The Brand Brewing complex: To raze or not to raze? | Bleader

Thursday, December 1, 2011

The Brand Brewing complex: To raze or not to raze?

Posted By on 12.01.11 at 09:00 AM

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Brand Brewing administration building
  • ChicagoGeek via Flickr
  • Brand Brewing administration building
Several local preservation groups have been working for the past couple of months to try to save a 19th-century building complex on the 2500 block of North Elston, former home of the long-defunct Brand Brewing, from demolition. Key Development Partners LLC bought the complex earlier this year and applied for a demolition permit, which has been on hold by the City of Chicago since the end of August. On Monday, the city released the permit from its hold list, which means that the buildings can now legally be destroyed. That doesn't necessarily mean the end of the structures, though: in a community meeting on November 21, Alderman Joe Moreno pledged to block the zoning changes necessary for new construction until a solution is reached.

The meeting was organized by Forgotten Chicago, Preservation Chicago, Logan Square Preservation, and the Northwest Chicago Historical Society at Revolution Brewing to raise awareness of the issue (Revolution Brewing, incidentally—built in a 110-year-old former timber warehouse—was featured in the September issue of Chicago Architect). According to an in-depth article in Our Urban Times by Patrick Steffes last month, the plan appears to be to raze the former brewery buildings to make way for a Hhgregg, a big-box store chain selling appliances and electronics that opened 14 stores in the Chicago suburbs in September. Steffes points out that not only are there plenty of other big-box stores within a quarter mile of the proposed building site that sell the same type of products (he's even got a chart), there are also plenty of vacant lots and empty buildings in the area that don't date back to the 19th century.

Brand Brewing then and now

Brand Brewing started production at 2530 N. Elston in 1899 and went out of business in 1935, according to an article on "bygone breweries" in Forgotten Chicago; since then it's been occupied by a cold storage company, a hardware warehouse, and a rubber works. This isn't the first attempt that's been made to protect the buildings: in 2007, Logan Square Preservation lobbied then-alderman Manny Flores to consider the administration building for official designation as a Chicago landmark, but nothing came of it. Still, the building is coded "orange" in the Chicago Landmarks Historic Resources Survey for possessing "potentially significant architectural or historical features," which is why the demolition permit was placed on hold for 90 days. Forgotten Chicago editor Jacob Kaplan says that preservation groups and Alderman Moreno tried to work with the Landmarks Commission to convince them to designate the building a landmark, but didn't succeed in getting on the agenda, so after the 90-day waiting period the demolition permit was issued.

But while that technically means the buildings can be demolished at any time, the site they're built on is zoned for manufacturing, Kaplan says. If Hhgregg wants to build a store on the site, they'll have to get the zoning changed to retail—and Moreno has promised to block that zoning change unless the developers commit to using the existing building rather than leveling it. I wasn't at the November 21 event (which sold out, with more than 120 people attending), but Kaplan sent me a transcription of some of Moreno's remarks. An excerpt is below.

The current prospective developers need a zoning change, from me, from the community, in order to build their big box, in my opinion unattractive, store lot, OK? So, what I'm committing to do is . . . I am not going to give them that zoning change, so they cannot build that building. I would like to work with them to see if they could perhaps reuse this beautiful building. . . . If we can save one last remnant of our past on that stretch [of Elston Avenue], I think it's worth the effort.

Incidentally, Lee Bey wrote about the complex and its possible demise on the WBEZ blog back in September, and has some nice photos. And Bruce Mobley, who collects vintage beer bottles, has a couple fascinating photos of Brand Brewing bottles on his website.

Read more from Architecture Week:

Deanna Isaacs's cover story, "Sinking Mies"

"On first looking out onto Toronto's skyline," by Michael Miner

"Tigerman, extracted," by Deanna Isaacs

"The nostalgia of architecture and the architecture of nostalgia," by Tal Rosenberg

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