Wednesday, March 18, 2015

William N. Pelouze Buildings
 by: chicago designslinger
 [William N. Pelouze Buildings (1907) Hill & Woltensdorf (1918) Alfred S. Alschuler, architects / Image & Artwork: chicago designslinger]
It started with a scale. Not of the Richter or architectural variety, but instead the type of measuring device that you’d find in a kitchen, or on the counter of a grocery store, or perhaps on an office desk. Millions of Americans weighed their flour, candy, produce, and mail on one of a number of scales manufactured by William Nelson Pelouze, Chicagoan, business leader, and brother-in-law of one of the city’s most notorious mayors.
  [William N. Pelouze Buildings, 232 E. Ohio Street, Chicago / Image & Artwork: chicago designslinger]
Pelouze came to Chicago by way of his east coast roots after graduating from the Michigan Military Academy in 1882, the year he married Helen Gale Thompson, granddaughter of early Chicago pioneer Stephen Gale. He found a job with the Walter Wood reaping company before landing a position in 1884 with the Tobey Furniture Company. And it was during his eight year tenure with Tobey that Pelouze secured several patents on scale design and realized his goal of producing an affordable, mass market scale. In 1894 he set-up the Pelouze Scale & Manufacturing Company.
  [William N. Pelouze Buildings, 232 E. Ohio Street, Chicago / Image & Artwork: chicago designslinger]
By the turn of the twentieth century the manufacturing plant of the Pelouze company was not only producing thousands of scales, but the enterprising inventor was also churning out a line of other non weight related products, including a popular heater that brought in nearly as much cash as the measuring product line. With the West Jackson Street factory humming and bursting at the seams, the Pelouze went out hunting a for larger space. He found a parcel of vacant land in an area of the city that not long ago had been a marshy swamp. The intersection of Ohio Street and Fairbanks Court – in the future Streeterville neighborhood – was a remote location in 1907 populated by a sprinkling of single family townhouses to the west, a line of manufacturing plants a couple of blocks to the south, and lots of sand and scrub to the east. He bought just under 300 foot stretch of Ohio Street frontage – south facing – just west of Fairbanks for $16,940 and hired architects Hill and Woltersdorf to design a six-story factory building for the eastern third of the parcel. The remaining two thirds would allow for future expansion.
  [William N. Pelouze Buildings, 230 E. Ohio Street & 232 E. Ohio Street, Chicago / Image & Artwork: chicago designslinger]
By 1916 Pelouze was making scales, telephone transmitters, and electric curling irons – and his brother-in-law, William Hale Thompson, was the mayor of Chicago. It was around this time that the multifarious manufacturer decided to finally do something with the still vacant portion of his Ohio Street property. Instead of expanding the factory complex to the west, he decided to take a chance and build an office building in an area that was increasingly becoming a warehouse and manufacturing district. Stanley Field purchased the ground under Pelouze’s feet for $130,000 cash and then leased the land back to Pelouze for 99-years. Hedging his bet, the risk-taking businessman then hired architect Alfred Alschuler to design a seven-story, reinforced concrete structure with an interior flexible enough to allow for office space, and at the same sturdy enough to hold large pieces of manufacturing equipment. The scheme worked. By the time the structure was completed in 1918, the building had been rented to the offices of the U.S. Army Central Division. In the mid-1950s, the Office of Mies van der Rohe leased a few thousand square feet of office space in the Pelouze’s leap of faith investment.
  [William N. Pelouze Buildings, 230 E. Ohio Street, Streeterville, Chicago / Image & Artwork: chicago designslinger]
The two properties remained in the Pelouze family after William Nelson’s death in 1943 at age seventy-seven. And by the time of Helen Gale Thompson Pelouze’s demise in 1954, the Pelouze name inscribed at the top of 232 E. Ohio Street had been removed, but William Nelson’s surname still sits above the door of his other Ohio Street address.