A Concerted Effort – An Encore in Chicago

Once home to one of Chicago’s foremost piano companies, The Bush Temple is now a modernist apartment complex in the Windy City’s River North neighborhood. Originally known as The Bush Temple of Music, it was built in 1901 as the headquarters and showroom of the Bush and Gerts Piano Company. Stately chateau-like architecture recalls an era when Chicago was the world’s leading piano manufacturing center during the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

Heather Fritz, creative and marketing director for the developer CEDARst, was closely involved in the restoration as the interior designer of this impressive six-story structure. “The building was designed by J.E.O Pridmore, an architect who lived in Chicago and is well-known for his theater designs, many of which have since been demolished. It was designated a Chicago Landmark in 2001 for its unique French Renaissance Revival exterior and its historical significance. It is one of very view examples of this type of architecture left in the city.”

Fritz was inspired by the musical origins of the Bush Temple, so much so that she incorporated a few telling details in the design. “A building’s history is always my starting point when designing the space,” she said. “There are many homages to its former use as a piano showroom. Three upright pianos grace the lobby, a Bush and Gerts model of course, plus one found at a former project, and one that is in use for entertaining residents and the community on the small lobby stage. Sheet music from the turn of the century adorns the walls of this stage and can be found in a few other areas of the building. Several early 1900’s piano stools were used throughout the lobby as seats and side tables.”

CEDARst infused the building with design elements in keeping with the vintage nature of the structure, Fritz noted. “We think of our buildings as little art galleries with the lobbies being open to the public, and on this project I used historic photographs that include the original Bush Temple of Music exterior, a balloon race taken at the White City – a fixture of the South side of Chicago- as well as construction of the Ferris wheel at Navy Pier. These photographs give context for what life was like in Chicago in this era, and serves as a point of reference for today.”

When exploring different parts of the former showroom before it was renovated, Fritz discovered antique furniture that she re-purposed for the main lobby. “There are nine different chairs throughout the lobby that I found in the building and reupholstered for this space. They are of a demure size that is no longer really made today; it creates a few cozy little spots that speak to a different time.” She also found an original blueprint in the building that is framed to accentuate the tattered edges and torn bits highlighting its age.

Another grace note in the lobby is a fascinating piano display, Fritz said. “One of the pianos was found at another project, which I took the cover off of and enclosed in glass to show the interesting inner workings of a piano, a nod to the original factory showroom.”

Careful attention was also paid to restoring the ornate facade, Fritz explained. “Cleaning and repairing the exterior terra cotta and ornamental urns brought it back to life; it truly shines now and stands out among all the towers it is surrounded by. This building was being used as office when we bought it, so demo-ing the drop ceilings and tearing out carpet transformed it even before the real work began. Restoring existing details is always my favorite transformation to see. Cleaning, polishing and repairing the various stone surfaces preserves and highlights the history of the building. I intentionally don’t like to hide cracks and gaps; I want that history to show.”

The building’s timeless character has been retained as much as possible to include existing design elements like bay windows edged in original moldings, decorative terrazzo floors, and ceiling heights that follow the lines of the mansard roof. Textured Floralite glass in the hallways was preserved in the corridors, and the back stairwell is enhanced by decorative iron lattice work. Marble tile walls, terrazzo flooring and two original skylights were refreshed in the lobby along with vintage schoolhouse light fixtures. “We also kept the old office directory which now lists everyone who was involved in the project from CEDARst staff to electricians and plumbers,” Fritz said.

Decidedly 21st century amenities at The Bush Temple include Smeg retro-style refrigerators, in-unit laundry, keyless entries, Wi-Fi, a rooftop lounge, coffee shop, bike room and boxing club.

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