The legacy of a humble inventor who preferred to build the American Dream from behind the scenes.
Take a moment to donate to American Urbex: Southern Slide.
An odd Chicagoland building played host to famous faces in its prime, but is now on the verge of demolition. In this episode host Ken Fager takes a look at the history of the Purple Hotel in Lincolnwood, Illinois.
Subscribe to the American Urbex Podcast on iTunes.
The Purple Hotel article on American Urbex
The Purple Hotel set on Flickr
BPDPhotography on Flickr
MikeAdamsPhotos on Flickr
Search for “Purple Hotel” on Flickr
American Urbex Group on Flickr
American Urbex on Facebook
American Urbex on Twitter
Photo: You can’t miss the regal facade of this building driving on Touhy Avenue.
According to one Chicago area native, the construction crew of the 293 room Lincolnwood Hyatt House were supposed to receive a shipment of blue bricks for the building facade. It isn’t clear if a communication or manufacturing error is to blame for the royal purple hue of the bricks, but Hyatt continued construction in spite of the error. Thus, an eccentric Chicago north-side suburb hotspot was born. Although the lodging operated under the Hyatt, Ramada, and Regency banners throughout the years locals colloquially dubbed it “The Purple Hotel.”
Photo: Law books adorn the shelves of TJ’s restaurant connected to the hotel.
In the early the early years the hotel enjoyed a certain level of grandeur. In the 1960’s and 70’s the hotel was a swinging Chicago hotspot. Famous musicians such as Barry Manilow, Roberta Flack, and Perry Como stayed in the hotel when in the Chicago area. The high times came to a screeching halt in 1983 when Teamster Allen Dorfman was murdered in the parking lot. Dorfman had been convicted of conspiring to bribe a US senator and faced up to 55 years in prison. When walking through the parking lot Dorfman was shot eight times with a .22 calibre pistol. FBI wiretaps revealed that the Chicago Mafia may have been connected to the execution style murder. Officials speculate that Dorfman was killed out of fear that he would divulge information from his 30 years of ties with organized crime figures. To date the case is still unsolved and whomever is responsible is still on the loose. The same year the head of Gerber Plumbing, Oscar Gerber, was also murdered at the hotel. A disturbed employee believed he was going to be fired and took Oscar’s life into his own hands.
In 1984 limousine driver George Koehler was standing at O’Hare airport waiting for his fare. After most of the passengers from the flight filed out of the airport Koehler asked the pilots if anyone remained on the plane. The pilots informed Koehler that one more person remained and would be coming shortly. Once the passenger arrived, Koehler ferried the young basketball player who had never been to Chicago before to the purple Lincolnwood Hyatt House. According to ESPN, Koehler and Michael Jordan remain friends to this day.
Photo: Swim at your own risk.
After more than 40 years in operation the hotel was taken over in late 2004 by Village Resorts, Inc., which officially christened the building with its affectionate “The Purple Hotel” moniker. Under new management the hotel boasted of its modernity.
We feature fully renovated and tastefully furnished guest rooms. To ensure that you are completely comfortable, each guest room is spacious and provides a number of amenities to meet the needs of today’s traveler. All rooms have an oversized work desk, two dual-line telephones with data port and voicemail,and state-of-the-art electronic key security system.
Despite efforts to cater to to a certain business clientele, the hotel was synonymous with sleaze. Police were frequently summoned to the hotel for drug and prostitution related offenses. In the May 7, 2008 edition of the Sun-Times the paper notes that the hotel relied on conventions such as the Midwest Fetish Fair & Marketplace for business. The hotel is split into three separate towers and management knowingly tried to segregate known sex parties from the rest of the hotel guests. One news clipping from as far back as 1989 mentions Opposite Sex, Inc. giving several “Meet, Match, Mate” seminars at the hotel.
Village Resorts President Donald Bae positioned Stefanie Bae as hotel manager. In 2005 Stefanie wrote a ringer review for the hotel on the Yahoo! Travel page.
The Purple Hotel had the most friendliest and helpful staff. The food was amazing….and They have a Sunday Brunch that is to DIE for. The rooms were very clean and cozy, excellent value for your money. It is close to everything and they have a sandvolleyball court!!! They have the best steaks in the world!
Grammar and punctuation errors aside, Stefanie may have had a prophetic moment when using the past tense in claiming the “Purple Hotel had the most friendliest and helpful staff.” Acting on complaints by guests, health officials descended upon the hotel in 2006. The inspection led to the discovery of over thirty violations that included a leaking roof, garbage disposal issues, and a failure to exterminate insects and rodents. Of the 293 total guest rooms at the hotel, inspectors sampled 225 for mold. The results did not bode well for Donald Bae as mold was discovered in 208 of these rooms (92.4% of the sample). In September the same year the village of Lincolnwood sued hotel management for failing to fix the myriad of citations. The judge agreed with the village of Lincolnwood and ordered Bae to fix the problems by December. Unable to cover the cost of renovation Bae opted not to fix the issues and in January 2007 a judge ordered the hotel to close. The “most friendliest and helpful staff” suddenly found themselves unemployed.
Photo: The indoor pool is now filled with furniture, glass shards, and dead plants.
Bae attempted to sell the 8.5 acre property in 2008 for the sum of $27 million, but the deal fell through as the real estate market tanked with the economy. In November, 2009 Bae tapped ForeFront Properties LLC to move the site along with two shuttered adjacent commercial properties for $25.8 million. As the property spent months on the real estate market it deteriorated even further. Rather than wait around for Bae on the busy corner of Touhy and North Lincoln Avenue , village officials again took to the courts. If the building is not brought up to code by August 1, 2011 the village has won the right to demolish the purple blemish on their map. The court ruling in Lincolnwood’s favor sticks Bae with the bill for demolition costs. To make matters worse Midwest Bank filed for foreclosure on the property as a $4.2 million loan taken out by Bae has fallen into default. In any case, it looks as though the days for The Purple Hotel are finally numbered.
