Pedaling Preservation has been quite busy as of late, and it’s fantastic. While we’ve been brainstorming on how to bring you all more content — and hopefully more bikes — one of our friends Eileen was busy curating her own oral history and art collaborative exhibit aptly titled re:visit elgin.
Opening night was October 3rd and she graciously invited all of us here at Pedaling Preservation. One of us, who I won’t name (Maddie) already had some art slated to be showcased (it was Maddie) and it was so wonderful to team up and talk with many of you in person about Elgin art, history, architecture and photography.
The opening night may be over but please stop by re:visit elgin‘s blog for more info! Meanwhile, we’d love to know what you think of our blog! Do you want to see more downtown buildings or houses? Leave a comment below or on our Facebook page and tell us what your favorite Elgin buildings are and we here at PP would love to check them out.
This week we have the Professional Building. It is so professional in fact, it bears no other name. Completed in 1928 by a group literally called the Professional Building Corporation, this eight story skyscraper graces Elgin’s city skyline from its base at 164 Division Street.
Briefly, the Professional Building Corporation was a group of businessmen from around the city who sought to capitalize figuratively and literally in Elgin’s booming downtown economy in the early 1900s. While this was the tallest of the professional buildings downtown, it certainly was not the only one. A number of other buildings, albeit more often two to five stories tall sprung up throughout Elgin’s downtown housing doctors, lawyers, dentists and other professional offices.
Unlike many of the buildings featured on Pedaling Preservation, the Professional Building is not on the National Register of Historic Places. It has been an Elgin Landmark since 1998, however.
Above, we see a Sanborn Map from 1950, with the layout for the Professional Building in the center, at 164 Division. Initially Sanborn Map surveys were conducted to help gauge fire insurance costs and estimates. Now, the older maps provide amazing information for historians and preservationists as they help us narrow down time frames for when buildings were built and how neighborhoods developed.
Many Sandborn Maps also note what materials the buildings are made of whether it be wood or brick, a feature also helpful to historians looking to satisfy investigations into different methodological approaches to gaining architectural context. Said another way, think of what a Sanborn map of Chicago might have looked like before the Great Fire of 1871 compared with the same set of buildings post-fire. I myself have yet to look but I would bet good money (for me thats roughly 50 cents) that in certain areas the transition from wood to brick is drastic. I digress! Situated in the heart of downtown, the Professional Building is nestled on the south side of Division Street, in between Douglas Avenue and Spring Street.
The Professional Building is of the Gothic Revival style. While many Gothic Revival styles are homes, many building instances of the style are perpetuated in public forms. Ecclesiastical forms represented many of the Gothic Revival subtypes within the style’s rise between 1840 and 1880. Regardless of public versus private, some of the main character defining features that make up a Gothic Revival style are the following:
- Polychromed features
- Gothic arches in the porches
Before diving into the architecture breakdown, I would like to take a brief moment to discuss a little bit about the Gothic Revival style between public and private sectors. Certainly homes like the one seen below of the Gothic Revival style and public buildings carry many of the same architectural characteristics, but to the untrained eye (AKA most people, including me) sometimes the higher styles (often found in the form of public buildings) are mis-categorized. For instance, at a first glance I thought 164 Division might be Art Deco given the vertical highlights of the facade but that was not the case.
Okay, okay fine, maybe you spotted it right away, I get it. I have been wrong a few times before in my life. The message I wanted to bring home here was that the Gothic Revival style characteristics are often easier to spot in domestic or vernacular architecture than with public buildings.
We will start with shaped windows and move through the bullet points backwards. Most common in homes (and seen in the picture in the preceding paragraph) are oriels, basically bay windows that do not reach the ground. You can see in the photograph above the Gothic Revival home, the ornamental detailing is a sort of nod to this feature even if there are no oriels on the Professional Building itself.
Lancet windows typically exhibit a pointed arch at the tip of a long, thin window. Similarly, lancet arches are archways that retain the same pointed shape but grace the entrance of a a structure.
Lastly, polychromed features as stated by the ever-brilliant Virginia McAlester, a select number of Gothic Revival structures “…show distinctive linear patterns in masonry wall surfaces,” she continues to discuss this particular characteristic subset noting that, “[t]hese decorative polychrome patterns are produced by bands of contrasting color or texture in the brick or stonework, and occur principally around windows and as horizontal bands on wall surfaces.”
Now, before we get hate mail scolding us that polychrome is technically distinguishing different colors — thus: poly meaning more than one and chroma meaning the purity of a color and/or its freedom from white or gray — it can refer to differing textures as well, as noted by McAlester among other scholars. That said, if you want to like Pedaling Preservation on Facebook to write hate mail, we would at least appreciate the “like.”
