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The Deco Arts Building is located on the southwest corner of 55th Street and Lake Park Avenue in Chicago’s Hyde Park neighborhood. According to Wikimapia, it was built in 1929 for a Hyde Park Chevrolet dealership, which helps explain the automotive theme of its ornamentation. While some may consider it a bit over the top, the Art Deco building provides an interesting and original use of terracotta ornament on a local building. (See this link for more information about the Deco Arts Building.)
1. The Garage Entrance
This entrance is located near the south east corner of the building and opens on to Lake Park Avenue. Note the elaborate ornamentation framing the windows and adorning the cornices.
Details of this photograph follow (2., Dashboard, 3., Engine block, 4., Top of Window Column and Cornice and 5. Roadster).
2. Dashboard Motif (left)
These two terracotta tiles — paired with another set that will be displayed directly below — separate the second and third story windows on the north and east facades of the Deco Arts Building. They represent the dashboard of an automobile, including the gear shift and hand brake on the lower left and the steering wheel on the upper left. The two tiles are joined vertically in the center and separated by an irregular, darker grey line of mortar.
Note also the horizontal elements that are positioned above and below the dashboard tiles. A close look reveals that it is a row of six hexagonal nuts viewed alternately, from the top and the bottom. Each row consists of three tiles, with two nuts on each tile. This demonstrates a key advantage of terracotta: a single mold (e.g., for the two-nut tiles) can be reused many times to lengthy patterns and forms.
3. Engine Block Motif (right)
This is the second of the two sets of tiles that separate second and third story windows on the Deco Arts Building. They depict the engine block and transmission of an automobile engine — with gear shift and clutch and brake pedals. The joint between the two engine-block tiles can be clearly seen here. Note that the hexagonal nut, top and bottom frames are also used with this motif as well.
4. Top of Window Column and Cornice
Note the traffic lights positioned atop the column framing the outside of the second- and third-story windows and the representations of wheels, gears and other mechanical parts that serve as the top frame for the two third-story windows. The latter — similar to the nut decoration above and below the Dashboard and the Engine Block tile sets — are constructed of three tiles. In this case, however, the outer tiles mirror each other, and the center tile serves as a transition between the other two.
Like the tiles discussed above, the cornice comprises a number of the same type of tile that are arrayed end-to-end across the top of the building.
The showpieces of the building are the speeding roadsters that can be found in four places near the top of the building. The roadsters consist of what appear to be four tiles. The two left tiles extend to the back of the right front tire, being separated by a joint that curves behind the passenger’s head before becoming, again, a vertical line. The two tiles on the right appear to be joined through the radiator, just to the right of the roadster’s right headlight.
Shapes and lines that suggest dust billowing up under the car and the passenger’s hair trailing behind combine to create the illusions of speed and power. By the way, the crooked arm that extends up to the right of the driver’s head holds the windshield. Close examination indicates that the lighter color that slants down to the right, over the driver’s head and the steering wheel, could be intended to represent the roadster’s windshield.
6. East Facade
The east (above) and the north facades of the Deco Arts Building are nearly mirror images of one another. However, the four roadsters are going in the same direction, that is, from left to right. This does make sense, however, from the point of view that the same forms could then be used to make all four roadsters, which could not be the case if those on the north facade were exactly symmetrical, meaning that they would have to travel from right to left. (The roadsters are the only design elements on the building that are not somehow symmetrical on a vertical axis.)
This photo shows that the windows are arranged in three different configurations. The two window configuration appears twice on each facade:
- to the left, over the garage, in this view, and
- to the far right.
This configuration has been discussed with regard to pictures 1. through 5, above.
7. Nine Window Columns
Nine of the window columns are arrayed side-by-side with a traffic light atop each separating or framing column. This is very similar to the two-window column discussed above, except the separating column are not as detailed here as they are in the two window configuration. Another difference is that an automobile tire is centered above each window column (rather than the roadster above the two-window configuration). The cornice above these windows is the same as that above the two-window column.
8. Single-Window Columns
The three examples of a single-window column can be seen (in photo 6., East Facade):
- on the far left,
- behind the Century 21 sign and
- over the purple canopy near the right edge of the building
9. Single-Window Detail
The single-window column is distinctive in several ways, including:
- The side frames have tire-like features for their bases (see photo 8., above).
- The caps of side frames appear to be topped by spark plugs.
- The top window is capped by a sun-like symbol, with rays and lightning bolts emanating from it .
- The cornice dips down and takes on a different, simpler form.
- There are three tiers of chain links hanging beneath the fans(?) at the upper right and left of the cornice.
10. The Ravages of Time … and Signs
The Deco Arts Building has graced the Hyde Park community for about 85 years. That those years will have taken their toll is only to be expected.
The photograph above is taken of the terracotta tiles between the second and third stories at the northeast corner of the building. Of course it’s only speculation, but it appears that a steel I-Beam was retrofitted into these tiles and, subsequently sawn off, left an unsightly scar. Moreover, here and elsewhere, repair to the terracotta tiles has often been heavy-handed at best.
Finally, the signage that is now applied to the Deco Arts Building is out of scale, unsightly and antithetical to the spirit of this fine old building. The only sign on the building that even comes close — but not too close! — to capturing that spirit is a sign over the north entrance that gives the name of the building. Alas.