Sunday, March 1, 2015

1201 N. Astor Street Apartments
 by: chicago designslinger

 [1201 N. Astor Street Apartments (1909) Marshall & Fox, architects /Image & Artwork: chicago designslinger]

You won't find this rather elegantly sedate 3-story apartment building on the northeast corner of Astor and Division Streets listed in guide books or architectural surveys. Located at the southern edge of Chicago's Gold Coast neighborhood, the structure, with its charming terra-cotta columned Georgian entryway, could be located in any number of communities around the city filled with thousands of decoratively appointed apartment houses constructed in the early part of the 20th century. But there is something somewhat notable about the structure - it was one of the first multi-unit dwellings designed by a pair of architect/designers who would soon become very well known for producing some of the city's top-drawer, upscale apartment buildings.

  [1201 N. Astor Street Apartments, 1201 N. Astor Street, Chicago /Image & Artwork: chicago designslinger]

An innately talented designer and an architect with a firm understanding of construction and structure, Benjamin Marshall and Charles Fox formed a business partnership in 1905. Marshall was born in Chicago in 1874 and came from a prosperous family. He attended the prestigious and socially well-connected Harvard School, after which he found work as an office boy in the architectural offices of Marble & Wilson. In 1895 two years after Marshall joined the firm, Marble left, and the young apprentice was made a partner. Fox was not a native Chicagoan. He'd been born in Reading, PA. in 1870, went to MIT, came to Chicago in 1891, and found work at the firm of Holabird & Roche. Marshall meanwhile went off to Europe to soak in the culture while Fox worked studiously on the innovative steel construction that would help make Holabird & Roche one of the city's most successful firms. When Marshall returned from his European sojourn he started his own firm, and in 1905 Charles Fox left Holabird & Roche, joined Benjamin Marshall and the pair founded the firm of Marshall & Fox, which would last until Fox's death in 1926.

  [1201 N. Astor Street Apartments, Gold Coast National Historic District, Chicago /Image & Artwork: chicago designslinger]

In October 1908 when the Chicago Tribune announced that they were designing a new 6-unit apartment building for W.M. Morrison at Astor and Division, the office was also busy working on a new hotel for the Drake brothers on the site of Timothy Blackstone's old Michigan Avenue mansion, as well the Maxine Elliott Theatre in New York City. They also had another small Diversey Avenue apartment building project on the drafting table, which was published in the October 1908 issue of Architectural Record. Then, starting in 1911, in rapid succession, came the apartment projects that would add even more luster to the designers portfolio: 999 E. Lake Shore Drive; 199 E. Lake Shore Drive; and 1550 N. State Parkway.

  [1201 N. Astor Street, Astor Street Historic District /Image & Artwork: chicago designslinger]

Morrison's real estate investment on the edge of Chicago's mansion-packed Gold Coast neighborhood was atypical for the area north of Division Street. There were a few apartment house scattered hither and yon - one of the first ever constructed in the neighborhood stood right across the street, designed by none other than Holabird & Roche in 1897. But Morrison was willing to bet that if he gave people large floor plates with 8 to 10 rooms and kept the number of units to a minimum, he'd be able to fill his 6-flat building with socially registerable people. And he did. The year after the building was completed, the 1910 edition of the Chicago Blue Book included all six apartments and their inhabitants. And in 1912, Marshall & Fox's 12-story, steel-framed Stewart Apartments would rise just down the street at the corner of Division and Lake Shore Drive, providing massive, many-roomed, floor-through apartments for ten very lucky cooperative families. By the 1970s Morrison's smaller project stood forlorn and mostly vacant. Many people strolling down Division Street in those days couldn't help but notice the old, yellowed and water-stained, linen roll-down shades covering every window. They looked like they hadn't been opened in decades. But today the building has been spruced-up, refurbished, and provides housing to a handful of lucky Marshall & Fox dwelling condominium owners.

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