The Commission on Chicago Landmarks gives preliminary landmark approval to Ben Weese's Eugenie Lane Apartments

Common Brick

The Commission on Chicago Landmarks gives preliminary landmark approval to Ben Weese's Eugenie Lane Apartments

The front elevation of the Eugenie Lane Apartments (Courtesy CCL)

Chicago’s modernist Eugenie Lane Apartments were found to qualify for a preliminary landmark designation by the city’s Commission on Chicago Landmarks (CCL) earlier this month. The CCL, which is housed within the Department of Planning and Development (DPD), will now hold oversight of the property’s permits until the City Council votes on a final landmark designation. 

The modest complex was designed by Ben Weese, with units opening as rentals in 1962. Weese spent over 20 years working in the eclectically modernist Chicago office of his brother, Harry Weese and then established Weese Langley Weese. The work of Harry Weese and Associates is largely attributed to Harry rather than Ben, and includes the U.S. Embassy in Accra, Ghana, the Washington, D.C. Metro, and the somewhat infamous Metropolitan Correctional Center in Chicago. When Weese was 12, he took classes at the New Bauhaus Saturday School run by László Moholy-Nagy. Weese was part of the architectural group the Chicago Seven, which is best remembered for its “Exquisite Corpse” exhibition in 1977.

Weese’s collections are held by the Art Institute of Chicago and document’s his extensive work on Single Room Occupancy and low– and middle–income housing projects. Weese was actively involved in local preservation efforts, and helped found the Chicago Architecture Center’s predecessor, the Chicago Architecture Foundation. Weese’s additional work in Chicago includes the Greenwood Park Townhouses and Lake Village East in Kenwood and the Gardens in Hyde Park. 

The exterior wall at the second floor is recessed creating a gallery which provides access to the apartments. (Hedrich Blessing/Courtesy CCL)
The mansard roof and balconies at the fourth floor (Hedrick Blessing/Courtesy CCL)

While working in his brother’s office, Weese designed the Eugenie Lane Apartments, which are characterized by a modernist take on Chicago vernacular architecture, including “brick walls, louvered wood panels and standing-seam metal mansard roof.” The four-story building stood out from other modernist projects, which were primarily high-rises (whether “towers in the park” or integrated with the city’s grid). The building consists of 23 units, reserved for one- and two-bedroom units on the first two floors and bi-level, two-bedroom units on the upper two floors.

Elevation drawings of the Eugenie Lane Apartments, Harry Weese and Associates, Job No. 450, 1961. (Eugenie Lane Condominium Association/Courtesy CCL)

The Eugenie Lane Apartments were omitted from a 1977 landmarking of their surrounding neighborhood, the Old Town Triangle District, which focused on the area’s 1930s buildings. The landmarking came after the neighborhood had become an important neighborhood for Chicago’s artistic community.

The rear elevation with projecting bays clad in standing-seam sheet metal that contain closets. (Courtesy CCL)

Brick piers divide the building into seven “bays,” with units connected to the streetfront via exterior entrances. The use of Chicago common brick on the street-facing exterior as the rougher material was historically reserved for the backs and sides of buildings. The facade is further shaped by balconies extending from the fourth floor mansard roofs, and the ground floor is recessed below grade. 

In addition to the importance of preserving modernist interpretations of Chicago vernacular architecture, part of the case for landmarking the Eugenie Lane Apartments was made in reference to the already-landmarked 1700 North Hudson Avenue—designed by Walter Netsch and renovated in 2019 by SOM, the firm he worked for—and the existence of other notable nearby modernist buildings designed by Harry Weese and Bruce Graham.

Weese designed Lake Village East in Kenwood in 1973. It is arguably the best example of his “minimum perimeter” buildings which were designed to optimize views and interior layout with economy. (Courtesy CCL)

The CCL’s preliminary approval was given on the basis that the Eugenie Lane Apartments met at least three criteria for landmark designation, which included: Value as an Example of City, State, or National Heritage, for its location and impotence as a “small-scale residential infill building”; Exemplary Architecture, for its modernist vision of Chicago traditions and limited verticality; and Work of Significant Architect, given the impact of Ben Weese on second-half 20th century Chicago architecture, particular in low- and middle-income housing.

Moving forward, the DPD commissioner will evaluate the CCL’s proposed landmark designation and its potential impacts before the final vote goes in front of the City Council.