Chicago and cars have an interesting history together. Both blossomed around the same time, and the early automobile industry left an impression on the city. The first auto race in America was held in Chicago (to Evanston and back). Car racing was a staple in the early years of Solider Field. Some of the South Loop’s best historic architecture is preserved in the showrooms and garages of Auto Row. And there is still a small number of architecturally interesting parking garages sprinkled around the city.
One of those garages is the Louis Kroman-designed building at 3115 North Broadway in Lake View East. When it opened around 1929, it was called the Ritz-Barry Garage, because owning a car was much more classy in those days. When you came for your car in the morning, an attendant called a “motor garage physician” not only brought it to you, but gave you a written report about its mechanical state.
Today, 3115 is giving up its gearhead past. The Chicago Plan Commission has approved a proposal to turn the nicely decorated five-story parking garage into a nicely decorated seven-story residential building.
The building will still have 60 parking spaces, but they’ll be joined by 72 new residences. The ground floor retail space will remain, and with the additional two floors on top, the total height of the building will increase to 82 feet, nine inches.
In 2016 there were concerns that turning this garage into a residential property would destroy its looks. Early renderings showed the lovely vertical channels and ornamentation replaced by bog-standard plain balconies. But the current plan from River North’s Hirsch MPG preserves those characteristics, merely adding some height, and punching a row of windows along the top of the existing building.
Even better, the developer plans to remove the current cladding around the facade’s columns and restore the delicately fluted designs to their 1930’s appearance. Think scrollwork and pineapples. The sorts of things you’d see come out of the Decorator’s Supply Company factory in Bridgeport.
You’d never know it by looking at it today, but that ug-mo one-story building immediately south of 3115 was actually part of the same building. It’s been altered so many times, it’s hard to tell, but it originally had a sloping parapet, and ornamental eagle reliefs between elongated niches running along the west and south sides of the building. And the angled corner featured a very detailed top reminiscent of a medieval castle or cathedral.