Today’s building is definitely one I have walked by a million times. Even when I got my docent badge, I still walked by this building without ever noticing it really. Today, we give credit where it is due. This is the The Uptown Broadway Building located at 4703-4715 N. Broadway and was designed by W.W. Ahlschlager in 1926.
Uptown came into its own when Graceland Cemetery was built in 1860. You know that hill when you ride your bike against the wind heading west on Lawrence? That’s what made Uptown a great place to put a cemetery. The higher the better, right? The cemetery led people to the neighborhood and the el made it’s way to Uptown in 1900 which led to the boom of huge hotels and buildings. Lots of the “young people” came and went to The Aragon (built in 1926) and opened up clubs and music venues and Uptown became this rockin’ little hood.
Everything was all well and grand until many of the Indians who had been pushed out of the city proper came to Uptown. When mining became mechanized, a ton of miners piled into what used to be these grand hotels that had now been broken up into apartments. Then the state let go of a lot of mental institution patients and they came to Uptown and it just ballooned into this crazy neighborhood. There’s a great history of Uptown from The Reader, you can find that here.
Uptown in a nutshell – but it goes a little to explain why there are just these huge buildings in Uptown, many of them built by Ahlschlager. Besides the Broadway Building he designed the Sheridan Plaza Hotel and The Sovereign Hotel.
But the Broadway Building just catches my eye. It is Spanish Baroque and is just covered in design elements. There are instruments and goddesses and fruit and urns, it’s a bit busy. The building is triangular and butts up against the back of the red line (how many times have I been butted up against the red line? Too many times to count) and at the corner the building is only nine inches wide. Woosh.
The rumor is the building was commissioned by Capone and was used as a speakeasy. There’s no proof to that, even the firm renovating the building looked for evidence. The most evidence they could find was the crazy ornamentation on the outside. Mobsters love crazy ornamentation.
The building was purchased in 2004 by Thad Wong of @Properties and the renovation was done by Space Architects & Planners. L. Jean Dufresne was the project architect and gave this great quote “It’s like this building has wanted to keep going, despite the damage, it’s the little engine that could.”