Archive | April, 2012

Landmarks Illinois Sounds the Alarm for the Hotel Guyon

30 Apr

Chicago's Hotel Guyon, completed in 1928 and designed by architect Jens J. Jensen. Photo by author

One of Chicago’s architectural icons has received some much deserved (and very much needed) attention.   The Chicago-based preservation advocacy organization Landmarks Illinois has announced the Hotel Guyon at 4000 W. Washington as one of Illinois’ Ten Most Endangered Historic Places.

Landmarks Illinois has been keeping an eye on Illinois’ historic resources since 1971. The organization first cut its teeth fighting to save Louis Sullivan’s legendary Chicago Stock Exchange. The Stock Exchange came down but since then Landmarks Illinois has been one of the Midwest’s strongest voices for preservation. In fact, Landmarks Illinois is at the forefront of attempts to recognize the importance of our important architecture from the recent past; architect Bertrand Goldberg’s Prentice Women’s Hospitala (Chicago, completed 1975) joins the Hotel Guyon on this year’s Most Endangered list.

I’ve talked in past posts about the grandeur of the Hotel Guyon (completed 1928) and the great but all too unrecognized talent of its architect Jens J. Jensen (1891-1969). The Guyon’s neighborhood on Chicago’s West Side has seen its share of ups and downs – mostly down over the past few decades. A rehabilitation of the beautiful Hotel Guyon would be a great kickstart to the renewal of once economically vibrant West Garfield Park community. Leaving the hotel abandoned and window-less as it is today stands if anything as a roadblock to any meaningful rejuvenation of the neighborhood.  The City of Chicago should show its support for its ailing neighborhoods and for their historic resources and make a Guyon rehab deal sweeter for potential developers.

The Guyon and Prentice Women’s Hospital shares the spotlight on this year’s Landmarks Illinois Ten Most Endangered List with a group of equally worthy sites, among them five Illinois public schools that need creative new uses if they’re going to hang on and stay with us. It’s sad to see so many significant historic sites languishing the way they are – thanks to Landmarks Illinois for keeping an eye on them.

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Jens J. Jensen: A Chicago Jazz Age Architect at the Supermarket 1930-1960

19 Apr

This is the second of a two-part series of posts on the career of architect Jens J. Jensen.  To learn more about Jensen’s work before 1930, visit my earlier post here.

Taking a long view of the long career of Chicago architect Jens J. Jensen (1891-1969), two elements of his work stand out: his ability to work for any client (commercial, residential, institutional) and in almost any style.  Placing his early works side by side with his late works reveals an architect who truly felt comfortable in his own skin as a designer.  It’s hard to believe that the designer of such ornate — some might say flowery or even over-the-top — terra cotta work atop the 1925 Pioneer Arcade –

The Pioneer Arcade, designed by Jens J. Jensen and completed in 1925. Photo by author

and the Moorish inspired masonry and terra cotta work atop the 1928 Hotel Guyon –

A 2009 view of the Hotel Guyon, designed by Jens J. Jensen and completed in 1928. The Guyon's windows have since be removed and the building is now open to the elements. Photo by author

– could be the same architect who not even thirty years later designed these mid-century modern supermarkets:

A Jewel grocery store in Mt. Prospect, IL, designed by Jens J. Jensen. Image from the Chicago Tribune January 9, 1954

For Jens J. Jensen, the simplification of his design sense over the 1930s and 1940s was an enforced one.  None of Jensen’s former clients could afford to build much at all, much less in the grandiose revival styles that typified mainstream Jazz Age architecture in Chicago.  The change in Jensen’s building aesthetic was also in part a result of changing architectural tastes across the country.  After all, Jensen spent his entire working life in Chicago, the proving ground for American Modernism, a movement which over time banished the kind of obsessive ornamentation and historicism that had been this architect’s calling card through the boom years of the 1920s.  As America moved through the lean years of the Depression and World War II, Jensen like many struggling architects of his generation felt the shift in public tastes and followed it drafting board in-hand.

A mid-1950s Jewel store in Harvey, IL, designed by Jens J. Jensen. Photo from Jensen & Jensen Architects

Around 1930, after the Depression appeared to have ended his mixed-use commissions for Chicago developer George W. Prassas, Jensen forged a new relationship with the Charles L. Schrager Company, a developer for the Chicago-based Jewel Tea Company.  Beginning as a simple one-wagon outfit in 1891, the Jewel Tea Company had by the mid-1930s expanded from being a mere coffee, tea, and spice dealer to operating dozens of stores in the Chicago area offering all manner of packaged food product and homeware.  While most of Depression-era America businesses expected only doom, Jewel Tea in fact grew throughout the 1930s.

Jens J. Jensen put a face on Jewel’s optimistic growth, designing many of the grocer’s new shops in Chicago’s outlying residential neighborhoods.  Images of these early stores are scarce but it is known that they were generally one-story high and constructed at the corners of busy intersections.  Sometimes these Jewel stores were only one tenant of many in these new developments, but more often than not, Jewel was the sole tenant.