None, history is boring.
By 1928, Elgin’s downtown was an area teeming with myriad businesses including everything from department stores to hotels to banks to manufacturing enterprises. The group of men that banded together to invest in what is today known as the Professional Building were but a few making fiscal gains in the heart of Elgin’s prosperous downtown.
The contextualizing factors responsible for such a lucrative economic climate are laid out in other Elgin posts on this blog, as well as the About section and so I’ll let you navigate those to establish a richer understanding. For this post, however, I would like to shift the methodological scope a bit from a people/industry-centered historical narrative to one that looks at trends on a larger scale and how/why they affect architecture.
“Ugh. What, Kim?” – Haterz
So there are two prominent cultural contextualizing factors — in my opinion — that I want to address. First is the Victorian Era and second is the period more often know colloquially as the roaring 20s.
While the Professional Building itself was completed in 1928, the Gothic Revival style as a whole experienced peak popularity from 1840 to 1880, neatly situated in the height of the Victorian Era (1837-1901). Widely agreed upon by historians and other scholars to define the years Queen Victoria reigned over England. More than any geopolitical ramifications stemming from the Queen across the pond, we’re looking at what that period meant in American architectural history. Briefly, it meant catering to excess both inside and outside the home; it meant outwardly showcasing wealth and/or class; it meant many colors and many intricate design styles.
While this attitude largely waned in the early 1900s, there was a revival during the 20s as many Americans put the horrors of WWI behind them by indulging in excess. With Elgin’s proximity to Chicago, there’s little doubt that some of those cultural breaks from traditions all the way spilled over to the banks of the Fox River.
Completed in 1928, the Professional Building was roughly one year old when the worst economic disaster in American history (Gigli is a close second, I think) ruined a prosperous economy in the form of the stock market crash and subsequent Great Depression. The Professional Building was thus still built in the mindset of excess and ornamentation. In combining these two periods and their contextualizing aspects, I think the National Register form for Elgin’s downtown district says it best:
“The finely detailed Gothic Revival style was chosen for the Professional Building when trends in the early 20th century were toward literal interpretations of historic architecture…This was a design approach common in the 1920s to show the lofty heights of a building that reached toward the sky.”
In any event, it is one of the tallest buildings in Elgin’s skyline and quite the beauty.
WHAT IS IT TODAY?
Today it’s still home to a variety of professional offices with the top floor housing the Elgin Art Showcase. During the Elgin Fringe Festival (which was awesome if you did not already read our past posts) PP friends and family attended a great performance on the 8th floor of the Professional Building.
Owned by the City of Elgin since 2007, “[t]The Elgin Art Showcase is a theater that boasts a spectacular view of the city, a grand limestone fireplace, and a 100 seat capacity.” See the City of Elgin’s website here for more info about the Elgin Art Showcase!
The North East Neighborhood Association of Elgin is hosting its Homes for the Holidays tour on December 5th. This year, there are going to be 8 houses on the tour. Get your tickets starting November 1st on their website! Who knows, I might even see you all there! (Spoiler alert: you will)
Secondly, a clarification. A few of the photographs today have been photoshopped. Specifically looking at the featured image at the top of page, Maddie took out some of the buildings that obfuscated some of the building. All edits are purely to help enhance the essence of the building and its story.
1950 Elgin, IL Sanborn Map
http://www.pitt.edu/~medart/menuglossary/lancet.htm https://books.google.com/books?id=A55aAAAAYAAJ&pg=PA215&lpg=PA215&dq=define+polychrome+architecture&source=bl&ots=uBvko5UC00&sig=LU0Ygv3Worv_5x6kRxaxkjMzgnA&hl=en&sa=X&ved=0CF8Q6AEwDmoVChMI3py4vaLhyAIVQm0-Ch0Q1AWt#v=onepage&q=define%20polychrome%20architecture&f=false National Park Service 36 CFR 68. “The Secretary of the Interior’s Standards for the Treatment of Historic Properties.”http://www.wbdg.org/pdfs/36cfr68.pdf
National Park Service 36 CFR 65. “National Historic Landmarks Program.” http://www.gpo.gov/fdsys/pkg/CFR-2011-title36-vol1/pdf/CFR-2011-title36-vol1-part65.pdf
National Register Bulletin 39. “Researching a Historic Property.” http://www.nps.gov/nr/publications/bulletins/pdfs/nrb39.pdf