The Brewster, Chicago
by: chicago designslinger
[The Brewster, Chicago (1893) Enoch Hill Turnock, architect /Image & Artwork: chicago designslinger]
Chicago is once again undergoing a tall apartment building building frenzy. There are approximately 8,300 units scheduled to be completed by 2015 in buildings as tall as 60-stories - and that's just within a 2 mile radius of State and Madison Streets. One-hundred-and-twenty years ago Bjoerne Edwards wanted to get in on the city's tall building craze with plans to build a towering 8-story apartment building on a piece of property that he owned on the northwest corner of Diversey and what was then Park Avenue, now Pine Grove.
[The Brewster, Chicago, 2800 N. Pine Grove Avenue, Chicago /Image & Artwork: chicago designslinger]
Apartment living wasn't exactly new to the Chicago residential scene at the close of the 19th century, but stacking dwelling units on top of one another beyond three or four stories was still considered somewhat controversial, especially in low density residential neighborhoods. The year that Edwards decided to take the tall building plunge there were a handful of 8-story apartment towers in the city, and only a couple that reached into the 9-to-10-story range, but none of them were located anywhere near the intersection of Diversey and Park Avenues.
[The Brewster, Chicago, National Historic Landmark /Image & Artwork: chicago designslinger]
The area around Edwards' planned Lincoln Park Palace was still pretty suburban-like in appearance even as dense city living was slowly inching its way north, and it took another decade before the tightly-packed neighborhood of today started to encroach on the primarily single family district of the 1890s. The area had an upscale feel to it, with large homes on large lots and a smattering of large, 2-story, stone-fronted townhouses with generous interior floor plans. So when the neighbors heard of Edwards' plans they weren't very happy and felt that the project was completely overscaled for the area. In spite of the community's concerns Edwards' project went forward under the supervision of Chicago architect Enoch Turnock, a former employee of William LeBaron Jenney one of the city's most forward thinking and innovative commercial tall building designers.
[The Brewster, Chicago, City of Chicago Landmark /Image & Artwork: chicago designslinger]
Turnock's rusticated stone exterior capped by an elaborate frieze and cornice, masked a multi-layered interior that only residents and their guests would get to see. The building's narrow, interior light court was a visually dynamic solution to multi-level accessibility, and a relatively uncommon sight in the city. The famous Mecca Flats on the south side of Chicago contained a massive light-filled interior court, but since it was broader, more open, and only 4-stories tall, the impact was different. The stairways found in the Monadnock and Rookery Buildings in the central business district provided their own sense of stair climbing drama, but the vertical passageways were more enclosed, and their commercial designs were meant to house office workers not apartment dwellers. Turnock may have found inspiration in the multi-storied light court of architects Edward Bauman and Harris Huehl's now demolished Chamber of Commerce Building at the corner of La Salle and Washington Streets, one of the most structurally innovative buildings of 1889. Bjoerne Edwards didn't get to see his high-rise project completed. While inspecting the building he fell from the roof of the light court and died on July 31, 1895 from the injuries he sustained after hitting the floor 8-stories below. He left his wife an estate encumbered with debt, and in order to clear-up the mess she sold her share of the Lincoln Park Palace in January, 1901 for $75,506.76 to one of the building's investors, Henry Strong. The Lake Geneva, Wisconsin resident was busy buying-up other Chicago property that winter including a 3-story flat and store building on the northwest corner of Chicago Avenue and Paulina Street for which he paid a tidy $33,000. Strong changed the name of the Lincoln Park Palace to the Brewster, and as the neighborhood around the building morphed into what we see today, the main entrance of the building was moved around the corner to the former "Ladies Entrance" on Pine Grove. Mrs. Edwards moved from her Palace apartment into the 2-story greystone right next door which had been virtually swallowed-up by the construction of Edwards' towering structure. And, which it just so happens, is still standing today in the shadow of the tall, well-preserved, condominiumized, and multi-landmarked Brewster.