Chicago area Jewel stores of the 1950s designed by Jens J. Jensen. Image from the Chicago Tribune January 9, 1954

Jens J. Jensen’s son joined his father’s firm in 1955.  Jens, J. Jensen, Jr. studied architecture at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and his training in modern architecture helped reshape the output of his father’s firm.   The renamed office of Jensen & Jensen continued its close relationship with Jewel stores, developing several prototype stores for the supermarket chain as it expanded out into Chicago’s suburbs.  The typical Jensen Jewel store was a low-slung one-story structure, usually with an adjacent parking lot.  These new Jewels were clad in clean glazed white block with long uninterrupted strings of plate glass displaying towers of can goods and giving glimpses of shoppers inside.  Always positioned at a store’s entrance was the chain’s signature tower fin with the easily-recognizable “Jewel” neon sign.

Jens J. Jensen continued working until he retired in 1961, moving to Scotsdale, Arizona where he died eight years later.  Jens, Jr. continued his father’s close partnership with the Jewel chain (later Jewel-Osco).  The firm Jensen & Jensen is still active in retail work and is now under the direction of Jens J. Jensen’s grandson, Jarrett Jensen.

In many ways, Jens J. Jensen’s work with Jewel from the 1930s through the 1950s gave form to a kind of retail architecture that most Americans visit everyday: the full-service supermarket and drug store.  It was through Jensen’s work that many Chicagoans first came to experience supermarket shopping.  A combined greengrocer- dry goods-bakery-butcher-housewares emporium was met by 1930s investors and the shopping public with some skepticism and it was in Jensen’s and his son’s solutions for  Jewel’s logistically-complex business model that made the chain such a success.

Jens J. Jensen’s work on entertainment structures, on apartment houses, on office buildings like 300 W. Adams (1928), and his suburban Jewel stores (1930-1960) added to the variety of architecture seen along Chicago’s streets during the first half of the twentieth century.  Many of his buildings, particularly his Jewel stores, are lost which is why it’s so important for us to hold close his work that does survive, particularly the Pioneer Arcade (1925) and the Hotel Guyon (1928).

To learn about architect Jens J. Jensen’s early career, visit my earlier post found here.

Sources:

AIA Guide to Chicago (Alice Sinkevitch,ed., 2004)

Chicago History Museum Collection

Chicago Tribune

Cook County Tract Room

Hotel Guyon, National Register nomination

Historic American Building Survey

Jarrett Jensen, Jensen & Jensen Architects

Jens J. Jensen: A Chicago Architect in the Jazz Age 1915-1929

19 Apr

This is the first of a two-part series of posts on the career of architect Jens J. Jensen.  To learn more about Jensen’s work after 1930, visit my second post here.

The Hotel Guyon in 2009 before its windows were removed. Photo by author

In my last post, I took a closer look at the fantastic Pioneer Arcade, a 1925 Spanish Baroque-inspired bowling palace built at 1535-1541 N. Pulaski Rd. in Chicago’s West Humboldt Park community.  Two miles south of the Pioneer Arcade along Pulaski Road (formerly Crawford Avenue) are two more spectacular works in exuberant Spanish revival styles, and by the same architect too: a two-story storefront at 26 N. Pulaski from 1929, and the imposing ten-story Hotel Guyon at Pulaski and Washington from 1928.  Any study of the architectural heritage of Chicago’s West Side (and Chicago architectural history in general really) requires a look at the architect who designed these great 1920s structures, the Danish-American architect Jens J. Jensen (1891-1969) who built primarily in Chicago during an astounding fifty-year long career.  Jensen’s work has been a big interest of mine since I studied him for my historic preservation master’s thesis on Chicago’s 1920s commercial recreation centers (his 1925 Pioneer Arcade was one of the city’s grandest).

26 N. Pulaski, designed by Jens J. Jensen and completed in 1929. Photo by author

Jens J. Jensen (“Jens J.” is easier to spit out without stumbling over consonants) wasn’t the only Danish-born Jens Jensen working in Chicago during the first decades of the twentieth century.  He is still often confused with the great landscape architect Jens Jensen though Jens J. was of no relation and was in fact thirty years younger.  Even the definitive AIA Guide to Chicago incorrectly attributes the Hotel Guyon to the elder Jensen (a hotel tower for a jazz impresario would certainly have been some departure for an elder landscape architect used to designing parks and conservatories).  In addition there were a handful of Jens Jensens practicing architecture in Chicago during the 1910s and 1920s, but his conspicuous designs and high level clients have pushed Jens J. Jensen’s very singular reputation to the fore.

