Chicago Varnish Company Building

55 W Kinzie St Chicago

Architectural Gems/Chicago Varnish Company Building
Chicago Scene
Written By Chicago Scene

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The company’s headquarters, built in 1895, is a rare example of Dutch Renaissance Revival-style architecture, at least, in Chicago. This style is characterized by stepped gables on the roof and the use of highly contrasting red bricks and light stone as building materials.

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The architect was the nationally well-known Henry Ives Cobb, whose other works include the original University of Chicago buildings, the Newberry Library, and the former Chicago Historical Society Building. The building is listed on the National Register of Historic Places and as a Chicago Landmark since 2001. After extensive renovations to the building, which included replacing the roof, which is made of clay tiles, and rebuilding the stepped parapets, a Harry Caray’s Italian Steakhouse opened in the building in 1987. Long before that, though, Frank Nitti, a member of Al Capone’s gang, lived on the fourth floor of the building with his wife, whose family owned the building at the time. In 1998, a hidden room was discovered in the basement that was used during the Prohibition era and as a passageway to Chicago’s underground tunnel system. It was used by Nitti and his affiliates to come and go without being seen. The room, which included many possessions from Nitti's crime life, is now known as Nitti's Vault.

It was a good place for Nitti to hide as you can see the courthouse out his window. Some say the mobster, who killed himself in 1943, haunts the place wearing his fedora. Others have said Harry Caray's ghost does as well.

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