News / 8.13.15

Throwback Thursday - Sprague Warner & Company

Massive office and grocery distribution center featuring an iconic Art Deco Tower

This week our Epstein Throwback Thursday trip takes us back to January 1941 for the opening of the massive 500,000 square foot office and grocery distribution center for Sprague Warner & Company in Chicago, Illinois. This facility, located at 501 N. Sacramento Boulevard and occupying an entire block between Franklin Boulevard and Chicago Avenue, featured a dramatic Art Deco tower clad in stone at the northeast corner of Franklin and Sacramento. The office entrance was located in a one-story streamlined Art Moderne structure featuring red brick and stone façade which was located at the north end of the building. The distribution portion of the building featured wood roof truss construction with dramatic skylights providing amble natural light to the space as well as internal rail docks allowing for distribution of goods via trains.

Sprague Warner & Company descended from a Chicago grocery store on State Street, founded during the Civil War. By 1910 it had grown into one of the country's largest wholesale grocery concerns, famous for such house brands as "Richelieu" and "Batavia." Shortly after this Epstein-designed and engineered facility opened, Sprague was acquired by Nathan Cummings, the Canadian-born owner of C. D. Kenny Co., a large grocery enterprise based in Baltimore. The new Chicago-based company, at first called Sprague Warner-Kenny Corp. would then change its name again in 1945 to Consolidated Grocers. And eventually Consolidated would become Sara Lee after Consolidated purchased the Kitchens of Sara Lee in 1956. (How's that for Chicago-area grocery/food industry trivia?)

This facility would operate under the Sprague/Consolidated name until the 60s when Sara Lee opened a massive production/distribution center in Deerfield, a facility BTW that Epstein designed and engineered as well! When Sprague/Consolidated vacated the building in the 1960s various tenants, including Kraft Foods and a manufacturer of industrial fans and blowers called the Lakewood Fan Company occupied the facility.

Lakewood left in 2009 after declaring bankruptcy and this building has remained vacant since. But the good news is that it still stands, has been surveyed for consideration/inclusion as a Chicago Landmark and is currently on the market waiting for its next occupier. So if any of our faithful Throwback Thursday readers have any friends looking for a large, fixer-upper with some significant architectural flare - please give them the heads-up on this industrial gem!