Tour 1: Architectural Landscape of Chicago’s Devon Avenue
This tour spans a section of the street stretching from Ridge Avenue to California Avenue. You will encounter many modest brick structures, single storied retail stores, 1920s era terracotta commercial flats and later art deco buildings. These buildings and their histories, described by preservation scholar Jennifer Harrman (who has documented every historic building along this street) will help us understand the architecture of this thoroughfare.
Devon Avenue is one of the best examples of a post-World War I commercial thoroughfare and is one of Chicago’s youngest architecturally significant commercial districts. The street is comprised of early 20th century buildings, boasting a number of styles and influences—such as modest, Renaissance Revival inspired brick buildings, elaborately ornamented Baroque Revival terra cotta buildings, and Art Deco and Streamline Moderne structures. Despite the recent threat of demolition, deferred maintenance and a lack of enforcement of zoning and building codes, which has begun to alter the streetscape, a significant portion of the historic building stock is still intact.
The general streetscape of Devon is characterized by large, multi-story corner buildings often with chamfered or rounded building corners and smaller, typically one or two-story buildings mid-block. The compositional building types that appear most frequently provide an overall picture of the building forms along the street and include the Two-Part Commercial Block, and the Enframed Window Wall. The two-part commercial block is separated horizontally, creating two separate zones that are not necessarily related architecturally or ornamentally. The division is representative of interior use, with commercial or retail space typically found at the ground level and more private space, such as residential units or offices, on the upper floors. The enframed window wall can be used on either a one-story structure or multiple-story structure and according to architectural historian Dr. Richard Longstreth, the compositional style is characterized by “enframing the large center section with a wide and often continuous border, which is treated as a single compositional unit." * In other words, the main windows and storefront are surrounded by a wide border of masonry around the edges of the façade.
The architecture on Devon Avenue is not unlike many of the commercial boulevards that developed during the early 20th century. Simple details taken from common revival styles of the day can be seen on most of the historic buildings on the street and range from minute limestone ornamentation to intricately baroque revival terra cotta ornamentation. Although most of the buildings on the street are not strictly within one style and only have subtle hints of its inspiration, Devon Avenue has a number unique and extraordinary structures within its building stock that exemplify the type of building construction going on between 1920 and 1980. Significant styles that have influenced the architecture on Devon include Renaissance Revival, Gothic Revival, Tudor/Elizabethan Revival, Mission Style/Spanish Colonial, Classic Revival, Moderne, and Mid-20th Century.
* Richard Longstreth, The Buildings of Main Street: A Guide to American Commercial Architecture, (Washington, D.C.: The Preservation Press, National Trust for Historic Preservation, 1987), 68.
Text by Jennifer Harrman
View Tour 1: Grammar in a full screen map