Monday, March 2, 2015

Cicero Gas Company Building, Oak Park
 by: chicago designslinger

 [Cicero Gas Company Building, Oak Park (1893) Patton & Fisher, architects /Image & Artwork: chicago designslinger]

Henry C. Rew was known as one of Chicago's prominent "gas men" in the later part of the 19th century. By 1884 Rew had developed and patented a "process of and apparatus for manufacturing fixed gas," a "gas-cooling apparatus," a "gas-purifier," a "flue and tubular steam-generator," a "process of and apparatus for manufacturing gas," and a "system of mains and pipes for the distribution of gas of other fluids." The main and pipe system patent proved particularly profitable for Henry when his National Gas & Trust Company began laying pipe and providing gas to a portion of residential customers living in Chicago's west suburban township of Cicero.

  [Cicero Gas Company Building, 115 N. Oak Park Avenue, Oak Park /Image & Artwork: chicago designslinger]

Construction began on June 6, 1892 when the Cicero Gas Company, a subsidiary of National Gas, began laying 5 miles of pipeline in Oak Park and Berwyn. Cicero Gas opened with a surety bond of $10,000 guaranteed by Henry, and Rew's son Irwin was put on the Board of Directors. The Cicero organization was run by Nelson McClary, who it just so happened was one of Henry's right-hand-men at National Gas. Interestingly enough, National Gas also happened to manufacture a line of home cooking stoves which, when installed in one's kitchen, would need to be connected to a gas line. You may already have a gas lighting system in your home, but gas used for lighting was blended differently than gas used for cooking.

  [Cicero Gas Company Building, Oak Park /Image & Artwork: chicago designslinger]

So, to sell more National stoves, to be supplied by Cicero gas, Henry and companydecided to open a retail and office operation in Oak Park. Oak Park Avenue just south of Lake Street was a major retail hub at the time, more so than the intersection of Lake & Harlem is today. The commuter train from Chicago stopped at Oak Park, and the two block avenue was lined with businesses. Cicero Gas picked a site located directly across the street from the not-be-to-confused-with Cicero Water, Gas and Electric Light Company, whose plant took-up up an city entire block. The Cicero Gas Company - it's hard to keep them straight - owned a much smaller lot, but architects Patton & Fisher delivered a very fanciful and eye-catching facade for the company's three story structure. Normand Patton was well known in the area, he lived in Oak Park, and he and his partner Reynolds Fisher had designed a number of projects in the suburb including the Pilgrim Congregational Church and the Scoville Institute, both located on nearby on Lake Street.

  [Cicero Gas Company Building, Oak Park /Image & Artwork: chicago designslinger]

The Gas Company building housed offices on the upper floors, a meter shop on the  secondfloor in the rear, and a showroom on the ground floor. In 1894 not long after the retail operation had opened for business, the industry magazine Gas Age reported that Miss Cora D. Ainslie had given a number of cooking demonstrations in the new building, which was well attended by "many ladies from Oak Park and surrounding villages." The company also produced a well received, and expensively produced brochure with high-quality lithographic etchings of National Gas stoves, along with a thorough explanation of how Rew's Apparatus was one of the safest gas-fed cooking appliances available in Chicago. Competition was stiff in the hardscrabble world of privately controlled utilities, and the managers of Cicero Gas had their work cut-out for them. By the time of Henry's death in 1912 at age 73, the Cicero Gas Company was no more, swallowed-up in a consolidation of gas providers which garnered Rew and his son Irwin a nice return on their original investment. The former Cicero Gas Company building is now an Oak Park and National Historic landmark, and the former second floor meter shop is now a 21st century office space.

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