The Renaissance Apartments represent a dramatic change in the housing of Edgewater that brought with it the concept of an apartment home, large enough to become a place of residence for the wealthy urbanites. The town of Edgewater changed when the urban transportation system connected it to downtown. A building boom followed immediately. First came two-flats, three-flats and six-flats. These were built all over Edgewater between 1908 and 1920. Most were two bedroom and one bath units.
The Renaissance Apartments represent a significant shift in the concept of housing because it was sold as apartment dwelling for the well-to-do. It is 17 stories high with two apartment homes on each floor. The architectural style is Renaissance revival and the building has recently been listed on the National Register of Historic Places because of the unique development of housing that it represents.
Prior to the construction of the Renaissance Apartments in 1927, the street was lined with large single family homes except where there were empty lots or, as in the case of the corner of Catalpa and Sheridan and Bryn Mawr and Sheridan, where there were gas stations. On the 5300 block, across from the Edgewater Beach Hotel, there was a ground level parking lot. On the next block west, large three story apartments were mixed in with some single family homes.
The 1920s in Edgewater were marked by more construction, especially large building construction like the Bryn Mawr and Belle Shore hotels. These were apartment hotels which offered mostly studios and one bedroom units. By 1923, the Edgewater Beach Hotel complex took up two full blocks along the lakeshore. The Hotel was a popular spot and brought a lot of activity to the area.
The Renaissance Apartments was built to offer a different option than the single family home on the valuable land along the lakeshore. The building was designed with many beautiful details. It is faced with rusticated red brick with a common bond every seventh course. The eastern elevation features a central entrance and a stepped back design on the 14th and 17th floors. At the top there are additional details such as dormers and a tower that is not symmetrical to the façade. The east elevation has a 10 inch setback at the north and south ends which defines the symmetry of the building. You will note quoins on the corners of the lower floors. Also, string courses of limestone divide the façade at the first, second, third, fifteenth and sixteenth floors. The south and north elevations are essentially the same, with metal fire escapes for each apartment and windows for each room.
At the rear, the building is connected to a three story garage with a working car elevator. In the original operation of the building, there were 15 employees and an apartment for a manager. An owner would have his car washed in the garage and ready for his use on a schedule. For unscheduled trips, a phone call to the garage would assure that the car was ready for use. Charlton Heston once worked as a doorman at this building.
In the vestibule, there is a lavish ornamental plaster ceiling and wood paneled wainscot and marble tiled floor. Two wooden doors open into the lobby. The doors exhibit ornamental iron grills similar to those on the exterior. The large lobby, which extends the full width of the building, is paneled with an excellent example of trompe d’oeil faux wood-grained paneling. The decorative pilasters in faux marble and a decorative plaster ceiling with two original chandeliers add to the elegance of the room. Along one wall is a fireplace with additional faux marble work on the wall above the hearth. The floor is white marble with black diamond accents. It has been beautifully restored.
Double doors with diamond design windows at both the north and south ends of the lobby open onto the porte cochere. These wooden doors will not be opened. The porch has an opening at the front of the building with decorative iron gates which are not usually opened. You have been invited to go through this entrance to the south garden where refreshments will be served.
Adjacent to the lobby, there are doors to a small library and a mail room which will not be open. There is a hallway to the elevator. The faux wood paneling continues throughout the lobby area. A short perpendicular hallway connects to the passenger elevator and management offices.
You will be taken up on the elevator to the unit you will visit. There are only two units per floor so there is a small hallway shared by each unit. When you reach the floor, you will see a beautiful restored door directly in front of you. The unit you will see is on your left.