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A Slice of Italy in Chicago

 

The Italian Courtyard of Le Petit Gourmet once had a cocktail bar and served lunch, tea and dinner in the late 1940s, according to a description on the back of the postcard.


The Italian-style courtyard shown in the postcard was loved by many before it was razed in 1967. The scenic “slice of Italy” located near 600 N. Michigan Ave. featured shops, restaurants and about 20 apartments for artists.

The courtyard was surrounded by three buildings that were fitted together between 1919 and 1926. The Chicago Daily Tribune wrote that the project was one of the earliest private urban renewal projects in the city. When the first building was acquired by the Ira B. Cook estate, Michigan Avenue was still named Pine Street and the area was surrounded by soap factories and breweries.

The new owners handed the building and its development over to Architect Robert S. DeGolyer, according to the Tribune. The idea for a shop-studio compound was also worked up by artists Nancy Cox McCormick and Frederick Grant.

In 1921, a run-down hotel to the south was renovated, and another building on Ontario Street was bought in 1926. In the courtyard’s early days, it housed a large shopping space called Le Petit Bazar, which benefitted the Illinois Children’s Home and Aid society. The group of well-known Chicago women who started that charity were Mrs. Potter Palmer, Mrs. John Alden Carpenter and Mrs. Marshall Field.

Those who lived in the buildings surrounding the courtyard included artists, writers, critics, architects, designers and advertising personalities, among others. Portrait painters Leopold Seyfert and Paul Trebilcock resided there.  One apartment was occupied by the Baroness Violet Beatrice Von Wenner, who is known for painting portraits of five presidents as well as European and Middle Eastern royalty.

Von Wenner asked the Tribune, “Why do they have to tear it down? Do we need another monster high rise building?” A 27-story office building was soon built at the site, and the little slice of Italy disappeared from Chicago, making way for more high-rise office and retail buildings that would come to characterize North Michigan Avenue.  

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