S. Karpen & Bros. Building, Chicago
by: chicago designslinger
[S. Karpen & Bros. Building, Chicago (1899) Hessenmueller & Meldahl, architects /Image & Artwork: chicago designslinger]
This small 7-story gem of a building didn't always look like it could barely breathe squeezed in between two towering skyscrapers. The little structure began life in 1885 as the Hotel Richelieu, book ended by buildings of similar height, and one of a number of hotels that once lined this portion of Michigan Avenue. The Richelieu was known for it's kitchen, providing elegant Parisian fare to a discerning clientele, which included the likes of theater diva "The Divine Sarah" Bernhardt.
[S. Karpen & Bros. Building, Chicago, 318 S. Michigan Avenue, Chicago /Image & Artwork: chicago designslinger]
Unfortunately the Richelieu couldn't survive on fancy food alone, and the establishment closed its doors in 1895. Just up the street, located at the intersection of Adams and Michigan, S. Karpen & Bros. were looking for a new home for their furniture business. They'd sold their building and the leasehold on the land they occupied to the Peoples Light, Gas & Coke Company who wanted to locate their new headquarters on the property. The Karpen's in turn, purchased the Richelieu and hired architects Hessenmueller & Meldahl to give the building a complete makeover.
[S. Karpen & Bros. Building, Chicago, Historic Michigan Boulevard District, Chicago /Image & Artwork: chicago designslinger]
The interior of the hotel was gutted and reworked into a large open floor plans to provide the kind of space needed for a warehouse and showroom. The exterior facade was removed, a floor was added, and the Michigan Avenue facade was finished in a decorative, creamy, terra-cotta cover. The Karpen's business flourished, becoming the largest upholstered furniture manufacturer in the world. In 1910 the company moved, once again a little further down Michigan Avenue, and this Karpen became the Findlay. In the early 1980s the building was refurbished and the first two floors were given the new limestone facade when the city's Housing Department moved in for a long stay. Today the structure sits empty, part of a condo conversion project which included its tall, next door neighbor the former Straus Building. Unfortunately it seems that the smaller portion of the real estate venture is on hold while it waits for better economic times.