Future of architecturally important Lakeside Bank branch is up in the air

The bank, originally a groundbreaking library for blind people and those with other disabilities, was designed by renowned Chicago architect Stanley Tigerman, Lee Bey writes.

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The former Lakeside Bank at Roosevelt Road and Blue Island, built in 1978, featured a barrier-free design that was years ahead of its time. | Anthony Vazquez/Sun-Times

Anthony Vazquez, Anthony Vazquez/Sun-Times

A Near West Side bank branch that was an internationally recognized example of accessible design when it was built as a library 50 years ago is now for sale, raising concerns over the one-of-a-kind building’s future.

Lakeside Bank closed the branch and operations center at 1055 W. Roosevelt Road on July 1 and announced the blue-and-white postmodern building would be sold.

The bank opened the facility in 2005.

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Built in 1978, the building was originally the architecturally groundbreaking Illinois Regional Library for the Blind and Physically Handicapped, designed by Chicago icon Stanley Tigerman.

‘I love the building’: Tigerman

Built a dozen years before the Americans With Disabilities Act, Tigerman interviewed blind and disabled people to create a virtually barrier-free building that used furniture heights, color, texture, materials and good design to benefit patrons using the space.

“I love the building,” Tigerman, who died in 2019 at age 88, told interviewer Pauline Saliga in 2003 as part of the Art Institute’s Chicago Architects Oral History project. “I mean, that’s a building that I really worked hard for.”

Tigerman gave the long, triangular library a rounded, almost futuristic version of the 1930s look. He painted the building in bright primary colors that enlivened the then-bleak Roosevelt Road and Blue Island Avenue intersection — and to help the library be better seen by those with limited vision.

Art Institute of Chicago

The Illinois Regional Library for the Blind and Physically Handicapped, with its original colors, shortly after its 1978 construction.

There were play and reading areas for blind children. Tigerman used studded Pirelli rubber tile on the floors to keep patrons from slipping — commonplace now, particularly on sidewalks near pedestrian crossings, but novel in the 1970s.

Author and University of California-San Diego professor David Serlin studied the building as part of his upcoming book, “Window Shopping with Helen Keller: Architecture and Disability in Modern Culture.”

Serlin said Tigerman’s design was “inspired by what it meant to be a person who was blind or had visual impairments or had mobility issues. Those were his guiding principles.”

A 165-foot window that runs the length of the building’s Blue Island Avenue side provides an eye-level view for wheelchair users, then rhythmically dips upward now and again to accommodate views for patrons who might be standing.

“That tour de force … waveform window is the shape of the [library’s] circulation desk, turned on its side,” Serlin said.

When it opened, the building earned the attention of The New York Times and even a Japanese design journal.

But advocates for blind and disabled people initially told Tigerman they didn’t want a specially designed building, noting the rest of the world isn’t barrier-free.

Tigerman countered, saying he wanted a library that was “better than I can do for the able-bodied because I want them to be in envy of you.”

The former Lakeside Bank at the corner of Roosevelt Road and Blue Island Avenue on the Near West Side. | Anthony Vazquez/Sun-Times

The former Lakeside Bank building on the Near West Side features a waveform window inspired by the library once housed there. | Anthony Vazquez/Sun-Times

Anthony Vazquez/Sun-Times

Preserving structures by ‘our legacy architects’

It’s shameful that much of the design intent, color and playfulness got lost when the library was converted into a bank.

Even the library’s matching two-car garage with gull-wing doors was sent to the scrap heap. There is a maquette of it at the Art Institute.

But there’s still enough there to work with and preserve while seeking landmark status that recognizes the building’s history — and Tigerman.

Could the building face demolition once sold? Spokespeople for the bank and the city’s Department of Planning were mum. But what developer wouldn’t want a shot at such a large, prominent Near West Side corner?

“Any of these structures by our legacy architects are really worth looking at preserving and maybe restoring,” said Ward Miller, executive director of Preservation Chicago.

Serlin suggested the building could be acquired by nearby University of Illinois Chicago and made a part of the school’s Disabilities Studies curriculum.

That’s a pretty fair idea that could possibly put the building on a path to being restored back to Tigerman’s design, even if only partially.

“It’s really among the great buildings of the mid and late 20th century,” built for people with disabilities, Serlin said. “I would love to see this building preserved.”

Lee Bey is the Chicago Sun-Times architecture critic and a member of the Editorial Board.

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