Building Description Best Brewing Company of Chicago - Best Brewery, Chicago Illinois

The Best Brewing Company complex is comprised of nine separate masonry buildings, all rectangular in shape, clustered together. It is located on the southwest corner of Lakewood and Fletcher Streets, in the Lakeview. neighborhood of Chicago.. The primary buildings. face north, with low, secondary buildings enclosing an inner courtyard area. The main part of the complex was built in 1893, when a smaller previous brewery building was torn down, with the exception of a small two-story building facing Fletcher Street. The smaller building, probably built about 1885, was used as an office, and earlier as a bottling facility for Kagebein & Folstaff. All the buildings in the complex are of common brick on all facades, with face brick used as a decorative element on the primary north facade.

The architect for Best Brewery was Oscar Beyer of Milwaukee, who carried through the design of the earlier building in type and variation of brick and in stylistic features. The primary buildings are (1) a six-story Brew House with a seven-story tower, (2) a five-story Machine House, and (3) a two-story Boiler House, in addition to (4) the earlier two-story building, which served as offices throughout the life of Best Brewery. The first two floors of the Brew House and Machine House, and the two-story Boiler House, carry through the office structure cornice line, with a belt course and similar fenestration pattern, featuring arched openings on the Boiler House similar to those on the office structure. The crenellated cornice of the office structure was, in fact, carried across to the Brew House, forming an opening from Fletcher Street into the courtyard. While entrances existed into each of the houses on the north facade, Mr. Hasterlik, son of one of the original founding brothers and subsequently president of the Best Brewing Company, recalls that workers entered the plant through that opening and into a side door off the courtyard. The openings on the first two floors are two stories tall, with second story transoms above the windows or doors. On the Brew House and Machine House, these are trabeated, set under the belt course and in sets between face brick pilasters.

These primary buildings present an interesting and varied facade with red face brick embellishments offering decorative contrast to the pale common brick. The lines are further enhanced with a limestone building base and belt courses. Between the face brick pilasters, windows are in sets of two. A few remaining original windows and an historical photograph indicate that the windows were six over six lights. On the lower floors of the Brew and Machine Houses, all windows are trabeated, but the windows at the top floor of each section (fifth, sixth and seventh floors) are triple windows featuring segmental Romanesque arches. At the cornice, a limestone course is supported by ecorbeling, forming brackets. This pattern of decoration, detailing, and fenestration is carried around the corner of the building two bays on the west side, which face into the courtyard.

The seven-story tower portion of the Brew House (all breweries from this era featured a tower) was actually a silo for storage of barley. In earlier days, a conveyor carried it from horse drawn wagons into the upper floors, but later, a pneumatic system inhaled the grain directly from railroad cars. In the Brew House, the grain was ground into mash tubs and from there was boiled with the hops and then cooled. The Machine House housed the ice machines, air compressors, and generators, plus a tool room where repairs were made to equipment. The Boiler House contained equipment to heat the plant, plus two 500 horse powered boilers to generate heat for boiling the beer.

On the office building to the west, first and second floors are clearly divided with a wide limestone spandrel between the trabeated openings below and the arched windows above. The arches are articulated with a face brick belt course outlining and connecting them. The Boiler House features narrower spandrels within each opening only, separating the second story arched openings as if they were transoms. On the west end of the office building, a third bay appears to have been added some time after the original building. The limestone spandrel is not continued through this portion, and it does not have windows and other brick details on the second story. It is constructed of the same combination of light common brick with a face brick pilaster.

According to Mr. Hasterlik and substantiated by an historical photograph dating from the 1890's, the accessory buildings were built at the same time as or very shortly after the main buildings. The only exception is a two-story section on the southwest, which was built in the 1940's, and a garage building adjacent to that, and probably built about the same time. The accessory buildings are very plain, all of common brick with few plain, double hung windows. They housed various functions over the years. The three-story section to the south of the Brew House was used as the loading area, where grain and other supplies were brought in, and beer was loaded for sale. The large six-story building south of the Machine and Boiler Houses was the cellar house, where beer was fermented and then aged in huge storage tanks. This building has only a few windows on the north elevation, which at one time was graced with a large sign. The east elevation, which is more exposed to the street, had several tiers of windows, some of which were closed in over the years. The lower buildings on the south and west of the property line were also used for storage. Originally, the stables were along the west boundary of the property, further enclosing the courtyard/loading dock area. They have since been demolished.

With the necessity of adapting to Prohibition functions and the changing technology of brewing, some alterations were made to the buildings over the years. On the interior, this has resulted in the removal of equipment so that remaining spaces are large empty rooms used for storage. On the exterior, changes have primarily entailed the closing up of windows and door openings, though the original openings themselves on the primary facade remain clearly delineated, and those on secondary facades are discernible.

The corbelled cornice connecting the office structure to the Brew House over the opening into the courtyard has been removed, as has the similarly designed corbelled cornice which at o ne time graced the Boiler House. At the southeast corner of the Boiler House, the tall chimney stack once towered above the buildings at 175 feet, but has since been removed due to deterioration. Otherwise, the form, structure, and details of the brewery remain.

Best Brewing Company of Chicago - Best Brewery, Chicago Illinois