Chicago Brick
March 31, 2004 9:46 AM   Subscribe

What does the term "Chicago brick" mean? I Googled and found plenty of references, but no definition. I have heard that it refers to houses done in multi-colored brick, but it may also refer to a certain type of brick. Interested in photos, any info about derivation of the term. Thanks!
posted by GaelFC to Home & Garden (6 answers total)
I just checked Google, the OED, and the Encyclopaedia Britannica. No dice. What an interesting question. I've always heard it used to mean multi colored construction. I guess I've always assumed the style comes from the recycling of building materials after the great fire. However I can't find anything to confirm this, and have no idea where I got that idea.
posted by Grod at 10:20 AM on March 31, 2004

well... i know that common brick material will have differences in hue from brick to brick, and common brick was used most often on the sides and back of all-brick houses in chicago. common brick is generally an earthy color, and i think it's much more pleasing to look at than the horrible cinder-block material they seem to prefer these days.

chicago brick may refer to the bricks of some houses which alternate between two colors, i.e. a dark red/brown to a lighter color; those bricks are more of a fancier brick -- something that would get used on the front facade of a house, probably a bungalow. i'm not certain if you won't find those kinds of bricks in other cities.


when the chicago fire occurred, i think the city was mostly built with wood materials from wisconsin and michigan. (i also believe at least one district of the city was entirely a lumber yard!) that was one of the reasons why the chicago fire was so devastating. i couldn't say for sure that brick from then wasn't recycled into other buildings built after the fire, but it doesn't sound right to me...
posted by moz at 10:37 AM on March 31, 2004

Chicago brick might be a different size brick--not just a color difference. What I've always heard referred to as "common" brick is more of a size standard than any color specification. In certain types of masonry construction, you'll have a brick veneer wall over a concrete block wall, which means that it's a lot easier if the joints of the bricks line up with the joints of the blocks, or be "on module". The dimensions of a common brick probably fill that role.

There's no Chicago brick here, but that's pretty much what I'm getting at.
posted by LionIndex at 11:36 AM on March 31, 2004

This site states:
"The look of worn brick paving is replicated to perfection with our Old Chicago Brick Pattern. It looks like brick pavers, only better!" and has some pictures.

This brick flooring site shows "Chicago" as a similar, worn, pock-marked type of brick material.

This company has a brochure on Chicago brick, which looks to be reclaimed old Colonial brick from Chicago laid in a multicolor pattern.

This Chicago tribune article quotes a builder:

"There's a market for antique Chicago brick because it's one of the strongest bricks made," says Rick Oswald, general manager of Colonial Brick Co. in Chicago. The company for the past 30 years has procured antique bricks from local buildings and streets that are being demolished. "The attraction is the antique factor," Oswald says.

Here's a real-estate listing for a house built with "authentic, antique Chicago brick."

From reading a few other listings, it looks like the term means the old, kind of "crumbly" pockmarked brick. The real thing has a lot more character than new brick, and actually is antique brick from demolished Chicago buildings. A couple of references noted that this porous type of brick was actually used for interior building in Chicago instead of exteriors - since it absorbs moisture quite easily, it wasn't really suited to the extreme weather. But in warmer climes, it sounds like some builders use it as an exterior material.
However, the quote from the builder mentions reclaiming old, antique brick from streets and demolitions. Thus it seems it can also be used as a term for "antique brick" in general - though the genuine antiques from Chicago are highly valued for their durability. I'm assuming the weather extremes in the Windy City demand a strong brick.

It also appears some in the real estate industry use the term for any type of old, antique brick. Several adds for urban lofts here in Texas advertised "interior Chicago brick walls", but they refer to the original building's brick - I don't think they actually came from Chicago.

Apparently it's quite hard to duplicate this look with modern materials, so the old bricks are expensive.
posted by sixdifferentways at 12:30 PM on March 31, 2004

Response by poster: Fabulous! Thanks for all the info!
posted by GaelFC at 12:38 PM on March 31, 2004

Late as usual, but as an addendum to sdw's explanation and links, the bricks seem to be of a slightly larger size. Here in St. Louis, I found a number of oversized bricks that look very similar when I knocked out a wall in my basement.
posted by notsnot at 4:00 PM on March 31, 2004

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