Schulze Baking Company Building

Schulze Baking Company Building, 1914, John Ahlschlager & Son, 40 E. Garfield Boulevard, a 2024 Chicago 7 Most Endangered. Historic photo credit: The Western Architect
Schulze Baking Company Building, 1914, John Ahlschlager & Son, 40 E. Garfield Boulevard, a 2024 Chicago 7 Most Endangered. Photo credit: Eric Allix Rogers
Schulze Baking Company Building, 1914, John Ahlschlager & Son, 40 E. Garfield Boulevard, a 2024 Chicago 7 Most Endangered. Photo credit: Debbie Mercer
Schulze Baking Company Building, 1914, John Ahlschlager & Son, 40 E. Garfield Boulevard, a 2024 Chicago 7 Most Endangered. Photo credit: Debbie Mercer
Schulze Baking Company Building, 1914, John Ahlschlager & Son, 40 E. Garfield Boulevard, a 2024 Chicago 7 Most Endangered. Photo credit: Debbie Mercer
Schulze Baking Company Building, 1914, John Ahlschlager & Son, 40 E. Garfield Boulevard, a 2024 Chicago 7 Most Endangered. Photo credit: Debbie Mercer
Schulze Baking Company Building, 1914, John Ahlschlager & Son, 40 E. Garfield Boulevard, a 2024 Chicago 7 Most Endangered. Photo credit: Debbie Mercer

Schulze Company Baking Plant

Address: 40 East Garfield Boulevard
Architect: John Ahlschlager & Son
Date: 1915
Style: Sullivanesque
Neighborhood: Washington Park

Overview

Prominently located at the corner of East Garfield Boulevard and South Wabash Avenue, the Schulze Baking Company Plant has served as a Washington Park visual landmark for over a century. Built in 1914 and designed by prominent architecture firm John Ahlschlager & Son, the five-story bakery is clad in cream and blue terra cotta and glazed brick, lending the building a hygienic and modern appearance. The building bolstered the company’s baking efforts, allowing them to produce 150,000 loaves of bread a day using cutting edge and highly-efficient technology. Thanks to this notable flagship baking plant, the Schulze Baking Company was synonymous with quality bread and became a part of Chicago’s rich food production history.

The Schulze Baking Company Plant has been closed since 2004. In 2015, plans for the adaptive reuse of the structure as a data center were announced. However, almost a decade later, the building has remained unoccupied and is now for sale. This vacancy has resulted in the building’s slow decay, both inside and out. Full restoration and reuse of this historic structure must be pursued by its new owner to ensure a new future for the Schulze Baking Company Plant.

Threat

In 2015, property owners 1547 Critical Systems Realty announced that they would be converting the Schulze Baking Company Plant into a data center. The company touted a planned investment of $130 million, promising “a much needed capacity the Chicago market requires as well as jobs to the area.” The data center proposal was to reuse the entirety of the plant building while employing the later additions along Wabash as a training complex for data center workers. At the time of the announcement, restoration of the terra cotta facade was estimated to take two to three years with up to five years until full operation of the data center.

Three years later in 2018, the property was reportedly acquired by real estate investors CIM Group for $7.5 million and estimates for a conversion into a data center were upped to $150 million. Six years later, the building has remained vacant and largely untouched. Most recently in January 2024, the Schulze Baking Company Plant was once again listed for sale.

Protective scaffolding has been erected around the perimeter of the structure since its closure, but the installation of tarping around the building has raised new concerns about the condition of the terra cotta exterior. In the time since the data center proposal’s announcement, a large garage and storage structure featuring similar glazed brick and terra cotta was demolished; it is unclear if the demolition is part of the building’s potential redevelopment plan or due to neglect.

A preservation-friendly owner is not guaranteed. Without Chicago Landmark designation, the Schulze Baking Company Plant can be heavily altered or even demolished without recourse. The structure is Orange-rated in the Chicago Historic Resources Survey, offering it only the protection of a 90-day demolition delay review. Additionally, after a decade of disuse, any further vacancy will only worsen the building’s condition and its terra cotta exterior.

Recommendations

Preservation Chicago is fully supportive of the proposal to convert the Schulze Baking Company Plant into a data center, or any other viable reuse that may yet emerge. Marketing materials for the current listing encourage the use of the site as a data center, advertising its proximity to a ComEd station and other data centers. Given its large, open floor plates and sturdy warehouse construction, a data center or similar programming is a sensible use for this important structure. Other uses, such as housing, retail, or space for small businesses, would all suit the Schulze Baking Company Plant’s design and demonstrate an investment in Washington Park.

However, it is imperative that the building receive Chicago Landmark protection for its ornate terra cotta and glazed brick exterior. Schulze Baking Company and its focus on hygienic food production, Ahlschlager’s architectural talents, and Midland Terra Cotta Company’s craftsmanship are all important narratives intertwined with the plant’s powerful visual appearance. To lose them would mean losing the ability to convey much of the site’s significance.

Landmark status would also benefit the new owners in their efforts to renovate the building. Once Landmark status is secured, permit fees are waived and the site is made eligible for substantial Adopt-a-Landmark funds, both of which would contribute to a more cost-efficient restoration and reuse of the Schulze Baking Company Plant. These financial benefits, along with potential tax credits provided by the building’s National Register status, are all at the disposal of the site’s new owner should they pursue Chicago Landmark designation

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