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As Chicago grew exponentially in the late 19th and early 20th Centuries, outlying shopping districts began appearing along streetcar lines and elevated train routes. One of the largest was located in West Garfield Park, centered at the intersection of Madison and Pulaski (previously Crawford Avenue). Featuring department stores, shoe stores, movie palaces, hotels and other amenities, this “mini downtown” was arguably the shopping center for the entire West Side. Numerous four, five and six story structures gave it the appearance of a major downtown district. With a varied collection of Art Deco, Art Moderne, Modernist and Gothic architecture by an eclectic mix of architects, Madison-Pulaski is one of the largest intact outlying shopping district in the city, especially with the recent demise of its South Side counterpart at 63rd and Halsted. As the neighborhood began to decline beginning in the 1950s, the shopping district began to decline as well, and more recently many structures have fallen into disuse or disrepair. The area currently includes numerous abandoned and underutilized structures, and if not protected, much of the area may face demolition by neglect in the near future.
Though the West Side’s first commercial district sprang up along Lake Street, activity began to move to Madison Street beginning in the 1890s with its bustling streetcar line and without the overhead “L” line along Lake Street. Hotels began to spring up around Garfield Park and a busy commercial district developed, especially in the boom years following 1914. Department stores, movie palaces (unfortunately all since demolished), and a diverse collection of other retail structures were constructed, mostly of a very high quality and of varied architectural styles. Many storefronts and structures were modernized or rebuilt over the years, using the styles of the time, whether Art Moderne in the 1930s or Mid-Century Modern in the 1950s. Beginning in the 1950s, the surrounding neighborhood began to experience a steep decline. Still, most of the retail structures in the neighborhood remained in use until relatively recently, but its future is in jeopardy if actions are not taken soon.
While the only significant structure currently known to face an explicit threat of demolition in the district is the historic Hotel Guyon (1927, Jens J. Jensen; listed on our Chicago 7 in 2013 and 2014) other structures are in various stages of disuse or disrepair. The major intersection of Madison and Pulaski itself remains intact on three corners, including the iconic Art Deco Madison/Crawford building on the northeast corner (1930, Arthur Howell Knox), and Modernist former Three Sisters Store (1948, Leichenko & Esser) on the northwest corner. The former Mid-Century Modern Goldblatt’s Store (1951, Friedman, Alschuler & Sincere) on the south-east corner of the intersection has been heavily altered but original elements of its sleek design are still evident. Further west at 4042 West Madison, the former Spiegel/L Fish Furniture Store (1927, B. Leo Steif) presents a unique terra cotta blend of Art Deco design. Numerous other structures (including the former Madigan Brothers Department Store at 4030 West Madison) are in varying stages of disuse, and face a serious threat of demolition by neglect.
While the Madison-Pulaski shopping district remains mostly intact at the present time, it is in extreme dan-ger of demolition by neglect. With the almost complete demolition of Chicago’s formerly largest outlying shopping district at 63rd and Halsted over the past few decades, Madison-Pulaski remains one of the best examples of this important form of early 20th Century shopping district. Moreover, many of the structures in the district are of architectural note and form a unique and complete streetscape with buildings of varying heights and sizes. The area (including portions of Madison and Pulaski streets, as well as surrounding streets) should be designated a Chicago Landmark District, so that this uniquely intact environment will be preserved for future generations. In addition, the City of Chicago should enact a comprehensive plan for reinvestment in the area so that the buildings can attract new tenants and be reused in a sensitive manner that will benefit the surrounding community for many years to come.