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DeGolyer: Art Deco Mastery and Extreme Value on the South Lakefront

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Open House Chicago, in its second year, gave the public unprecedented access to over 150 sites of architectural merit, from Frank Lloyd Wright works to modern architectural studios. We were forced to choose a sampling that we hope will be representative of the many eras and building types on display, which we'll embellish over the next few days. Kicking things off are two Nationally registered landmarks, eclectic South Side co-op buildings by Robert S. DeGolyer. The Powhatan Apartments and The Windsor Beach Apartments were built within a year of each other in the Roaring 20s.

In both explorations, residents acting as docents took us through the common spaces and for-sale and occupied units. The Powhatan is famous for its Native American-inspired imagery—contained in panels and reliefs throughout the lobby and building exterior—but we had no idea the three-story base's repeating black spandrels loosely represented an "Indian chief in full headdress, a ram, and a crow", according to a handout. Another detail easily missed are the wavy lines at the bottom of each terra cotta panel (there are 510 of them, encircling the upper 17 floors), meant as interplay with neighboring Lake Michigan.

Stepping inside, the first indulgence is the elliptical outer lobby, adorned with scenes of French modernist-inspired high society and Native American-infused nature motifs. The images move through time and space as they run the circumference of the room. This is a compact realm for coming and going that fully succeeds in erasing the outside world. The inner lobby is where the fraternizing happens, and it's also where DeGolyer's design associate Charles Morgan really let loose— he, the purveyor of all things Art Deco throughout The Powhatan. This is an abstract space, with colorful panels, shapely windows and doors, and one seriously contrived fireplace and mantel. Even the radiators are decorative. The furnishings are decidedly deco, but many are newer additions. Another space we really wanted to believe is original is the pool house. It's mostly a re-creation of what the original was thought to look like, using paint testing and old photography. But that doesn't change our feeling that it's one of the most elegant swimming pools in the city, probably matching DeGolyer's high rent Gold Coast progeny.

The final recipient of heavy-handed Art Deco splendor are the elevators—one for each half of the building—that boast abstract mirrors, gold leaf, and intricate paneling. Riding one up to a high floor, we glimpsed a for-sale 3-bed, asking $425K. Renovated in recent years, the building's 40 units present more of a staid federalist style, but we dug the parquet floors, old medieval-looking doors, vintage built-ins, and generous lake-facing window banks. All told, nicely done.

A less celebrated DeGolyer sits a couple miles south of The Powhatan in historic South Shore. The Windsor Beach is considerably closer to the lake surf—how's a 300' private beach for ya?—but sits in a more economically-challenged area. The 12-story Maltese Cross-shaped building dispenses with the extreme Art Deco detailing in favor of a darker Gothic feel. This is particularly evident in the low-lit lobby, clad in heavy materials, and the stone-arched main approach. Our escort brought us first to his own unit, a 3-bed with diverse views (all units have some lake view) and considerable ornament, and then to an empty top-floor 3-bed, asking a mere $75K. The place needed some sprucing up, but nothing too extreme. Much like The Powhatan, the Windsor Beach was built for a wealthy clientele, struggled through the depression, and returned to a relative prosperity by virtue of its quality and setting. Still, if you're looking for true lakeside vintage minus Gold Coast snoot, both buildings offer exceptional value.
·The Powhatan Apartments [Open House Chicago]
·Windsor Beach Apartments [Open House Chicago]
·Open House Chicago 2011 [Curbed Chicago]