Image: Geannopolus brothers and relatives in front of their store c. 1908
Even though the boulevard system that includes Logan Square was laid out before the Great Chicago Fire, 25 years later, the area where Milwaukee Avenue crossed Logan Boulevard remained largely undeveloped. That would change with the extension of the Metropolitan West Side Railway to a new terminus on the south side of the Square. And two of the people who soon built and owned shops there were Greek immigrant brothers Staikos (Samuel) Nicolos and Peter Geannopulos.
They had worked as confectioners and fruit sellers since coming to Chicago in 1891. In 1899, Peter leased land and erected a one-story building adjacent to the elevated station, divided into three stores. Old photographs show the name “S.N. Geannopulos” over the doorway on the corner. Inside, the brothers made candies and ice cream and sold fruit. There were hundreds of confectioners in the city’s neighborhoods then.
The brothers built the towering three-story building on the corner in 1911 on the spot where Peter’s stores stood. The first floor has always contained street-level stores and restaurants, the second houses offices and apartments, and the third contains the Logan Square Auditorium. The building was designed by Worthmann & Steinbach, who were renowned for their churches, and also designed some of the stores, flats and dwellings that filled in the blocks around the Square.
KEY ARCHITECTURAL FEATURES
Decorated terra cotta pilasters
Terra cotta medallions
GILBERT in terra cotta
Image: Detail of eagle window medallion.
What is the building’s style? That is open to interpretation. Consider it part of the emerging 20th century eclectic style of many commercial and multi-use buildings constructed on the main streets of Chicago between 1900 and the Great Depression. These are found everywhere and usually consist of brick exteriors with a few, very distinctive decorative elements.
The first thing that catches the eye is the off-white terra cotta striping set within a red brick exterior. These serve to outline the hall and are inscribed with the building’s name: “Logan Square Auditorium.” The horizontal stripes are plain, but the vertical ones serve as richly embossed pilasters as they reach the roof (1).
Glazed terra cotta ornament is also used as keystones for the hall’s arched windows, as capping for the parapet brick, and as a series of striking medallions in a row beneath (2). While their source is not known definitely, Chicago’s Midwest Terra Cotta Co. was producing “Sullivanesque” ornament (named after Louis Sullivan) by 1910. Architects could select reproductions from its extensive catalog.
An eagle sits atop each of the rounded building corners on the Kedzie Avenue side. They could be considered a salute to the even larger eagle that sits atop the Illinois Centennial Monument at the center of the Square, but the monument wasn’t erected until 1918. Eagles also greet visitors at the building’s primary entrances. The name “GILBERT” displayed prominently at the top of the building’s west side (3), will soon become apparent.
The first buildings commissioned by the Geannopulos brothers on the southeast corner of the Square were constructed hastily to take advantage of commuters using the elevated station as they went to and from Chicago’s downtown. Samuel also erected three one-story stores around the corner to the east in 1908 on leased land, which were designed by architect Fritz Lang. These were inexpensive, rudimentary structures and other than a few photographs, nothing remains of them.
Tenants served local needs — groceries, butcher shops, fruit shops, dry cleaners. There were also real estate offices. Within a decade, it was obvious that this corner was underutilized, so the brothers renegotiated their lease on the land.
The terms of the 1909 lease were: “… Mrs. Carrie Boyington Gilbert to S.N. Geannopulos, 99 years from May 1, 1909; lessee to erect a two-story building not less than 50 x 97 ft, facing Humboldt blvd.; foundation to be for three-story building, costing not less than $30,000, to be ready by May 1, 1914; lessor to purchase buildings at end of term, 99 years … $2,400 (rent) per annum.”
A 99-year land lease was not uncommon at the time in Chicago; many properties in the business districts structured ownership in this way. Realistically, no one assumed that a structure as defined by such a lease would still stand there after nearly a century given the city’s history. It was the land that was valuable; even early skyscrapers built in the Loop were assumed to be temporary. In the outlying areas things would not change nearly as quickly.
Image: View of Metropolitan elevated station south of Geannopulos corner store c. 1909.
Image: S. N. Geannopulos name over entrance to his store in Peter's corner building c 1907
By 1909, there were already two event spaces at Logan Square. That year, John E. Crate erected the Victoria Building midblock at 3131-37 West Logan to house the Victoria Theatre. The two-story, white brick building was designed by H.O. Liedberg; a four-story retail and condominium building now stands in that spot. And in 1907, William F. Grower and architect W.T. Branitzky had built Cedric Hall at the southeast corner of Kedzie Boulevard and Linden Place; it was destroyed by fire in July 1976.
Small and large hall spaces were a staple of Chicago life and especially important in the Logan Square neighborhood, which was home to many clubs, orders and ethnic societies. A short walk to the south there was the Logan Square Masonic Temple (now Armitage Baptist Church); the Norwegian Singing Society (first the Albert H. Troyke House, now Temple of Kriya Yoga); the Humboldt Park Commandery (first the William Nowaczewski House, now Stan Mansion); and on the other side of Fullerton Avenue, the clubhouse of the Chicago Norwegian Club.
