The Brewster, a stone fortress standing at the northwest corner of Diversey and Pine Grove in Lake View, is best known as the home of Chucky — the doll who terrorized a family in the iconic horror film Child’s Play. But prior to the movie, the building was considered haunted after the developer’s sudden and tragic death.
A week before Halloween, Crain’s Chicago Business reporter Dennis Rodkin talked about the 19th-century skyscraper’s strange past and its part in thriller history.
The building opened as the Lincoln Park Palace in 1896. It’s exterior is made of pink and gray jasper stone quarried in Minnesota, but its heftiness is relieved by ornamental details, including the frilly band of designs around the cornice at the top of the building.
Inside, the building has an eight-story atrium. Cast-iron staircases and glass-block walkways rising up through the light court have a delicacy that is the opposite of the exterior’s solidity. The residential units they reach have both doors and windows into the light court, giving the feeling that you’re walking through a quaint village.
When it was made, the interior light court was an innovative solution to make a tall residential building feel luxurious and healthful, according to the Brewster’s City of Chicago landmark designation from 1982. Another way to do it, which became much more popular in Chicago, was by building an interior courtyard.
Haunted by a deadly fall
The Brewster’s indoor courtyard was the scene of a tragic fall on July 31, 1895. On that day, the building was nearing completion, and developer Bjoerne Edwards, who was the publisher of Chicago-based magazine American Contractor, was on the roof talking to workers about how to do fireproofing work.
Edwards fell through the atrium, landed eight stories below, and died. His wife, Mary, oversaw completion of the building the next year in 1896, but lost ownership to an investor five years later.
Bjoerne Edwards’ fall through the building was enough to spark a legend that the place was haunted and that people felt sensations of falling when they were inside — although the glass blocks in the walkways might affect stability.
Then in 2013 — 118 years later to the day of Edwards’ death — an old water tank on top of the building suddenly fell from its supports and crashed to the sidewalk eight stories down. Nobody was killed, but four people were injured.
In between those two falls was another spectacular and scary moment, but it wasn’t real. In 1988, the movie Child’s Play told the story of Chucky, a child’s doll that is inhabited by the spirit of a serial killer. Karen, the mother who unwittingly buys the doll for her son, lives in the Brewster. The Chucky doll’s first murder happens in their apartment, when Chucky hits a babysitter in the face with a hammer and she stumbles backward and falls out a window, plunging seven stories to her death.
Weirdly enough, there’s a great shot of the Brewster as the babysitter falls down along the building’s turrets to land on a parked truck. You see the handsome cornice of the building, the rusticated stone of the exterior, and a light snow falling all around.
The Brewster is also the centerpiece of the movie poster, seen being hit by lightning as the babysitter’s body falls. The Brewster was also seen in the movies Running Scared and Hoodlum.
Home of a former governor
John Peter Altgeld, who was the governor of Illinois from 1893 to 1897, lived in the apartments with his wife after leaving office. During his time as governor, Altgeld pardoned three men involved in the 1886 Haymarket Riot in what’s now the West Loop, saying they didn’t receive a fair trial.
He also rejected the federal government’s demand that the Pullman railroad strike be forcibly closed down. (President Grover Cleveland overruled him and sent in the National Guard.)
Altgeld died from a cerebral hemorrhage at age 54 in 1902, and the statue that memorializes him is about two blocks east of the Brewster, at the northern edge of Lincoln Park near Diversey Harbor.
The 90-unit Brewster was converted from apartments to condos in 1979. There’s nothing currently for sale in the building.