Inside the Brewster

Outside the Brewster Apartment Building, © 2013 Celia Her City

The rough-hewn Brewster Apartment Building dominates the area around Pine Grove and Diversey where I often shop.  A early residential hi-rise built in the Romanesque style, it was touted at the time of its 1893 completion as “the world’s most perfect apartment house.”

When the Brewster was built, steel was coming into use, but exterior walls were still made of thick masonry and windows tended to be small.  The challenge for architects was to design interiors with enough light to make them functional and appealing.  (Gas lights supplemented daylight in this era before electrical light was available to illuminate homes.)

Heavy as it is on the outside, the building’s interior is filled with light, thanks to a beautiful metalwork atrium that maximizes the light falling into it from a crowning skylight above.

Last weekend, passersby were welcome to visit the Brewster, thanks to Open House Chicago, when architecturally significant buildings all over the city open their doors and offer free tours.

From the lobby, guests looked up to admire the catwalks that serve as passageways on the upper stories.  Framed with decorative iron and paved with glass, these austere balconies thread around an iron staircase and old-fashioned lift, with exposed ropes and pulleys, that looks like something straight out of the movie Charade.

Charlie Chaplin once lived in the Brewster penthouse.

And, oh yes, some people believe the Brewster to be haunted because of an accident occurring there on the eve of its opening, when a promoter of the building met his death, falling from the roof through the skylight and into the lobby.

Click images to enlarge.

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