Sunday, February 22, 2015

Cobbler Square- Western Wheel Works Building
 by: chicago designslinger

 [Cobbler Square - Western Wheel Works Building (1889-1895) Henry Sierks, Julius H. Huber, architects; (1985) adaptive reuse, Kenneth A. Schroeder & Associates /Image & Artwork: chicago designslinger]

With the magnifier icon at hand and zoom function in operation, a close look at Robinson's 1886 Map of Chicago shows a double-store-fronted building on Wells Street just south of Schiller bearing the inscription Western Toy Company. It's the spot where Adolph Schoeninger reopened for business after the Chicago Fire had wiped his successful toy operation from the map in 1871, and left German immigrant bankrupt. By 1889 on the other hand, Schoeninger's toy company had morphed into the Western Wheel Works, one of the country's largest bicycle manufacturers, and construction began on a multi-story manufacturing plant directly behind the 2-story toy store.

  [Cobbler Square - Western Wheel Works Building, 1350 N. Wells Street, Chicago /Image & Artwork: chicago designslinger]

The success of Western Wheel Works had quite an impact on the block bounded by Wells, Schiller, Evergreen (then Sibel) Streets and North Park Avenue. Eventually, piece by piece, Schoeninger took over existing residential properties, tore the houses down, and built another portion of his factory complex. By the time the maze of structures was completed around 1893, all of the buildings seen on the Robinson Map were gone except for a line of them along Wells Street, which included the original toy company store. Comprised of 16 individual structures, the buildings wound their way around a city alleyway that zig-zagged through the property which had once serviced the former residential community, and had somehow survived intact.

[Cobbler Square - Western Wheel Works Building /Image & Artwork: chicago desingslinger]

In 1900, Western Wheel Works, a company that was selling 70,000 bikes a year in 1896, went out-of-business as bike sales began to take an over-the-cliff nose dive in the U.S. The Liquid Carbonic Company, makers of soda fountains and related supplies took over all 16 buildings where they made everything from marble counter tops to mahogany wood cases and bars, to the syrups that flavored soda-infused drinks. By the mid-1930s the complex was serving a variety of manufacturers, including the makers of Dr. William Scholl's line of foot care products. And in 1954, Scholl celebrated the 50th anniversary of the founding of his company by building a final addition to the complex along Wells Street, where the original Western Toy Company building had finally been demolished.
The Scholl company left their Chicago plant in 1980 and moved to Tennessee. Soon after plans were in the works to convert the maze of structures into one, cohesive housing community, and Cobbler Square was born. A few of the inner buildings were demolished to open-up the interior while expanding the original city alleyway, and Scholl's Wells Street addition was altered to create a grand entrance to the 292 apartment complex and to once again provide retail space along Wells. And although Schoeninger's toy shop is long gone, the store once sat just behind the tree on the right side of the photo, where a national retail chain is now located.

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