Monday, April 18, 2011

The Brewster Apartments


My lovely bride and I have favorite restaurants all over Chicago, but a spot to which we are particularly partial is Forno Diablo on Diversey, just west of Sheridan.  It’s a mood-filled interior . . . you walk through black velvet curtains to enter a place where I have never had a bad meal.  As you nurse a glass of Malbec and wait for dinner, there are several flat screen televisions above the bar that play old Charlie Chaplain movies.

The Brewster Apartments
2800 N. Pine Grove (JWB, 2011)
And that’s appropriate because just up the street is The Brewster Apartments, the former Lincoln Park Palace, where Charlie Chaplain occupied the penthouse in 1915 and 1916 when he was filming movies at the Essanay Film Manufacturing Company over on 1333-45 Argyle.

The Bewster Apartments, now a condominium building, started its life as the Lincoln Park Palace when it was finished in 1896.  It must have soared over this section of the city at the time; few buildings on the north side would have rivaled its height. 

The Palace stood among the first generation of tall Chicago buildings – one year after the Marquette Building on Dearborn and contemporaneous with the Fisher Building at Dearborn and VanBuren.  It was steel-framed and filled with light, the result of a skylight or rotunda across the roof of the building that streamed sunlight into the hollow core of the structure, a core in which bridges of glass blocks led residents to their apartments.

The Chicago Tribune on January 22, 1893 announced that “E. Hill Turnock is preparing plans for the Lincoln Park Palace apartment building for B. Edwards, proprietor of the American Contractor.  The article went on to disclose that the structure would be 100 feet high, “ornamented with twelve larges bays.”  Two entrances were planned, one on Diversey and “the ladies’ entrance,” facing Lake Michigan to the east on Park Street, what is now Pine Grove.  Each of the building’s nine floors was planned for six apartments of six, seven or eight rooms.

The southeast oriel of pink Jasper granite
(JWB, 2011)
The optimism faded quickly.  On July 31, 1895 the developer, Bjourne Edwards, died when he stepped on a piece of loose scaffolding and fell from the roof of the partly finished structure.  The next day The Trib reported, “The unfinished building rears its somber, majestic proportions above its surroundings, to be completed by some one else, but it is a monument to the struggles and trials and the pride of the man who conceived its plans.”

Edwards was a Norwegian immigrant who did manual labor until he had enough money to enter school.  He spent several years in seminaries in Illinois and Iowa.  Then he became a book agent.  In 1886 he began The American Contractor.  Seven years later he was rich enough to build one of the great apartment buildings on the north side of the city.

The neighbors in the “fashionable residence district” had been against the building from the beginning.  They must have smugly nodded when Edwards hit the pavement.  Trouble followed.  The two great entrances were spanned by arches composed of a single piece of polished Jasper stone from Minnesota.  But as the building settled, the arches broke into pieces.

Despite what the neighbors thought, the Lincoln Park Palace was luxurious, every inch of it deserving the “Palace” that was a part of its name.  The Chicago Tribune of 1896 raved about the “richness, beauty, and everlasting qualities” of the rusticated pink Jasper granite from which it was built.  Telephones connected each apartment with the building’s office.  Electric and gas lights were used throughout the building.

Sullivan-esque tracery in the cornice with lion's heads just above that
(JSB, 2011)
And it was successful.  In October of 1897, following its completion in 1896, the Palace, according to The Tirb had all but one or two of its 60 apartments rented.

For whatever reason, though, the Palace did not provide a fair return on the original investment, and in November of 1900 a minor investor, General Henry Strong, the President of the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railroad, was awarded the building as the winner of a suit he had brought against the widow of poor old Bjourne Edwards.

The structure was estimated to have cost about a quarter of a million dollars to build.  Strong nabbed it for about $146,000 in the judicial sale.  Mrs. Edwards “. . . purchased the residence adjoining the Lincoln Park Palace on the west and moved into it,” according to the November 25, 1900 Chicago Tribune article.

One of the great rusticated bays (JWB, 2011)
The architect of what is now The Brewster Apartments, Enoch Hill Turnock, was a fascinating guy in his own right.  Born in the mid-1850’s in England, he moved to Elkhart, Indiana with his family in the early 1870’s.  Ten years later he moved from Indiana to Chciago where he worked until 1890 in William LeBaron Jenney’s office, the same office that started the careers of Louis Sullivan, Daniel Burnham, William Holabird and Martin Roche.

Hill began his own practice in 1890, so the Lincoln Park Palace must have been one of his first commissions.  In the index to the database of Chicago building permits from 1898 to 1912, he is listed as the sole architect of 37 buildings, dating from 1896 to 1907. [www.in.gov/history/ markers/497.htm]

Then in 1907 he left the big city and returned to Elkhart, Indiana, where he continued to design buildings in Elkhart, Goshen and Nappanee.  In fact, five buildings that Hill designed in Elkhart and Nappanee are listed in the National Register of Historic Places.  The architect died in 1926 and is buried in the Lindenwood Cemetery in Fort Wayne.

The Ladies' Entrance on Pine Grove (JWB, 2011)
His greatest commission in Chicago still stands at the corner of Diversey and Pine Grove.  Affixed to the pink granite in the southeast corner is the plaque that designates the Brewster Apartments as a Chicago Landmark.  It reads, “The principles of skeleton-frame construction that made possible tall commercial buildings were used her for an early highrise apartment building, originally known as the Lincoln Park Palace.  Behind its heavy masonry walls is an exceptionally innovative interior, a light and airy construction of cast-iron stairs, elevator cages, and bridges, paved with glass blocks, and topped by a skylight.”

Turnock used the same design techniques that distinguished the first generation of great skyscrapers in the Loop on a building that took at least one life to build.  It's worth a look, and while you're there stop in at Forno Diablo.  You won't be sorry on either account.

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