For our inaugural Featured Friend post, we are spotlighting Chuck Erickson, our landlord and a vital ally to our organization. A supporter of the arts and a maker himself, Chuck has for many years envisioned the development of a creative community at this site. CIADC’s three-story industrial home is part of a larger, multi-building complex that Chuck acquired in 1978. The entire property encompasses approximately 50,000 sq. ft. of space and stretches the full length of Ravenswood between Devon and Schreiber Avenues. In talking with Chuck, he shared with us some of the history of the site, which has housed various industrial tenants throughout the years. These include: Rocor Rubber, which manufactured rubber onsite, Fidelitone, a producer of diamond-tip phonograph needles and Great Lakes Brush Company, whose clients included the CTA and the federal government. In the 1920s, the building presently occupied by CIADC housed the Chicago Radio Laboratory, predecessor of Zenith Electronics.
Born and raised in Chicago, Chuck began his career as a general contractor, starting his own business and buying his first building at the age of 24. He continued to acquire buildings throughout his contracting career, both as rehab projects and also as a means of keeping his crew busy when things were slow. Chuck transformed many buildings over the years throughout the Edgewater, West Ridge, and Rogers Park neighborhoods. After 29 years in the business, Chuck retired from general contracting and has turned his energies toward managing the properties he acquired.
When we met with Chuck to interview him for this piece, he gave us a tour of the complex and his on-site workshop, where he recently has been building sculptures and light fixtures out of salvaged industrial material. One of these light fixtures is installed at the exterior of the building at 6417 N. Ravenswood. Chuck’s workshop is a clear reflection of his interests – his eclectic taste, his interest in salvaged and found objects and his artistic bent. When asked about his personal aesthetic, he says he loves all periods and all things. And when asked what compels him to salvage objects rather than buy new, he says that he just can’t throw useful things away. He doesn’t put things in the garbage unless they are actually garbage.
Highlights of Chuck’s workshop include a stock car from Manitowoc, Wisconsin, photographs of properties he has owned, tall shelves of salvaged objects, and various sculptural works Chuck has created. In addition to Chuck’s own artistic abilities, he has a great appreciation for the creations of others and is supportive of artists. This is evidenced at his own home, which includes a wide variety of commissioned work. Using his skills as a contractor, Chuck completely remodeled the interior of his house to reflect his unique, personal style. Artist commissioned pieces within his house include a 13’ tall wall painting of the iconic Morton Salt girl, a multi-story, starry night mural in a staircase, art glass windows and an elaborate mosaic tile shower.
Chuck’s support for the arts is also reflected in his vision for the property here on Ravenswood and Devon. With the growing artist and maker community in the neighborhood and especially along Ravenswood to the south, Chuck believes that this may finally be the right time for the development of a creative community here, and he sees CIADC as an anchor to this development. In recent years, the site has gradually transitioned from heavy industrial uses to artistic, maker and other like-minded activities. Current tenants include a woodworker, a costume designer, a photography studio, a sound stage and a retailer that sells refurbished and vintage furniture. Chuck has recently completed the rehab of another studio space and is in the midst of renovating additional spaces that will be leased to artists and makers. Long term, Chuck plans to create more studio spaces and he would like the site to include a gallery and coffee shop.
The Chicago Industrial Arts & Design Center is thrilled to be a part of Chuck’s long-term vision and to help develop the Rogers Park Ravenswood Ave. stretch into a creative destination for Chicago.