Thursday, February 26, 2015

Flat Iron Arts Building, Chicago
 by: chicago designslinger

 [Flat Iron Arts Building, Chicago (1913) Holabird & Roche, architects /Image & Artwork: chicago designslinger]

In 1913 architects Holabird & Roche completed another in a long line of projects for their bountiful building-commissioning client, Peter C. Brooks. Between 1888 and 1913 Brooks had enlisted the firm numerous times to design profit-producing investment properties for him, some of which became heralded as prime examples of the historic architectural moment known as the Chicago School. When Brooks' Chicago representative Owen Aldis got word that his Boston-based client needed a three-story, office & retail building to improve a triangular piece of land outside the city's downtown district, Aldis called on his friends Holabird & Roche once again, and the architects put the relatively small job to work in an office bustling with activity. There were 33 projects on the firm's drafting tables at the time which included 5 buildings for the Chicago Telephone Company, a few hotels, a trio of high-rise commercial towers, a house, and a church. And even though this Aldis connected commission wasn't very big, a job was a job, and when Peter Brooks came calling, you went to work.

  [Flat Iron Arts Building, 1579 N. Milwaukee Avenue, Chicago /Image & Artwork: chicago designslinger]

The unimproved triangle fronted two major commercial thoroughfares in the city's Wicker Park neighborhood - Milwaukee and North Avenues. Area business owners considered the block an eye sore, holding back the full commercial potential of the busy intersection bisected by yet another busy street Damen Avenue. Once Brooks purchased the land, Aldis got to work. He found two local real estate men, Carl Hanson and George Benson who were interested in the property, and put a deal together.

  [Flat Iron Arts Building, Wicker Park National Historic District, Chicago /Image & Artwork: chicago designslinger]

Hanson & Benson signed a 25 year lease at $12,000 per year. Brooks would cover $230,000 in construction costs for the new building, while the lessees would pick-up an additional $20,000 of the tab. Hanson & Benson hoped to lure a department store into the ground floor retail space, rent the offices to lawyers and accountants, and turn quite a profit. Brooks would net $65,000 over the term of the lease, and end-up with a building that he could re-rent or sell. Unfortunately for the lessees no single long-term, profit-producing retailer took over as much of the double-sided Milwaukee and North Avenue frontage as they'd hoped. The Lyon & Healy piano and sheet music company moved into a section of the ground floor, a pool hall and bowling alley moved into half of the third floor, and office tenants included the Women's Trade Union League.
The Building for Peter C. Brooks went through good times and bad. In the mid 1980s as Wicker Park saw an influx of artists move into the near northwest side community, the now mostly vacant and forlorn looking flatiron-shaped building became a hub of contemporary artistic expression and was reborn. The Flat Iron Arts Building, is now home to art galleries, artist's studios, and avante-garde ground floor retailers.

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