Chicago Tribune Column: Let’s toast the architecture of Chicago’s beer buildings, even if this isn’t happy hour for some of them


“Raise a glass to Chicago’s architecturally alluring beer buildings. Their ornate brickwork, fanciful turrets and other decorative flourishes make them a savory alternative to less-is-more design sobriety.

“From the mansions of brewing magnates to former taverns built by marquee brands like Schlitz, beer buildings brighten nearly every corner of the city. They provide a visible link to the immigrants from Germany, Ireland, Scandinavia and Eastern Europe who poured into the city in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. And whether they still sell beer or have switched to coffee, some still function as the proverbial ‘third place,’ the gathering spot apart from work or home.

“Now the time is right to give these often-overlooked building a fresh look. The upcoming Open House Chicago architecture festival, which runs Oct. 16-25, will feature an outdoor-only walking tour of Wicker Park’s “Beer Baron Row,” an impressive lineup of ornate late 19th Century mansions.

“The Beer Back Story:
In Chicago’s early years, local brewers served up English-style ales and German-style lagers. Local brewers faced increased outside competition after the Great Fire of 1871, which destroyed five of the city’s 12 breweries and much of its drinking water infrastructure. In response, Milwaukee-based Schlitz shipped trainloads of beer and drinking water to the singed city…

“The Tied Houses:
Schubas Tavern, at 3159 N. Southport Ave., is one of the most beautiful of the tied houses. The German Renaissance Revival gem features multicolored tracery brickwork, a bonnet roof atop its corner bay, and Schlitz’s distinctive Schlitz logo, a belted globe, beneath its steeply-pitched front gable. The architects of the 1903 building, the Chicago firm of Frommann & Jebsen, reportedly designed more than 25 buildings for Schlitz.

“Open House Chicago has put together a driving tour of the tied houses, which will include Schubas and a former Schlitz tied house at 9401 S. Ewing Ave. that the City Council’s landmarks committee is expected to consider Tuesday…

“The Mansions:
Tucked behind the chic shops and bike lanes of Milwaukee Avenue, the row belongs to what has been called Chicago’s ethnic Gold Coast. Here, on shady, tree-lined streets, the visitor finds humble workers’ cottages that popped up on the same blocks as mansions in the building frenzy that followed the Great Fire.

“Why did the German beer barons cluster in Wicker Park? “The foreign-born beer barons weren’t necessarily a good fit for assimilating into the wealthy neighborhoods of the Gold Coast or South Side, and many actually chose to live in neighborhoods where their language and customs were shared,” explained Tim Samuelson, Chicago’s official cultural historian…

“The Saga of ‘Schlitz Row’:
The city’s recent attention to the architectural merits of its beer buildings marks a welcome shift from what happened in 2002 in the former “Schlitz Row” in the Roseland neighborhood on the city’s Far South Side. Schlitz Row was a mini-city of saloons, beer gardens, houses and stables that the Milwaukee brewery erected in the early 1900s to quench the thirst of workmen in the ‘dry’ company town of Pullman, a few blocks to the east.

“Historic preservationists had hoped Schlitz Row would someday become an extension of the Pullman historic district. But with the blessing of the local alderman, the Metra commuter rail agency razed a Frommann & Jebsen-designed tavern at 11444 S. Front Ave. to expand the parking lot at its heavily used Kensington/115th Street station.

“As if to atone for this fiasco, the city in 2011 granted landmark status to two surviving Schlitz Row buildings, both in the 11000 block of South Front Avenue — a former brewery stable, adorned with terra-cotta horse heads, and a former tavern…” (Kamin, 10/1/20)

Read the full column with photos at the Chicago Tribune

Column: Let’s toast the architecture of Chicago’s beer buildings, even if this isn’t happy hour for some of them, Blair Kamin, Chicago Tribune, 10/1/20


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