Sunday, February 22, 2015

Voltz Hall
 by: chicago designslinger

 [Voltz Hall (ca. 1875) /Image & Artwork: chicago designslinger]

John Voltz was one among many who came to Chicago in the first wave of Germanic   peoples migrating to the city in the 1850s and 60s. Many of these early, near north side settlers were from the old Ducal Kingdoms in the southern reaches of the unified German states like Bavaria, or W├╝rttemberg, where the Voltz name was first recorded in the 13th century. After establishing himself in his new hometown, this industrious entrepreneur built a building on the corner of Chicago Avenue and Wells Street soon after the big fire of 1871. He opened a saloon on the ground floor, lived on the second, and rented out the large, two-story assembly room on the third. He named the building Voltz Hall.

  [Voltz Hall, 800 N. Wells Street, Chicago /Image & Artwork: chicago designslinger]

With a steady income flowing in from liquor sales and hall rentals, Voltz used this cash harvest to build a rental apartment building in the what had been the back yard of the hall building, and increased his revenue stream even further. During the 1880s Voltz, along with many other saloon owners, were in a constant battle with certain city lawmakers and temperance activists over Sunday closing laws. It was a war between working class immigrants and a predominately upper class elite who saw liquor as the root of all evil, especially among certain ethnic and economic groups. For the labor class, Sunday was the only day to let loose and have some fun and recreation since back in those days most people worked Monday through Saturday. The idea of closing the saloons on Sundays was seen by many German nationals as a direct attack on their way of life, and an effort by the establishment to deny them their constitutional right of freedom and assembly. Large marches were held, especially on the city's north side, with many ending in rousing rallys in Voltz's third floor hall. In 1881, a warrant was issued for the bar owner on a charge of selling liquor to a minor, which many believed was a scare tactic used by officials to harrass a successful saloon keeper.

  [Voltz Hall, Near North Side, Chicago /Image & Artwork: chicago designslinger]

Not only were the natives restless over their right to socialize, but the 1880s and early 90s was also a time of great labor unrest. Chicago was a hub of the nascent labor movement in the United States and Voltz Hall served as a meeting place for many workers seeking better working conditions and a fair wage. On March 3, 1892, 250 women employed in the Selz, Schwab & Co. shoe factory on nearby Superior Street, walked off the job and marched to Voltz Hall for a rally. And it wasn't only local labor issues that drew people to the third floor space. In 1905 members of the city's large Swedish community rallied at the hall to raise money for the 20,000 iron and steel workers locked-out of Sweden's mills and shipyards.
After John's death his widow Gertrude ran the business with her sons John, William and Charles. In 1907, following their mother's death in 1906, the Voltz boys sold their inherited piece of property to Mr. John O'Connell. Prohibition killed the bar business, and the building languished for several years, a little worse for wear, with the old copper cornice barely hanging on, and a patched and worn, patinated, copper crown topping-off the unique, square corner turret. Today the original cornice has been replaced with a updated version of its old self, the brick has been cleaned and re-tucked, and the old windows are now single panels of tinted bronze. The corner saloon has seen its fair share of businesses come and go, and Voltz's hall now serves as the home of the New School for Massage.

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