Razing an Art Moderne to Put in a Drive-Though Would Make Avondale More Car-Centric

The current, Art Moderne PNC Bank building at 3844 West Belmont. Image: Google Street View
The current, Art Moderne PNC Bank building at 3844 West Belmont. Image: Google Street View

PNC Bank is proposing to demolish one of its branches in Avondale in favor of a car-centric design at the corner of Milwaukee and Belmont avenues. This change comes as northwest side preservationists and business owners work together to see that a long stretch of Milwaukee Avenue between Logan Square and Avondale remains intact via an extensive downzoning introduced by 35th Ward Alderman Carlos Ramirez-Rosa to the Chicago City Council in October.

Avondale, a community that is known for having good transit access, is also one known for its auto-centric development that makes the area less walkable, and the latest proposal from PNC would see a historic early modernist building demolished and replaced with a drive-thru ATM.

A public notice posted outside the main entrance of the current PNC Bank branch at 3844 West Belmont indicates that a special use permit is being requested for the creation of a new drive-thru ATM at the site. Plans on display inside of the current PNC branch show renderings of a brand new branch building on what is currently a surface parking lot across Avers Avenue on Belmont, while the drive-thru would take the place of the building that PNC currently occupies. PNC Bank needs a special use permit approved by 30th Ward Alderman Ariel Reboyras to be able to build the new drive-thru ATM at the location.

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A rendering of the planned new PNC Bank branch and drive-thru ATM for Belmont and Milwaukee. Photo: AJ LaTrace

If the proposed development proceeds as planned, it would hardly be the first auto-centric development for the western Avondale area. The intersection of Belmont and Milwaukee features numerous fast food restaurants with drive-throughs as well as a large gas station anchoring the southeast corner of the intersection. Suburban-style developments such as big box stores, car dealerships, and other businesses with expansive surface parking lots can be found elsewhere around Avondale. Aerial images of the neighborhood reveal how the Kennedy Expressway and auto-centric development with large parking lots has created a large cluster of pedestrian unfriendly businesses and thoroughfares.

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Avondale has acres of auto-centric big box development adjacent to the Kennedy Expressway. Image: Google Maps

Not only does the proposal mean more suburban-style, car-focused development, but it also spells the demolition of an early modernist building that has long stood at the corner of Belmont and Milwaukee. And the existing building that PNC uses at Belmont and Milwaukee not only has architectural integrity, but it’s an important piece of the history of Avondale and the Polish Village, says Daniel Pogorzelski, a co-author of the book Avondale and Chicago’s Polish Village, former director of the Greater Avondale Chamber of Commerce, and editor of the Chicago architecture and history blog Forgotten Chicago.

“The building was built by the Slowick family, which was very involved in Avondale, the Polish Village, and Chicago politics,” Pogorzelski explains. “By demolishing the built environment at that important intersection, you’re not only getting rid of architectural heritage, but you’re literally obliterating an important piece of the history of the Polish people in Avondale.”

Pogorzelski adds that he and Ward Miller of the group Preservation Chicago had previously tried to landmark buildings across the street which also played important roles in the history of the Polish Village, including the long-shuttered Maryla Polonaise nightclub on Milwaukee Avenue. Pogorzelski says that raising awareness of the cultural history of these buildings is critical to their preservation.

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An aerial view of the existing PNC Bank branch and the surface parking lot that PNC plans to build its new branch on. Photo: Google Maps

“I would like Alderman Reboyras to protect the structures that are here and saved for future generations,” Pogorzelski pleads. “The demolition of this building would leave a gaping hole in the fabric of a community that many are not cognizant of.” Pogorzelski also suggests that PNC consider selling the building to another institution or business to be reused and preserved if PNC cannot feasibly repurpose the building.

The redevelopment of the northeast corner of Belmont and Milwaukee with a drive-through ATM may not be the only auto-centric new development we see for the corridor. In August, a large 165,000-square-foot Avondale parcel bound by Belmont, Milwaukee, and Pulaski was listed on the commercial market for sale and redevelopment. The Coldwell Banker Commercial listing agent representing the property owners had previously indicated that they met with 30th Ward Alderman Ariel Reboyras a number of times to discuss the mixed-use redevelopment of the sprawling four-acre site. No concrete plans for the parcel have surfaced, but new auto-centric proposals would certainly stand in stark contrast to the walkable, pedestrian-friendly stretches of Milwaukee Avenue just a few blocks south in Logan Square.

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An aerial view of the four-acre parcel being marketed for sale and redevelopment. Photo: Coldwell Banker Commercial

Alderman Reboyras’s office has not yet responded to a request for comment on the plans for the new PNC Bank branch and drive-through ATM.

AJ LaTrace is the former editor of Curbed Chicago and was vice president, a board member, and zoning committee member of the Avondale Neighborhood Association from October 2016 until May 2017.

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