CHATHAM — Block Club Chicago is highlighting some of the buildings photographed and chronicled by Lee Bey in his new book “Southern Exposure: The Overlooked Architecture of Chicago’s South Side” (Northwestern University Press, $30). It is available here.
Today’s focus is Pride Cleaners, 558 East Seventy-Ninth Street.
Built in 1959, on the northwest corner of Seventy-Ninth Street and St. Lawrence Avenue, the building rocks a spectacular, radically tilted, self-supporting hyperbolic paraboloid concrete roof that touches the ground on three sides, then shoots skyward above the main entrance. An architectural creation from the Space Age, with a roof pointed toward the heavens —in all of Chicago’s 238 square miles of architecture, there is absolutely no other building like this one. …
The stretch of Seventy-Ninth Street in which the cleaners is located had been built-out for thirty years by the time Chicago modernist architect Gerald Siegwart sketched out his plans for Pride. The art moderne Rhodes Theater built about a block west in 1937 had been one of the street’s few bows to modernity — the theater’s opening-day ads trumpeted it as being “styled for tomorrow” — but even art moderne wasn’t hip by the late 1950s. When Pride arrived, Pride was as radical as a flashy new 1959 Cadillac — tail fins and all — roaring past a row of Model Ts. …
Peter Pope remembers Pride Cleaners and that roof, although his recollection isn’t purely architectural. As a teenager in the 1960s, he grew up in Chatham, about two blocks north of the building. “We would ride our bicycles off the slanted roof after the cleaners closed for the evening,” he told me. “The thrill ride of going airborne off the roof lasted for months—until they installed a chain-link fence on the roof to prevent us from doing so.”