The DNAinfo archives brought to you by WNYC.
Read the press release here.

Historic Facade of Burned Second City Building Could Be Restored: Alderman

By Mina Bloom | September 4, 2015 6:39am
 Firefighters battle the blaze that destroyed Second City's offices within the historical Queen Anne-style building.
Firefighters battle the blaze that destroyed Second City's offices within the historical Queen Anne-style building.
View Full Caption
DNAinfo/Mina Bloom

OLD TOWN —  Though Second City's offices were damaged beyond repair in a recent extra-alarm fire, the exterior of the building — which is the last remaining piece of Piper's Alley as it was known in the '60s — appears to be salvageable, advocates say.

Ald. Brian Hopkins (2nd), along with more than a hundred onlookers, watched firefighters battle the extra-alarm fire Aug. 26 that started as a grease fire in Adobo Grill, 1610 N. Wells St., and ripped through Second City's offices, burning them beyond repair.

"Anyone who watched that fire knew how devastating it was. This was a 3-11 alarm fire. Those are very rare in Chicago. By and large, 3-11 alarm fires typically destroy a structure," the alderman said.

But it did not destroy the entire building.

While the interiors and the framework must be completely rebuilt, the facade of the building appears salvageable, Hopkins said.

"We now have the indication that, yes, it would be possible" to save the facade, said Hopkins, who spoke to the property owner, Thomas Tully, the day of the fire. Tully didn't respond to multiple messages seeking comment.

The building, which dates to the 1880s, is regarded as historically significant and can't be demolished without an evaluation or delay period under a special ordinance that protects old buildings.

Hopkins said he's been in touch with the city's landmarks division to help further protect the Queen Anne-style building, which is topped with a small turret.

"This is a building that was loved by the Old Town community. People still talk about the original restaurant That Steak Joynt, [which] was very popular in the 1970s. Many people believe it's haunted. It has a long narrative history that has been passed down by generations of Old Town residents," Hopkins said.

Originally, the building was home to Piper's Bakery, which was considered a "real staple for many, many years," according to Ward Miller, who runs Preservation Chicago.

According to an old Tribune article, the bakery was regarded as "one of the biggest and best in Chicago."

After Piper's Bakery closed, That Steak Joynt moved in, and some websites speculate it was haunted.

In 1965, when a collection of counter-culture, art-focused shops and tiny boutiques known as Piper's Alley were built, the building became the "official gateway of Piper's Alley," Miller said.

The northwest corner of West North Avenue and North Wells Street on Aug. 5. 1971. View includes the Piper's Bakery building. [Chicago History Museum]

"Piper's Alley was a resourceful series of artists and entrepreneurs coming together and making it a handmade, commercial niche. Tourists, hippies, counter-culture residents, artists all hung out there," he said. "The building was so much a part of that."

According to Miller, a series of fires and code issues over the years led to the closure of the shops, which sold everything from hand-blown glass items to wigs and records.

Today, Piper's Alley is a modern complex that houses Second City's three theaters's — which were spared from the fire — as well as fire-damaged Adobo Grill, a Starbucks and an XSport Fitness, among other retailers and restaurants.

All that remains of Piper's Alley — as it was known in the '60s — is the Piper's Bakery building, Miller said.

"I think that's why it's really important for this building to remain," he said.

Based on pictures of the fire damage, Miller said he too believes the facade of the building can be saved.

The fate of the building, however, lies in Tully's hands, Hopkins said.

"Whether it can happen or not, it will be up to the owner. He will have to work through the process of dealing with the insurance adjusters. All I can do as alderman is stand by and offer my support to rebuild," the alderman said.

For more neighborhood news, listen to DNAinfo Radio here: