Since the mid-19th century, many architects have worked in both Chicago and Milwaukee. The proximity of the two cities clearly expanded opportunity. Solon S. Beman (1853-1914) is one of the most significant to have left his mark in both cities.
Beman is best known for his work for the king of luxury railcars, George Pullman. Beman’s many Pullman projects included the 200-acre Town of Pullman (today a National Monument ) and Pullman Factory Complex (1880s, Chicago), the 10-story Pullman Office Building (1884, Adams & Michigan, Chicago), a large addition to Pullman’s Chicago home (1891, 1729 S Prairie Ave), one of the Pullmans’ summer homes, Castle Rest (1888, Thousand Islands in upstate New York – image below), and the Pullman monument (1898, Chicago) at Graceland Cemetery.
Pullman had also called on Beman to design a house for his friend William W. Kimball (founder of the piano company) who bought the lot across the street on Prairie Avenue. The resulting Kimball House, a French Châteauesque mansion (1892, 1801 S Prairie Ave) gave George Pullman something beautiful to look at — instead of the (what he considered wretched) Glessner House on the other corner (1887, 1800 S Prairie Ave).
Solon Spencer Beman was born in Brooklyn and began his architectural career in New York City. But it was George Pullman in 1879 who commissioned him to plan the country’s first planned company town southwest of Chicago. Beman relocated to Chicago and lived and worked for the rest of his life there. Beman was known for his eclecticism and giving his clients high-quality historic revival designs such as Gothic Revival, Châteauesque, Queen Anne, and Romanesque Revival. But for the 1893 Columbian Exposition Chicago World’s Fair, he began to work in the Neoclassical style, seen in his Merchant Tailors Building.
When he had time between Pullman commissions, Solon Beman was busy with many projects in Chicago, including the Studebaker Fine Arts Building (1884), Grand Central Station (1891), Blackstone Public Library (1905), as well as many other buildings around the country.
It was Captain Frederick Pabst who summoned Beman to Milwaukee. Solon Beman designed Milwaukee’s first skyscraper, the steel-frame 14-story Pabst Building (1891, Water & Wisconsin). Captain Pabst had bought the prime downtown Milwaukee location and hired the celebrated Beman to create the tallest building in the city. And that it would remain until Milwaukee’s City Hall claimed the title a few years later; it was second tallest in the city until the 1920s. The Flemish Renaissance-Romanesque Revival mountain of a building was a fitting homage to one of the men whose product made Milwaukee famous. (The building was unfortunately razed in 1981. Its postmodern replacement pays tribute to it.)
A second of Beman’s designs for Milwaukee was for one of its long-time leading companies: Northwestern Mutual Life Insurance Company. The Richardsonian Romanesque structure (1886, 611 N Broadway) exerts a powerful presence and features what is arguably the most glorious interior in Milwaukee. After Northwestern Mutual moved to its larger building in 1914, it became known as the Loyalty Building. In 2011 work began to transform the building into a hotel (today’s Hilton Garden Inn), who wisely preserved the building’s historic features.
Although some of Beman’s buildings have been lost, such as Milwaukee’s Pabst Building and Chicago’s Grand Central Station, much of his extensive oeuvre remains. Solon S. Beman’s architecture continues to be important to both Milwaukee and Chicago’s stories.