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.

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.

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.

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.

  • Tooscrapps

    This is incredibly short-sided. There is no reason for a de facto surface lot at the corner of two major streets. We need to be patching the fabric of our City rather than adding more holes.

  • planetshwoop

    There is a decided effort to kill the urban corner. Increasingly every corner of an arterial intersection is becoming a convenient place for cars to come in and out. (There was a similar annihilation at the corner of Elston and Pulaski to build… a bank drive-thru and diaslysis center)

    This particular corner has plenty of open spaces that the destruction of a building is surely not needed. The old Walley’s grocery store lot, co-located inside the Walgreens, etc. etc. etc.

    Also, do we really want to build a drive-thru next to a school, esp. one that has a lot of kids who walk from the neighborhood?

    This seems like a bad idea for a lot of reasons, not least of which is the destruction of a site to build a machine for people to motor to. My goodness.

  • Bobo Chimpan

    This is right by my apartment… honestly can’t say I’m a big fan of the building, which hasn’t been well maintained and looks it. Still better than a parking lot and still more car entry/exit points. There are already too many of those with all the parking lots and the gas station and yeah… unpleasant walking environment

  • kastigar

    A similar proposal for a Walgreen’s store at Kimball and Lawrence (right nest to the Brown Line terminal!) was proposed some time ago. It was shot down by the neighbors and the current shoe store that would have been torn down was improved.

    This kind of development can be put down but it takes a lot of active neighbors staying constantly vigilant.

  • Carter O’Brien

    We need a drive-thru moratorium, *especially* on the corners, which is where we see most accidents involving cyclists (and probably pedestrians but I’m not positive on that latter point).

    Milwaukee Ave in this part of Avondale is just sad, even on a Saturday night in the summer there is very little foot traffic.

  • johnaustingreenfield

    It’s pretty common for property owners to let of old buildings go to seed, so that fewer people are upset when the wrecking ball arrives. But this building could be a diamond in the rough if it were to receive proper TLC.

  • Jacob Wilson

    ^The story of Chicago’s public housing

  • Carter O’Brien

    …and Milwaukee Avenue in a much larger sense.

  • Jeremy

    It is too bad Google Maps photos don’t have time/date stamps. The parking lot in the photo of that intersection is, at most, 33% full. There are also open parking spots on the streets. Clear evidence the area has too much parking.

    Even the architect’s rendering only shows four cars in the lot. They should be asked why the parking lot needs to be so big if only four cars use it at a time.

  • planetshwoop

    Worth remembering that you can get a property tax break for deciding your property is “vacant”.


    PNC Bank isn’t the problem here. The triangle sits in a critical location and it needs to be redeveloped with a coherent masterplan. I doubt there is a landmark quality building there. The number of already vacant lots being used for parking is actually an asset because that will make redevelopment easier by reducing displacement. What is needed is an alderman with urban design chops, a clear vision for what his community can grow into, an understanding for what his constituents want and the will to make it happen by engaging in a comprehensive community planning process and then following through on the recommendations with zoning reform and urban design guidelines.


    PNC is tearing the building down and temporarily using it as a parking lot with ATM kiosks so they can get some revenue to pay the taxes. It’s a prime development site that won’t stay undeveloped long.


    But you can earn some revenue to pay the taxes while you wait.


    Since the building is not close to being landmark quality what part of the zoning code can be used to stop the demolition?

  • planetshwoop

    Yeah, I am very lucky because the ‘active neighbors’ was my spouse. :) It helped a lot that they needed a zoning change and the alder was willing to listen to the community via a meeting.

  • Tooscrapps

    Probably nothing can stop the demo, but the City can refuse the curb cuts and put restrictions on what gets built there.

    Which, in that case, enjoy your useless lot.


    On what legal basis would the curb cut be denied? Curb cuts on commercially zoned streets are not generally considered to be subject to discretionary approval of alderman. Do you really want clueless alderman to have even more discretionary power? If we want developers to respect the law (zoning code) then the community has to do so too.


    To do that you need zoning reform informed by a comprehensive community plan. Relying on aldermanic fiat will not end well.

  • Tooscrapps

    “The proposed driveway process requires approval from the Zoning Department and approved field inspections from the Bureau of Electricity, Bureau of Forestry, Department of Water Management and the Department of Transportation. The application needs approval from the Alderman of the ward in which the property falls within.”

    I’m not saying an alderman SHOULD have that power, but right now, they do.


    As for the zoning code, I am in favor of some smart updates, but until that happens, the community can and should do everything in their power (including leaning on their Alderman) to prevent some corporation/developer do something detrimental to their neighborhood.


    The alderman would need a legitimate reason to deny a curbcut permit based on objective standards found in the zoning code, as well as governing documents in the Bureau of Electricity, Bureau of Forestry, Department of Water Management and the Department of Transportation. Regulatory revenge over a legal but unwanted demolition, using your tactics would not be a good idea or sound public policy.

