WBEZ: What’s That Building? Schulze Bakery (Chicago 7 2024)

Schulze Baking Company Building, 1914, John Ahlschlager & Sons, 40 E. Garfield Boulevard, a 2024 Chicago 7 Most Endangered. Photo credit: Eric Allix Rogers

“For more than a year, a once-grand five-story building in Washington Park has been hidden by construction tarps along Garfield Boulevard.

“The beautiful structure has towered over the neighborhood since 1914, a gleaming white factory emblazoned with the letter S in ornate blue-and-white tablets on each corner. You can still see the tablets and other terra cotta details on the building’s west side along State Street, where it’s not wrapped.

“This former home of Schulze Baking Company, and a succession of other breadmakers, has sat unused for two decades — and the recent announcement that it’s back on the market indicates the building will stay a shell of its former self for the foreseeable future.

“Chicago Baking, based in Evansville, Ind., was the most recent breadmaker to own 40 E. Garfield Blvd. The company shut down the bakery and its 129 jobs in October 2004, telling the Chicago Tribune that people cutting down on carbs caused the closure.

“When Schulze Baking Company opened the building in 1914, a Chicago Herald article hailed it as ‘a wonderful pure food institution.” Schulze boasted in its ads that the recipe for its Butter-Nut Bread included ‘rich sunshine — floods of pure air that come through our work rooms — scrupulous care — strict sanitation.’

“Schulze dubbed the building, daylit by 700 windows, ‘the City of Cleanliness.’

“Designed by architect John Ahlschlager, the new building took the place of at least four small bakeries Schulze had operated all over the city. Founded in 1896, the company was part of a wave of commercial bakers out to replace home-baked bread with a lower-cost, more consistent commercial option.

“From the day it opened in 1914 until 2004, the Schulze building baked bread. Since that ended, there’s been little or no activity at the five-acre site, which includes an annex built north of the original factory and an old Butternut Bread Thrift Store to its west.

“In 2006, a development group led by Ghian Foreman bought the site from Chicago Baking, according to the Cook County Clerk’s land records. It wasn’t until nine years later that the group, called 55th and State Redevelopment, announced a complete plan for the building. A company called 1547 Critical Systems Realty was enlisted to turn half the building into a data center, possibly using more space later.

“At the time, 1547’s CEO told DNAinfo the company would invest “over $130 million” into the data center.

“That was almost nine years ago. In January, 1547 and real estate investment firm CIM Group put the property up for sale. An affiliate of Critical Systems bought the site from Foreman’s company in 2021, according to the Cook County Clerk. Neither of those companies responded to Reset’s requests for comment. Neither did JLL, the commercial real estate brokerage representing the building.

“After almost 20 years, the vacant building is back at square one: looking for a new use.

“In March, Preservation Chicago put Schulze on its annual endangered buildings list, fearing the structure will ultimately become a demolition target. There’s little information out there about the state of the interior beyond photos Open House Chicago published in 2017, showing the space is mostly gutted.

“Also unclear is how much a buyer would have to pay for the property. Commercial property listings rarely publish an asking price.

“But even with those two unknowns, here’s a free idea for the future of the Schulze Baking Building: A buyer could turn it into housing. Though wide, the building isn’t very deep front to back, which means you wouldn’t have a lot of window-less space to deal with in the middle.

“And there’s a pretty solid precedent. Around the same time it designed Schulze, the architecture firm John Alschlager & Sons designed a warehouse for another food company, Beatrice. That 11-story structure at 1530 S. State St. was converted into condos in 1999.” (Rodkin, WBEZ Chicago, 4/15/24)

Read and hear the full story at WBEZ Chicago



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