Façade Improvement Restores the Pride of 1903 in Chicago Store Building

January 15, 2013

By Teya Vitu

Ever since the Downtown Tucson Partnership launched the Façade Improvement Program in 2008, the Chicago Music Store, 130 E. Congress St., was regarded as a prime candidate for a major facelift.chicago after

Five years later, the day finally came for the Chicago Music Store building to once again shine in its 1903 brick Italianate-style glory.

The Chicago Music Store matched a $90,000 Façade Improvement grant to fully reinvent the building’s exterior with a new color scheme as well as reveal hidden architectural features and install 31 large windows where plywood had filled the frames since before Chicago Music took occupancy in 1967.

“This is the unveiling of this unbelievable restoration of this icon,” Downtown Tucson Partnership CEO Michael Keith said at the ribbon cutting ceremony on Jan. 11. “This is a story that can happen when the private sector and public sector share a vision.”

This third round of the Façade Improvement Program is funded with $90,000 from the Tohono O’odham Nation, $80,000 of city funding remaining from the first round, $15,000 remaining from the second round, and a new $60,000 infusion from Providence Service Corp. and other private sector donors.

It just so happened the Tohono O’odham contribution equaled the amount granted to the Chicago Store.

“I just wanted to say on behalf of my nation that we really, really appreciate the opportunity to partner to revitalize our city,” Tohono O’odham Nation Chairman Ned Norris said. “I just turned the corner and looked at this historic building and was in awe. What happened to the Chicago Store?”

The Chicago Store’s dominant red paint scheme, plywood window scheme and huge wood Chicago Store sign gave way to a new color scheme by Betty R. Yuriar of Eclipse Design.

Plywood had covered these window frames for more than 45 years.

Plywood had covered these window frames for more than 45 years.

Yuriar latched onto the black and yellow tiles at street level and continued those colors for the new store sign and transom above the doors and showcase window. The upper half of the building is bathed in an off-white called slinky to represent the lime wash that was the common building covering a century ago. Columns are a beige called hurricane and trim is a black called mechanic. The gray around the windows is a gray called lead.

“I did white so we didn’t see the oldness of the building,” Yuriar said.

Tucson-based Eglin+Bresler Architects designed the façade improvement, which revealed the original 4-by-4-inch flower patterned glass transom tiles that had been hidden under the wood Chicago Store sign. They also restored 13 upper level transom windows on the Congress side and 18 windows on the 6th Avenue side, and removed paint that had covered the yellow and black tile.

What about the Chicago Music Store itself? (Chicago Store and Chicago Music Store is used interchangeably, though the official name since 2004 has been Chicago Music Store).

“We’re going to spruce up the inside,” Chicago Store CEO David Fregonese said. “We’re planning on giving the main floor a facelift. It feels like a fresh start, press the reset button and have an opportunity to improve the business.”

While Fregonese looks at a fresh start, Tribal Chairman Norris and Pima County Supervisor Richard Elias were more wistful about their childhoods.

“Being born and raised here in Tucson, a lot of us can remember what the Downtown area looked like 50 years ago,” Norris said.

The old Chicago Store sign covered the original glass transom tiles now visible again.

The old Chicago Store sign covered the original glass transom tiles now visible again.

Elias grew up Downtown as did his mother and father.

“In seventh grade, I got introduced to a silver sax that I fell in love with,” Elias recalled. “I came here to the Chicago Store to buy reeds and neck holders. There’s the dreams of children that live inside this building.”

Mayor Jonathan Rothschild recited that the Chicago Music Store “buys, sells, rents, trades and repairs all sorts of instruments from kazoos to pianos.”

“I’m glad the patient is doing so well now that the bandages are off,” Rothschild said.

Several Façade Improve Program projects have occurred within steps of the Congress Street and 6th Avenue intersection: Chicago Store, Beowulf Alley Theatre, The Drawing Studio, The Screening Room and Imago Dei Middle School.

The Façade Improvement Program also provided support to improve the building at Broadway and Scott that attracted Providence Service Corp. to move its corporate headquarters Downtown.

The Rialto Building also improved its façade with a program grant and immediately filled an empty building with a series of science exhibitions. This spring, Flagstaff restaurateurs will open Proper and Diablo Burger in parts of the Rialto Building.