Thursday, February 26, 2015

Adolph Borgmeier House
 by: chicago designslinger

[Adolph Borgmeier House (1891) Henry T. Kley, architect /Image & Artwork: chicago designslinger]

Technological advances come in all shapes and sizes, and have an impact either large or small. The train, much like the computer today, changed the world we lived in and helped put Chicago on the global map. Also, being centrally located in an expanding frontier, and in close proximity to a bounty of natural resources, made Chicago the fastest growing city on the planet during the last half of the nineteenth century.

[Adolph Borgmeier House, 1521 N. Hoyne Avenue, Chicago /Image & Artwork: chicago designslinger]

One of the industries that benefited from this confluence of events was furniture manufacturing. Chicago was in close proximity to the masses of trees located in the vast forests of Wisconsin, Michigan and Minnesota, so millions of board feet of lumber were just a train ride away. And jobs were plentiful, especially for skilled artisans like Adolph Borgmeier. When the German national arrived in Chicago with his brother Austin in the early 1860s, they were just two of 20,000 German migrants who came to the city at a time when one out of every six residents was of German extraction. The brothers settled into a rooming house on Third Avenue (now Plymouth Court) near Harrison Street, and Adolph put his skills as master carpenter to use. In 1865 he used his talents and connections to start a business with A.P. Johnson making chairs, and not long after the flames of the Chicago Fire died down the Borgmeier family moved into a small wood cottage on LeMoyne Avenue, located just a few blocks from a little triangle of green space called Wicker Park.

  [Adolph Borgmeier House, Wicker Park National Historic District, Chicago /Image & Artwork: chicago designslinger]

The Johnson Chair Company grew into one of the largest seat manufacturers in the country. Their 6-story plant that wrapped around Halsted and Green Streets occupied almost the entire city block, employed over 600 workers, and survived 3 major fires - varnish and wood shavings were a combustible combination. In 1891 Borgmeier found himself in a comfortable enough financial position to be able to hire architect Henry Kley to design a house for the prosperous chair-maker on Hoyne Avenue - around the corner from Borgmeier's two-story cottage. The houses along Hoyne were bigger, on larger lots, and had more Blue Book address listings than streets like LeMoyne.

  [Adolph Borgmeier House, Wicker Park Historic District, Chicago /Image & Artwork: chicago designslinger]

Kley was no stranger to Hoyne Avenue, he and his wife lived on the street, just south of North Avenue. Kley's name never made it onto the list of notable Chicago architects, but he turned-out a large enough number of single family homes and apartment flat buildings to keep food on the table. The Borgmeier commission allowed the architect to pull-out a lot of stops, and with the manufacturer's money at hand, designed an attention grabbing assemblage of stone, metal and wood that sat prominently on its oversized lot. Borgmeier died at home in 1906 where his surviving widow, and daughter Alice, continued to live. Alice had graduated from the University of Chicago in 1902, taught violin at Florenz Ziegfled, Sr.'s Chicago Musical College, and never married. By the 1920s the old mansion was converted into a multi-unit rooming house, and in the continuing rediscovery and rehabilitation of Wicker Park's grand old homes the house now serves a single family once again, and the little cottage on LeMoyne still occupies its narrow 25 foot lot.

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