Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Fort Sheridan Quartermaster Stable -- Then and Now

The Fort Sheridan Tower, designed by Holabird and Roche
(JWB Photo)
I spent a lovely Monday afternoon walking around the Town of Fort Sheridan, its historic district and the Lake County Forest Preserve prairie just north of that area.

My father was stationed at Fort Sheridan twice, once in the early sixties and then again a few years before the end of that decade.  In fact, it was on the parade ground at Fort Sheridan where his retirement was made official after 26 years of service.

So going back to the old Army base brought back some memories.  This place was where I lived when I saw my first baseball game, the Cubs at Wrigley Field.  I’ve been a lifer ever since.  It was home when I rode my first roller coasters, the Fireball, the Silver Streak, the Bobs, and the Flying Turns at Riverview.  It was the place where I first defied my father, riding off to see Journey to the Center of the Earth at the post theater as he stood on the front stoop yelling at me to get back in the house.

I did not enjoy the movie.

It wasn’t a time in my life that I don’t remember with a great deal of fondness, not the first time around, anyway.  The North Shore isn’t a great place for an 11-year-old Army brat living in government housing so cheap that It was the first thing to be demolished when the government turned the property over for development in the 1990’s.

But it was, looking back, a cool place to hang.  Our back yard abutted a landing field with a Nike missile base just beyond that.  There were ravines that would take us all the way to the lake, and we played in them during the summer from morning until suppertime.

Chicagoans talk a lot about adapting older buildings for modern purposes.  Look at all the factory buildings on the near west side that have gone over to loft residences.  Notice what is taking place at Goose Island with the proposal to turn an old window frame factory into a high tech incubator.  This city should be proud of the strides it has made in preserving the old by folding it creatively into a variety of new uses.

At Fort Sheridan that process has been about as tasteful, respectful and historically accurate as one might hope for a project of its size.  The following three photos of the same building will show how sensitive the process has been.

I have a special place in my heart for the second photo.  When I was putting myself through a Master’s degree program at DePaul in the early 1970’s, I worked as a letter carrier for the United State Postal Service and for a while delivered mail at Fort Sheridan.  I spent a lot of time in the building shown in the photos below.  The repurposing of the structure was so historically accurate that when I was on the former base on Monday, I had no idea that the private residence I was photographing was really the old office in which I had sorted mail.

The structure, according to a 1979 Historic American Buildings Survey, was designed by William Holabird and Martin Roche and completed in 1890.  Its original purpose was as the Quartermaster Stables (the Quartermaster in 1890, among other things, would have been responsible for the procurement of horses for the cavalry on the base), but was used for many years as a veterinary hospital.  It also served as a cafeteria for the Post Exchange in the 1940’s and finally as the Fort Sheridan post office.

According to the survey the building “. . . has a distinctive design which is different from the other stables on the post and makes a notable addition to the comprehensiveness of the surviving building stock at Fort Sheridan.  The attractive appearance and decorative detail is illustrative of the importance of the horse in the pre-World War I army.”

Check out the tympanum above the loft doors with that checkerboard pattern of projecting and recessed brick headers, just one detail, subtle, handled with an early illustration of the sensitive, understated and deft touch that would characterize the great Holabird and Roche buildings in Chicago.

Today the building is a single-family residence, a really, really cool place to live.

Fort Sheridan Quartermaster Stable (Holabird & Roche) 1897
Historic American Building Survey
United States Post Office at Fort Sheridan 1997
Historic American Building Survey
Single-family home -- June, 2014
JWB Photo


Jill said...

Quite a story for this building and your personal information makes this history even better.
I look forward to learning more about Ft. Sheridan than I even knew before.

Unknown said...

I also have heard this. The air force bases in florida is so cool that I always keep checking their amazing technical and training additions. The US site informs these details which is a great opportunity to know things from a distant place.