Peter Emmel was born in Frankfurt, Germany in (it is believed) 1831, arrived in Buffalo at the age of 16 (1847) and then finally moved to Chicago in 1854, settling in a predominantly German neighboorhood. While in Buffalo, he became involved in the trade of artistic decorating. Consequently, he set up his first business in Chicago in 1855, working as a painter and interior decorator (mostly as a painter). With an influx of Germans arriving into the neighboorhood during that time, many of whom existed among the middle and upper classes, Emmel enjoyed no shortage of work opportunities -- his business performed well.
The Great Chicago Fire of 1871 damaged Emmel's business. Nevertheless, in the wake of that fire, he built the now historic home in 1875. Emmel operated his business out of the first floor while his family and he occupied the top two floors, a design known as a store and flat. Though many existed in Chicago in the late 19th century, Emmel's flair for design, his money, and the location of his house amidst many of Chicago's prosperous residents meant that his store and flat exhibited greater elegance than many simplified versions located in the city. The Emmel building included stone Italianate structure, richly detailed stone and brick exterior, a projecting metal cornice, and a gable bearing the name P. Emmel.