M. Houlberg Company Building
[M. Houlberg Company Building (1903) Charles F. Sorenson, architect /Image & Artwork: designslinger]
In 1893 Chicago hosted the World's Columbian Exposition. Dubbed the White City due to the fact that almost every structure at the Fair was painted white, the event was a big hit. Although the white, frosting-like decorated structures had all the appearances of real buildings, in reality, they weren't made to last. The steel frames of the exhibition buildings were covered in staff, a mixture of plaster of Paris and hemp fiber, which kept a small army of plasterers and painters very busy. Danish immigrant M. Houlberg was among them.
[M. Houlberg Company Building, 1629 N. Milwaukee, Chicago /Image & Artwork: designslinger]
Danes had been immigrating to Chicago since the 1840s, but after Otto von Bismark took away a piece of the Danish state following the death of King Frederick VII in 1863, Chicago saw an influx of Danish nationals arrive and settle in an emerging Scandinavian community along North Milwaukee Avenue. Houlberg was one among thousands who fled Denmark in the hopes that he'd find a better life in the new world. He made his way to Chicago, worked at the Fair, and in 1900 opened a decorating and painting business in the heart of the Swedish, Norwegian and Danish community. By 1903 he was doing well enough to be able to hire architect Charles F. Sorensen, a fellow Scandinavian, to design a building to house M. Houlberg Co. Painters & Decorators as well as the Houlberg family in an apartment above the store. Sorenson was one of the community's go-to guys when it came to designing 2-flats, commercial structures and churches, and his work was scattered throughout an area that stretched from Wicker Park to Humboldt Park, all the way to Logan Square, encompassing almost the entire settlement.
[M. Houlberg Company Building, Chicago /Image & Artwork: designslinger]
Houlberg sold paints, varnishes, wallpapers, and even provided decorating services to boot. He earned a whopping $10.00 in 1904 painting the tile ceiling of the Linne School building, and he soon became an officer of the Dania Society which helped with business connections, and which conveniently met around the corner on North Avenue in Wicker Hall. The Houlberg Company was out of its orginal home at 1629 N. Milwaukee Avenue by the mid-1920s when the family relocated a mile to the north in the 3300-block of Milwaukee. The old store and apartment went through several owners, one of whom, Norbert Prehler used the Houlberg property to store additional inventory of his Prehler & Associates industrial supply company which was headquartered in the building next door.
Prehler sold his company and his properties in 1987, and today Sorenson's fanciful ornamental tin cap - still bearing Houlberg's name - has been highlighted once again in a recent restoration of the building's facade.
See more of the intersection at Milwaukee, Damen and North Avenues at: Walgreens - Noel State Bank Building, Flat Iron Arts Building, Chicago, North Avenue Baths Building.