“Bring Us Your Quirky, Funky Projects” Says Local Contractor


The former Lincoln Square Firehouse, soon to be renovated into a single family home.

The former Lincoln Square Firehouse, soon to be renovated into a single family home.

Robert Berg isn’t sure when Foster Design Build became known as the go-to firm for peculiar projects. But, he’s got a pretty good idea idea how it happened.

“We specialize in quirky jobs,” said Berg, president of Foster. “And we often find ourselves working on unique, interesting projects.”

Right now, Foster is preparing to renovate the former Lincoln Square Firehouse, a 1890’s-vintage structure at 2100 West Eastwood Avenue. The client, an interior designer, knew Foster’s reputation for the weird and wacky, and figured they had the right credentials.

“They’d hired a very good architect, but needed to get to the next step, with a feasibility study, and help working with the city on a demolition permit, which can always be a challenge,” Berg said.

The firehouse still has carriage doors where horses would come through, pulling the engine, and those will be retained in the final design. That will include a sleek modern kitchen, but there will be visual cues that illustrate what the building was originally intended for, like the fireman’s pole.

“That’s one of the unique challenges,” Berg said. “The owners want to keep it looking and feeling like an old fire station, so we want to integrate that into the design, but with completely new ventilation and HVAC. It has old brick walls, so there will be ventilation factors.

“The L backs up to the building, so we’re talking about sound abatement, too. And, there are 14-foot ceilings on the first floor, so there will be sound attenuation issues. We’re going through the design process right now, and want to solve these issues cost-effectively, but keep it an old fire station that people will be living in, and that’s a challenge.”

Berg said they plan on keeping the fire hose drying tower as a visual component in the atrium-entry vestibule.
“It will have two stories of artwork, all illuminated and a very funky, cool eclectic, very high end feel,” he said.

The overall style of the firehouse design will be “warm contemporary,” he said. It will also be green. The owners want the residence to incorporate energy efficient components, so solar panels on the roof and geothermal heating are under consideration. Berg said completion is scheduled for 1st quarter 2014.

Another potential Foster project will hopefully transform a grand old movie theater from ugly duckling to swan. The Ramova Theater at 35th and South Halsted in Bridgeport has been vacant for nearly 20 years and the neglect is evident.

“We’re working with the city to acquire the property and restore into a theater similar to the Music Box. “We are close to finalizing that deal.”

The Ramova owns a bit of film history. It’s where “The Great Dictator” premiered in 1940, with Charlie Chaplin on hand for the event. The Ramova and the Music Box showed the film, but moviegoers looking for it in Loop movie palaces were out of luck. Those movie houses were uncomfortable with the subject matter and refused to show it.

The abandoned Ramova Theater on South Halsted Street in Bridgeport

The abandoned Ramova Theater on South Halsted Street in Bridgeport

Author: Editor

Editor founded the Chicago Architecture Blog in 2003, after a long career in journalism. He can be reached at chicagoarchitectureinfo@gmail.com.

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