Image: View of Logan Square Auditorium corner of Kedzie and Logan Boulevards, 2020.
The Logan Square Auditorium Building contained some longstanding tenants by virtue of its location. It always housed at least one restaurant and a dry cleaner, and was able to keep its distinction after the rapid transit tracks were put underground and the adjacent elevated station was demolished.
The third-floor hall hosted the Eleventh Church of Christ Scientists until they it erected a temple at 2836-42 West Logan Boulevard, as well as balls, concerts, fundraisers, New Year's parties, boxing matches and more. It has maintained its original interior layout and most of its original decorations, including eagle wall medallions.
Image: Entrance to auditorium, 2020.
Samuel and Peter Geannopulos established the “Logan Square Auditorium Building Corporation” at the time of construction in 1911, and the Geannopulos family maintained control for decades. Samuel’s row of stores from 1908 was torn down to make way for the two-story East Annex of the Logan Square Auditorium Building. It carries similar architectural details, except that most of the terra cotta has colored accents.
Lessor Carrie B. Gilbert
Image: One-story S.N. Geannopulos building before construction of the annex c. 1912.
The original lease, if still in force, would have run out on May 1, 2008. The brothers fulfilled their end of the contract, but it’s doubtful the Gilbert heirs kept theirs, even if they intended to. Carrie Boyington Gilbert was last traced to Los Angeles in 1940, where the then-80-year-old resided with her only child, Ralph, who was by then a 51-year-old bachelor. She had divorced her husband early in the marriage and had no other relatives. Surprisingly, Ralph married Agatha R. Boehnert in Los Angeles in 1951, when he was 62 years old and his bride 49.
Carrie owned several other parcels around the elevated station along Catalpa Court (now Albany Avenue), Kedzie Boulevard, and Fullerton Avenue. Her father, Levi, had been a successful Chicago manufacturer. In 1872, he purchased a spring-bed business and grew it into a folding bed line. He developed several important patents at his 60-man factory at 1453-71 South State Street. In typical Chicago hyperbole, it was said to comprise the “largest establishment of its kind in the U.S.”
The family lived on 37th Street near Cottage Grove Avenue, and when Carrie married the treasurer of her father’s company, William Gilbert, he moved in. But Levi died suddenly in December 1887, and within a year, the Boyington Folding Bed Co. itself folded. Still, his estate provided Carrie and her mother, Sarah, $20,500 each. With her portion, Sarah A. Boyington amassed a good-sized real estate portfolio with properties in the Loop and North and South Sides.
In January 1901, Sarah transferred her holdings to Carrie. By 1920, the Logan Square properties had been sold, except for the Auditorium Building site. One last interesting fact about Carrie Boyington Gilbert — her uncle happened to be one of Chicago’s first architects, W.W. Boyington.
Immigrants from Greece
Image:53-year-old Samuel N. Geannopulos, photograph from his U.S. Passport application, 1921.
Four brothers — Peter, Samuel, John, and George Geannopulos — came from Rafty, a town on Greece’s Aegean shore. They settled in Logan Square and stayed put. It appears they all became U.S. citizens during the first decade of the 20th century. From time to time, they would individually visit their homeland.
Little specific information is known about the brothers. With their investment in the auditorium building, they abandoned the confectionery business and became landlords. Peter died in 1931. Samuel still lived in the Auditorium Building when he died in June 1952; his wife, Helen, had died there in 1931, and John died there in 1965. George was involved with the Logan Square Building Corporation, but his history has been lost.
Another chapter of the family’s story in Logan Square starts when a 13-year-old nephew came to the U.S. in 1907. Valios (sometimes Vaselios) C. Vaselopulos was sponsored by Samuel. He attended Darwin Elementary School, sold newspapers at the elevated terminal, and helped out at his uncles’ store. As a young adult, he and a cousin, William S. Vaselopulos (who emigrated in 1911), opened a chocolate candy shop at the southwest corner of Milwaukee and Kedzie.
They lived in the back of the shop and saved money to invest in real estate along Milwaukee Avenue. In 1927, a partnership of Valios (who, confusingly, also went by William), William S., and other cousins purchased the store and flat building, which also housed the Paramount Theatre (today’s Logan Square Theater) for $250,000. The cousins and their families lived above the stores for a while.
The same group took over the operations of the theater from Lubliner & Trinz in 1932 and ran it and the building as the “Logan Theatre Company Inc.” until 1979. That year, one of Valios’ sons, Chris, bought the property from his relatives, and it remained in the family until September 2010. At one time, the family owned a dozen Chicago theaters. Both Valios and Chris Vaselopulos were heavily involved with local business associations.
These Greek-American families helped build Logan Square and kept it a vital commercial hub for 83 years — pretty impressive for a fast-changing city like Chicago.