Business and Industry
NOTE: The selection of photographs in this section focusses on Gladstone Park service business and industrial concerns. They are meant to be representative of the neighborhood, not a comprehensive collection. For shops and eateries in Gladstone Park, see highlights and photos of them in Stores & Restaurants.
N. MILWAUKEE AVENUE BUSINESS CORRIDOR
Although there are pockets of service centers and professional offices on N. Elston, N. Central, and N. Northwest Highway, the majority of them can be found on the N. Milwaukee Avenue commercial corridor that beelines through the center of Gladstone Park.
Any Gladstonian wishing to conduct virtually all his or her business needs from cradle to grave can do so in the local community. There are professional offices for lawyers, dentists and orthodontists, psychologists, and doctors of various specialties. Financial services are available at a number of banks and offices headed by tax preparers, accountants, and insurance brokers. Independent local plumbers, electricians, roofers, and other contractors have offices in the neighborhood (if they don’t operate out of their homes). There are also numerous choices when it comes to automotive service centers and car washes, real estate and travel agents, beauty parlors (hair, nail, and spa), sports and fitness centers (including a bowling alley) and computer repair. Two large funeral homes top off the list.
That description might make it seem as if Gladstone Park is your ordinary community…residential areas surrounding a “main” street with an industrial zone on the side. It is not. Business (and industry) is different here. Rather than presenting as an urban or even a suburban landscape, it is something in between. And because of timing and historical quirks, its commercial and manufacturing corridors look nothing like – and function completely differently from – those found elsewhere in the city.
Why? It all boils down to the fact that Gladstone Park’s pattern of development was always at least slightly out of sync with the rest of Chicago. Its Far Northwest location, 10-11 miles from the Loop and further away than almost any of its other 76 neighborhoods, created two special circumstances. First, because there was so little business activity in the community at the time the city began implementing the 1909 Plan of Chicago’s road widening initiative, its 2-1/2 mile stretch of N. Milwaukee was one of the few sections of city roads that could actually be expanded to the recommended four lanes with parking on both sides of the road. Second, its great distance from the center city kept land values relatively low in comparison, delaying the amount and type of commercial (and industrial) growth. In fact, it wasn’t until the 24-hour streetcar line started making stops at major intersections in the community in the late 1920s that commercial development occurred at all. The inexpensive property further influenced the size and density of commercial structures that were built, with entrepreneurs able to profit even when erecting relatively small two-story neoclassical/Art Deco style structures at those nodes.
By the time the 1950s and 1960s rolled around, there were still enough large vacant lots on N. Milwaukee for many new businesses, unlike most of the city that was already built out. As commercial property continued to be very affordable, developers were able to construct one-story midcentury modern buildings that were in vogue at the time and still make money. The inexpensive land further paved the way for concerns with more square footage to plunk themselves down on bigger pieces of property so they could cater to the growing postwar car culture with dedicated parking lots. Altogether, these factors are what contributed to the growth of Gladstone Park’s low-rise, spread-out commercial corridor, and one that looks nothing like the rest of Chicago.
Vexed city officials have been known to throw up their hands over Gladstone Park’s incongruence. In some corners the trope is that the community’s broad N. Milwaukee boulevard down the middle of the business district is more similar to the streets of Los Angeles than Chicago. No one quite knows for sure if this is meant as a compliment or not.
But as odd as Gladstone Park’s business and industrial corridors might seem to those living in more densely-built parts of the city, the result is completely and expressly livable. In fact, its small town atmosphere is one of the main attractions that draws residents to the community. Amplified by plenty of room for parking, there is an ease with which Gladstone Park residents can conduct their business (and indulge in pleasure) that is not found elsewhere in Chicago. The fact that official crime statistics over decades have positioned the community as one of the four safest neighborhoods in the city doesn’t hurt. There just aren’t the same worries. So while there is litter (who can help that in a windy city?), it is unusual, for example, to even see graffiti.
Those wanting to explore a microcosm of Gladstone Park’s two major forms of historic commercial architecture would do well to walk the blocks around its N. Milwaukee’s intersection with W. Bryn Mawr. Rows of 100-year-old Neoclassical/Art Deco-style business buildings can found on the northwest and southeast corners while midcentury modern buildings abound on both sides of N. Milwaukee north and south. To see one of the community’s prime examples of classic postwar commercial architecture in a larger building with little exterior modification, they can hoof it up to the two-story Esquire Motel at the merger of N. Milwaukee at 6145 N. Elston. Each room is built with the slanted glass walls of classic brick and glass façade geometry. Although the 1959 lodging enterprise has been the scene of some lugubrious events, it and its signage are rare survivors of midcentury modern design elements and are excellent candidates for preservation.
One of the community’s more unusual businesses that must be cited is the broadcast station and daytime transmitter for WCPT 820 AM, Chicago’s Progressive Radio Station, at 5475 N. Milwaukee. Moving into an midcentury building in the Gladstone Park neighborhood in 2016, the station broadcasts to the entire Chicago Metropolitan area during the day at 5,800 watts. It is a point of pride because, after all, what one-square-mile neighborhood has its own radio station?
