A RETROSPECTIVE LOOK AT THE CLARK-NORTH AVENUE SW CORNER
A Retrospective look at the development of Chicago’s Clark Street and North Avenue South West Corner from 1911 thru 2014.
This Chicago intersection has undergone extensive changes during the past 100 plus years. The history of the planned and actual changes, and their implementation, is the subject of this research monograph. This turn-of-the-century German neighborhood corner changed with the growth of the city, especially during the nation’s mid-twentieth century urban renewal period. Nancy Baltus, a longtime James House resident, has researched and compiled the information and photographs. Contact Nancy with any comment or possible corrections at NancyBaltus@JamesKilmerCondo.org
German-born Frank Schoeninger purchased the 120 x 150-ft parcel that already contained at 101 W. North a ground floor tavern, as well as a two-story hotel above. It also included several adjacent small storefronts and a nickelodeon west of the tavern. These will later be replaced by a two-story building with retail stores and apartments above. This location was considered the epicenter of the German-speaking community in Chicago.
To the south of the tavern, Schoeninger built a 1,000-seat theater designed exclusively for showing motion pictures. The building included street-level stores and second story offices. The theater was named the Germania because of its proximity to the Germania Club, later renamed the Gold Coast, then the Globe, and finally the Village. Its design and history are detailed in the Landmark Designation Report published in 2009, prepared by the city’s Department of Zoning and Land Use Planning.
Prohibition forced the tavern to close. Frank retired to Wisconsin, leaving his son William Schoeninger to oversee the properties. This 1921 photo below shows the former tavern as an ice cream parlor. Presumably the two upper floors were still operated as a hotel.
Through the Mid-50s
The movie theater was periodically renovated and updated as required by changing technology, and operated continuously until permanently closing in 2007. Photos show that over the years the corner tavern site was used for various types of retail operations such as a pharmacy and liquor store (later a Walgreens – see below); later as Mitchell's, then Michael’s coffee shop, and subsequently Elly's.
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The Chicago Land Clearance Commission (CLCC) created the North-LaSalle urban renewal project in a slum and blighted area bounded by North, Division, Clark and LaSalle. There were 223 structures in this rectangular area - 175 residential or mixed-use and 48 commercial. The site, which was to be later named Sandburg Village, was intended to serve as a catalyst for North Side redevelopment and urban renewal.
CLCC used the city's power of eminent domain, spending $10.5 million to buy and demolish over 1,000 dwelling units and relocate families (See below map showing boundaries for properties intended for demolition, as well as those excluded from demolition). Note that among the structures excluded at this time were the Red Star Inn, Germania Club, Village Theatre, and the Schoeninger North Avenue properties.
Slum and Blighted Area Redevelopment Project map.
LINK to view larger image opening in a new browser window or tab.
Blighted neighborhood image
A group of investors led by Realtor Arthur Rubloff won the bid to purchase the cleared land and proceed with design and construction of Sandburg Village, a mixed mid/high-rise and townhouse community of about 2,000 rental units with more than 70 percent of the land to remain as open space. Chief architect/planner was John Cordwell, previously the city’s director of planning from 1952-56. Ground broke for Sandburg Village construction in 1962 and first tenants were targeted for move-in the following year.
Photos taken as late as 1961 continued to show the eastern end of the two-building property with the two hotel floors above as in the 1920's photo shown above. Later photos show that end building as it is today, without the floors above.
So where did the “hotel” floors go? James House views of rooftops for both buildings suggest the eastern building is newer, because of the rooftop mechanical structure. This further suggests that the original three-story tavern/hotel was demolished by Mr. Schoeninger and replaced by the present single-story structure, probably built to house a Walgreens pharmacy located there from 1964 - 1974 before it was later relocated to its present location at the corner of Wells and North.
Clark-North intersection circa mid-1960s. You can make out the W logo on front of store
on bottom right side of photo - the only pictorial evidence that a WAG store existed here.
The Walgreens that replaced the tavern/hotel was built 28-inches back from the lot line. Although not visible in the photo below, the setback slopes up to the outside wall. Because of the way the original building was constructed, demolition left an "orphan" window frame, shown in the center of the photo.
As preparations got under way for the final section of Sandburg Village (James/Kilmer buildings), two properties were located outside the CLCC (Chicago Land Clearance Commission) boundary. The city could not take them by the eminent domain process, and they would have to be acquired through market transactions by the developer.
- The Red Star Inn was needed to widen Germania Place to a two-lane entry/exit for James House. Chef-owner, Carl Gallauer, finally sold the inn in 1970 as workers were completing construction of Kilmer.
Completing construction on the north end of Kilmer House while Red Star Inn still standing.
