Many people associate Wicker Park's Six Corners with nightlife, shopping and young professionals. An official Historic District lies along Milwaukee Avenue just southeast of Damen Avenue. Many pedestrians are likely so dazzled by the wares in the windows that they might not notice the beauty of the historic buildings around them.
The district comprises Milwaukee Avenue, roughly between Paulina Street and Damen, with some extra pieces onto Damen and North avenues. Two great examples of retail architecture from the 1870s and 1880s-era of the area's development are 1540 and 1444 N. Milwaukee Ave. These were shops on the ground level with large display windows, and the owners lived upstairs. A streetcar ran along Milwaukee Avenue for easy access to shops. A particularly eye-catching feature in many of the buildings from this era is the iron work around the entrances, and sometimes the ornamentation in bay windows above.
Jump ahead a few decades to one of my favorite buildings along this strip, which is now the Fluevog Store at 1539 N. Milwaukee Ave. (above). It has some interesting ornamentation and the blue and white mosaic tile floor lends some character that well suits the funky nature of the shoes. At just one story high, you might never guess this was an early cinema house. Look at other classic movie theater buildings up north on Milwaukee Avenue, like the historic Logan Theater, Portage Theater or Congress Theater, which are much larger and taller. But this was built in 1912, before the cinema had become big business. Home/Bell Theater is what it was called, and it only operated until 1921.
The 1920s brought a great quantity of banks and office buildings to Wicker Park. The Northwest Tower (above), built with fine Indiana limestone, was one of the tallest Chicago buildings outside of the Loop when it went up in 1928. This office building was designed for doctors, lawyers and the like. Today it is in the process of becoming a boutique hotel. Across the street, the Noel Bank, which was also dormant for years, is now a flagship Walgreens.
The designation of the area in 2009 has helped prevent tear-downs of historic buildings. Development can still happen, while blending it with the European history of the neighborhood's buildings from the late 1800s into the 1920s. This mix of old and new architecture is of course key in retaining and cultivating a neighborhood with character that's both classic and contemporary - exactly the kind of place that hip young people want to be.
Photos: Fluevog Store via Google Maps Street View; Northwest Tower by TheeErin via flickr;