Photo: One of the hotel rooms with mold growing behind the wallpaper.
Photo: Welcome letter from hotel manager Stefanie Bae.
Photo: Main and lower level maps.
ABC – 2007 article that mentions the murder of Oscar Gerber at the hotel.
Chicago Real Estate Daily – 2010 article on Lincolnwood filing a lawsuit agains the Purple Hotel owner.
Chicago Real Estate Daily – 2011 article on the $4.2 million lawsuit filed against the Purple Hotel owner.
Chicago Tribune – 1989 “Meet, Match, Mate” seminars at the hotel.
Chicago Tribune – 2007 article on the closing of the Purple Hotel.
CityNoise – A walk around photo gallery of the abandoned hotel.
Global Traveler Blog – Claims the purple bricks were a mistake.
Google News – 1983 Milwaukee Journal Sentinel article on the Dorfman killing.
Google News – 1983 Pittsburgh Press article on mob ties to Dorfman killing.
Hotel Planner – Has description of hotel services.
Flickr – Martin Gonzalez’ impressive Purple Hotel set.
Flickr – My photo set of The Purple Hotel.
Skokie Patch – Summarizes history of the hotel and redevelopment efforts.
Sun Times – 2011 article that puts an August 1 demolition date on the hotel unless health code violations are fixed.
Yahoo! Travel – Reviews by guests of the Purple Hotel.
Wikipedia – Lincolnwood entry has a bit of Purple Hotel history.
Wikipedia – Allen Dorfman was killed in the parking lot. The crime remains unsolved.
Photo: Power plant for what was originally the Ingalls-Shepard Forging Co.
In 1910 seasoned manufacturing veterans F.A. Ingalls and Charles C. Shepard partnered to create the Ingalls-Shepard Forging Co. in Harvey, Illinois. Ingalls took up the mantle of President and treasurer, while Shepard acted as Vice President. The company produced a wide range of parts for the burgeoning automobile industry and railroad companies. As the world delved into chaos during the War to End All Wars industrial manufacturers across the United States were pushed to the limits of their operating capacities to great profit. In 1920 the Wyman-Gordon Company out of Worcester, Massachusetts acquired the Ingalls-Shepard Forging Co. and rechristened it as the Ingalls-Shepard Division. The consolidation placed Ingalls as Vice President of Wyman-Gordon, but he would still maintain operational control over the Harvey factory.
Photo (source): Logo from an advertisement for Wyman-Gordon with the Harvey plant on the right.
The Roaring Twenties were a boon for the steel industry. The automobile, which had been a luxury item the previous decade, now entered the American mainstream as mass production made “horseless carriages” accessible to the general public. The automobile may have driven urban development outward, but new architectural technologies drove cities upwards. Skyscrapers demanded strong metal frameworks to withstand environmental punishment. New massive machines such as massive cranes and earth movers were needed to move materials. While skyscrapers penetrated the sky, aeronautic developments of the Great War brought with it the commercialization of airplane travel. Wyman-Gordon produced parts that serviced every one of these industries. At the outset of World War II all large US manufacturers devoted their efforts to defeating the Axis, which Wyman-Gordon used to their industrial advantage. US Army engineers kept on the heels of the front lines to dismantle superior German industrial technology and pass it on to American businesses such as Wyman-Gordon. The Wyman-Gordon company claims to have produced more single parts for the war effort than any of its entirety of its competitors in the industry.
Photo: The equipment is completely rusted over.
Innovation in the aeronautics industry drove Wyman-Gordon business for the next few decades. By the 1960’s the Wyman-Gordon company was recognized as the leading innovator in forging and titanium technologies. The US government contracted with Wyman-Gordon to create parts for the B-52 Stratofortress, the secret SR-71 spy plane, F-14 Tomcat and F-15 Eagle fighter jets. In the civilian market the company produced parts for hundreds of other aircraft. In the 1980’s, however, declining defense expenditures, sagging commercial airline development, and international competition put manufacturers like Wyman-Gordon into commercial distress.
In order to stay operational Wyman-Gordon decided to shutter the Ingalls-Shepard Division in Harvey. The announcement proved devastating as the community had already endured the recent closing of three other major manufacturing employers. The company tried in vain to sell the 780,000 sq. foot facility for over six months, but was unable to find a buyer. The manufacturing of diesel engine crankshafts was moved to the company’s Danville, Illinois plant and special manufacturing to Jackson, Michigan. In 1986 the closing of the Ingalls-Shepard Division took with it 350 jobs from Harvey.
Photo: Massive storage areas several stories tall.
Plans for redevelopment of the 47-acre industrial site revolve around tapping into Harvey’s geographic advantages in transportation. The southern Chicago suburb has three expressways, four national highways, four freight railroads and the Chicago Metra lines running through it. Although a majority of the Ingalls-Shepard Division buildings have been demolished, the Environmental Protection Agency has listed the location as a brownfield in need of cleanup before development can continue. It would seem logical that Wyman-Gordon would be on the hook for cleaning up the site, but that is not the case. With one of the highest unemployment rates in the Chicago area and lowest average household income Harvey cannot afford the up front costs for assessing the property. Compounding an already bad situation is the fact that the total cost of cleanup may exceed the market value of the land once remediated.
All that remains of the Ingalls-Shepard Division is the power plant and a still occupied large building across the street from it. Fences border the entire perimeter of the power plant, but are pried wide open in several areas. The building is about four or fives stories high with an even higher smokestack affixed to the rear. On the inside the factory has been scrapped and everything metal has the patina of decay. The interchangeable fixtures of the heavy machinery are all missing, but the core pieces remain. Coal hoppers, generators, and some dynamos encased in a heavy layer of rust remain. Steel walkways crisscrossing the upper portions are missing large sections and appear quite unsafe for even the most seasoned urban explorer to traverse.
Photo: Some of the steel walkways have large sections missing.
