67th Street is a dividing line, marking the northern edge of South Shore, the southern end of Jackson Park. A wall of dense urbanity marches right up to the edge of the golf course. Though they may be a bit faded, none of the park’s neighbors are as grand as the two great apartment buildings at 67th & Crandon. A mountain of red brick, twinned in scale and height, the two 1928 buildings are among the most monumental – and last – works of the neighborhood’s jazz age building boom.
On the corner, at 6700 South Crandon, stands the building now known as the Crandominium on the Lake. It was designed in 1927 by architects Quinn & Christiansen as a luxurious cooperative building, with 42 large residences. Great care was paid to aesthetics given the prominent location. The first three stories are faced in stone, with handsome brick and terra cotta accents on the 13 upper floors. Unsightly mechanicals are hidden in the penthouse level.
From early on, it was the home of prominent members of the upper middle class. Society columns frequently referred to various residents of the building, leaders in civic and religious organizations. Of course, not all the coverage was so positive. In 1933, a Dr. John Golden, a noted retired surgeon, plunged to his death from his 8th floor window. Given his penchant for vertigo, the death was determined to be accidental – but this didn’t stop the Tribune from publishing one of the more lurid diagrams I’ve ever seen in a newspaper.
By the 1950s, the penthouse was occupied by one Pierre DeMets, a restaurateur and owner of several tropical-themed clubs in the Chicago area. In 1951, his home was robbed, and the criminals made off with cash and jewels worth over $10,000 – a princely sum for the time.
In the 1950s, the neighborhood’s racial transition was beginning, and the suburbs beckoned to the elite who once populated this grand cooperative apartment house, and others like it. Amazingly, according to a 1976 Tribune article, the entire building was foreclosed upon by a lender that year – at which time only seven of its 42 units were leased and occupied! The building had a near brush with death; the lender considered abandoning it for the city to demolish. Market rents in the area, even for such enormous apartments, couldn’t justify the cost of needed upgrades and repairs – a half million dollars worth of new plumbing, tuckpointing, and the conversion away from coal heat. Amazingly, the lender instead decided to convert the building to condos, making a sizable investment, but one they expected to recoup. I don’t know if they did, but the building survives in a state of generally good repair to this day, a testament to their belief in the continued vitality of the neighborhood.
Immediately to the west, and joined to the Crandominium building with a concrete pergola and possibly a hallway between lobbies, stands the Shoreline (2231 East 67th Street). Also built in 1928, it is the work of architect Henry Holsman. It is sympathetic in style to its neighbor, but significantly more ornamented in the Gothic mode. Concrete grotesques and figures adorn the building, and they have unfortunately not aged well – a fact that has landed the building in court repeatedly.
This building, too, has an interesting history. Though intended as a cooperative when built, the advent of the Great Depression resulted in it becoming a rental building. In 1948, a corporation calling itself the Shoreline Cooperative purchased the building for $575,000 (less than half the 1928 construction cost of $1.125m), with the intention of converting the building. They claimed that 26 of the building’s 49 tenants had already contracted to purchase equity in the new cooperative corporation, and a further 12 had verbally agreed to do so. The rest had declined and would be evicted.
A wartime rent control law was still in effect at this time, and it gave states and localities extensive discretion as to its application (or even whether to enforce it at all). In Chicago, the authorities established a number of regulations, including one that held that, in order for a building transitioning to cooperative ownership to evict non-equity tenants, 65% or more of the owners must already reside in the building. In the case of the Shoreline, the regulator determined that this requirement was not met, and brought suit in federal court to prevent eviction of the renters.
Attorneys for the Shoreline argued that the rent control law was unconstitutional, and a federal district court judge agreed with them. Less than half a year later, the dispute found its way before the US Supreme Court. The Supreme Court quickly found the wartime rent control act to be acceptable, regardless of the fact that it was not uniform in its application and delegated significant interpretive latitude to other levels of government. The conversion to cooperative management at the Shoreline went forward, but was undoubtedly slowed down by the adverse ruling.
Just like its neighbor, the building transitioned to condominium ownership in the 1970s. It retained many of its luxurious trappings, including doormen and a janitorial staff. Such staff were frequently unionized in Chicago at the time, despite their small numbers in each building – a requirement imposed by the other unionized trades who typically became involved during condo conversion work. By 1982, however, cost pressures prompted the Shoreline not to renew their union contract, and to hire security guards to replace the doormen at a lower wage. The dispute split the condo association, and drew newspaper coverage to the building, where legal fees quickly ate up the projected savings. Picketers marched to try to disrupt the daily lives of building residents – an action that may or may not have been legal, depending on whether condo buildings are considered residences or businesses, both of which they are, in a sense. The resolution of the labor dispute in this case is unclear in the records I have access to, but reporters noted that a tidal wave of similar disputes was on the horizon, as many other buildings, no longer beholden to the desires of powerful building trade unions, sought to save money by eliminating unionized house staff.
Today, the lobby of the Shoreline is a quiet sanctuary, elegant though perhaps dulled by a monochromatic white paint scheme. A doorman still answers the door – I didn’t ask him his union status. A ride up the elevator to the 15th floor transports you to one of the more extraordinary properties on the market in Chicago today: a two-story penthouse bungalow.
The penthouse is decked out with a 1990s sensibility, and also sustained a bit of water damage prior to repairs being made to the façade. It will need significant work to bring it up to a level befitting its, well, level.
The real star is not the nearly 3000 square feet of dubiously-laid-out interior space, however, but the absolutely amazing views! From windows in the living room, or from two different rooftop decks, the vistas are splendid.
As with so much in South Shore, the penthouse is an undervalued yet amazing asset, with a storied past, facing present problems – but with strong potential for a bright future. All it needs is the right people to make something happen.