Two Buildings on Ellinwood
They can't all have interesting stories...
As I write about each old building in Downtown Des Plaines, I try to find an interesting story or angle to them. Sometimes, it's elusive.
These two buildings are among those elusive ones. Constructed in the late 1930s and early 1940s, they are difficult to find information on, not least because the records are scarce in that era. Many of the Des Plaines newspapers were destroyed before making it to microfilm. Not much else was being built in the city, because of the depression and war. My usual sources don't offer much help. It is clear that after Ellinwood was extended to Graceland Street at the end of the 1920s, it took many years to develop into something more than a vacant lot. Sadly, this would not be the last time Des Plaines missed the redevelopment boat.
The older of these two buildings is the De Mir Cleaners building. It appears to have been built in about 1938. This would have made it one of the first buildings built downtown in that decade, and architecturally, it made a sharp break with that past, incorporating an almost unornamented front in what appears to be either limestone or concrete. This would have given it a highly modern appearance in an otherwise traditional downtown, which was enhanced by glass block walls at the sides of the storefront. The building today looks somewhat different, as windows and additional signage were added to its second floor. De Mir remained in business through the 1950s; the building was later home to the very popular and long-lived Maria Schaefer Music Store.
The other building is even more obscure. Today, it is entirely occupied by the El Mexico grocery store. It was built a few years later, perhaps around 1940, as it seems to have pre-war architecture. The odd thing about this building is that it was designed to look like two separate buildings, each divided into two storefronts. The west half has a more traditional front, with a brick face, limestone accents, finials, and quoins, and a "pulsichrome" terra cotta base, made to look like maroon granite. The east half has a more modern (for the time) appearance, with a lannon stone face and some limestone accents, and its major decorative feature being curved storefront windows, one of which was (sadly) broken a few years ago. Inside, it features an old-fashioned tin ceiling, which would become obsolete not long after this building was constructed. I haven't been able to find much about the occupants of this building except that in the 1950s, it housed (from east to west) Barwig Pharmacy, Robert's Store for Men, Dr. Geo. Meyer, optometrist, and That Kiddy Shoppe. In the 1960s, it was home to the fondly-remembered Words and Music, Sutton's Health Foods, and Violet Fashions.