The Pioneer Arcade, designed by Jens J. Jensen and completed in 1925. Photo by author

Jensen  was born in Herning, Denmark in 1891 and immigrated as a child with his parents to the United States around the turn-of-the-century, settling in Chicago.  Jensen attended Chicago’s Lewis Institute (one of the predecessors of the Illinois Institute of Technology), apprenticed in the architecture firm of Francis M. Barton, and received his Illinois State architectural license in 1915.   By the age of thirty, Jensen had established his office at 1103 W. Lawrence Avenue in Chicago (the John Eberson-designed Aragon Ballroom was later built across the street) and soon gained the reputation of an architect with technical acumen and stylistic versatility, able to work in any size, type, or style.

300 W. Adams, the Chicago Landmark designed by Jens J. Jensen and completed in 1928.

Jensen’s capacity for creativity fit his times.  The amount of construction in Chicago during the 1920s was at a level unprecedented since the Great Fire of 1871 and builders and investors of this boom decade built big and built extravagantly in almost every conceivable historically-inspired style.  The varied demands and tastes of Jensen’s 1920s clients can be seen in his work of the decade, including small storefronts, multi-level apartment buildings, and large-scale commercial, hospitality and entertainment developments:

  • Mediterranean style apts at Ainslie and Christiana completed before 1930. Photo by author

    A Tudor Revival style apartment building at 2342 N. Kedzie Blvd, completed in 1927.

  • A Mediterranean style apartment building at W. Ainslie and N. Christiana, completed sometime before 1930 (image at right).
  • The Classical Revival Astra Hotel at 5324 N. Winthrop, completed sometime before 1927 (image below).
  • The Spanish Colonial Revival Pioneer Arcade, built for bowling and billiards entrepreneur Gust Regas, completed in 1925 (image above).
  • The Hotel Guyon at Washington and Pulaski, designed by Jens J. Jensen and completed in 1928. Another photo taken before the windows were removed. Photo by author

    The Hotel Guyon, completed in 1928 and built for J. Louis Guyon to continue his dominance of Chicago’s West Side entertainment district at Madison and Crawford Aves.  Jensen’s stately Venetian, Moorish, and Spanish Colonial Revival style hotel accommodated pleasure-seekers visiting the Paradise Ballroom, Guyon’s other holding  just across the street completed in the early 1920s.  Also nearby was Balaban and Katz’ legendary Paradise Theater (also completed in 1928).  The hotel once hosted events in its ballrooms and was even the headquarters of a Guyon’s own music radio station. With the Paradise Ballroom and Theater now both gone, the Hotel Guyon is all that remains of the once vibrant West Side “bright lights” district.  Its windows have been removed and the building is now completely open to the elements. It’s going to take some real public outcry to get this building on the city’s radar again.

  • The Romanesque Revival St. Edmund Church, today St. Anselm Church at 6101-6115 S. Michigan Ave.
  • The twelve-story Neo-Gothic terra-cotta-clad skyscraper at 300 W. Adams, completed in 1928 and today a designated Chicago Landmark (image above).
  • Even a Prairie style-meets-Deco building on W. Erie in North Loop, attributed to Jens J. Jensen by the Chicago Historic Buildings Survey.

1412 W. Devon, a 1920s mixed-use development designed by Jens J. Jensen. Photo by author

In the mid-1920s, Jens J. Jensen formed a powerful creative partnership with Greek-American developer George W. Prassas, acting as architect for several of Prassas’ block-size multi-use developments on Chicago’s North and West sides.  Jensen’s designs typically included sidewalk level commercial storefronts and one to two stories of apartment residences above, all wrapped in elegant Classical Revival style facades of gleaming glazed terra cotta.  George W. Prassas would later expand on his commercial development success of the 1920s and become a pioneer builder of Chicago’s first large-scale suburban shopping malls.  Several of Jens J. Jensen’s 1920s Prassas commissions survive, including examples at the northeast corner of W. Argyle and N. Kenmore, the southwest corner of N. Pulaski and W. School, and the northeast corner of N. Harlem and E. Grand.

Uptown's Astra Hotel, designed by Jens J. Jensen and completed before 1927. Photo by author

Jens J. Jensen was one of Chicago’s more successful young solo architects of the 1920s, completing a  scale of work that’s pretty hard to conceive of today.  Jensen was also among the scores of architects put out in the cold by the events of Black Tuesday, October 29, 1929.  The Wall Street crash and the decade-long economic disaster that followed it all but obliterated the building market in Chicago and sent many of the 1920s development spendthrifts into forced hibernation.   For many young architects across America, this meant the disappearance of reliable work and, for some, the end of their architectural careers.  (Sound familiar to anyone in today’s financial crisis?)

Jens J. Jensen, however, survived the 1930s and managed to reinvent his office by bringing in new clientle.  He helped to invent the burgeoning retail experience of  supermarket shopping and in the process developed a new personal style that appealed to mid-century America’s fast-changing tastes in architecture and design.

More on Jensen’s second half in my next post.

Sources:

AIA Guide to Chicago (Alice Sinkevitch,ed., 2004)

Chicago History Museum Collection

Chicago Tribune

Cook County Tract Room

Hotel Guyon, National Register nomination

Historic American Building Survey

Jarrett Jensen, Jensen & Jensen Architects