340-354 N. Milwaukee Avenue - Public Service Building
The Public Service Building, designed by architect H.V. von Holst and dedicated in 1928, is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Conceived by Samuel Insull as a showcase for advancements in electric light and modern appliances sold by his Public Service Co., it is an unusual example of the Eclectic movement combining elements of Old English, Moorish and Asian design.
Backstory and Context
November 17, 1928 marked the official opening of the Public Service Building, located on the southeast corner of Church Street and Milwaukee Avenue. The building was commissioned by Samuel Insull as a showcase for his Public Service Company utility company. The building was designed by architect Hermann Valentin Von Holst, a noted Prairie School architect of the day. Von Holst had completed other electrical company building designs for Insull before being selected for the Public Service Building. He was also the architect of the original Condell Memorial Hospital building, another project with an Insull connection. Von Holst had the added cache of being the supervisor of Frank Lloyd Wright’s practice after Wright eloped to Europe with Martha (Mamah) Borthwick Cheney under a cloud of scandal.
Ground was broken in May of 1928 by contractor Ted Vanderwerff. The work was completed six months later. The smallest decorative elements such as light fixtures and clocks were designed according to the architect's plans. An open arcade from Milwaukee Avenue provided access to a landscaped courtyard with a sunken garden and lighted fountain on the east side of the building. The grand opening was quite a spectacle, with local Boy Scout troops acting as tour guides and young ladies handing out souvenir roses and cigars to thousands of curious people.
At street level, Insull’s Public Service Company operated a showroom which featured a miniature model kitchen where "the housewife can see the various electrical appliances in actual use." (Lake County Register, 11-17-1928) The Libertyville Trust and Savings Bank and retail stores also shared the first floor while the second floor included business offices and kitchenette apartments. Original tenants included The Frock Shop, National Tea Co., Model Cash Market, Lindroth’s Millinery, Countryside Motors and Harry Taylor’s Drugstore. (Taylor’s drug store would later become Wilson’s and then Luebbers. Marlon Brando was known to frequent the Taylor’s Drugstore soda fountain during his high school years in Libertyville.)
Insull suffered financial ruin in the aftermath of the stock market crash of 1929 and never recovered. The Public Service Building site was not well maintained after Insull's holdings were distributed. In the mid-1940s, Charles Penikoff purchased the building and promised to restore it, but the plans never came to fruition. No major renovations occurred until tenant Libertyville Savings and Loan purchased the building in the early 1950s. The new owners modernized the commercial block. The arcade was closed off to provide space for a beauty shop and the courtyard and fountain were removed. A marble façade replaced the cut-stone around the main entry. Interior decoration by Margaret Dall of the Dall House Studios of Libertyville, featured wall to wall carpeting, marble and oak surfaces, and paneled and wallpapered walls. The bank celebrated the interior and exterior remodeling with a grand opening in late October 1955.
In 1982, a restoration was undertaken to bring much of the building back to its former glory. The original Von Holst drawing guided the restoration plans conceived by architect Daniel K. Bleck. Dale Vanderwerff, the grandson of the original contractor, completed the job, to much acclaim. The Public Service Building was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1983.
“Saving & Loan Association Holding Open House in New Location”, Libertyville News October 20, 1955.
Jim Newton, “Libertyville S&L Ex-Board Members Deny Charges”, The News-Sun, September 20, 1990.
Gagen, Karen. “Restoring Granddad’s ‘Fine Work’”, The News-Sun, March 12, 1991.
Rafferty, Kelly P. “Public Service Building, Libertyville Illinois.” June, 1983. University of Illinois Graduate School of Architecture, student paper.
Dretske, Diana. “Waukegan Power Plant.” Lake County, Illinois History, Blogspot, March 1, 2010, http://lakecountyhistory.blogspot.com/2010/03/
Public Service Building, 340-354 N. Milwaukee Avenue. Idaillinois.org. Illinois Digital Archives. Accessed July 15, 2020.
“Federal Savings and Loan Open House Oct. 21-27.” Independent Register, October 20, 1955, p.1.
“$65,000 Deposited at Grand Opening.” Independent Register, October 27, 1955, p.2.
“Public Service Building to Be Improved.” Independent Register, July 5, 1945, p.1.
“Public Service Company Will Dedicate Beautiful New Building Saturday.” Lake County Register, November 17, 1928, p.1.
Manson, Peter. “Brando.” New York: Hyperion, 1994.
Village of Libertyville. HistoricLibertyville.com
Libertyville Independent, November 15, 1928, p.1.
Courtesy of Jim Moran
Libertyville-Mundelein Historical Society. Cizek Collection.
Libertyville-Mundelein Historical Society. Slides collection.
Libertyville-Mundelein Historical Society. Libertyville Township Assessor collection.