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Brewster Apartments

(formerly known as the Lincoln Park Palace)

 

 

In 1892 Bjoerne Edwards, publisher of the trade paper, American Contractor at 108 Randolph Street began construction on a life-long dream of building the finest apartment house in the world although the cornerstone wasn't laid until July 14, 1894. It was to be named the Lincoln Park Palace and was designed by architect Enock Hill Turnock.   His neigbors in the upscale area were not thrilled about him building a large apartment building on the northwest corner of Diversey and Park (Park is now Pine Grove Avenue) and were vocal about their opposition.  Some neighbors said that Edward was acting in a "queer way" ever since the building started and said that it was obvious evidence of a "disturbed mind".

On July 31, 1895, Edward's wife, Mary C.C. Edwards, was away in Oshkosh, Wisconsin tending to the funeral of her mother.  Mr. Edwards was on the roof of the unfinished building directing workman regarding some fireproofing issue.  As he approached the ladder to descend he stepped on a poorly secured scaffolding board and fell eight stories through the courtyard to the lobby below.  He was picked up unconscious and taken to Alexian Brother's Hospital where he died two hours later.

Just three months earlier, Edwards had secured a loan of $70,000 to complete construction of the building and at the time of his death there was enough left to ensure that the building would be completed.Ewards had actually leased a quarry in Jasper, Minnesota where all of the stone used in the construction was unearthed.  The building is made up almost entirely of pink jasper and both entrances are made of beautiful polished jasper granite.  The interior courtyard construction is of iron and prismatic lights and the interior wood finishing was originally of Mahogany, oak and red birch. Actually the east entrance on Pine Grove was known as "the ladies entrance".  It was amazingly modern at the time of its construction with both gas and electric lights and telephones in all of the rooms that connected each to the office.  The ground floor had office, restaurant, drug store, physician, and messenger space.   The room that opens to the rotunda was actually first used as a ladies' waiting room and a sitting room for gentlemen.

Mr. Edwards was from Norway and came to America as a boy.  He worked on a farm in Wisconsin as a youth and afterward came to Chicago to do manual labor until he had enough money to go to school.  He attended the theological seminaries of the Lutheran Church in Iowa and Illinois.

Following Edwards' death his wife Mary finished the project in September of 1896, at a final cost of $300,000.  She purchased the building adjacent to and west of the palace which is today the YAK-ZIES on Diversy bar at 506 W. Diversey.  The Lincoln Park Palace, however, never made a profit and a General Henry Strong of Lake Geneva, Wisconsin brought suit against Mary, as a $20,000 stake holder in the property, He took possession of the property in January of 1901. As late as 1900 Mary Edwards was living at the Lincoln Park Palace as a renter with her sister Frieda Daib.  Her brother, Frederick Daib and his wife Mathilda and daughter Agnes lived and rented at the Lincoln Park Palace as well.

I had made a visit to the Brewster Apartments recently because I am a big fan of Chicago history and architecture and knew nothing of the tragic story of its original owner.  I did hear that Charlie Chaplin had lived in the penthouse and heard that the building was an architectural treasure so I brought along my camera.  There was a very somber yet nostalgic feeling that I got as I entered the building and when I got to the 7th floor (the elevator operator was not on duty so we took the stairs) I had an overwhelming feeling of dread and immediately felt the feeling of falling.  I do not consider myself senstive to these things and in all honesty I had gotten the same sense of falling when visiting the top of the Sears (unfortunately now Willis) Tower.

I was shocked though to discover the story of Bjoerne Edwards who had fallen to his death in 1895 before the building was finished.  It literally made the hairs stand up on the back of my neck and that doesn't happen easily.