The Bauer Building in River North
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The Bauer Building in River North

C. William Brubaker Collection
University of Illinois at Chicago

The River North Gallery District

I have always been fond of the River North Gallery District from a personal and professional perspective.  Generally described as Superior and Huron streets from Franklin to Orleans, this part of River North west of Wells Street is known for trendy restaurants, high-end design, and both fine and decorative arts.

The Bauer Building History

When I approached the owners of 230 West Huron in 2013 to see if they might be interested in selling, the commercial market in the area was still under duress.  The property wasn’t listed for sale and to my knowledge, the owners had not recently been approached about a possible sale.

Looking at the West side of 230 W Huron in 1978 Hemmings

Built in 1920, The Bauer Building is a historic, 7-story building situated a block west of Wells Street at 230 West Huron.  I have always considered it one of the premier industrial loft buildings in River North.  The building features exposed-timber, brick construction, 12-foot high ceilings and all of the characteristics that you imagine when you think of industrial lofts converted to commercial use.

I’m still researching the origins of the building, but can provide some interesting facts that others, perhaps, can help piece together into a more definitive history of 230 West Huron.

233-w-huron-bauer-distilling-arthur-holmer-01The name of the building, the Bauer Building, was likely related to the A. Bauer Distilling & Importing Company that was in the business of distilling and selling various brands of hard liquors and “medicinal” remedies in Chicago during the late 19th and early 20th centuries.  Alexander Bauer is best described as a bit of a huckster as he was often cited for watering down liquor, mis-labeling his concoctions for more expensive brands, and generally bad personal behavior.  He was indicted at least twice by Federal authorities (there was no FBI at the time) and in both cases was found guilty.  Bauer re-organized his business and moved it in 1909 from 142-148 East Huron to 227-233 West Huron, directly across the street from 230 West Huron, where he continued to run his liquor business until Prohibition shut him down.

monson-type-manual-1922-230-w-huron-bauer-building-arthur-holmerFortunately, the history of the Bauer Building is far less controversial and has amongst its notable tenants one of the leading offset typography houses in American history.  Monsen Typographers, established in Chicago in the late 1800’s, was an innovator in the world of offset typography, holding several patents over its 120 year history.  Monsen, at the turn of the 20th Century, was probably most well known for its detailed, comprehensive typography books that are still highly coveted today.  the 1922 Monsen Type Manual shown was produced at the 230 West Huron location in 1922.

Fast forward to 1973 and the Bauer Building entered its next noteworthy chapter.  In that year Paul Parenteau opened his his soon-to-be renowned window treatment and custom furniture studios and manufacturing facility in the building.  When Parenteau purchased the building in 1973, the area was still very much a collection of dilapidated factories with streets that were far from safe both during both the day and at night.  The area, then known as Skid Row, was populated by the homeless, drug-addicted and lost souls of Chicago who were doing what they must to survive.

Looking West from Wells Street down Superior Street.
C. William Brubaker Collection, University of Illinois at Chicago Library

From Skid Row to River North

That all began to change in the late 1970’s and early 1980’s when the visionary real estate developer, Albert Friedman, purchased the first of his dozens of buildings.  As Friedman tells the story, he was cajoled by a few photographer friends of his who needed cheap space, high ceilings and weren’t afraid to venture into the area.  For years, his early investments in the area did not pay off.  Things began to change when Friedman had the epiphany of rebranding the area “River North” and partnering with art galleries and restaurants to bring the adventurous to the area.

As more galleries, restaurants and boutiques moved in, River North enjoyed a commercial explosion as buildings that were often demolished to reduce the tax burden of holding the property became valuable conversions to investors like Mr. Friedman.

Why Boardwalk Capital Holdings Invests in River North Loft Space

Like the rest of Chicago, commercial properties in the River North area were hit hard by the recession of 2008.  Many commercial real estate investors and developers soured on the area and when I purchased the Bauer Building in 2013, there were those who felt that I paid too much for 230 W Huron.

What I saw in the building was the opportunity attract a different type of tenant to the area.  Rather than relying solely on the traditional design, architecture and visual arts tenants for the building, we renovated the space to attract the entrepreneurial and technology businesses that would find River North the perfect place to grow.  To the chagrin of a few, we replaced the antiquated, hand-operated elevator with a new, state of the art unit.  What was lost in quaintness was gained in efficiency and convenience for our tenants.

Today the building is fortunate to have an excellent mix of businesses that are able to take advantage of a historic, loft building at an affordable investment.


By Arthur Holmer