Where diagonal main roads intersect with parallel or perpendicular roadways in Gladstone Park, the result is overwhelming: confusing streets and odd shaped lots carved like irregular triangles or oddly shaped quadrilaterals that seem impossible to build on.
Yet the oddball roads and lots with all their nutty angles are also the community’s strength. Inconceivable mergers and sharp turns may wrap their tentacles around drivers and pedestrians unfamiliar with them, hijacking all sense of direction and getting them lost. But for Gladstonians, their kooky roads provide a ready-made protective structure that slows life down, giving the neighborhood a small town feel. For it’s just when people occupy the space around them that they can interact more intimately with it. With time, they notice the unexpected beauty of outlandish-shaped lots that amplify cottage gardens and dictate architectural uniqueness. And there is a certain mystery of exploring what’s around every corner, like how a neighborhood park jumps out unexpectedly with a pickup game of soccer or a doe ambles by with her fawn from an protected bend of the road into the nearby woods.
Back of a house in Gladstone Park on a triangular corner lot where a diagonal street crosses a gridded parallel street. The house faces the road squarely, leaving the backyard to expand from an acute angle at the far left where there is little property depth. However, as the triangle grows longer back on the alley, there is ample room for bountiful and beautiful vegetable and flower gardens. Photo by Mina.
People in Gladstone Park have well learned that, instead of getting frustrated with their zigzagging streets, it’s better just to surrender to their charm. And, once away from the rectangular and square — if they’re open to it — they can find it’s easier to get asymmetrical, imaginative, and maybe even arty.
Still, developers wanting to build on the triangular- and quadrilateral-shaped lots are forced to be creative as well as practical. They can either construct buildings that repeat tough angles to conform to the challenging shape of the lots. Or they can find where on the lot they can best plunk down a rectangular building even if its 90 degree angles clash with the lay of the land around it. Businesses and builders of multi-family and single-family housing approach this problem in various ways, as illustrated by the photos below.
A business building that “gives in” to a triangular-shaped lot on the west side of the slanted N. Milwaukee at its intersection with N. Marmora. Following the angles created by its odd position on the corner, the developer here maximized the interior space by constructing an irregular brick building in the shape of a quadrilateral. It’s interesting to note that after N. Marmora, a perpendicular road, bends to form this acute angle with N. Milwaukee, it then jogs eastward across the old diagonal Indian trail to a section of gridded blocks rotated on their sides. Photo by Mina.
Apartment building with regular 90-degree corners plunked on a rough triangular-shaped lot created by the diagonalling N. Elston intersecting with the perpendicular N. Austin with the parallel W. Peterson just behind it. To get the largest structure allowed, the builder had to place it catty-cornered to all three streets it borders on, resulting in odd-shaped front, back and side yards. Instead of being built parallel to the adjacent building, the askew structure seems to have no relation to the apartments next door. Photo by Mina
Another square-cornered 2/4 flat from decades earlier had been squeezed onto a lot formed by the merger of two different “north” roads. Shaped like an isosceles triangle, its sidewalks make up two roughly even-length legs to where they converge at what is an extremely acute angle at its apex. There is only a shallow backyard and a front yard that is a challenge not only to landscape, but also to keep pedestrians from cutting through. Photo by Mina.
Third brick 2/4 flat built to adapt to its triangular lot created by a parallel alley on the left meeting a slanted “north” street. Although the main portion of the building squarely faces the road in front, its left side angles off to fit into the triangle. Photo by Mina.
When builders erected single-family homes on odd-shaped tracts of land between skewed roads and parallel or perpendicular cross streets, they faced similar problems. In the attempt to locate them most attractively, they sometimes wedged houses out of kilter onto slanted parallelogram lots…parallel with each other and the backs of the lots but with their front facades askew to the road. Other times they situated dwellings somewhat precariously on the hypotenuse (long) sides of triangular lots with minuscule pie-shaped backyards. Most drastically — where a builder followed the dictates of the lot more than the conventions of the rest of the block — a house found itself completely off-angle to the rest of the buildings on the street with neighbors’ side yards looking into their backyards.
Slanted Gladstone Park street that intersects at an acute angle with a straight north-traveling perpendicular road, creating a triangular tract of land that was divided into parallelogram-shaped lots. The builder chose to wedge the houses on the tract parallel to each other and the backs of the lots with their fronts askew to the street. Photo by Mina.