    Plus there is the fact that the site already has a curbcut on both Milwaukee and Avers. So all that would be accomplished by denying a permit to move them would be to make the intersection more dangerous. First car accident or pedestrian injury cause by the permit denial and the city would be looking at a very justified lawsuit.

  • Tooscrapps

    It’s seems they want a different curb cut.

    Stop being a shill.


    The first time there is an accident or a pedestrian gets hit by a car or a cyclist gets run down because the curb cut is in the wrong place the city will get sued because they illegally refused to let the owner move the curb cut. Now that’s great public policy.

  • johnaustingreenfield

    Hey folks, let’s keep the conversation civil. Thanks.

  • Tooscrapps

    You keep saying that the City refusing these things are illegal. They aren’t.

  • ohsweetnothing

    That aerial does a great job of illustrating how the Kennedy cuts the entire community area in half, which has long been a lament of mine.

    Are the curb cuts allowing cars onto Belmont and Milwaukee? It’s been my personal experience that curb cuts (particularly drive-thrus) on Milwaukee are pretty terrible for all users: stress points for pedestrians (plus it creates an unintentional pseudo-intersection where pedestrians often cross the street), traffic back up sudden stops for drivers, and well 2 of the 3 times I’ve been hit by a car on my bike was by someone pulling in and someone pulling out of a drive thru along Milwaukee.

    So in summary, not good.

  • ohsweetnothing

    What do you mean by “zoning reform” here? A wholesale change in how zoning is done in Chicago? Or zoning changes necessary for this specific site?

  • Carter O’Brien

    It’s even worse than “just” cutting it in half, it cuts it in half on a long diagonal, *and* the community area’s namesake park was cannibalized in the process. We are long, long, long overdue for some new parks, Avondale is both park-starved and suffers from the emissions from highway vehicles (and cars getting to and from the highway on our streets).

  • Carter O’Brien

    Look up “grandfathered” and understand that when non-conforming properties and features are being replaced, that grandfathered status is null and void. This is why Rey Colon had to bend over backwards so that the McDonald’s could keep their drive thru on Milwaukee Ave by the Logan stop.

    Come to think of it, why couldn’t they simply extend Milwaukee Avenue’s p-street status this far north as a pre-emptive move?

  • ohsweetnothing

    Yeah, the closest park to me is Brands…which requires me to go under the freeway no matter which route I take. It’s a pretty awful experience.

  • Carter O’Brien

    I feel the same way. We have Unity Park a few blocks south, but nothing that is walkable that I consider a more immersive green space. I am glad to see the slow and steady improvement connectivity to the forest preserves, but really, the City could throw us a bone by giving us a pedestrian and cycling bridge over the river, from the AVONDALE side. The current under bridge model is pretty much a stick in the eye in terms of how it snubs those of us to the west.


    First a comprehensive community plan is developed with input from all community stakeholders. Then new zoning designations and design guidelines are drafted and implemented to reflect the findings of the community plan so that future development builds out according to the plan. This isn’t a “wholesale change in HOW zoning is done” it’s a wholesale change in which and where existing zoning districts are assigned and applied. Plan Zoning as a process works just fine. The problem is in honestly implementing the findings of community plans.

    This way developers and property owners know what is expected by the community, they can build as of right. Time, developer money and community energy and time isn’t wasted fighting.


    Extending pedestrian street designation here is a good idea. But i’m not sure that that will have any bearing on this demolition permit or the kiosks. Grandfathering generally refers to extending entitlements of a previous zoning designation under a new, reformed, zoning district regime. Usually when zoning is changed existing properties can keep what they have, like a drive through or an apartment that you couldn’t have if your area has been downzoned. So you don’t need to be “grandfathered in” to maintain an existing feature on your property like a drive thru going forward.

    I don’t expect that PNC is planning to keep the parking lot for a long time. It looks like they are cutting their monthly costs until the property can be redeveloped. My guess is that if a community planning process is initiated that they will be willing participants because they would be beneficiaries. It may be that they want to develop the site with a denser modern building and they want to take a fight over the existing building off the table if they want to sell the property to a developer down the road. That’s not great news for people who want to save this particular non landmark quality structure but it doesn’t mean that what comes next won’t be a better building that provides more housing and modern commercial space that fills in the gap in the streetwall. The chances of that happening sooner are better if a community plan is drafted and adopted.

  • ohsweetnothing

    Thanks for clearing that up so thoroughly (seriously, no sarcasm here).

    It’s not a bad idea at all really, the only criticism that jumps out at me about your idea is that community expectations can change pretty rapidly. I’ve seen it happen a couple of times along the Milwaukee corridor and in Little Italy/Tri-Taylor/Roosevelt Square, especially when there’s a change in political representation. Probably has a lot to do with who is considered the “community” at the time planning is done.


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