Studebaker-Brunswick Building


[Studebaker-Brunswick Building (1895) Solon S. Beman, architect /Image & Artwork: designslinger]

The Studebaker Carriage & Wagon Co. came to Chicago in 1885 and announced their arrival with a rugged architectural statement. Architect Solon S. Beman's rough-hewn Michigan Avenue building sat prominently at the edge of an expanding commercial district. The move to Chicago proved to be such a boon for the Studebakers that they had to come back to Beman in 1894 and ask him to squeeze a small 5-story addition onto a narrow lot they'd purchased next door. But even that didn't do the trick, so the company went over to a piece of property they owned nearby on Wabash Avenue for spatial relief. They called on architect Beman once again and this time he left the heavy rocks behind and lightened-up a bit.


[Studebaker-Brunswick Building, 623 S. Wabash Avenue, Chicago /Image & Artwork: designslinger]

Beman was a rock solid kind of designer. The exteriors of his buildings were substantial masonry structures, husky and heavy. When asked to design the Second Studebaker Building, he threw out the bulky boulder look for a very open, airy, glass-filled, frame-divulging facade. It was much lighter than his Pullman Building completed in 1884, or his hefty Grand Central Terminal design of 1890. Beman's newest commission for the Studebakers would shed the beefy skin of the past in favor of a modern, structurally revealing, slim-lined future.


[Studebaker-Brunswick Building, Wabash Avenue, Chicago /Image & Artwork: designslinger]

In 1897 the carriage and wagon makers ditched their Michigan Avenue address entirely
and moved their operations over to Wabash Avenue. By 1911 Studebaker was shifting from the horse drawn vehicle business and into combustion engine driven transport. The company now only occupied the lower floors of their building while renting out the upper stories to a variety of text book publishers. So, in January 1912 they sold their 10-story, steel-framed, terra-cotta Gothic ornamentally trimmed loft building to Richard C. Lake for $600,000. The next year the Brunswick-Balke-Collender Company - makers of pool tables and saloon equipment - lost almost their entire inventory in a devastating fire just up the block. Brunswick moved into a portion of the space once occupied by Studebaker, expanded into the rest of the building over time, and called 623 S. Wabash Avenue home for the next 52 years.


[Studebaker-Brunswick Building /Image & Artwork: designslinger]

During their tenure on Wabash Avenue, Brunswick-Balke-Collender went from making pool tables, bar room equipment, bowling alley floors and balls, and into a manufacturer of - among a host of other things - vinyl records, refrigerators, bowling pins, automated bowling pin setters, military aircraft and toilet seats. Beman's building also underwent a number of changes. His ornate Gothic-laced cornice was removed and replaced with a coat of stucco in the 1930s, then in the late 1950s the lower two floors were encased in clunky slabs of black granite. After the Brunswick Corporation left for their new building across the street from the recently completed Civic Center in 1965, the former Studebaker-Brunswick building became a storage warehouse before being purchased by Columbia College in 1983 - the current owners and occupants.

See Beman's first Studebaker project at: Fine Arts Building, Chicago.

 
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