Photo Credit: The Chicago History Museum
Red Star Inn before Kilmer House construction
Photo Credit: The Chicago History Museum
- The Schoeninger properties, consisting of the east and west buildings shown in the 1963 entry above, (but not the Village Theatre) were needed for a planned public garden to run along North Avenue, from LaSalle to Clark - marking the northern endpoint of Sandburg Village. The first clue that this garden was planned is referenced in developer Arthur Rubloff's September 26, 1967 letter to Lewis Hill, then-Commissioner of Urban Renewal ("As you know, the Schoeninger property would be converted into a park" See Rubloff letter page one, below.)
- The city had already acquired the parcel west of N. Sandburg Terrace, but still needed the Schoeninger corner on the eastern end. After Schoeninger refused Rubloff's offers, completion of the Village went forward, but without the "park" (as Rubloff called it) along North Avenue. The LaSalle-North Avenue southeast corner remained vacant until sold and developed in 1989-90.
- In a lengthy oral history in the Chicago Architects Project at the Art Institute, Cordwell expressed regret about his inability to complete Sandburg Village as he had envisioned which had included a park space on the northern end boundary.
Residents started to occupy James & Kilmer. The two buildings joined the other Sandburg rental properties managed by Rubloff ‘s property management arm until all were sold in 1980 to First Condominium Development, which converted them to condominiums and sold them to residents and outside buyers.
When construction of Sandburg Village was completed, it consisted of nine mid-and high-rise buildings with 2,554 units, as well as 60 townhouses and artist studios.
As William Schoeninger prepared to retire to Wisconsin, he, his daughter and son-in-law sold the original Clark-North corner and the Village Theatre to the Potash family trust.
The vacant lot, envisioned by John Cordwell as a park, at the southeast corner of LaSalle Parkway & North Avenue, was developed as a partnership with a one-story mixed-use retail structure opened the following year. (Partners not known).
It is not clear who owned the lot at the southeast corner of LaSalle & North Avenue after the plan for the proposed park had to be abandoned. (It may have been a Rubloff partnership or the Land Clearance Commission or even the condominium developer if the lot was among the Rubloff syndicate's assets that were purchased). Many James and Kilmer residents remember the lot as a grassy lot, sometimes with flowering plants in the center. In 1989, it was sold out of a blind trust into a blind trust. In 1990 the buyer erected a one-story structure with retail stores fronting on LaSalle Street and on North Avenue.
Undeveloped lot located on the southeast corner of North & LaSalle
Artist rendering not to scale.
The Village Theatre closed. Efforts by the property owner to find a new tenant were unsuccessful.
The Village Theatre was granted landmark status by the city’s Landmarks Commission. Chicago's Landmark ordinance, upheld by an Illinois Appellate court in 2013, uses as criteria for landmark designation a building's architectural, cultural, economic, or historic significance. Criteria mentioned as applicable in the case of the Village Theatre included: critical part of the City's history; important architecture; and unique visual feature. The significant architectural features were determined to be "all exterior elevations, including rooflines, of the building." Given landmark status, the building’s facade must be preserved. Of the building’s 150-foot depth, the first 20 feet cannot be altered; the next 44 feet can be demolished but can be rebuilt only to the current height of 28 feet. The remaining 86 feet can be demolished and raised higher, with zoning approval.
Chicago Development Corp. acquired an option from the Potash family to redevelop the Village Theatre and the Schoeninger corner, now occupied by Elly's pancake house and several small retail stores. The developer proposes a residential building with ground-floor retail space that preserves the theater’s façade.
“Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” (Santayana, in The Life of Reason, 1905)
I created this retrospective with the goal of understanding our neighborhood’s development history as it changed during the past century. The lofty goals for making our Sandburg Village neighborhood a community that included open spaces with parks and gardens has partially been achieved. My research led me to many interesting facets of the urban renewal processes and land use development that continue to this day. Hopefully future researchers will revisit this northern boundary section of the original Sandburg Village project and report their findings. Please contact me with any comment or possible corrections at NancyBaltus@JamesKilmerCondo.org
Appendix A Urban Renewal map showing boundaries for properties to be excluded
Appendex B Rubloff letter of 9/26/67 to Lewis Hill, Commissioner of Urban Renewal
(3 page PDF will open in a new browser window or tab)
"As you know, the Schoeninger property would be converted into a park . . . ."
Page 1 (of 3 Appendix B Rubloff letter of 9/26/67 to Lewis Hill, Commissioner of Urban Renewal )
Appendix C Landmark Designation Report for the Village Theatre published in 2009, prepared by the city’s Department of Zoning and Land Use Planning.
Link to PDF of the report opens in a new browser window or tab.