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Berghoff Buildings

2010 March 9
by Caroline Nye Stevens

CNS 2010

15 West and 27 West Adams St.

There’s a common misconception that after the Great Chicago Fire the city rose up out of the ashes like a phoenix as the architectural center of the country. It’s true that Chicago was rebuilt in record time, but there were two periods of rebuilding in the twenty years that followed the fire in 1871, and during the first few strides were made in the field of architecture. It wasn’t until the second period that Chicago took the stage at the forefront of American architecture. The Berghoff buildings, completed in 1872, one year after the fire, are examples of this first period of pre-fire style architecture.

Most structures built immediately following the fire looked just like the Berghoff buildings, though few survive today. The Berghoff was designed in the classical Italianate style. Built brick upon brick — they’re masonry load-bearing buildings which is reflected in their unimpressive height of just three to four stories. 27 West Adams features a cast-iron front. These facades had become popular in Chicago because of how easy and economical they were to make. They were pre-cast and delivered to Chicago by train and ready to go. Unfortunately iron is not completely fire-proof. In the Great Chicago Fire similar iron facades melted down the streets. Though the Berghoff buildings were clearly not meeting the needs of Chicago at the time (they were not tall enough, or completely fireproofed), their shortfalls are what make the buildings so important in our architectural landscape today. These buildings are a rare insight into what Chicago looked like before and immediately after the fire: an architectural style that was soon engulfed by the skyscrapers for which Chicago is now famous.

CNS 2010

The buildings weren’t always connected as they are today. 15 West Adams (architect unknown) was originally home to a mutual insurance agency called the National Union. 27 West Adams (designed by C.M Palmer for Potter Palmer – of no relation) housed an array of vendors such as a bakery, butcher and schnitzel area. The Berghoffs didn’t move in until 1913 (first into 15 W. Adams and later expanding to 27 W. Adams), but they had been a presence in Chicago as far back as 1893, serving their beer at the World’s Columbian Exposition with great success. They sold the beer for 5 cents a glass with a complimentary sandwich. The Berghoff brothers continued to prosper offering the same deal when they moved to Adams Street. ┬áThe bar was popular among everyone for decades — that is, everyone but women who weren’t allowed in the bar until November of 1969 (making the Berghoff the last “men’s only” bar in the city). The Berghoff does hold onto one piece of history to be proud of though. In anticipation of the end of Prohibition, on April 7th of 1933, the Berghoff’s were first in line at city hall to receive “Liquor License No. 1”. On that day the exuberant men of Chicago consumed 50 barrels of beer at the Berghoff.


The Berghoff bar and restaurant is still a popular Chicago attraction today, and their beer gets my mark of approval. Check out their website here.

7 Responses
  1. Rick permalink
    March 9, 2010

    Wonderful picture of the Berghoff in the reflected light!

  2. Charlotte permalink
    March 9, 2010

    I second the comment about the picture–I love it!

  3. carlynberghoff permalink
    March 9, 2010

    Love the article. Thanks!

  4. Daphne permalink
    March 9, 2010

    Your website is so informative. I love it. Makes me want to come to Chicago and look around.

  5. March 10, 2010

    Awesome picture. Well done.

  6. March 15, 2010

    Caroline, I was in the Loop today and purposely went by these buildings to check them out, so thanks for writing about them. On 15W, on the upper floors, the center facade is different from the sides. Do you know if that is a recent renovation?

  7. March 15, 2010

    Frances, I have to admit that I do not know why the central facade is smooth and the sides are rusticated. Seeing that the windows of the central portion (which appear to be original) are also different from those on either side, it leads me to assume that the middle section has always been a little different. My guess is that it was an aesthetic decision to add a little variety to the building – notice that despite this it maintains symmetry. When I next go downtown I will give the buildings a closer look to see if I can shed any more light on this.

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