The West Side of Chicago has a rich architectural history that is a reflection of the city’s growth from a welcoming enclave to immigrants to a thriving community for African Americans. Architect Christopher Payne is an Oak Park resident and architectural researcher who is working on a book about architect Joseph Silsbee. We called upon his in-depth knowledge of Chicago architectural history for help identifying ten buildings on Chicago’s West Side that are examples of the area’s rich history.
Some of the buildings are well-preserved, some are in the midst of restoration, and others are crying out for preservation. According to Payne, all are important parts of the city’s past. He says of the following examples, “What I think is so fascinating about most of these buildings is that they have these rich, layered histories that reflect the neighborhoods around them.”
Frederick Schock House: 5804 W. Midway Park
Noted Chicago architect Schock built the Queen Anne Style home for himself in 1886. In 1999, the City of Chicago designated the house a Chicago Landmark. Payne states of the Schock’s design, “The way he played with scale and massing, and some of the details like the curving shingles around the corners are so interesting. He was definitely doing things that were not the norm at the time.” Three other Schock houses survive in Austin, and Payne says that although Schock was a well-known architect of the time, he is less well-known today. He adds, “So many of his buildings survive. You can see how talented he was.”
Humboldt Park Boathouse:1301 N Humboldt Dr.
Humboldt Park was named after Alexander von Humboldt, a German naturalist and geographer, known as the “Father of Environmentalism.” An early observer of human-induced climate change, Humboldt never visited Chicago. William Jenney began the development of the park in 1870, and landscape architect Jens Jensen finished the job, creating a park that spans over 200 acres. The boathouse was designed in 1907 by architect Richard E. Schmidt, a friend of Jensen. The boathouse exemplifies the Prairie Style of architecture that was popular in Chicago in the early 1900’s.
Humboldt Park Receptory Building and Stables: 3015 W. Division
Built in 1895 and designed by Chicago architects Frommann and Jebsen, the Humboldt Park Stable and Receptory is listed on the National Register of Historic Places and is a Chicago Landmark. The building’s design highlights the Germanic character of the neighborhood in the 1890s and includes a variety of decorative elements in the roofs, finials, brick, and half-timbering. The Receptory and Stable originally housed horses, wagons and landscaping tools as well as the office of the Humboldt Park superintendent, landscape architect Jens Jensen. Today, the building houses the National Puerto Rican Museum of Arts & Culture.
August W. Klaproth Flat Building: 3216 W. North Ave.
The name A.W. Klaproth and the date of 1892 are carved into the front of this West Side building, but little is known about its architectural heritage. From 1896-97, Census records show a William Klaproth operated a bakery in the building. In 1911, John Roeser founded his family’s eponymous bakery in the building, and Roeser’s bakery has been operating there ever since. Payne notes, “There’s a layered history to this building. It was built as one thing: a beautiful, Victorian building, but then it has that beautiful neon sign from another era for the bakery.”
Garfield Park Bandstand
Designed by architect Jospeh L. Silsbee in 1897, the four-sided structure is faced with white marble supplied by the Georgia Marble Company. Its mosaics were completed by John Carretti and Company, a tile and terrazzo company still based in Chicago. Garfield Park was developed from 1869-1874, and is the oldest of the original Chicago West Side parks. Situated on 185 acres, it sits at the center of the park and marks the division between East and West Garfield Park. When the bandstand was completed, it was called the first large-scale glass mosaic in the city. Payne says of the bandstand, “It really showcases our rich architectural history. It’s so unique. There’s nothing like it in any other park. Please somebody restore it.”
Garfield Park Gold Dome Field House: 100 N Central Park Ave.
The Spanish Baroque Style building was built in 1928 at the height of an ambitious building campaign. Related projects included the fieldhouses for Humboldt Park and Douglas Park. Designed by Norse architects Christian Michaelsen and Sigurd Rognstad, the building cost approximately $650,000. Originally, it was built as the West Park Administration building, but was designated a field house in 1934.
Laramie State Bank: 5200 W Chicago Ave
The Laramie State Bank building is an Art Deco bank building that was designed by architects Meyer & Cook and built in 1928. The Northwestern Terra Cotta Company created the terracotta ornamentation. It is a Chicago Landmark, and was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2023. Deferred maintenance led to Preservation Chicago listing it as one of the most endangered buildings in Chicago. Its roof collapsed in 2018. Austin United, a development team, is currently working to redevelop the building into an office and retail building with a bank branch, and to build a new 78-unit, six-story apartment building with a public plaza on vacant land adjacent to the building.
Douglas Park Auditorium: 3200 W. Ogden Ave.
Built in 1910-1911, and designed by architect Alexander L. Levy, the building includes marble wainscotting, mosaic tile floors and large ballrooms. Around 1915, large numbers of Jewish people began moving into North Lawndale, and the auditorium became a hub for the city’s Jewish social, political, and cultural life. The building that once served as a meeting space for Jewish labor unions today houses the congregation of the Church of The Lord Jesus Christ of the Apostolic Faith.
Central Park Theater: 3535 W Roosevelt Rd.
Chicago architectural firm Rapp and Rapp designed the Spanish Revival building, which was built in 1917. The design features two prominent towers on the front facade and decorative red brick and terra cotta. The theater was the first in the world to include mechanical air conditioning. Seating 1,800 people, the theater provided entertainment to Lawndale’s Jewish community and the African-American community that replaced it. It is one of the few remaining Lawndale businesses from the early twentieth century. The theater closed in 1971, and became the home of the House of Prayer Church of God in Christ. Current owners are working with the Central Park Theater Restoration Committee to restore the theater and reopen it as an event and programming space for the community.
Stone Temple Baptist Church: 3622 W Douglas Blvd.
In 1925-26, architects Joseph W. Cohen & Co. designed a monumental brick and limestone synagogue with seating for 1,500 as a synagogue for Jewish immigrants who had come to Chicago to escape anti-Semitism and pogroms in their native Romania. According to the City of Chicago’s Landmark designation report, the building was originally called the First Roumanian Congregation. From 1926 to 1954 the building served as a house of worship and an anchor for Chicago’s Romanian Jewish community. In 1954 the congregation sold the synagogue to a Baptist congregation led by Rev. James Marcellus Stone. Stone rededicated the building, calling it the Stone Temple Baptist Church, and led his congregation to support the civil rights movement. When Martin Luther King, Jr. brought his crusade for civil rights to Chicago, Stone Temple Church hosted him. The church is still in operation today.