The Ingalls-Shepard Division power plant is a monument to the prosperity once generated in the Harvey. The power plant will most likely loom over the community until the federal government steps in with enough money to remediate the land. In the long run the tax-payers will end up paying for Wyman-Gordon’s mess.
There is still one thing that I have been unable to pin down about this location though. Why was the power plant spared from demolition when the rest of the factory came down? If you have an answer, please leave it in the comments.
ASME (PDF) – Fascinating brochure detailing how US troops captured superior German forging technology during World War II and passed it on to Wyman-Gordon.
Chicago Tribune – 1985 article announcing Wyman-Gordon plans to sell the Ingalls-Shepard Division plant.
Chicago Tribune – 1986 article announcing 350 layoffs from the Wyman-Gordon plant.
Chicago Tribune – 2010 article on the EPA cleanup of the Wyman-Gordon plant.
CNT (PDF) – Document describing a collaborative effort between Harvey and Dixmoor authorities to remediate the site.
EPA – Facility Detail Report by the Environmental Protection Agency.
EPA – 1997 Brownfield Assessment Pilot by the Environmental Protection Agency.
Flickr – My Wyman-Gordon photo set.
Google – Wyman-Gordon company timeline.
Google Books – 1910 Railway Age Gazette article mentions construction of the Ingalls-Shepard Forging Co. building in Harvey, which was acquired in 1919 by Wyman-Gordon.
Google Books – 1917 Electrical Review succinctly explains why electrical furnaces are better than gas fueled ones.
Google Books – 1920 Machinery mention on the merger of Ingalls-Shepard Forging Co. and Wyman-Gordon.
Google Books – 1920 Electrical World mention of an electric heat furnace used at the Ingalls-Shepard Forging Co.
Google Books – 1922 Wyman-Gordon advertisement from the Society of Automotive Engineers that has the Harvey plant pictured.
Flickr – Flickr user reallyboring’s set of the Wyman-Gordon plant.
Funding Universe – Wyman-Gordon company history.
IQMesothelioma – Law firm notice of asbestos and mesothelioma health risks for former workers at the plant.
Photo: One of the entrances to the famous Dixie Square Mall.
After World War II the newly minted American middle class became emboldened by prosperity and moved further away from city centers into suburbs. Larger homes, new automobiles, televisions and all sorts of consumer goods all became part of the conspicuous consumption norm to demonstrate affluence. There is perhaps no greater symbol that expresses American style consumer culture in the suburbs than the shopping mall.
Photo: Main thoroughfare in the Dixie Square Mall.
In 1966 the still under construction Dixie Square Shopping Center in the southern Chicago suburb of Harvey, Illinois opens its doors to those living the American Dream. The $25 million complex opens strong with 50 stores that included Walgreen’s and Jewel. Big name retailers such as JC Penney, Montgomery Ward’s, and Woolworth’s occupy the anchor locations. Dixie Square is quite successful until about 1970 when rapidly changing demographics, a declining tax-revenue base, and plummeting property values in Harvey began put economic pressure on businesses. Throughout the 1970’s the future of Dixie Square is in turmoil despite several renovation attempts to attract new customers. The store population gradually decreases to the point where the big name anchor stores finally move to other locations.
Video: Clip from the making of The Blues Brothers.
The mall closing in November, 1978 proves to be a windfall for producers of “The Blues Brothers.” There is an iconic car chase scene in the film where the main characters played by Jim Belushi and Dan Akroyd attempt to escape the police by driving right through the mall. Once filming wraps up the mall returns to its dormant state.
Frequent break-ins to the shuttered mall lead to vandalism, arson, and theft of anything of value. In 1985 some the structural adornments are removed and expose the interior to the elements. This hastens the spread of water, mold, and structural decay throughout the mall. As the building deteriorates it attracts more criminal gang and drug activity throughout the 1990’s. In 1993 Raymond Eaves lures Denise Shelby into the old JC Penney store before raping and strangling her to death. The courts sentence Eaves to life in prison in October, 1997 for his brutal crimes.
Dixie Square inadvertently attracts a new clientele in the 2000’s when the site is detailed on the internet. Digital cameras make it easier to share photos of the mall on websites dedicated to the exploration of abandoned buildings. Perhaps aided by its movie history the mall became a magnet within urban exploration circles.
Photo: The second floor of JC Penney lies on the first.
The newfound activity may have sparked redevelopment interest in the location, but the faint glimmers of hope are quickly snuffed out. In 2005 the old Montgomery Ward’s building is purchased by American Kitchen Delights. Rather than dispose of the debris properly, the contractors push it out of the building entrances and into the mall. It is then discovered that the debris contained asbestos and all renovation efforts cease. In 2006 the property is sold to developer John Deenen of the Emerald Property Group and security measures are erected. The first buildings to go are the Montgomery Ward’s building and energy facility, but understandably disgruntled United Demolition workers leave the site after not being paid by Deenen. Rather than settle things in the courts Deenen threatens one of the contractors with brass knuckles, a sawed-off shotgun, and pistol. Deenen is quickly arrested for his aggressive confrontation style.
In September, 2010 Illinois Governor Pat Quinn announces that he plans to allocate $4 million dollars in federal funds to the demolition of the Dixie Square Mall. As of April, 2011 there have been no visible signs of demolition other than the unrelenting efforts of time and nature. There is still hope in the Harvey community that something will come of the massive eyesore though. Future plans for the site include… a shopping center.
Photo (ifmuth): The courtyard in front of the JC Penney store.
The urban explorer responsible for writing the Dead Malls article on Dixie Square Mall which became a resource for many urban explorers revisited his thoughts on the subject years later. His observations on the decay of the mall in the broader context of suburb development is stunningly accurate as it is succinct. In a relatively short amount of time suburbs like Harvey spring up around urban centers and have in influx in population growth. The population of a suburb traditionally commutes to work centers located elsewhere. Without a core work center suburbs are generally homogenous and have nothing to distinguish them from the next suburb. As the population grows the suburbs will continue to spring up in other areas. Consumers are typically attracted to new development. In the 1950’s and 60’s Harvey was on the cusp of growth outside of Chicago, but by the 70’s the wave of middle to upper class residents were moving on. Poor urban planning did not give Harvey anything to stand out among the rest of the suburbs and affluent residents had little reason to stay.
