A tidy example of the early postwar modernism that characterized commercial architecture in Chicago’s outermost neighborhoods, 3200 W. Foster’s big glass windows once turned the showroom into a silent, ceaseless salesman. The building, designed by Melvin A. Nelson and completed in 1949, is in better shape than the discontinued car brands that it initially sold…but only barely. Owned by North Park University and long home to the campus bookstore, the former DeSoto-Plymouth dealership has been vacant since 2006.

Left: 1950 postcard of the building with large glass windows with cars on display inside and a large sign with a clock on top of the building. Right: windows replaced with ugly siding, shingled roof, no sign, looking shabby.
1950 postcard, Curt Teich Postcard Archives Collection, the Newberry Library | 2024 photo

So, what’s changed? Those showcase windows are gone and a shingled eave engulfed the clean lines of that metal canopy. The sign is gone, if it existed at all (I can’t spot it in contemporary aerial photos and have a hunch it was a speculative addition for the postcard). As usual, we have streetcar tracks that have disappeared–the Chicago Surface Lines’ route 17 went from Bryn Mawr & Kedzie to Marquette & Kedzie until it was replaced by buses in 1949, with the tracks paved over soon after. North Kedzie doesn’t even have bus service anymore, after the CTA ended the 89 bus in the early 90s. That stone veneer facade still looks pretty good, though. 

Established in the late 1930s, M&C Motors spent most of the 1940s down the block at 5129 N. Kedzie before moving here, at the intersection of Kedzie and Foster, in 1949. The dealership sold two Chrysler marques, with Plymouth Chrysler’s entry-level brand and DeSoto a midrange brand initially conceived to compete with Pontiac, Studebaker, Dodge, etc. The DeSoto brand became redundant almost immediately when–only months after launching the division–Chrysler went ahead and acquired Dodge. With too much overlap between Chrysler’s five brands–Plymouth, Dodge, DeSoto, Chrysler and Imperial–the company discontinued the DeSoto line in 1961. By that point M&C Motors had moved to Oak Park anyway, where the company survived into the early 2000s. 

With car sales flowing again after the war, a growing M&C Motors hired Melvin A. Nelson to design their new showroom and service center. Nelson was an obscure Chicago architect (...you don’t want to know how long it took me to identify him), but in the 1920s he had worked for Clarence Hatzfeld’s firm, which designed some notable Masonic temples and park district fieldhouses across Chicago. Active through the late 1950s, Nelson designed some neat single-family homes on the North Side, a clutch of commercial buildings, and at least one church. If I had to guess, as someone beginning to establish themselves in the field in the 1920s, the Great Depression probably seriously derailed his career in the 1930s–but that lean period also appears to have forced him to vault from various historical revival styles to modernism once building re-started after the war. Given that North Park University is a historically Swedish school, it’s also a little appropriate that they own this building now–Melvin Nelson was born to Swedish immigrants who lived on Chicago’s North Side. 

Kenron Awning & Window Co., a manufacturer of aluminum storm windows, doors, and fiberglass awnings, briefly took over the building when M&C left, but by the mid-1960s they moved to a facility in Niles, which consolidated their manufacturing and corporate offices (6565 W. Howard–it’s still there).

In 1965, North Park College bought the building, leasing it out to Covenant Press, an Evangelical Covenant Church publisher who also operated the college bookstore out of the building. By 1970, the showcase windows of the old auto showroom had been replaced with…whatever that shit is. From here, Covenant Press published religious texts, distributed videos, and also ran a Christian record label from this building. The Covenant Bookstore closed in 2006, when the university moved it back onto campus.

Since it’s a religious institution, North Park University pays no property tax here, which makes it much easier to justify banking this lot by keeping the building vacant. At least at one point, the school planned to demolish this building, but North Park's most recent masterplan no longer marks it for demolition, so we'll see what happens. Peterson Avenue, a mile north, has received a lot of attention for its delightful midcentury architecture. While its sharp lines are a little tattered these days, 3200 W. Foster was once an outpost of that same architectural heritage.

Production Files

Further reading:

Other buildings designed by Melvin A. Nelson include Kelvyn Park Presbyterian Church (Deming Place & Kostner), Northwest Suburban Medical Center (Thomas & Arlington Heights Road in Arlington Heights), Portage Park Gym, and the Locomobile-Auburn Auto Showroom (2401 S Michigan). He also designed homes and apartments in Chicago at 3007 W. Hollywood, 5755 N Virginia, 1350 W. Elmdale, 6133 N Forest Glen Ave., and 6131 N. Kirkwood Ave.

The Kedzie Avenue Streetcar, CSL route 17, ran from Bryn Mawr & Kedzie to Marquette & Kedzie until 1949, when it replaced by buses. CTA’s second bus garage, placed into service May 29, 1950, was built at Kedzie and Foster (and it's still there). Kind of a cruel irony that the garage is located on Kedzie, since the street no longer has bus service. The 89 used to go from the Logan Square Blue Line station to Kedzie & Berwyn, but that service ended in the early 1990s.

Finding photos was a struggle, so I was very pleased with myself when I realized the building was visible in the background from North Park's former tennis courts.

Kenron's move from the North Side to the suburbs, where they could easily assemble a large site consolidating their Chicago operations, was very common in the 1960s.

Various ads and help wanted ads from the 1950s and 1960s–the Kenron 'Help Wanted' ad for a Girl Friday made me laugh.

Manila envelope with a form on it with instructions for printing the postcard, "follow sketch" and "Red + Dk. Blue Impressions"
The Curt Teich production file envelope for the postcard, Newberry Library via the Internet Archive