In the early 1900’s, Chicago was known for more than the Chicago stockyards. It was also home to the Cribben and Sexton Company, one of the largest cast iron stove manufacturers in the country, co-founded by a famous Chicagoan. James Sexton was a civil war hero and was appointed the Postmaster of Chicago by U.S. President Benjamin Harrison, a post he held for five years after the war. The landmark high school (#251 on the official Chicago Historical Landmark list) at 160 W. Wendell, built in 1882, was named after him.
The company was started in 1873, but in 1903 they underwent a successful expansion to a new manufacturing campus, including an office building and a manufacturing building, connected by underground tunnels and sitting on eight acres at Chicago Ave. and Sacramento Blvd. The company employed thousands of people for over 65 years, including during World War II, when they shifted production to make artillery shells. The company closed in 1965, and the buildings were split up and sold off to several companies.
The next 35 years would not be kind to the former state of the art manufacturing and office complex. The office building fell into disrepair but was rescued from the wrecking ball in 1999 by attorney Greg Gienko and Randy Kuhn, owner of Windward Roofing and Construction Company, for what was seen as an ambitious and risky rehabilitation project. And then something miraculous happened. The campus was recycled. Re- purposed. Reborn.
A ten-year construction project resulted in turning the dilapidated 200,000 square-foot office building into a modern, loft office building, where you can park for free, ride a bicycle, or walk to work, similar to a European city. Part of the appeal is the rent; it is half of what it is in other parts of the city. Called “The Universal Stove Building”, the tenant list includes a large federal government agency, a graphic design studio, a medical device company, an environmental testing company, an industrial design firm, a non-for profit assistance organization, and a health food bakery.
In 2009, the manufacturing building (which was used to make metal office furniture until 2009) was bought by Chicago entrepreneur Jay Goltz, owner of Artists Frame Service, Bella Moulding, Jayson Home, and Chicago Art Source. He needed a more space for his large custom framing business, and to distribute his line of imported frame moulding. He also needed warehousing for his growing furniture and home accessory store. About 50 people are employed in the building, with plans to add more. Jay has also purchased several cast iron stoves, built in the original Cribbon and Sexton factory, and they are on display to give employees and visitors a tangible link to the building’s proud past.
The campus that was once a showcase for the manufacturing prowess of old Chicago is now a showcase for the new Chicago: manufacturing, warehousing, distribution, studios, and offices, all located near affordable housing and transportation, just 10 minutes from the loop. Chicago works again, better than ever.