Photo: The building seemingly swells to life after a morning shower.
Dixie Square Mall is a fascinating specimen among urbex locations. For over thirty years the building has been exposed to the caustic effects of neglect. In the past decade urban explorers have documented the decline in great detail. Due to the mall’s online presence I had known about Dixie Square Mall for years, but never got around to devoting the time to visit it. This location taught me to capitalize on photographing an urbex location as soon as possible. So much of the flair that I had seen in online galleries is now missing entirely. Despite the advanced decay, I still managed to have a phenomenal exploration. A morning shower seemed to give the massive structure a breath of life. The steel girders moaned with the wind in every store. The broken concrete channelled the water to areas where different types of flora took root. In one area I was startled by two adult Canadian geese and six yellow gosslings.
The vast open retail spaces reminded me of Port Plaza Mall in downtown Green Bay. As a teenager I spent a lot of my youth killing time with friends in the arcade, videogame store, and media stores. Things began to turn in the mid-90’s and the number of stores began to dwindle. What was once a beautiful shopping center began to become an eyesore. Development in the Green Bay suburb of Ashwaubenon exploded and drove business to the expanding Bay Park Square Mall. The Ashwaubenon location of Lambeau Field may have also contributed to Green Bay’s downtown decline as the Packers climbed their way to a Super Bowl victory at the same time. Just like Dixie Square Mall the owners renovated and rebranded Port Plaza Mall to Washington Commons. The effort did not have the intended effect and the mall floundered until closing in 2006.
When I sat down to do this writeup I thought that there would be little for me to say. The Dixie Square Mall has been covered extensively before and I wondered if just posting a few photos and links would be enough to say I checked this one off my list. It is a fine urbex location despite the extensive damage and seemingly void corridors paying homage to the wonders of consumerism.
Atlas Obscura – Short article summarizing the history of the mall.
BookRags – Has a chronological history with dates of significant events at the mall.
Chicago Breaking News – Announcement of demolition from 2010.
Chicago Tribune – 2010 Article where Gov. Quinn announces plan to raze Dixie Square with $4 million of federal funds.
CLUI – Small photo gallery of the mall.
Columbia Chronicle – Article talks about Brett Tracy’s efforts.
Dead Malls – First detailed the mall in 2001.
Facebook – Group for Dixie Square Mall.
Flickr – Mike Brown’s excellent Dixie Square Mall set. Includes great photos from the 1960’s.
Flickr – My own Dixie Square Mall set.
Ghost Mall – Urbex site designed specifically for the Dixie Square Mall. The owner and accomplices “liberated” some of the few remaining store signs.
Labelscar – A followup to the Dead Malls article.
Last Days of Dixie Square – Expired Kickstarter project by Brett Tracy to document the mall.
UER – Entry for Dixie Square Mall.
Wikipedia – Dixie Square Mall
Photo: Edgewater Medical Center looms over the bustling neighborhood.
When an animal in the wild suffers from some genetic or incidental malady the results are often fatal. Years of natural selection from generation to generation insure that only those who are best suited to survive in their environments will continue to survive. One of the things that sets humans apart from animals is that we make every effort to insure that our species will continue to thrive in spite of what ails our bodies. Medical staff are ethically obligated to provide the best possible quality of care for patients, no matter the affliction. For some executives and doctors at Chicago’s Edgewater Medical Center personal profits came before those ethical standards, while they used the best hospital beds for this purpose. The unnecessary suffering and premature deaths they caused resulted in the shuttering of a historic Chicago neighborhood hospital. The tragedy makes one wonder if the culprits are even human at all.
Photo (Chicago History in Postcards): Edgewater Medical Center as it appeared in the 50-60s. The original building is to the left and Mazel House 1953 expansion to the right.
Dr. Maurice Mazel founded the Edgewater Hospital at the outset of the Great Depression in 1929. He personally oversaw hospital operations until his death in 1980. During his tenure notable births included current US Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and serial killer John Wayne Gacy. His wife, Circus Hall of Fame performer Harriet Mazel-Szanto, functioned as chairman and CEO from 1980 to 1984. She later shed the CEO title, but remained on as chairman until 1988. After her passing the hospital built under the benevolent Mazel family name sought new ownership.
Photo (Wikimedia Commons): The benevolent Dr. Maurice Mazel reclining for his photograph.
Businessman Peter Rogan acquired Edgewater Medical Center in 1989 for $1 million cash and assumed its $10 million in liabilities through the Edgewater Operating Company (EOC) he created. In 1994 Rogan sold EOC and the real estate to the Edgewater Property Company (EPC), which he also controlled. In the deal Edgewater Medical Center paid an exhorbitant $79,500/mo. rent to EPC. At the helm of both entities Rogan funneled profits directly into his own pockets.
Corruption rooted itself deep into Edgewater’s staff. Rogan orchestrated a complex system of kickbacks for doctors and staff complicit with committing fraud against Medicare, Medicaid and private insurance companies. Vice president Roger Ehmen and medical director Dr. Ravi Barnabas were able to turn the nearly bankrupt hospital into a lucrative profit center. The pair tapped Dr. Sheshiqiri Rao Vavilikolanu and Dr. Kumar Kaliana to recruit potential patients. For years the doctors sent hospital employees into the Chicago community to find potential patients. It did not matter if they did not have heart conditions, were drug addicts, were unable to speak English or even had no health insurance coverage. Recruiters instructed the potential patients how to feign symptoms in order to mandate services rendered by Edgewater Medical Center. In return the patients were offered money, food, cigarettes and other amenities for their cooperation.
