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Uptown Broadway Building

August 18, 2010



CNS 2010

4707 N. Broadway

During the 1920’s Chicago skyscrapers were rising and so were hemlines. Money was flowing, women were voting and everyone was dancing the Charleston. People were showing off and so were buildings. Few buildings exemplify this more than the Uptown Broadway Building.

The Broadway Building was one of many buildings popping up in Chicago’s Uptown neighborhood in the early twentieth century. The neighborhood was originally a part of the Lake View Township – a quiet suburban community. In 1889 the township was annexed to the city of Chicago (thus increasing the city’s population) in conjunction with our bid for the Worlds Columbian Exposition. Ten years later in the year 1900 the Elevated trains came to Uptown. Over the next two decades Uptown’s population soared. It quickly grew to be the center of the entertainment industry. Charlie Chaplin began his career in Uptown before heading off to sunnier places. The Uptown Theater, the Aragon Ballroom and the Green Mill as well as numerous smaller theaters were all citywide destinations. Uptown was a happening place, and no longer a quiet suburban community.

And so though the Uptown Broadway Building was built to accommodate mostly doctor and dentist offices, it was designed with the same pizzazz as the neighboring vaudeville theaters. It was completed in 1927 and designed by architect Walter W. Ahlschlager. At the time Ahlschlager was a prominent Chicago architect. He designed a number of Chicago’s expansive apartment complexes, and numerous movie theaters in New York, Chicago and the greater Midwest. But he was best known for his towers: the Intercontinental Hotel in Chicago (the one with the gold Moorish dome at its top on Michigan Avenue), and the Carew Tower in Cincinnati. Today Ahlschlager’s name has fallen mostly to obscurity. If however, his Crane Tower – what was to be the tallest building in the world at 1,022ft – had been built on Randolph St. as planned, we’d all be very familiar with the name Ahlschlager today.

CNS 2010

The Uptown Broadway Building was designed in the Spanish Baroque style – a sculptural approach to architecture seen both in the form of a building itself as well as the ornament that covers it. In keeping with the “Roaring Twenties,” the Uptown Broadway’s use of ornament is nothing short of excessive. Musical instruments, military trophies, ram heads, cartouches, urns, and cornucopias decorate the building. Every inch of the façade is made of terra-cotta. It was built during the height of the terra-cotta industry. And with three of the largest terra-cotta companies located in Chicago, it was cheap and easy to completely cover a building in the easily molded material.

CNS 2010

That is what we know about the Uptown Broadway Building, but what is often more fun to think about is what we don’t know. Rumors have been floating around for years that Al Capone was involved in building the Uptown Broadway and ran a speakeasy out of the basement. Though the existence of a speakeasy hasn’t been proven, the building’s basement is connected to a tunnel system that Al Capone utilized when he needed a quick escape. And that’s a fact.

MAP IT

Interested in taking a virtual tour of the Uptown Broadway Building? Explore the building through the realtor’s website. The Uptown Broadway recently went through an impressive interior renovation and exterior restoration at the hands of the architectural firm, Space Architects + Planners. And if you’re interested in learning more about Mr. Ahlschlager, here is an impressive insert all about his work in 1921 issue of the American Builder Magazine.

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5 Comments leave one →
  1. Nye Stevens permalink
    August 23, 2010 4:00 pm

    Why am I not surprised to find this building featured in your blog? I’ve been there. But then there were some cars parked in front. You must have gone in quite early in the morning to get such a clear picture. And it is a grand building. Too bad the surroundings have not kept up with its grandeur. Keep up the good work!

  2. Bill Savage permalink
    August 28, 2010 8:26 pm

    How do you know that it’s a FACT that the building’s basement is connected to a tunnel system allegedly used by Al Capone for anything?

    These tunnels are an urban myth. The ones touted beneath the Green Mill are just doors connecting basements of adjoining commercial properties–totally standard design (if someone rented three storefronts, they got three basements which they could then connect–of someone rented one, you could just lock the doors from both sides and each basement is stand-alone). Where did these alleged tunnels lead, for instance? Uh, to the back door. Not exactly a brilliant Stalag 17 escape plan there. Coal was also delivered regularly to basement chutes, which required various openings and now-mysterious doors. But there were no tunnels. Prohibition era gangsters delivered their damn beer to the back door just like the Bud man does today.

    I know that respectable historians sometimes tout these tunnels, but it’s utter bullshit. Unlike the rest of this post, which is really cool. Love that building, and thanks for the great photo.

    • August 31, 2010 10:29 am

      Thanks for your informative comment. I got the information regarding the tunnels from a couple of different Tribune articles, but perhaps (as you said) the word “tunnel” is misleading. Never having been in the basement of any of the Uptown Buildings, I can’t say for sure — but your description about them just being connected basements makes a lot of sense. In one old Tribune article I read titled, “Uptown to get new $400,000 Business Block” dated July of 1926, it referred to plans of a “nightclub” in the basement. In my eyes, this makes it much more likely that it was in fact actually some sort of speakeasy. Whether or not Al Capone had anything to do with it, I have no idea. Those are all just speculations and rumors.

  3. Bill Savage permalink
    September 14, 2010 9:43 pm

    Sorry if that last comment seemed kind of strident, but this particular urban myth bothers me more than most for some reason. Love the blog!

    • September 14, 2010 9:59 pm

      Not at all! I want this blog to be a trusted resource about Chicago’s architecture and sometimes I’m going to get misinformation. I’m glad that you took the incentive to add your thoughts and hope you continue to do so in the future. And I’m glad you’re enjoying BLUEPRINT!

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