Building boom

?The arrival of Brookfield Zoo started a mini apartment building boom in Brookfield in the late 1920s, but the Great Depression ensured a short run.

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By CHRIS STACH

Blame it on the coming of the Brookfield Zoo, and the increased prosperity of the 1920s. Before this, Brookfield was perfectly happy to have built within its borders several two-flat or three-flat residences, and had no aspirations to build anything larger or more complicated.

But then, with the certain coming of the zoo, builders and contractors took another look at the village, and decided it was destined to be something more than just another common suburb of Chicago. There were plenty of vacant lots available, just ripe for development. People were clamoring for places to live here. So why not build apartment buildings?

The technology was already available. In the village there existed at that time two office buildings, housing not people but real estate companies and doctors. The Simonson Builders' offices were located in the building at 9301 Monroe Ave., and doctors had their offices at 3650 Grand Blvd.

But nothing like a multi-unit, all-residential apartment building had ever been built before. Bankers were consulted, architects drew up plans, and The Great Apartment Rush was in full swing.

The first known blueprint plans of such a building were drawn up and ready for funding in late 1927. In fact, in the first week of October of that year, it was announced, in a small article on the front page of the Suburban Magnet newspaper for Oct. 7, that "F.C. Schultz has applied for a permit to erect a three story, nine apartment building at the northeast corner of Vernon and Lincoln Avenues."

S.W. Wilkins of 14 S. LaGrange Road was the architect, with the local firm of Graham and Schultz overseeing the project. As to having their permit approved, it didn't hurt their chances any that E.B. Graham was president of the Brookfield State Bank, and Schultz was vice-president. Once the permit was issued and funding assured, the year's end was already at hand. Initial digging and foundation work had to wait for winter to end.

However, the creation of another apartment building was already in the works, and it appears that a sort of a friendly contest was being waged to see whose building would be up and ready for occupancy first. Graham and Schultz, and their "opponent," Charles Bossert, were all longtime Congress Park residents.

Bossert, one of the Brookfield State Bank's directors, had lived for some years at 107 (later 4007) DuBois Boulevard. He was acutely aware of the fact that the wide, vacant, corner lot at the intersection of DuBois and Burlington boulevards had never been developed, not since the year 1895, when the subdivision of West Grossdale (Congress Park) had been opened.

His reasoning was probably that the bank was actively financing apartment buildings, so why shouldn't he? The bank was erecting buildings north of the train tracks, so he would erect one on the south, in fact, right next door to his own home.

Blueprints were drawn up, probably about the same time as the apartment building at the corner of Vernon and Lincoln avenues. But perhaps Bossert was willing to take a chance, when others weren't. He would not wait for the warm days of spring to begin foundation excavation.

It is recorded in the Suburban Magnet on Feb. 17, 1928 that "Bossert has broken ground for an up-to-the-minute modern apartment building at the corner of DuBois and Burlington." This, in February! Maybe there wasn't any snow on the ground, or the ground wasn't too hard for digging. Anyway, he seems to have gotten the jump on the Vernon-Lincoln building.

The article further revealed that "the building will be in the shape of a horseshoe, and contain nine small apartments, and will have an English type [unfinished] basement. It will fill a long felt want of our young married people and those contemplating marriage, and rumor has it that practically all the apartments have been spoken for. Mr. Bossert will spare no expense to make them ideal living quarters."

Perhaps a horseshoe design was initially planned, but it didn't quite turn out that way. Maybe finances or some other consideration necessitated the change.

Bossert's building had just seen its first turnover of soil, and already most of the apartments were "spoken for," possibly with an accompanying deposit. For a commuter, the location was perfect, being only mere feet away from the Congress Park station and the Burlington Railroad line, running between Chicago and Aurora.

Work on the three-story building went swiftly, and by the first week of June 1928, the newspaper reported that "the Eleanor Apartments are being rushed to completion, and are being occupied as soon as completed. They are modern in every detail, and our village can be justly proud of its first apartments.

"The apartments are equipped with Frigidaires, water softeners, ironing boards, roll-away beds, and are cozy little homes."

The "Frigidaires" were an early version of today's refrigerator, and needed no cumbersome and drippy blocks of ice delivered to each individual apartment kitchen. Really, you couldn't get more modern than that at the time. The water softener was another plus, since Brookfield was still relying on well water. Lake Michigan water for the village was still a dozen years in the future.

