Collinsville, Illinois Mid-Century Modern Neon Signs

Bert’s Chuck Wagon Sign Moving

by Michael R. Allen

An article in today’s Madison County Journal reports that Bert’s Chuck Wagon restaurant has removed its landmark sign and will be reinstalling it inside the restaurant’s new home.

In a turn of rather thoughtless planning, the landmark restaurant’s A-frame Googie building will be demolished for the widening of Illinois Highway 159. Of course, many Metro East cities’ downtowns have suffered when state highways are routed around them. Collinsville at least will still have the highway running through the heart of town.

Collinsville, Illinois Metro East Mid-Century Modern Signs

Bert’s Chuck Wagon in Collinsville to Fall for Highway Widening

by Michael R. Allen

The Madison County Journal reports that Collinsville mid-century landmark Bert’s Chuck Wagon Bar-B-Q (see “Heavenly Bar-B-Q” will be demolished soon for widening of Illinois Highway 159. Bert’s Chuck Wagon will relocate to a nearby location on Main Street and move the fine conestoga sign to the new location. The A-frame building with the vivid religious scenes painted in its gable end windows, however, will be history.

The widening of Illinois 159 costs the state $56 million, and the sites of several tax-paying small businesses — not to mention at least one landmark mid-century building. Such an expensive project in recession may very well take away more economic activity over the long run than it generates.

See also “Mid-Century Modernism in Collinsville” (August 8, 2008).

Architecture Collinsville, Illinois Metro East Mid-Century Modern

Mid-Century Modernism in Collinsville

by Michael R. Allen

Across the street from each other on Main Street in Collinsville, Illinois are two delightful one-story mid-century modern office buildings dating to the 1950s. These buildings aren’t exceptional modern masterpieces, but simply nice examples of vernacular modernism: derived from the International Style and other sources by local architects or builders, highly functional and strongly stylized. These buildings are the modern equivalents of the nineteenth and early twentieth century vernacular storefronts lining other blocks on Main Street.

To the east is a later modernist pharmacy and medical office building — there was a clear and exciting architectural conflation between the clean lines of modernism and the promise of postwar medicine. However, the modern purity erodes here through stylized cursive lettering that softens the severity of the purpose houses inside.

In Collinsville as elsewhere, attemprts to make downtown more modern weren’t satisfactory enough for some businesses. One of those was the Collinsville Building and Loan Association, which in 1969 moved from Main Street to the sprawl of Belt Line Road. The Association still occupies that building, and its New Brutalist body hasn’t changed much.

Churches Collinsville, Illinois Googie Metro East Mid-Century Modern

Heavenly Bar-B-Q

by Michael R. Allen

This quintessential A-frame work of Googie-tecture stands at the northwest corner of Vandalia (State Highway 159) and Clay streets in downtown Collinsville, Illinois. According to the Conestoga sign on the pole in front, this is Bert’s Chuck Wagon with “Open Pit Bar-B-Q.” The high pitched roof overhangs the building to almost conceal the sides completely. Splayed columns add a whimsical touch, and the gabled entry overhang creates enough head space for a person to walk into the building through the door.

What is most striking is the large gable end facing the corner. The open glass wall provided exposure and a contrast to the heavy, almost foreboding side elevations. Now, that gable end provides a backdrop for religious expression.

The windows of the gable end display a rather expressionistic scene of Jesus Christ on the cross, done in bold colors with dark shadow lines. Disconcerting, though, are the white open eyes reminiscent of the “Little Orphan Annie” comic strip.