2954-2958 North Sheffield Avenue Building
Chicago has an abundance of architecturally significant commercial properties with rich histories that have been well-chronicled and preserved. From the Manhattan Building on Dearborn to the Willis Tower in the Loop, landlords and tenants love to share the tales of these iconic buildings.
As much as I love the history of these renowned buildings, I also enjoy discovering the more modest tales of the real estate that Boardwalk Capital and its partner-investors own. One property that I’m currently researching is located at 2954-2958 North Sheffield Avenue on the corner of Wellington and Sheffield. This two-story brick building, occupied by the DMK Burger Bar facing Sheffield, and professional offices on Wellington, is a modest structure typical of the light industrial buildings built by the thousands in the early 1900’s.
Purchased out of bank foreclosure in 2010, the 2958 North Sheffield building was empty with the exception of the eatery on the first floor. Because of it’s great location a block west of the Wellington EL stop, and its proximity to the expanding Advocate Illinois Masonic Medical Center, I considered it a solid investment opportunity.
The Sheffield and Wellington Neighborhood
In its earliest days, Lakeview attracted mostly German, Swedish and Irish immigrants, and the Sheffield/Wellington neighborhood followed that pattern. Families moving into the township wanted to live and work in a neighborhood with others who shared their language, religion, food and culture. To satisfy these desires, commercial mainstays such as Dinkel’s Bakery, Kuhn’s Deli, Weiboldt’s and Anderson Brothers Storage and Moving made Lakeview their home.
Just before the turn of the century, the blocks around Sheffield and Wellington were almost exclusively residential, with the exception of numerous churches dotting nearly every block. It wasn’t surprising then to find that the 1894 Sanborn Fire Insurance Map showed no structure on the southwest corner where the 2958 N Sheffield property is located.
The Northeast corner of Sheffield and Wellington, now parking for Advocate Illinois Masonic hospital, is the only non-residential building identified on the 1894 map. The Centennial Methodist Church, founded in 1885 by Reverend John A. Diekmann, was built as a simple wooden structure to serve as a local house of worship for the new German immigrants arriving each day.
Interestingly, in 1949 the church property was sold to a new group of immigrants hoping to find a home in Lakeview. In 1943, during the height of World War II, a Japanese-American, Reverend Sadaichi Kuzuhara, was released from the Granada internment camp in Colorado. Like hundreds of others recently freed internees of Japanese descent, Kuzuhara moved to Chicago to start a new life. His goal was to build an evangelical Christian ministry that would cater to the growing Japanese-American community in Lakeview much as the German Methodists and Swedish Lutherans had done a half-century earlier. In 1997, after nearly 50 years at the corner of Sheffield and Wellington, the Lakeside Japanese Christian Church congregation sold the hundred year-old church to Advocate Illinois Masonic Hospital.
The Northwestern Elevated Railroad Brings Change to Lake View Township
The Northwestern Elevated Railroad Company was one of several private companies that were granted franchises in the 1880’s and 1890’s to provide train service from areas outside of what was then Chicago to the downtown area. In the case of the Northwestern Elevated, their franchise stipulated that they were to build a north-south line from the Loop to a northern terminus at Broadway and Wilson Avenue.
One of the new stations to be completed on the line was the Wellington Avenue station located less than two blocks from the corner of Sheffield and Wellington. The station, designed by William Gibb, was a small brick structure that featured Italianate columns and arched windows in the Classical Revival style of architecture that was in vogue in 1900.*
The Tengwall Company Moves to Lakeview
The new elevated line was critical in helping to transform the purely residential nature of Lakeview into an area where commerce and light industry were attracted. One of the businesses that was drawn to Lakeview was the Tengwall Company, a Swedish manufacturer of ledger sheets and loose-leaf binders.
The Tengwall File and Ledger company was founded in the 1880’s by Andreas Tengwall, a Swedish merchant who had invented a binder system that simply and securely held ledger sheets. His effective four-fork system became so popular in Sweden that he made the decision to open manufacturing and office facilities in the United States to take advantage of the new market.
Like thousands of Swedes before him, Tengwall chose Chicago as the base for both his operations and his home. For the Chicago factory and business offices, Tengwall’s management team selected a wooden structure at 4739 North Ravenswood.
Within a year, a tremendous fire occurred at the Tengwall Ravenswood offices, burning the building and two adjacent homes to the ground. Not to be deterred, the Tengwall company relocated its operations to a recently-built two-story brick building on the corner of Sheffield and Wellington, catty-corner from the Centennial Methodist Church. The address of the new Tengwall building was 2954-2958 North Sheffield.
The 1923 Sanborn Insurance Fire Map clearly identifies the Tengwall Company on the southwest corner of Sheffield and Wellington. By 1923 the company had changed hands several times and was a wholly-owned subsidiary of what would come to be known as the Wilson-Jones Loose Leaf Company, famous even today for its binders.
What the Future Will Hold for 2958 North Sheffield
In commercial real estate it’s never good to hold on to a property for sentimental reasons, and yet each property in the Boardwalk Capital Portfolio has a unique and often interesting story to tell. As the future of the 2954-2958 Sheffield building waits to be told, I consider myself fortunate to have played a small role in rehabbing and preserving a Lakeview building with a rich, meaningful history. I am hopeful that the 2958 North Sheffield building will remain a productive asset in the Boardwalk Capital Holdings portfolio for years to come.