Oscar Steffens House

From HistoryWiki

The “Other” Bach House

By Hank Morris

The Emil Bach House we’re all familiar with is found at 7415 N. Sheridan Road. A masterpiece from none other than Frank Lloyd Wright (1867 – 1959), this house is so popular that approximately 2,200 people waited in line, for sometimes as long as an hour, during openhousechicago 2011 to have a chance to see it. It is truly one of the most popular attractions in Rogers Park.

What about the OTHER Bach House?

While it’s “officially” known as the Oscar M. and Katherine B. Steffens Residence, 7631 N. Sheridan Road (built in 1909), Oscar and Katherine only lived there for about three years. The house was purchased by Emil Bach’s brother, Otto.

As a result of the many visits to his brother's Wright designed home, Emil Bach had to have one of his own. He purchased a lot just two blocks south of his brother's home at 7415 N. Sheridan Road. In 1915, Wright designed the Emil Bach House. In fact, it was only after visiting Otto in his Wright house many times that Emil was convinced to approach Frank Lloyd Wright to design a house for his family.

Why haven’t we heard about the Second Bach House?

For one reason, the building was demolished 50 years ago in March 1963, so it could be replaced by a five-story apartment building designed by O.W. Howell Enterprises, 4828 Main Street, Skokie, that spring.

The Oscar Steffens House

Sadly, very little information is available about the Steffens or their Frank Lloyd Wright home. According to Cook County records, the property was purchased by a Mrs. Katherine B. Steffens in August 1908. There is no indication why her husband, Oscar M. Steffens, was not included on the deed, but, he wasn’t.

Oscar Steffens was a wealthy business man and, in 1907, was an incorporator and vice president of the Illinois Granite Brick Co., a manufacturer of a sand lime bricks. (Otto Bach was also a manufacturer of bricks. Coincidence?) It seems that the plant for Illinois Granite Brick Company was built in Michigan City, Indiana. So, maybe Oscar moved there to be closer to his business? (A guess-nobody knows!)

Many classic Prairie styled features were part of the Steffens' home. Broad overhangs, shallow hipped roof, central fireplace and rows of second story clerestory windows cement stereotypical prairie features. Like the Walter Davidson House (1908), Isabel Roberts and Frank Baker Home (1909), the Steffens also included a one and a half story living room. But unlike the first three homes where the living room windows extended to the roofline, the Steffens living room windows stopped short and fell in line with the base of the upper clerestory windows.

The big question is, since Oscar was a brick maker, why wasn’t his wood-frame house made out of brick?

The Bachs

William and Katharina Bach packed up their family and emigrated from Plochingen, Wurttemberg, Germany to Chicago in 1881. Numbering among their six sons were Otto Carl and Emil.

Otto Carl Bach was born in Plochingen on January 18, 1872. He married Louise Cora Gatter, of Evanston, Illinois, on January 17, 1907, and they had four children: Otto Carl, Jr., Robert William, Marjorie L., and Paula Jean.

Otto began his career working for father, William, a brick manufacturer, in 1886. He became a stockholder of the reorganized firm of William Bach & Sons Company in 1900. The company continued under that name until the retirement of William, in 1905, when Otto, Emil, and the other four brothers renamed it the Bach Brick Company, 2647 W. Montrose Blvd. Otto was listed as the secretary of the company.

Otto and his family moved out of the Steffens House in the early 1920s.

The King’s Arms Restaurant

On October 7, 1932, at 60 years of age, Otto Carl Bach passed away, after living in his Wright-designed home for twenty years. For reasons unrecorded, Louise moved out of home after her husband’s death, but retained ownership. She rented the home for the next thirty years to the King's Arms Restaurant. Sadly, the restaurant abused what was once was a beautifully designed Frank Lloyd Wright home. When Louise Bach passed away, the home went to Otto C. Bach, Jr. in December 1960. He continued to rent the property to the restaurant, but when approached by a developer, and with no real ties to the home, he sold it to O.W. Howell Enterprises in January 1963. Howell proceeded to demolish the structure.

All that survived were a few of the windows. As legend has it, on April 6, 1963, Richard Nickel, the Chicago-born photographer was arrested for "saving" some Frank Lloyd Wright windows from the Oscar Steffens house, which was under demolition. The charges were dropped. According to Thomas Heinz others ended up installed in the Arkansas vacation home of a Chicago architect. Today, a nondescript apartment complex is located where the magnificent Steffens Residence once stood.