Several times a week we get e-mail from readers asking questions about Chicago’s built environment. A lot of it is elementary school children who want us to do their homework for them. (Hint: 99% of the world’s knowledge is not on the internet. Go find a freaking library!) And most of the rest of it is pretty easy to look up in our archives or current project database.
But a question came in a couple of weeks ago from Dave in the Park West neighborhood that caught our eyes.
Well, Dave, we looked into it, and came up with… bupkis.
Here’s a picture from Apple Maps showing the two buildings in question:
The red one on the left is 2581 North Clark, and on the right is 2573 North Clark. In front of them is the retail space 2577 North Clark.
Access to either of the residential buildings is via an alley to the back. Architecturally-speaking, the “fronts” of the buildings were clearly facing North Clark Street. Or at least they were until the one-story retail building went up in front of them.
According to City of Chicago records, 2573 and 2581 were both built in 1891. The retail space in front of them went up in 1928.
According to Chicago Tribune accounts from the mid-1920’s, retail space on this stretch of North Clark Street was incredibly hard to come by at the time. Occupancy was close to 100%, and developers were building new stores anywhere they could to satisfy the demand. That may explain why the chunk of land in front of these two buildings got turned into a store.
According to the Waterloo Evening Courier, 2577 North Clark opened as the L.S. Bannister Department Store. Why did a newspaper in Iowa care about a department store in Chicago? Apparently “Bannister’s” carried a certain popular type of paper doll and paper doll accessories, back when that was a thing.
In addition, according to a June 2, 1935 Tribune article, the owner of the Bannister store, lived in the 2581 building. Though it’s hard to tell if he lived there before the store was built, or moved in after. Either way, he didn’t own either the residential buildings, or the store; he leased the space.
What’s also interesting about this section of Clark Street, is that it makes a little jog to the west at this point, and then back east before intersecting with Broadway and Diversey. It’s tempting to draw a line continuing Clark Street from the south to the north, right in front of these two stranded residential buildings. A shift in the street might explain how that land suddenly became available for development. But the lines we’ve drawn don’t line up in quite a convincing manner. Perhaps there was another historic bend in the road that makes it all fit together nicely.
That’s all we’ve been able to dig up. If you have any theories or facts that can help explain what happened here, please leave them in the comments section below.