Bush Temple of Music
by: chicago designslinger
[Bush Temple of Music (1902) J. E. O. Pridmore, architect / Image & Artwork: chicago designslinger]
William Henry Bush had worked hard, invested his money wisely, been lucky, and decided at age fifty-five to retire and enjoy whatever remaining years he had left. His business career began when at the age of thirteen he became an apprentice in a Mechanicsville, Maryland grocery store where he learned the ins and outs of the trade. He came to Chicago in 1857, and by the time he made the decision to kick back and take it easy twenty-five years later, he owned and operated a very successful wholesale commission business and had the distinction of having once moved more lumber through the Chicago market than any of his lumber baron competitors.
[Bush Temple of Music, 800 N. Clark Street, Chicago / Image & Artwork: chicago designslinger]
William Lincoln Bush didn't follow in his father's commission inclined footsteps. Born March 8, 1861 four days after Abraham Lincoln took the oath of office, William Lincoln's interests lay in musical instruments, specifically pianos. He was just 17-years-old when he left Chicago and went to work in the Boston piano factory of George H. Woods & Co., and returned to the city the following year taking a position as a traveling salesman with the Chicago-based piano maker Kimball & Co. Switching gears, and perhaps under parental pressure, in 1881 20-year-old William left the music business and took a position with a commission firm at the Chicago Board of Trade as a road manager. Apparently young William couldn't get pianos out of his system because in 1885, and with his father's financial support, W.H. Bush & Co. piano manufacturers announced that they were open for business.
[Bush Temple of Music, National Register of Historic Places, Chicago / Image & Artwork: chicago designslinger]
With a $20,000 capital investment and a partnership with a 40-year-old German immigrant, cabinet maker, and piano fabricator John Gerts, William Henry came out of retirement and William Lincoln had a piano company. Pianos were a hot commodity in the later part of the 19th century, and by focusing your attention on manufacturing instruments for the ever expanding middle income market, there was money out there to be made. The start-up was so successful that when incorporation papers were drawn-up for the Bush & Gerts Piano Co. in 1892, company president William H. Bush, vice president William L. Bush, and secretary John Gerts as secretary, had a company capitalized at $400,000. By 1900, the company's capital stock had grown to over $1,000,000.
[Bush Temple of Music, City of Chicago Landmark / Image & Artwork: chicago designslinger]
Like many of his peers, over the years William Henry invested whatever extra cash he had in real estate. One property in his portfolio comprised four city lots at the northwest corner of Chicago Avenue and Clark Street on the city's north side. The land had a six-story income producing building sitting on it, but William Lincoln had other ideas. What if his father built a larger, more substantial structure on the heavily trafficked intersection that would provide offices for the Bush & Gerts company, a showroom, with a recital hall, an auditorium, rehearsal rooms and offices available for rent, and have the Bush Temple of Music building serve as a kind of billboard for the company. William Henry agreed and hired architect John Edward Oldaker Pridmore who had come to Chicago in 1883 just before his twentieth birthday and worked in a number of classical revival styles. The architect set his sights on the effusive period of French Renaissance regality as the inspiration for the palatial, Chateauesque temple trimmed in elaborate configurations of molded terra cotta and crowned by an enormous peaked roof lined with metal trim and capped by a tall clock tower. The Temple dominated its corner site.
[Bush Temple of Music, River North, Chicago / Image & Artwork: chicago designslinger]
William Henry didn't live long enough to see the ebullient project completed in April 1902, and his widow Mary, sons William and Frank, became the owners of the land and the building. In 1904 William and his partner John Gerts made the decision to get out of the retail showroom business to focus solely on manufacturing their annual production 22,000 Bush & Gerts pianos for the wholesale market. Gerts died in 1913 at age sixty-eight, and the secretary/treasurer of the Bush & Gerts Co. left his shares in the business and $1.5 million estate in trust to his wife Caroline, his 32-year-old daughter Emilie and 21-year-old son John, who was named as trustee. Bush now had more partners than he had bargained for, but only John took up a position in the company and took over his father's titles. By the time 75-year-old Caroline Gerts died on June 5, 1920 sales of pianos had started to slump - there were simply too many other entertainment options available in the technologically advancing consumer market. In July of that year Emilie sued her brother in court for mismanaging the estate and sought to have a new trustee appointed. It didn't matter. Two years later Bush & Gerts was sold to the Haddorff Piano Co. of Rockford, IL. and William Lincoln Bush decided to sell the Temple of Music for $700,000. At the time of his death in 1941 William Lincoln was impoverished and died in the hospital as a charity patient. He was survived by his wife who lived in a small room at the Methodist Old Peoples Home on Foster Avenue. In 1922 the Chicago-Clark Building Corporation began to update their recent purchase which resulted in the loss of the Temple's auditorium, recital hall, marble columned entryways, and flamboyant roof tower and trim. The architecturally edited structure was sold once again in 1945 by the Mutual Life Insurance Company to Eli Herman, president of the 800 N. Clark Street Building Corporation, and the building has changed hands once again. The new owners have plans to restore the exterior while converting the interior into approximately 100, 350 square foot micro apartments.