By Sheila Elliott
An aging building in the West Loop with a lineage dating back to the 1890s dodged the wrecking ball this summer and received landmark designation from the Chicago City Council, meaning it cannot be torn down.
The four-story building at 1393 W. Lake Street at Loomis Street and Ogden Avenue entered Chicago’s unique club of landmarked Schlitz Brewery “tied house” saloon buildings when aldermen gave it landmark status in July.
Tied houses were saloons tied to one particular brewery. They arose in Chicago in the late 19th century when the City raised liquor license fees, forcing some saloon owners to turn to breweries for financial help in return for selling products exclusively from that brewery.
The City’s Commission on Landmarks first issued and then revoked a demolition permit sought by the property’s owner last year. Anthony Giannini, a partner in Veritas LLC, the ownership company, did not respond to requests for information about development plans.
Ward Miller, executive director of Preservation Chicago, described the City Council action as nothing short of “a victory.” Landmark status provides assurances that a structure with unique ties to the city will remain as a visible connector to the past, he said. Too often, however, only buildings in high traffic or downtown areas draw landmark attention, so this building’s location far from busy, highly developed areas makes this victory significant, Miller added.
“It was built as a neighborhood place,” he said, noting the builders designed it for people living in neighborhoods or who worked in the light industrial factories in the surrounding area. That heritage, coupled with its picturesque appearance, distinctive architectural details, and corner location within eye-sight of passing Chicago Transit Authority el trains, all contribute to its specialness, he said.
When the building’s owner sought a second demolition permit earlier this year, Preservation Chicago circulated a petition challenging demolition plans and favoring landmark status. The petition resulted in thousands of signatures, said Miller.
From street level, the late 19th century, four-story Queen Anne building stands out with a peaked roof-cap at its corner, metalwork, and over-hanging rooms with beveled window effect. Its location in an area where older, worn buildings sit near new developments also makes it unique, especially now as workers construct a large mixed-use structure along Ogden Avenue at Lake Street, immediately west of the landmarked building.
A City Department of Planning and Development document noted its Commission on Landmarks designated “All [of the building’s] exterior elevations, including rooflines” as distinctive features.
The Lake Street property lacks one tell-tale indicator of a Schlitz tied house saloon: the large, embossed company logo found on other Schlitz taverns in Chicago, an omission highlighted when Veritas LLC representatives sought demolition permits and challenged the building’s credibility as a landmark. Miller said he also wondered about the absent logo, and began to study the building from different angles and from a distance.
During that process, he noticed what he now describes as faded image of the Schlitz name—a “ghost sign”—on the building’s east exterior wall. Workers constructed the Lake Street building in 1892, before the embossed Schlitz logo became part of the design for such structures. The Milwaukee-based Schlitz brewery introduced the logo at the World’s Columbian Exposition of 1893.
Its new identity as a landmark is just the latest chapter in this building’s long and varied history. Designed in the late 19th century by Schlitz-hired architects, the building’s main feature was a first-floor saloon. Residences and businesses occupied the upper floors. The building held on to that mixed-use identity for about 90 years, when it became the home of La Luce, an Italian restaurant, in 1989. La Luce owners Michael Moretti and his family restored the building, which had fallen into disrepair.
As the West Loop’s business and residential communities began to grow, though, operating costs rose. La Luce closed in 2016 and, shortly after, Veritas LLC took ownership and sold off La Luce’s fixtures. The building has sat unoccupied ever since.
West Loop residents also seek transportation improvements in the area.
A new community group, the Westside and West Suburban Infrastructure Coalition, coordinated by the Fulton Market Association, wants improvements to the CTA Green Line, a Lake Street bus, a Madison Street Express Bus, and Metra service. One of the group’s stated goals is to “improve the insufficient CTA rail and bus service on Chicago’s West Side as well as the insufficient Metra rail service for the West Side and western suburbs.”
The group is asking Congressman Danny Davis (D-7th) to seek billions in Federal funding to improve West Side infrastructure. It also wants a CTA Green Line Western Avenue station it estimates would cost $70 million, noting the “Green Line is the only CTA line without a Western Avenue stop despite Western being Chicago’s busiest street.”
Metra, the regional transportation agency, is conducting an engineering study to determine the feasibility of building a new rail station in the West Loop, said Michael Gillis, a Metra spokesperson. Calling such a project “a complex undertaking,” he said Metra will not publish the study’s findings until next year. If recommended and approved, work on a new rail station would not begin for several years, he said.
To reach the Department of Planning and Development, call (312) 744-3653. For the Fulton Market Association, log on to www.fultonmarketchicago.org or email firstname.lastname@example.org. For Metra, log on to https://metra.com. For Preservation Chicago, log on to www.preservationchicago.org. For the Westside and West Suburban Coalition, see fixthewestside.com.