Another complicit Edgewater physician participated in the massive fraud scheme. Dr. Andrew Cubbria tapped into the recruited patient pool for unnecessary angiogram and angioplasty operations. Albert Okaro, 42, underwent an invasive and unnecessary cardiac surgery that ultimately killed him. The patient’s death was regarded as collateral damage for Dr. Cubria. Tax-payer funded healthcare programs and private insurers reimbursed the hospital for more than 750 invasive, and expensive, cardiac surgeries performed by Dr. Cubria alone.
One Edgewater physician, Dr. Krishnaswami Sriram, billed the government for seemingly impossible human feats. According to Dr. Sriram’s billing records on November 12, 1997 he saw 187 patients… all of whom coincidently had congestive heart failure. In January 1999 a severe snowstorm brought Chicago to a standstill. Despite the hazardous weather conditions Dr. Sriram was apparently able to visit 31 elderly patients at their homes and 18 more in medical facilities. Thirty-two of Dr. Sriram’s patients also managed to incur new medical costs long after their deaths. On paper it appeared as though Dr. Sriram was indefatigable. His records indicate that he met with patients every single day in 1997 and 1998, while missing only two days of work in 1999.
Photo: Collected tissue sample slides filed away.
Dr. Sriram’s apparent superhuman ability to visit patients did not go by unnoticed. Some of the elderly patients he targeted began to grow suspicious after noticing over-inflated billings on Explanation of Benefit forms. At least 15 patients contacted the Wisconsin Physicians Service, which handles claims in the Illinois area. Wisconsin Physicians Service alerted the FBI and they immediately began an investigation.
Things began to unravel in 1999 when the hospital payed out over $1 million to stave off an impending federal lawsuit over Medicare billing irregularities. The ambitious Dr. Sriram was taken into custody in 2000. Feds exposed the rest of the fraud operation in 2001.
The upheaval brought on by the charges cut the hospital’s day-to-day operations off at the knees. In November 2001 the US government, which accounted for 90% of Edgewater Medical Center income, ceased Medicare payments indefinitely. Unable to find a suitable financier the hospital shut down in December 2001. The remaining 450 staff were suddenly out of a job or had to transfer to other area healthcare facilities. In addition to the displaced staff, 52 patients were transferred to other facilities for ongoing care.
Photo: Patient records stacked on the floor almost reach the ceiling.
In 2006 courts ruled that former owner and executive Peter Rogan was on the hook for $64.2 million in damages and penalties. The US Justice Department charged Rogan in 2008 with obstruction of justice and perjury for his attempts to hide his assets. One of the trusts was set up in the Bahamas and was entitled the Peter Rogan Irrevocable Trust. Rogan insisted that he maintained no control whatsoever over the assets and could not access it. In addition to the federal charges, French bank Dexia is working with the Justice Department to recover assets scattered throughout various bank accounts and front companies in the Caribbean. The cases are still in litigation.
Senior vice president Roger Ehmen and Dr. Ravi Barnabas were convicted for their roles in the fraud operation. Ehmen received 6 1/2 years of prison time and was ordered to pay $5 million in restitution. Ehmen was quoted at sentencing stating,”Words alone cannot describe the deep sorrow and regret I have. I will have to live with this guilt for the rest of my life.” Medical director Dr. Barnabas was sentenced to 4 years and 4 months prison time and ordered to pay $1.1 million in restitution. Dr. Barnabas’ physician license is still listed as active in Illinois.
Photo: A photo of the human heart with arteries highlighted.
Dr. Sheshiqiri Rao Vavilikolanu confessed that he unnecessarily admitted over 900 patients. He was sentenced to 3 years and 11 months prison time and ordered to repay $6 million to Medicare and Medicaid. Dr. Vavilikolanu’s license is listed as suspended. Dr. Kumar Kaliana admitted to mail and healthcare fraud. He received a 1 year and 4 months sentence and forced to return $156,000, along with $1.1 million in restitution. Dr. Kaliana’s physician license is still listed as active.
The courts came down most heavily upon Dr. Andrew Cubria. In addition to Albert Okaro’s untimely death in 2000, the feds discovered that at least one more unnecessary cardiac operation resulted in the death of another patient in 1999. Dr. Cubria was sentenced to 12 1/2 years prison time for his wrongdoing. He was also ordered to return $2 million of his profits and pay $14.4 million in restitution. His physician license was suspended thereafter.
The man whose superhuman feats caught the eyes of the FBI was also brought to justice. A teary-eyed Dr. Sriram wept as he plead guilty to mail fraud, healthcare and tax fraud. He faces up to 18 years in prison, but he has been appealing that ruling. As part of his plea the doctor has agreed not to practice medicine and his physician license is listed as on probation in Illinois.
Photo: A massive x-ray machine still residing within the hospital.
After a decade of abandonment Edgewater residents are aiming to rid themselves of the abandoned hospital. According to The New York Times the property is in the hands of the Edgewater Medical Center Bankruptcy Estate, which is comprised of 250 creditors who are still owed in excess of $110 million. Of the creditors French bank Dexia is owed in excess of $55 million. Unable to recoup their costs creditors would like to see the hospital razed in favor of a business development. Edgewater community members would rather have the real estate transformed into park land. According to an official city-authorized assessment the hospital is valued at $5.9 million. The cost to demolish the hospital is estimated to be $6.5 million alone.
What will happen to that hollowed-out shell that was once Edgewater Medical Center? With the American economy on track for an extended downturn it is unlikely that private developers will invest in the property. With federal, state and city budgets already slim it is unlikely that a public works project will be in the pipeline anytime soon.
Photo: One of the intensive care units in the abandoned hospital.
A healthy portion of large abandoned buildings that urban explorers seek out are left behind after major changes in economic markets, competition and innovation leave stagnant companies behind. That is not the case with Edgewater Medical Center. What sets this building apart from other urbex locations is that it was created by criminal acts over an extended period of time. Even though the hospital was dated, they were still operating in a capacity that for the most part benefitted patients. By the time the FBI discovered the corruption it had already metastasized and killed Edgewater Medical Center.
