Hans D. Runge - John F. Smulski House


[Hans D. Runge - John F. Smulski House (1884) Frommann & Jebsen, architects /Image & Artwork: designslinger]

In the later part of the 19th century lumber was big business in Chicago. Along with meatpacking and grain trading, the lumber industry made Chicago an economic powerhouse, and the largest lumber market in the world. Hans, aka John, Runge was one of thousands of German immigrants who came to Chicago and found work in wood. The surname - one of the oldest in Germany - means stick or staff, and eventually found its way into becoming the "rung" of a ladder. In 1884, after rising through the ranks to become the treasurer of the Wolf Brothers Milling Company on West Erie Street, he built himself a showy, wood-trimmed extravaganza on the city's northwest side.


[Hans D. Runge - John F. Smulski House, 2138 W. Pierce Avenue, Chicago /Image & Artwork: designslinger]

The Wolf Brothers company produced everyday milled products like planed wood for doors, window sashes and blinds. So architects Frommann & Jebsen's turned, carved, bracketed, and perforated wood was a panoply of woodworking artistry that went a step further than the Wolf mill catalog. Plus by combining three city lots and placing the structure smack in the middle, Runge's Swiss Alps-like cottage was hard to miss.


[Hans D. Runge - John F. Smulski House, Wicker Park, Chicago /Image & Artwork: designslinger]

On nearby Columbia Street, now known as Caton, John F. Smulski was making a name for himself in the world of politics. His father William was a Polish immigrant who came to Chicago in the late 1860s, founded the nation's first Polish language newspaper, and sent for his wife and son to join him and his newfound riches in 1881. John was 14 years old at the time, and after completing high school he went to Northwestern University and got a law degree. By the late 1890s Smulski was representing his northwest side community on the Chicago City Council before moving on to become City Attorney, then heading-off to become the Illinois State Treasurer. He left politics in 1907 to concentrate on running the bank he'd founded in 1905. Northwestern Trust & Savings Bank, at Milwaukee & Ashland Avenues and Divsion Street, was in the heart of the city's largest Polish enclave. It was the first financial institution in the city run by a Pole for Poles. Many banks took advantage of an immigrant's lack of English and understanding of the way the system worked to fleece the customer of their savings. So most people kept their extra cash hidden in storage spaces at home - like the proverbial mattress - to protect their hard earned dollars. But at Northwestern, not only was the bank president of Polish origin but the entire staff spoke Polish and the bank was able to earn the trust of the community. It became the Polish bank.


[Hans D. Runge - John F. Smulski House /Image & Artwork: designslinger]

In 1909 the Chicago Blue Book listed the Smulski's address at 46 Columbia Street, and
in 1910 at 2138 Ewing Place, which become Pierce Avenue shortly thereafter. The Runges had left the house they'd built with Hans' wood earnings in 1903, and the Smulskis would live at 2138 W. Pierce Avenue until 1917, not long after this country's entry into the First World War. Smulski had raised millions of dollars for his stricken homeland at the outset of the conflict which was not only losing population to war injuries but to devasting starvation. Through his efforts he became close friends with Polish concert pianist Igance Paderewski who became Poland's post-war Prime Minister in 1919, and who often visited the Pierce Avenue home. Smulski's life did not have a good end. I
n pain, and suffering from cancer, he shot himself in the head and died in his apartment at the Seneca Hotel on March 18, 1928.

See more of Pierce Avenue at: Lenke, Horn & Conway Houses, Pierce Avenue, Chicago; and more of architects Frommann & Jebsen's work at: Humboldt Park Receptory & Stables and Schlitz Fest.

 
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