The Apartment Building That Almost Was

In 1926, a developer proposed an apartment building right in the middle of downtown Western Springs. And, it was almost built.

Former Vacant Lot on Burlington Avenue
Former Vacant Lot on Burlington Avenue

In 1926, the country was growing by leaps and bounds. So, when a La Grange developer named Oscar Schaefer proposed a new building for Western Springs, many residents were not surprised. In fact, they welcomed it.

Schaefer’s proposal involved 100 feet of vacant frontage between the 2-story Potter Building (left in photo) and what is now Kirschbaum’s Bakery (right). While the photo above shows a small one-story realty office, it had not yet been built in 1926.

Schaefer’s proposal was both modern and expansive.  It envisioned a three-story apartment hotel named “Casa Grande”. The building itself would be 90 feet wide and 250 feet deep.  It would have a center courtyard with an entrance to the apartments. However, the first floor would also house four retail stores, one of which would be a “high class restaurant”. he structure would feature light-colored brick with Spanish accents. 

While drawings of the proposed building could not be found, newspaper accounts from that period indicate that it was to have 54 units, comprised of 2-room, 3-room, and 4-room apartments. Rents would start at $85 per month. In addition, the building would have an underground parking garage and other modern features. These were to include its own water filtration system and hallway ice delivery for refrigerators. Don’t forget, this was 1926!

Many local residents were in favor of the project, citing the village’s lack of housing for young married couples..However, population density and building height soon became major sources of concern. In addition, many residents were turned off by the specter of “Chicago-style” apartments. In the final analysis, the village refused to change its zoning to accommodate the proposed building. 

While the land remained nearly vacant for another twenty years, both Schlueter’s Pharmacy and Olson’s Dry Goods built stores on the site in the early 1950’s. Today, these same buildings are home to the Mécénat Bistro, John Montalto Hair Salon, and Pinnacle Financial. See photo.

As they say, history repeats itself. In 2006, a similar proposal for a three-story mixed use (retail and condominium) building was developed for the vacant Tischler/Breen property. While that proposal was subsequently withdrawn by the would-be developer, who knows what the future may bring. 

Each week, the Western Springs Historical Society presents a “Blast from the Past”. To view prior stories, visit us at www.westernspringshistory.org.  



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