With gusto*, city to seek landmark status for old Schlitz taverns

October 7, 2010


(photo by Lee Bey)

Eight former Schiltz's taverns--the ornate, late 19th/early 20th century drinking houses best-known for a relief of the Schlitz globe prominently displayed on their facades--could take a step toward landmark status today, according to city officials.

The city's Landmarks Division will ask the Commission on Chicago Landmarks to grant preliminary landmark status to eight past and present historic and architecturally-distinctive watering holes built and operated by Schlitz between about 1880 and 1910. The list includes tavern buildings in Roseland, Lincoln Park, Englewood, Uptown and other neighborhoods. (A full list can be found here, under Item 2 on the Landmarks Commission agenda for today.) The proposed landmark designation would include one of the city's best-known former Schlitz taverns,  Schubas Tavern on the southeast corner of Belmont & Southport, built 120 years ago.

A ninth structure, a former Schlitz stable that still stands 11314 S. Front across the street from Metra Electric embankment on the Far South Side would also be included. Zoning and Land Use Deputy Commissioner Brian Goeken, who oversees the city's landmark process, said the group-landmarking of the buildings would allow the structures to be seen thematically, both in terms of their architecture and their history.

"And it's really an interesting history because it had so much to do with the history of Chicago and the themes of alcohol, prohibition and the Dry Movement and the issue of monopolies," Goeken said. He's right. More on that in a bit. But first let's take a look at some of these buildings, starting with Schubas (the above photo shows a detail of Schubas, and its Schlitz globe):


(photo by Lee Bey) 


(photo by Lee Bey)

And here's one at 2159 W. Belmont, where drinking of a different sort goes on:


(photo by Lee Bey)

Dig the Schiltz globe on it:


(photo by Lee Bey)

 Here's one at 11400 S. Front, just south of the Schlitz stables. The building is a remnant of "Schlitz Row", a cluster of taverns bounded by 115th, 114th, Front and King Drive in the Kensington section of the Roseland community. Most of the block was demo'd in 1996 for a Metra parking lot. The precinct had been voted dry years prior. I had to use my camera phone to grab this one, the former Jimmy's Place II:


(photo by Lee Bey)
 

The taverns were called "tied houses" with the tie being only Schlitz beer could be sold there. Other beer companies of the time also ran their own tied houses, causing a proliferation of taverns--and public outcry in Chicago over the deleterious effects of all that beer being serviced--in the years leading up to Prohibition. And the tied house system was essentially a monopoly, allowing a manufacturer to not only own and control the manufacture and distribution of the beer, but also the places where it could be sold...and set its own prices every step of the way.

The federal government outlawed the tied house practice after Prohibition was lifted. Schlitz and the beer-makers sold the taverns in the face of new laws that allowed brewers only to make the beer, while independent wholesalers and beer-sellers stepped up to do the rest.

If the commission decides in favor of the request today, the buildings would be protected city landmarks while city officials engage in talks with property owners over the next year.‚  Landmarks staff would then return to the commission to seek permanent landmark status for all of the buildings--or some--depending on what is learned over the next several months.

The proposed landmark designation does not include every old Schlitz tavern in the city. One notable exception is Southport Lanes,‚  former Schlitz tavern at 3325 N. Southport. Our buds at Forgotten Chicago have a pretty good list--and photos--of the city's collection of taverns right here.

*"Gusto"? Old-timers like me remember "gusto" was a buzzword used in Schlitz commercials of the early 1970s, making "go for the gusto" a bit of a national catchphrase back then.