Wednesday, February 25, 2015

David Stern - Henry Elkan Double House
by: chicago designslinger

[David Stern - Henry Elkan Double House (1886) /Image & Artwork: chicago designslinger]

When the double house located at 1520-22 N. Dearborn Parkway was constructed in the mid-1880s, the address was 592-94 and Dearborn was just an Avenue. The two-houses-in-one structure joined a growing community of new residences cropping-up on land once occupied by the Catholic cemetery, from Dearborn east to the Lake Michigan shoreline, in an emerging neighborhood that would come to be called the Gold Coast.

   [David Stern - Henry Elkan Double House, 1520-22 N. Dearborn Parkway, Chicago /Image & Artwork: chicago designslinger]

Inhabitants David Stern and Henry Elkan - at Nos. 592 and 594 respectively - weren't exactly in the uppermost strata of the social class moving into the area, but they had achieved their version of the American dream. Both men were born into working class families in the Kingdom of W├╝rttemberg, one of the 39 sovereign states that made-up the German Federation. They emigrated to the U.S., ended-up in Chicago in the mid-1860s, opened a hide and tannery business, and did quite well for themselves.

  [David Stern - Henry Elkan Double House, Gold Coast National Historic District, Chicago /Image & Artwork: chicago designslinger]

Chicago once had over 200 tanneries boiling and pounding animal hides into leather. The smelly process filled the air of a string of communities located in and around the north branch of the Chicago River's industrial belt - a hub of the city's tanning business. H. Elkan & Co. however chose another near north side community to stink-up, the former industrial and warehouse area in and around their plant on Hubbard Street (once named Michigan) near Wells Street, which is now part of Chicago's chic River North neighborhood.

  [David Stern - Henry Elkan Double House /Image & Artwork: chicago designslinger]

Stern's son David went to work for his father's company after graduating from the University of Michigan in 1902 and continued to live with his mother on the Stern side of the double house after his father's death in 1908. On the other side of the common wall, the Elkan household had grown to include not only Mr & Mrs. Henry Elkan, but Mr. & Mrs. L.N. Elkan, Dr. L.H. Elkan a member of the Leather Chemists Association, and Mr. & Mrs. Joseph L. Friedman. Ten years later, the Sterns were gone, and the Elkan household had shrunk to just the Friedmans and their daughter Helen. Friedman, at the time, was the president of Celebrated Players Film Corporation, a distribution company that exhibited silent films in an 8 state territory that extended from Chicago to Kentucky and from Wisconsin to Nebraska. By 1929 the Friedmans were gone and the home was occupied by the well-connected family of prominent Chicago attorney Morris L. Johnston, who had moved to the Gold Coast from the once elite, and declining, Prairie Avenue.
The 126-year-old houses have survived surprisingly intact and have been updated and restored. In the process, the Stern-Elkan double house was given a very dramatic, two-sided, steel-framed staircase, sweeping its way up to the matched set of side-by-side entry doors - Stern on the left, Elkan on the right.

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