berg and Company had developed a following of customers fond of their signature, kosher style, hot dogs. This was before the Civil War! 
David Berg hot dogs were served at the Republican National Convention that nominated Abraham Lincoln. David Berg was a pioneer that introduced the "hot dog" at a professional baseball stadium. That happened in 1901, it was the Chicago White Stockings first season as a major league team, and their second season in Chicago playing ball at South Side Park located at 38th Place and South Princeton Avenue, in Chicago.
Chicago White Stockings first playing ball at South Side Park.
When Vienna Beef set up shop in 1893, one of the few great sausage companies around was David Berg & Company. In 1992, almost a hundred years later, David Berg joined the family of Vienna Beef products. Vienna Beef carried on the David Berg taste and tradition by honoring their unique spice blend. David Berg's treasured Chicago sausage products are now made by Vienna Beef.

Fun Hot Dog Facts:
  • In 1978, David Berg made a six-foot, 681-pound premium beef hot dog in a 100-pound poppy seed bun covered with two gallons of mustard. 
  • The average hot dog is consumed in 6 bites. 
  • More hot dogs are believed to be sold at Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport than any other location in the world. 
Compiled by Neil Gale, Ph.D. 

Ambler Texaco Gasoline Station on Route 66 in Dwight, Illinois.

Ambler’s Texaco Gasoline Station, also known as Vernon’s Texaco Station and Becker’s Marathon Gas Station, is located along historic Illinois Route 66 in the Village of Dwight. The station gets its name from longtime manager Basil “Tubby” Ambler, who operated the station from 1938 to 1966. 
The original 1933 building Jack Shore built consisted of an office with wood clapboard siding, an arched roof with asphalt shingles, and residential windows adorned with shutters and flower boxes. Extending out from the office over three Texaco gas pumps was a sheltering canopy supported by two tapered columns. Mr. Shore also constructed an ice house located on the property. 
The station’s design, with its cottage look, may strike the contemporary traveler as quaint--or perhaps even odd. Why, after all, shouldn’t a gas station look like a gas station? But this domestic style, common along Route 66, had a distinct purpose and stems from a time in the early 20th century when gas stations were just beginning to seriously intrude upon the suburban landscape of America. The oil companies wisely opted to tread lightly on this new, non-commercial territory.
Gas stations were consciously styled to be homey and inviting to customers, as well as inconspicuous in their new residential, suburban surroundings. In the early 1940s, following a national trend that saw gas stations evolve to full service garages, Mr. Ambler added a service bay of simple concrete block to the north side of the original building. Although he left the station in 1966, the station continued servicing motorists until nearly the turn of the 21st century, making it one of the oldest continually operated service stations along the Mother Road.
Over the years, the station naturally underwent a number of changes. Windows were removed and added, fresh paint applied, and new roofing laid down. The tall, elegant red pumps of the 1930s gave way to the squat dispensers of the 1960s; and Marathon Oil eventually superseded the Texaco Fire Chief brand. The station operated as a gas station for 66 years until 1999 and was an auto repair shop until 2002, when the owner Phillip Becker generously donated the station to the Village of Dwight.
With the help of a $10,400 matching grant from the National Park Service’s Route 66 Corridor Preservation Program, the Village of Dwight painstakingly restored the station to its former glory, taking the main office and canopy area back to the 1930s and the service bay area back to its 1940s appearance. Today, the station serves as a visitor’s center for the Village of Dwight. It was listed in the National Register of Historic Places in 2001 and received a Cost-Share Grant from the National Park Service Route 66 Corridor Preservation Program in 2002.

Compiled by Neil Gale, Ph.D.

Disco Demolition Night at Comiskey Park on July 12, 1979.

Disco Demolition Night was a promotional event that took place on Thursday, July 12, 1979, at Comiskey Park in Chicago, Illinois, during which a crate filled with disco records was blown up on the field. It was held during the twi-night doubleheader baseball game between the Chicago White Sox and the Detroit Tigers. During the climax of the event, rowdy fans surged onto the field, and a near riot ensued. It ultimately proved to be one of the most notable promotional ideas and one of the most infamous The event has been characterized as the "emblematic moment" of the anti-disco "crusade" and "the night disco died."

The tale of two goof-ball WLUP Radio Station DJs behind the Disco Demolition Night. Steve Dahl and Garry Meier. In the 9th grade, Dahl began hanging around a local underground radio station, KPCC-FM... Okay... I'll just start in the middle! 

Steve Dahl began at WDAI Chicago on February 23, 1978 with his solo "Steve Dahl's Rude Awakening" show but it never achieved solid ratings despite media attention. Ten months later, on Christmas Eve, 1978, WDAI changed formats from rock to disco and fired Dahl.

In March 1979, after a few months without a job, Dahl was hired to do a morning show at WLUP where he met overnight DJ Garry Meier (who was then broadcasting under the pseudonym of "Matthew Meier"). Shortly thereafter, the two began a cross talk that eventually led to Meier being teamed up with Dahl as both sidekick and newsman. Dahl effectively forced Meier to use his actual name by calling him "Garry" on-air accidentally. After openly discussing the subject, again, on-air, Meier officially dropped his pseudonym.

In response to Dahl's firing from WDAI, Dahl and Meier mocked and claimed to hate disco music and the radio station WDAI; He called it "Disco-D.I.E." mocking the station's slogan, "Disco-D.A.I," on the air. Dahl even recorded and started playing a parody of Rod Stewart's "Da Ya Think I'm Sexy?" which he called "Do You Think I'm Disco?" The song managed to crack the national charts to peak at #58 on the Billboard Hot 100 and received airplay across the country.
SONG: Do You Think I'm Disco?

During this same time period, Dahl and Meier, along with both Mike Veeck (son of then Chicago White Sox owner Bill Veeck), and Jeff Schwartz of WLUP promotions, came up with a radio promotion and tie-in to the White Sox called Disco Demolition Night which took place on Thursday, July 12, 1979.
The concept was to create an event to "end disco once and for all" in the center field of Comiskey Park that night by allowing people to get tickets at the box office if they brought 98¢ (referring to WLUP-FM's 97.9 location on the FM dial) and at least one disco record. The records were collected, piled up on the field and blown up.
Hundreds of rowdy fans stormed the field, refusing to leave, resulting in the second game of the doubleheader being postponed. American League President, Lee MacPhail, later declared the second game of the doubleheader a forfeit victory for the visiting Detroit Tigers. Six people reported minor injuries, and thirty-nine were arrested for disorderly conduct.
After the Disco Demolition Night promotion, disco began to lose its popularity. As a result of Disco Demolition Night, Dahl attained national recognition and his popularity increased significantly. He established a syndicate and the Steve and Garry show began airing in Detroit and Milwaukee, where it performed well.

However, in February 1981, WLUP fired Dahl, citing "continued assaults on community standards." "It was going on in El Paso and Los Angeles, like, on Monday, and on Friday they fired me," Dahl later said. Meier was offered the opportunity to continue the show by himself, but he refused.

Compiled by Neil Gale, Ph.D.