Ironing boards may seem to be strange things to show off as a positive detail, but these were of the classic kind that you opened a thin door in the wall to get at, and then pulled down at waist level to use. Surely you've seen them in old-fashioned cartoons.

The first tenants of the dark brick building at 103 (later 4005) DuBois Boulevard were Mr. and Mrs. Paul F. Conrow of Congress Park; Mr. and Mrs. David C. Paradis; Mr. and Mrs. Amos Peterson of LaGrange; Mr. and Mrs. George Mauson and their son; Mr. and Mrs. Harry Reed, who was the nephew of Ira Reed, the building's contractor; Mr. and Mrs. Parley Eckdahl; Mr. and Mrs. J.M. Woods; Mr. and Mrs. Joe Allen; and Mr. and Mrs. Dobek. The nine apartments were fully occupied by June 15, 1928.

Despite the claim to "up-to-the-minute" modern appointments, not all the apartments had telephone service. The Paradis family were the first ones to have this. There may be no relation here, but it appears that they were also the first tenants to move out of the building, the next year. They bought a house (and telephone service) at 4139 Blanchan Ave. Perhaps their fortunes had improved.

The Paradis' example of advanced communication was quickly followed by the Conrows, the Eckdahls and the Reeds, in that order.

Modern accouterments had trickled down, slightly, into the English basement. Large cement tub sinks and clotheslines hung from hooks. There was no such thing as a dryer, yet, but modern electric washing machines with clothes wringers were available for use. It is possible that the long stretch of lawn south of the building was dotted with clothes poles and lines, and every Monday bedecked with flapping sheets and garments.

What did it cost to live in such fine new luxury? The apartments went for $10-$15 a week, and the janitor/superintendent received his basement apartment, separate from the other nine, free of charge, with around $3-$5 a week as pay.

The "super," in charge of keeping the entire building clean and in good running order, also had to stoke the coal furnace twice a day, shoveling out the clinkers left over. The big, brick-lined Kewanee Boiler Company furnace needed regular attention, since the water gauge needed to be monitored. Hot water for sinks and tubs, as well as water to the radiators needed to be kept flowing throughout the building.

He really earned his keep. If an electric washer broke down, he'd fix it. In fact, if anything broke, he'd fix it. He might even be asked to knock upon tenant's doors to tell them if their washing, hung on the basement clotheslines, was dry. He signed for packages, "delivered at the rear" of the building, and brought them up to the right persons. And every Christmas he looked forward to receiving a little tip of some kind for these little extra services.

The Eleanor Apartments, named after the Bossert's daughter, outlasted the Depression years, and war years, and still exists today. Extensively modernized and renovated in the 1980s, it shines as a classic example of Brookfield's first all-apartment building.

Soon after its opening, others of its kind were erected, mostly in the same style. The Vernon-Lincoln apartments opened soon after and it, too, had a Kewanee Boiler furnace. This three-story building had Murphy beds that folded up into the wall, and, oddly enough, lacked the modern Frigidaires. Here in each kitchen were wall-attached ice boxes, with upper back doors leading out onto the rear open air staircases. Blocks of ice weighing up to 100 pounds were hoisted up these steps and slid into the ice boxes without the residents ever having to be at home.

If this building and the Eleanor Apartments building seemed then, and even today, to be similar in appearance, that was because the same architect, S.W. Wilkins of LaGrange, drew up both blueprints. In January of 1929, yet another apartment building, the Arboe Apartments, was ready for occupancy, at 3730-34 Park Ave. Once again, it was of a similar style. It is very probable that Wilkins kept adapting his plans for other apartment buildings, including the one at 3618 Blanchan Ave.

One building that may have not been Wilkins-designed is the Gloria Apartments building at 3636 Grand Blvd. It is yellow brick, not dark, and was opened in September 1929, only days before the beginning of the Depression. Like the Eleanor, it, too, had "automatic refrigeration" and gas stoves. The Eleanor and the Gloria are the only two apartment buildings ion Brookfield known to have their names on their front outside walls.

Yet another building that may not be a Wilkins design is of yellow brick, at 9301 Washington Ave. Nor may he be responsible for the dark brick bungalow style building at 3440 Madison Ave., which seems to be the lone example of this type of an apartment building in Brookfield.

The planning and erection of apartment buildings ceased as the economy's vitality plummeted. Brookfield's Golden Age of The Zoo was postponed until 1934. Not until the late 1940s and early 1950s did Brookfield see any more multi-unit buildings being constructed, until the Coronet Construction Company at 8836 Brookfield Ave. decided it was high time to start building them once again.

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