Gladstone Park is also home to the offices of the (Ignacy Jan) Paderewski Orchestra/Akademia Muzyki PaSO at 5844 N. Milwaukee. Named after one of Poland’s greatest pianists and composers, the group debuted as small chamber ensemble in 1996 before growing into a full orchestra that performs with its own choir and runs an Academy of Music for young musicians. Specializing in early to contemporary Polish pieces, the orchestra has also played world music in many of Chicago’s great concert halls. However, PaSO’s performances in the Polish community’s own cultural venue, the palatial 1,890-seat concert hall in the (Nicolaus) Copernicus Center, are perhaps the most treasured. The Center, located one block east of N Milwaukee at 5216 W. Lawrence and less than a mile south of the Gladstone Park community, preserved a piece of history when it opened in 1981 after being rehabbed out of Jefferson Park’s grand 19th Century Gateway movie house.
It would be remiss not to point out that how the banquet industry has flourished in Gladstone Park due to the abundance of inexpensive land for buildings of the required size. Three banquet halls within a half mile of each other on N. Milwaukee are the Gala, Lido, and Stardust. The Gala and Lido made Yelp’s 2022 list for the top ten most affordable banquet halls in Chicago, and are thus the scenes of many wedding receptions and other celebrations.
The large population of Polish immigrants in the neighborhood is made to feel particularly welcome in Gladstone Park’s business district with a number of professional offices and services centers identified by both their English and Polish names. Many also have Polish speakers inside.
While the historical and architectural character of the community’s industrial corridor is outlined below, a more detailed history for the Gladstone Park commercial district can be found in Stores & Restaurants.
N. NORTHWEST HIGHWAY INDUSTRIAL CORRIDOR
Virtually all industry in Gladstone Park is located on N. Northwest Highway, an old Indian trail that starts near W. Foster at the southern end of the community before traveling into Norwood Park where it transitions into that neighborhood’s business district.
With the Union Pacific rail line and the Kennedy Expressway paralleling N. Northwest Highway’s buildings to their rear, Gladstone Park’s Industrial Corridor location gives it a huge advantage for transporting its goods by truck, rail, and air. Onramps to the Kennedy a block away from W. Foster give access to nearby O’Hare Airport (and all points west) as well as to the center city of Chicago (and all points east).
While some industrial buildings went up just before the Great Depression of the 1930s, the bulk of the machine shops and light industry established themselves during the postwar boom starting in the late 1940s, greatly boosting the economic vitality of the area. Some concerns, such as Aeronautical Electric Company, which makes specialized lighting systems, and Midwest Swiss Embroidery/Screen Printing have been long-standing members of the community, in business since 1944 and 1950 respectively.
Unusual in its landscape for the city of Chicago, the N. Northwest Highway Industrial Corridor in Gladstone Park consists primarily of small yellow and red brick buildings one story in height. Although a few larger concerns occupy the equivalent of a city block, most are on small lots. Besides the low-rise aspect of construction, buildings are spread out much more so than in most urban areas with extra space for parking and loading zones. Most structures are of sleek, sturdy midcentury modern design and have been easily adapted through the years for many different purposes without significantly changing their exterior appearances.
The end result is that Gladstone Park may have the most historically intact midcentury modern industrial corridor in the city. An informal survey of the ages of 33 buildings on the west side of N. Northwest Highway’s 5200 to 5700 blocks conducted by the author using Cook County’s tax assessment data showed that the oldest was erected around 1919 and the newest around 2013. However, the greatest numbers of buildings on which information could be found (some 25) revealed most arose during the period between the late 1940s and early 1960s. Structure after structure, many attached to one another, appear original, as shown in the three streetscape photographs that follow. If the community wants to enhance the strength and desirability of its light manufacturing district by emphasizing and retaining the corridor’s low-rise, light industrial character, a more formal study documenting the ages and history of its buildings is indicated.
With industrial land remaining more affordable compared to that in denser areas of Chicago, seasoned small manufacturers and importers – as well as entrepreneurs with new ideas – will find their business prospects more viable in this small sub-community of Jefferson Park than almost anywhere else in the city. And because there are an unusually large number of smaller properties along N. Northwest Highway’s industrial corridor, many operations need only limited amounts of capital investment to set up for success in Gladstone Park.
The gamut of industry on N. Northwest Highway through the Gladstone Park community ranges from a commercial bakery to metal fabricators to food importers to commercial printers. A few are particularly worth mentioning. Chicago Sweet Connection Bakery, 5569 N. Northwest Highway, which bills itself as “Chicagoland’s Premier Wholesale Bakery,” makes daily deliveries of cakes, cookies, pies, donuts, and breads to restaurants, hotels, and grocers throughout Illinois and four surrounding states. Despite being a wholesale operation, it invites locals into its storefront retail shop to savor its broad assortment of baked goods and place orders for custom products, including wedding cakes.
Two one-of-a kind suppliers of goods in the community are Chicago Firewood, 5600 N. Northwest Highway, and Knight’s Edge, 5696 N. Northwest Highway. The large warehouse operation of Chicago Firewood attracts people from all over the city who want to buy special woods (oak, apple, cherry, etc.) for their fireplaces and pizza ovens. Knight’s Edge, a designer and exclusive importer of medieval-era products such as suits of armor, weaponry, home decor, jewelry and books, also has a retail shop at its Gladstone Park headquarters.
Another N. Northwest Highway business of note is Habetler Bowl, long considered one of the most atmospheric (and best) bowling alleys in the city. Another example of midcentury architecture, the building exterior still flaunts the kinds of bright colors (turquoise and fuchsia) and geometrical signage typical of the era. Owned by one family for over 50 years, its interior has been updated with 32 state-of-the-art lanes that host leagues from throughout Chicago.
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