Like most hospitals with chronologically staggered additions it is a winding labyrinth. Some of the floors look practically identical and it is easy to lose ones bearings. Yet each section of the hospital is still unique in its own way. Biohazard containers, alcohol swabs, diabetic supplies and other pharmaceutical supplies are littered throughout some of the rooms. Medical records, tissue samples, autopsy records and medical images can still be found in one of the labs. Heavy equipment such as a hyperbaric chamber and x-ray machine are tucked away behind closed doors. Above the Kadin Memorial Nurses’ Residence is an filthy empty pool under a skylight. Vintage furniture from the 1970’s occupies some of the rooms even though eviction notices from 2002 are matted into the floor. The administration building is, perhaps poetically, completely devoid of and vibrant momentos of life. It is quite unsettling to see a once intentionally sterile hospital environment ravaged by the uninhibited destructive elements of nature.
Photo: Vintage furniture still occupies some of the nurses’ apartments.
The story of Edgewater Medical Center foreshadowed many of the problems that plague the American healthcare industry today. Profit-focused healthcare endangered the lives of those who could not or were unable protect themselves. Patients at Edgewater Medical Center were exploited by the greed of administrators and doctors to the tune of millions. The system failed and took vital healthcare services away from one Chicago neighborhood.
The United States is and remains the only industrialized nation to not offer all citizens access to public healthcare options. There are now over 50 million Americans without health insurance of any kind. Even those fortunate enough to be insured are at the mercy of a healthcare system driven entirely by profit motives. Health decisions are prioritized every day to keep businesses in the black, rather than keep patients living long and healthy lives.
Photo: One of the laboratories with numerous patient records and equipment.
Flickr – My photoset of the abandoned hospital.
BNet – Mentions Edgewater Hospital founder Dr. Mazel.
Chicago History in Postcards – Old postcard of Edgewater Medical Center.
Chicago News Cooperative – 2010 article on the abandoned hospital.
Chicago Tribune – 1989 article marking Harriet Mazel-Szanto’s death at Edgewater Medical Center.
Chicago Tribune – 1999 article on Edgewater staff paying out to avoid Medicare fraud litigation.
Chicago Tribune – 1999 article discussing AARP research on for-profit hospitals.
Chicago Tribune – 2000 article on Edgewater Dr. Sriram’s billing of dead patients.
Chicago Tribune – 2001 article about Edgewater closing its doors.
Chicago Tribune – 2001 article on Roger Ehmen’s and Dr. Ravi Barnabas’ sentencing.
Chicago Tribune – 2001 article on sentencing for Dr. Sheshiqiri Rao Vavilikolanu and Dr. Kumar Kaliana.
Chicago Tribune – 2001 article on convictions related to the Edgewater fraud case.
Chicago Tribune – 2002 article on Dr. Cubria’s sentencing.
Chicago Tribune – 2002 article on Dr. Sriram’s sentencing.
Chicago Tribune – 2004 article outlining settlement from Albert Okaro’s death.
Chicago Tribune – 2008 article on the case against former chief executive Peter Rogan.
Chicago Tribune – 2009 article detailing the recovery of Peter Rogan’s assets.
Chicago Tribune – 2010 article on the hospital’s future. Land Value: $5.3m. Demo: $6.5m estimated.
Christopher T. Hurley & Associates Newsletter – Dr. Andrew Cubria specifically selected poor and Spanish speaking patients to commit fraud.
Coalition Against Insurance Fraud – 2002 blog on Dr. Andrew Cubria, who performed 750 unnecessary invasive procedures.
Curbed Chicago – Plans for redevelopment into a park with pictures.
Edgewater Historical Society – Small entry on Edgewater Medical Center.
Facebook – Group for people born at Edgewater Medical Center.
Flickr – Comptesse DeSpair’s great set of Edgewater Medical Center photos.
Flickr – Search for “Edgewater Hospital” ranked by interestingness.
Google – Search for Edgewater Medical Center 1970-2011.
Hospital Data – Statistics for Edgewater Medical Center.
The New York Times – Examines economic difficulties for redevelopment.
NWI – 2008 article on the international battle over recovering Peter Rogan’s assets.
US Bankruptcy Court – 2007 bankruptcy court ruling against Braddock Management and Bainbridge Management.
US Department of Justice – 2003 press release for criminal fraud charges and $2.9 million civil judgement against the management firms that ran Edgewater.
US Department of Justice – 2008 press release detailing charges against owner Peter Rogan.
QuoteUs – Insurance blog article on the most outrageous insurance frauds. Mentions Edgewater doctor Andrew Cubria.
Yahoo – Recent efforts by Edgewater residents to turn the complex into a park.
Wikipedia – US Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton was born at Edgewater Medical Center.
Wikipedia – Convicted serial killer John Wayne Gacy was born at Edgewater Medical Center.
Photo: The state of Illinois would like to move this property that sits opposite downtown Chicago.
The colloquial “Damen Silos” harken back to an era when Chicago was a big player in the grain trade. The land on which the grain elevator lords over has been in use since the early 1800’s. In 1832 a fire broke out at the grain elevator and then rebuilt with with concrete. Disaster struck again on September 9, 1905 when spontaneous combustion killed several workers and consumed the entire building within an hour. Immediately thereafter architect John S. Metcalf was commissioned to build the current elevator.
Photo (source): View of the grain elevator looking northeast.
The National Park Service has an entry describing the location.:
The John S. Metcalf Company, consulting engineers, designed and built this facility for the Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe Railroad in 1906. The original complex included a powerhouse, elevator with temporary storage and processing silos, and thirty-five grain storage silos. With a 400,000 bushel capacity, this complex could accommodate sixty railroad cars at the elevator and 300 railroad cars at a yard a short distance away. Equipmentat the site included two driers, bleachers, oat clippers, cleaners, scourers and dust packers. Using filtered water from the adjacent South Branch of the Chicago River, boilers with a total of 1,500 horsepower generated the steam and electricity required bythemachinery. The thirty-five grain silos south of this facility had a total capacity of one million bushels. In 1932, a grain dust explosion ignited a fire which destroyed the original timber and brick building. The Atchison Topeka & Santa Fe Railroad rebuilt the concrete processing house with fourteen reinforced concrete silos; the capacity of the facility was increased to 1,700,000 bushels. After reconstruction, the rail road leased the facility to the Stratton Grain Company.
