Joseph E. Tilt House
Salvation Army College for Officer's Training
by: chicago designslinger
[Joseph E. Tilt House - Salvation Army College for Officer's Training (1914) Holabird & Roche, architects / Image & Artwork: chicago designslinger]
When Carl Sandburg opened his poem Chicago with the line "Hog butcher for the World," he paid tribute to the city that processed nearly 85% of the meat consumed in North America. Industry leaders like Armour, Swift and Nelson not only slaughtered thousands of hogs, cattle, and sheep on a daily basis, they also produced goods that were byproducts of their processing operations. Soap, glue, gelatin, leather, and even shoe polish, were just a few of the secondary products the packers were able to market and sell for even more profit. With millions of pounds of animal hides available for tanning each and every day, Chicago became one of the largest shoe manufacturing centers in the country, and Joseph E. Tilt became a millionaire by making shoes in the "City of the Big Shoulders."
[Joseph E. Tilt House - Salvation Army College for Officer's Training, 700 W. Brompton Street, Chicago / Image & Artwork: chicago designslinger]
Tilt was one of the thousands of young men who came to Chicago as it recovered from the fire of 1871 because they saw potential in the recovering city. The move was fortuitous. After a stint as a superintendent, Tilt decided to start his own shoe making enterprise and opened a small manufacturing plant. Although Chicago's meat industry provided vast amounts of animal hides for tanning, what hogs, sheep and cattle didn't provide was top quality leather. After being treated with chemicals and dried, the "heavy leather" wouldn't do for fine high-priced goods, but it worked perfectly well for lower-cost shoes and work boots. Tilt, along with a few other Chicago-based shoemakers saw potential in the low-grade leather, and with over 200 tanneries in the city the processed hides were often within blocks of their factories, and readily accessible.
[Joseph E. Tilt House - Salvation Army College for Officer's Training, Lake View, Chicago / Image & Artwork: chicago designslinger]
The J.E. Tilt Shoe Company produced boots for the U.S. military, and the firm's large sales force placed thousands of pairs of Tilt-manufactured footwear in dry goods store across the Midwest and Great Lakes regions. By the late 1880s, with his income on the rise and the introduction of his higher quality "Diamond T" brand of shoes, Tilt purchased a large plot of land north of Chicago in the city of Lake View, at the southwest corner of Addison Street and Evanston Avenue - today's Broadway. The 4-acre parcel ran 234 feet along the west side of Evanston from Addison south to Brompton Avenue, 274 feet west on Addison, and 409 feet along Brompton, comprising one-half the entire city block. He built a large, 2-story house at the northeastern corner of the lot, and a green house that was almost as large as the house. At the time, Tilt, his wife, and six children, had very few neighbors.
[Joseph E. Tilt House - Salvation Army College for Officer's Training, Addison & Broadway, Chicago / Image & Artwork: chicago designslinger]
In 1905 Tilt's son, an early car enthusiast, built his own automobile in his father's garage. Two years later 28-year-old Charles started the Diamond T Motor Car Company with $1,000 provided by his mother because his father apparently didn't approve the financially risky automotive adventure. On the other hand, by the time 1914 rolled around, Tilt had decided that spending $80,000 or so to build a new house that better reflected his millionaire status was worth every penny. The old house was torn down and in its place architects Holabird & Roche designed a 25-room, 14-bedroom manse fit for a shoe baron. But Tilt didn't stay long in his new home. On May 23, 1920 the Chicago Tribune reported that the shoe maker had sold his $300,000 corner and downsized to a $135,000 house at the southeast corner of Barry and Sheridan Road. The Tilt's had joined other Chicagoans who chose to spend winters in Pasadena, California, and built a large Spanish Revival house where they began spending more and more time, and in 1928, trading in his cobbler's tools for easels, Tilt and his wife opened an art gallery in the western outpost.
[Joseph E. Tilt House - Salvation Army College for Officer's Training, Chicago / Image & Artwork: chicago designslinger]
The Addison and Broadway property had been purchased by the Chicago branch of the Salvation Army. The organization had been operating training facilities around the city since the 1880s, and the Tilt purchase provided them with the opportunity to consolidate their operations into one location. The house was named for Army founder William Booth, and in 1954 a new dormitory building was constructed just to the west of the Booth Manse. Over the next 50 years the campus complex grew to include the series of residential and classroom buildings that you see on the block today. And Charles A. Tilt's automotive adventure proved to be a very successful after all. The Diamond T company got into the truck manufacturing business and by the time of his death in 1956, the Chicago resident had accumulated a fortune that was larger than anything his father could have ever imagined.