Swedish American State Bank
5400 N. Clark Street
With its sculptural façade of glazed white terra-cotta, and big rounded windows, this building has always stood out from its neighbors in Edgewater. It was built in 1913, and designed by the architectural firm of Ottenheimer, Stern & Reichert to house the Swedish American State Bank.
It was designed in the Classical Revival style which finds its roots in ancient Greek and Roman architecture. You can see this inspiration in the building’s proportions, symmetry and classical elements such as the pediment, egg and dart motif and Ionic-like columns. The 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition had a big impact on architecture in Chicago. The Fair buildings were designed in a Classical Revival style, specifically that of the Beaux Arts. Subsequently, after the Fair, classical buildings were popping up all over Chicago. A style that implies great dignity, it was a natural choice for a bank.
It’s a bit too playful to be strictly Classical Revival in style though. Henry L. Ottenheimer, founder of the firm, studied in Paris and apprenticed under Louis Sullivan. You can see a slight Sullivan influence on Ottenheimer in the nature inspired ornamentation running between the rounded window tops and cornice – like stalks of tulips. Though Ottenheimer surely played a part in designing the building, his partner William Reichert is credited with the building’s overall design.
Originally the building looked a little different. The rounded windows on the second floor continued uninterrupted down to the first floor – creating a much more stately facade. Today, there are bands of continuous plate glass windows along both sides of the building. The biggest change was the removal of the grand front entrance, replaced by an unimpressive side entrance. Despite this, overall the building maintains much of its original integrity.
5400 N. Clark is far from a bank today. Now it is the home of Hamburger Mary’s: where you go to find queer conscious culinary concoctions (as a good friend describes it). More simply put, it’s a funky place with exceptional burgers.
If you do find yourself exploring here don’t get so distracted by Mary that you neglect to notice the ornamentation above what used to be the front entrance: an eagle and Chicago’s municipal “Y” (symbolic of the three branches of the Chicago River) — a friendly reminder of the building’s impressive beginnings.