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Tuesday, May 21

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The Dewes mansion at 503 W. Wrightwood is often derided by more discerning architectural critics. The AIA Guide to Chicago refers to it as the "Prussian confection" while others kindly call it "eclectic."

But despite its apparent lack of decorative clarity, the building is impressive. Walk past the mansion and you may experience the odd sensation of thinking you have left Chicago and suddenly been transported to Munich or Berlin.

Architects Adolph Cudell and Arthur Hercz designed the Dewes mansion, and it was completed in 1896. Hercz was originally from Hungary, and Cudell was no stranger to building grand residences for Chicago's wealthy elite. In 1879 Cudell also designed the Rush Street mansion of prominent businessman Cyrus Hall McCormick.

The Dewes mansion was built for Francis J. Dewes, a brewer. Dewes was born in Prusia in 1845, the son of a brewer and member of the German parliament. In 1868 Francis Dewes emigrated to Chicago and found employment as a bookkeeper for established brewing companies such as Rehm and Bartholomae and the Busch and Brand Brewing Company. He rose through the ranks, and in 1882 he founded his own successful brewing firm. His mansion was built to reflect his own Prussian background and European tastes.

Taken as a whole, the building is an unusual example of a German inspired style, influenced by the neo-Baroque architecture of Ecole des Beaux-Arts in Paris at the end of the nineteenth century. The exterior of this lavish gray-stone is decorated with carved stonework and ornamental cornices and lintels. The entrance to the mansion is flanked by caryatids, tall female figures acting as columns, supporting a balcony over the doorway. At night the entrance is illuminated by floodlights, adding to the impression that you have stumbled upon a European embassy.

Inside, the mansion is a virtual catalogue of European architectural styles. German Gothic Revival competes with Rococo and neo-Baroque motifs. Each room is more grandiose than the last.

Francis J. Dewes lived in the mansion until his death near the end of World War I. Afterwards, the building served for a time as the headquarters of the Swedish Engineers Society of Chicago. But today the Dewes mansion is a special events venue, available to rent out for lavish weddings and the types of parties you and I don't get invited to. You can take a virtual peek inside, however, at the mansion's website. The building retains much of its original splendor, providing a rare glimpse into how the other half lived in Chicago over a century ago.

Resources

Drury, John. Old Chicago Houses. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1941.

Sinkevitch, Alice, ed. AIA Guide to Chicago. 2nd ed. Orlando: Harcourt, 2004.

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About the Author(s)

Alice Maggio is a real, live Chicago librarian. If you have topic ideas or questions you would like answered, send your suggestions to and it may be featured in a future column.

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