Uptown Broadway Building

[Uptown Broadway Building (1927) Walter W. Ahlschlager, architect; (2008) Space Architects + Planners, renovation /Image & Artwork: designslinger]

Glazed terra-cotta. It's been around for eons, but from the later part of the 19th century and the first third of the 20th, it was architect's Play-Doh. If you could come up with a design, the hollow blocks of fired earth could be molded into any shape imaginable, glazed in a variety of colors, and create a fantasy of  facade enhancing forms. Easier to work with than stone, cheaper to produce and sturdier than brick, terra-cotta facades worked their magic on streetscapes across the country, from New York to LA, and most exquisitely in Chicago.

[Uptown Broadway Building, 4707 N. Broadway, Chicago /Image & Artwork: designslinger]

When Arnold Schlachter and Edward Lundstrom purchased a vacant lot on Broadway just south of Lawrence Avenue in the city's Uptown neighborhood in the mid-1920s, this section of Uptown was turning from a sleepy suburban-like residential community once on the outskirts of the city limits, into a bustling business and entertainment district. The north branch of the city's elevated system - which came to a halt just south of the property at Wilson Avenue - had recently been extended north, creating an interesting, almost perfectly dimensioned 60-degree triangular plot, and ran directly along side the lot's eastern edge. The owners turned to architect Walter Ahlschlager to come-up with a building for their oddly shaped lot, and not intimidated by the site, or the el, Ahlschlager used every square foot of the triangular piece of property in his plan and then covered the Broadway street front in one of the most elaborate, polychromed facades the city had ever seen.

[Uptown Broadway Building, Chicago /Image & Artwork: designslinger]

Ahlschlager pushed every bit of fantastical Spanish Baroque-inspired design he could into
the facade of the $400,000 Uptown Broadway Building. The pliable quality of the malleable clay - along with the expertise of the mold makers at Chicago-based Northwestern Terra Cotta Company - produced an explosion of eye-catching shapes and color right-up to the edge of the elevated's concrete span. And although the nearby Uptown Theatre had a much taller highly decorated facade, architects Rapp & Rapp's white glazed front was a massive monotone of shiny terra-cotta compared to Ahlschlager's three stories of polychromed pizzazz.

The building - and the neighborhood - fell on hard times in the ensuing decades. All of the second floor windows were filled-in with glass block, and pieces of Ahlschlager's terra-cotta decoration were lost to time, weather and thievery. That is until undergoing an extensive $4 million rehab in 2008 overseen by Space Architects + Planners, which restored the building's explosion of Baroque-inspired twits and turns, back to all its former polychromed-enhanced glory.

See another nearby terra-cotta contemporary at: Uptown Bank Building and more of Walter Ahlschlager at: They Just Don't Build 'Em Like This Anymore - Pt.II , and Chicago & Midwest Regional Joint Board, Workers United Hall.

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