Photo: (source): Drawing of the grain elevator from around 1908.
In 1977 another large explosion caused significant damage to the grain elevator. Afterwards the location fell into disuse and became property of the state. The real estate company charged with selling the property states “the property was owned by the state who wanted seventeen million for it and it didn’t sell. They have lowered it to eleven million, but they are only willing to sell it in one big chunk.” In this economic downturn it is highly unlikely that this waterfront property will move anytime soon.
Photo: A lone abandoned Oldsmobile Eighty-Eight hides below the view of the Chicago skyline.
The silos were the last location of the day during this urbex expedition. The sun was fast fading and we were a bit fatigued. Other urbex explorers have braved several stories of rickety stairs with missing platforms to get shots from the top of the cavernous silos. I wasn’t having any of that. I had already broken my tripod handle and slipped on some ice. My urbex partner lost a lens cap and broke his tripod leg. We were content with just standing in awe of the colossal monument to human industry.
Flickr – My Abandoned Damen Silos set.
Flickr – Search for most interesting photos tagged “damen+silos.”
GenDisasters – Excerpt from New York Daily Tribune about 1905 fire.
Google Books – 1908 description of the grain elevator.
Historic American Engineering Record – Description of location and photo inventory for the Library of Congress.
John Hutton (PDF) – Thesis proposal for redeveloping the site.
Library of Congress – 19 b&w photos of the grain elevator.
New City – A brief history and quotes about the silos.
The monumental Brach’s candy factory in Chicago is a crumbling shrine to “The World’s Candy Capital.” Perhaps more appropriately though, the colossal factory is a tombstone marking the agonizing death of the American Dream. The factory is a well-known urbex location in the greater Chicago area. It was a great thrill to finally get to explore it physically. Before I delve into that let’s explore the factory intellectually.
German immigrant Emil J. Brach was an ambitious 22 year-old when he came to Chicago in 1881 to work for the Bunte Brothers & Spoehr candy manufacturers. The spendthrift Brach saved $15,000, which he invested into a candy company that quickly went under. Learning from his mistakes Brach rolled up his sleeves and took matters into his own hands. In 1904 the 45 year-old Brach invested $1000 and opened his own “Palace of Sweets” at the corner of North Avenue and Towne Street. With the help of sons Edwin and Frank, Brach attracted locals by making the delicious sweets in a single kettle in the rear of the store and placing them in attractive displays in the front. Customers craved Brach’s popular caramel in particular, which at 20 cents per pound was much cheaper than retailers’ 50-60 cents per pound. To keep up with demand Frank Brach delivered sweets to local department stores for customer convenience.
Photo: The beautiful terrra cotta Brach’s logo outside the abandoned factory.
The Brach’s company would move three more times between 1906 and 1913 to keep up the rapid expansion of their operations. Shipping was vital to their ever growing business. The company dispatched candy via horse, vehicle, mail-order and even by rail. The company’s widening markets expanded along with their burgeoning product line. Within that early growth period Brach’s added hard candies, ice cream, chocolates and nut products to their repertoire. In 1923 Brach consolidated operations into a $5 million facility designed by architect Alfred Alschuler at the intersection of Kilpatrick, Ferdinand, and the Beltline railroad tracks. At that time the company produced over 250 candy variations at about 4 million pounds per week. During the boom years Brach hired workers of all ethnic backgrounds. For years company notices were printed in multiple languages.
Photo (source): A Brach’s employee overlooks the panning procedure that gives hard candy its lustre.
Managing Brach’s reputation for quality was a top priority for the company. They were the first candy producer to implement a “Laboratory for Control” to inspect products. All candies came with a 30-day money-back guarantee and were shipped in special containers to assure freshness.
At the height of the Great Depression Brach’s was able to post a net income of $175,000 even with a dismal $1.27 million in sales, all while keeping more than 1000 people employed. The company was the first to grant employees raises during the severe economic downturn. They also served meals at cost to keep their employees well fed and motivated. During World War II the company was given the Army & Navy Production Award for the high-quality rations produced for the troops. 327 Brach’s employees served in the Armed Forces during the war effort and eight made the ultimate sacrifice for their country. On September 7, 1948 an electrical spark ignited corn starch and caused an explosion on the third floor. The explosion destroyed much of the north side of the factory. The disaster injured 18 and killed 11 employees, but occurred before the day shift before 2,400 employees began.
Photo (robert_g_gigliotti): Smokestack at the top of the factory bearing the Brach name.
Emil J. Brach worked vigorously until the day he died in 1947 at age 88. By that time Emil positioned Brach’s as the #1 bulk producer of candy in the US. Sons Edwin and Frank took over operations after their father’s passing. They tapped into the exploding middle-class market by positioning attractive candy displays in groceries and purchasing ads on television. The Brach brothers didn’t lose their nostalgia for their old shop either. In 1958 they introduced the signature “Pick-A-Mix” kiosks which are still present in modern supermarkets. Edwin passed away at the age of 70 in 1965 leaving his brother Frank in charge. By the 1960’s Brach’s produced over 500 individual types of candies. Unable to keep pace on his own, an aging 75 year-old Frank Brach put the company up for sale in 1966 and it was purchased by American Home Products.
Photo: One of the few remaining markers identifying the building owner.
