Monday, March 2, 2015

320 W. Oakdale Apartments
 by: chicago designslinger

 [320 W. Oakdale Apartments (1954) Milton M. Schwartz, architect /Image & Artwork: chicago designslinger]

Abraham Schwartz migrated from Romania to the United States and Chicago just before the start of the First World War. After serving in the armed forces of his adopted country he started a heating and plumbing business with his brother Ben and opened an office on Roosevelt Road near Western Avenue. Abe's son Milton grew-up surrounded by contractors and architects and thought that he just might be interested in being an architect himself. So after attending Chicago's Von Steuben High School in the mid-1940s, he set-off for the Urbana campus of the University of Illinois to try his hand at the business of architecture.

  [320 W. Oakdale Apartments, 320 W. Oakdale Avenue, Chicago /Image & Artwork: chicago designslinger]

Milton didn't stay long enough to earn a degree, and to have an income producing career in architecture you needed a state issued license which meant you had to fulfill certain requirements before taking the certifying exam. In the 1950s with some education and a minimum one-year apprenticeship under a licensed architect, you could take the state licensing exam and hope you had enough knowledge under your belt to pass. So while working toward fulfilling the apprenticeship requirement Milton Schwartz decided to try his hand at general contracting and built a 6-story apartment building on the southwest corner of Oakdale and Commonwealth Avenues, just east of Sheridan Road. Not only were he and his father the contractors, they were the owners of the building. In 1950 the Schwartzs moved into one of the top-floor penthouse apartments and Milton set his sights on a vacant piece of land across the street.

  [320 W. Oakdale Apartments, Chicago /Image & Artwork: chicago designslinger]

At the time the area around West Oakdale and North Commonwealth Avenues was mostly undeveloped. Before extending the shoreline eastward with the construction of Lake Shore Drive, the waters of Lake Michigan were once just a few hundred feet from the Schwartz's corner. And although the area between Diversey, Sheridan, Oakdale and inner Lake Shore Drive was slowly filling-in with buildings, there were still large parcels of vacant property to be had. Milton wanted that sandy piece of undeveloped land sitting across the street from the family's recently completed apartment building and found out that the sparsely grassed lot was owned by someone named Jerrold Wexler. A young man on the move, Jerry Wexler was on his way to turning Jupiter Enterprises into a real estate, insurance, construction, energy and engineering conglomerate and was in need of a cash infusion. Milton contacted Jerry about purchasing the large empty plot, got a price quote, raised the money, bought the land, and got to work designing an apartment building for the site.

  [320 W. Oakdale Apartments /Image & Artwork: chicago designslinger]

In 1952 Schwartz passed the licensing exam and presented a design for his newest project to the bank to secure a construction loan. The bankers said they could never fund a circular building with floor-to-ceiling windows because no one would ever want to move into it. So he went back to the drawing board and presented the financiers with an illustration of an almost square building with floor-to-ceiling windows and floor slabs that extended out beyond the window walls by about 3 feet. The bank was happy with the slab extensions because they believed it would make people feel safer and not be afraid of tumbling out of their clear-walled apartments, but that wasn't Schwartz's intention. Because the large sheets of glass were all that separated apartment dwellers from the elements, the projecting concrete plates acted as barriers against rain, snow, and very importantly the summer sun. The extension's dimension wasn't an arbitrary number. Schwartz had calculated the direction of the sun's rays on the building during the year and came up with a sun shielding slab for summer and a solar acquiescing slab for winter. The 54 cooperative units went on sale in 1954 with an asking price of $28,000 for a two-bedroom unit and up to $36,000 for a three-bed apartment. General contractor, architect, and building developer Milton Schwartz saved the south-facing half of the top floor penthouse for he and his wife Audrey, and set aside the north half for his in-laws who never moved in. Schwartz lived in the penthouse aerie until his death in 2007, where Audrey still resides.

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