Reebie Storage Warehouse
2325 N. Clark St.
There are some Egyptian Revival buildings in the country, but not a lot. There are far fewer Academic Egyptian Revival buildings. The Reebie Storage Warehouse fits into the category of the latter – it’s one of the best. And it is definitely the most impressive in Chicago. To clarify . . .
Egyptology was all the rage in the early 20th century, particularly after the discovery of Tutankhamen’s tomb in 1922. One effect this had was seen in the popularization of Egyptian Revival architecture across the United States. However, not all of the buildings were equals in terms of being historically accurate. Some buildings fit into the category of Egyptian Revival, and some Academic Egyptian Revival. Egyptian Revival architecture was much more common, and though it had many Egyptian-like elements, it lacked a sensibility to Egypt’s history. Instead they were “picturesque” – which is lovely, but not necessarily accurate. Academic Egyptian Revival architecture was historically accurate. And The Reebie Storage Warehouse is one the country’s finest examples of Academic Egyptian Revival architecture.
The warehouse was based on two ancient Egyptian temples: Dendera and Edfu, both of which date back to the reign of Pharaoh Ramses II (around 200 BCE). The columns on the Reebie building are replicas of columns at the Temple Horus at Edfu. The ornamentation on them is symbolic of the unity of Ancient Egypt through the depiction of the bundled lotus flower which represents Upper Egypt, and the water lily representing Lower Egypt. On either side of the building’s entrance is a statue of Ramses II, representing the two Reebie brothers: William and John. Beneath the two statues are William and John’s names written in the hieroglyphic equivalent of their phonetic spellings. Two other hieroglyphic inscriptions read “I have protection upon your furniture and all sealed things” and “I have guarded all your property every day warding off devouring flames, likewise robbery.” All of the ornamental drawings for the Reebie warehouse were reviewed for accuracy by both the Field Museum and Art Institute prior to their implementation.
What interested me initially about the building had nothing to do with its historical accuracy. I just learned about that element of the building recently. Instead, I was struck by the brilliant artistry of the terra-cotta and the Egyptian theme. The terra-cotta ornamentation was designed by the sculptor Fritz Albert. As the supervisor and chief sculptor for the Northwestern Terra Cotta Company (the largest manufacturer in the country), he also oversaw the terra-cotta modeling for the Wrigley, Civic Opera, Merchandise Mart and Carbide and Carbon buildings. George S. Kingsley was the architect of the Reebie building which was completed in 1922. He designed many storage buildings in Chicago in various Revival styles, though the Reebie building was the most prominent.
The Reebie Storage and Moving Company was founded in 1880 by William Reebie who was later joined by his brother John. It still operates out of the building to this day, and they continue to use the head of the Sphinx in their logo. I think that their early advertising slogan sums up the story of the Reebie building pretty well: “If old King Tut were alive today he’d store his things the Reebie way!”
For additional information on the Reebie Storage and Moving Company check out their website. And for a great article that will direct you to some other Egyptian Revival buildings in Chicago click here. Its author, Heather Plaza-Manning, also writes a fun blog about Egyptomania called Dr. Sphinx’s Blog worth checking out.