Frank’s death in 1970 left wife Helen at the helm of the Brach’s candy fortune. Helen Brach visited the Mayo Clinic in Minnesota on February 17, 1977 and was never heard from again. Investigations into the millionaire’s disappearance failed to yield any conclusive evidence as to her whereabouts and she was officially declared dead in 1984. It wasn’t until 1989 that a federal investigation into horse racketeering turned the focus to her then lover Richard Bailey. Bailey had conned Brach into investing in horses and their relationship soured when Helen discovered the scam. Bailey was eventually convicted in 1994 of multiple counts of fraud and conspiracy to commit murder in connection with Helen’s disappearance. In 2005 accomplice Joe Plemmons came forward to authorities describing his role in the crime. According to Plemmons, he fired two rounds rounds into the visibly beaten body of Helen Brach. Plemmons then escorted two accomplices to an active steel mill off of Interstate 65. Two steel mill employees held blast furnace doors open when Helen Brach’s corpse was fed into a trough and incinerated.
Acquisition of the Brach’s brand traded hands over the past few decades. In 1987 American Home Products sold Brach’s to european candy and coffee producer James Suchard. Principle stockholder Klaus J. Jacobs sold Suchard off to Philip-Morris in 1990, but retained ownership of the Brach’s business units. In 1994 Jacobs merged Brach’s with another property he purchased, Brock Candy Company, to form Brach & Brock Confections, Inc. Ownership changed hands again in 2003 when Brach & Brock Confections, Inc. was sold to the world’s largest chocolate manufacturer Barry-Callebaut headquartered in Zürich, Switzerland.
Photo (akagoldfish): The abandoned factory as seen from the cracking parking lot.
The Chicago factory fell on hard times in the late 1990’s and early 2000’s. Artificially inflated domestic sugar costs and strict import quotas put in place by the US Department of Agriculture made operating costs in Chicago difficult for Brach’s. (These policies have essentially crippled candy production throughout the United States.) High labor costs also exacerbated the situation to the point where the owners decided to shutter the aging plant. Brach’s began laying off employees in 2001 and gradually continued until 2003. After 76 years in operation the “Palace of Sweets” closed its doors. Production of Brach’s candies resumed in Mexico where labor and sugar are more cost effective.
Video: Amateur video of the Brach’s administration building demolition.
Photo: Scene from The Dark Knight. Copyright Warner Brothers.
In August of 2007 the location was used as a set for filming The Dark Knight. The former parking deck was completely demolished in the scene in which the Joker destroys Gotham General Hospital. The factory can also be seen in the shot (far left), which was also rigged to fire explosives from the windows. The final scene from the Dark Knight can be viewed here.
Photo: A lone sign warns factory explorers of the dangerous wet floor.
Soon after filming occurred Brach’s Confections was sold to current owners Farley & Sathers for an undisclosed sum in November 2007. The sale includes current manufacturing facilities located in Chattanooga, Tennessee; Winona, Minnesota; and Linares, Mexico. After four years without a tenant ML Realty Partners, LLC purchased the vacated Chicago factory in 2008 for redevelopment into a warehouse. Visible progress on that project has not materialized.
Photo: The Chicago skyline can be seen in the background of the factory.
The abandoned Brach’s candy factory, much like the Barber-Colman plant, impressed me with its sheer magnitude. We were there for four hours before recognizing the time. Even after all that exploring we still failed to traverse much of the factory. Despite the immense size of the factory most areas were barren or cloaked in darkness enitrely. Almost every possible surface has been covered by taggers in a bid for some kind of street-cred. The upper floors in one of the larger towers are all but inaccessible without the aid of proper climbing equipment. The exteriors are perhaps the most visually engaging elements of the factory. If you are looking for photographic gems the total number of opportunities are sparse. In my opinion the Brach’s factory has a sweeter history than adventure potential. I’m quite satisfied, however, that I checked this off my urbex list before it disappears entirely.
Flickr – My Brach’s Candy Factory set.
Charley Project – Article details the Helen Brach disappearance.
Chicago Business – 2008 article describes potential investment opportunity for the factory.
Chicago Tribune – 2001 article discussing the shutting down of the plant.
Chicago Tribune – 2001 article discussing some of the workers’ reactions to the closing.
Chicago Tribune – 2005 article on Joe Plemmons involvement in Helen Brach’s disappearance.
Christian Science Monitor – 2001 article on high sugar prices killing US competition.
Encyclopedia of Chicago – Entry on Emil J. Brach.
Farley & Sathers – Brach’s corporate history.
Google Books – 1948 The Billboard news snippet on the explosion that killed 11 and injured 18.
Google Books – 1952 Popular Mechanics article “They Make Candy by the Ton” with great color photos.
Monster – Company Profile for Brach’s, which has some historical information.
Reference for Business – Brach’s Confections corporate history and other information.
Unknown Chicago – Brief article on Helen Brach’s disappearance.
Wikipedia – Entry for missing Brach’s heiress Helen Brach.
Super Fictional Bonus!
Editor’s Note: The following biographical information about Emil J. Brach cannot be confirmed by legitimate academic resources. This excerpt from the 1996 book “Germans are Bad-Ass: A Compendium of Bad-Assery Throughout History Minus Hitler” is considered to be a complete fabrication.
Brach’s candy is synonymous with joyfully delicious candy, but few are aware of Emil J. Brach’s sinister motives for creating sugary sweets. As a German, Brach’s love for fine chocolate was surpassed only by Schadenfreude. Emil had a troubled upbringing as a child. His father Augustus was a dentist obsessed with hygiene, but is also described by sources as a vitriolic alcoholic with foul temperament. Brach’s mother Gerta was a strict Protestant who severely punished young Emil for the slightest infraction. In her mid-40’s Gerta was diagnosed with diabetes mellitus, which up until the 1930’s was considered a death sentence. The diagnosis crushed Augustus and sent him into a sustained alcohol-fueled depression. Emil took great pleasure in seeing his oppressive mother robbed of her strength, particularly after she ate her secret stash of chocolate sweets. Gerta eventually slipped into a coma and passed away after a lengthy ordeal. The next day Augustus was struck by a carriage and passed away from the sustained injuries. With his parents out of the way, Emil vowed to immigrate to the land of opportunity to exact Schadenfreude from dentists and diabetics by carefully crafting a seemingly benevolent sweets empire.