Upon learning of the
Iroquois fire, consul Wever phoned Louis Guenzel to
commission an architectural investigation for the
German government. Reportedly Wever felt
certain Germany would want to know how the fire
started. Wever's reasoning was not
Many German citizens lived in Chicago but I have
not noticed a predominance of German immigrants
among the victims or survivors, nor spotted any
reason why Mr. Bluebeard, a French tale,
might have been assumed to have particular appeal to
German immigrants. Many nations sent
telegrams of condolence to Chicago
mayor Harrison but I've found no evidence of
countries other than Germany sending in private
investigators. It appears Wever initiated the
commission on his own authority, confidant his
government would agree with his decision.
Other than their friendship,
I've found nothing to explain Wever's choice of
Guenzel to conduct the investigation. No
evidence of Guenzel having fire or theater
construction expertise. Given a time machine and a
phone bug, it wouldn't surprise me to learn Guenzel didn't receive a dime,
or that the investigation was his idea rather than
Wever's as reported. As a theater buff,
reportedly with an affinity for marketing, Guenzer
had the opportunity to study the worst theater fire
in America's history, including whatever was done
wrong by a competitor architect. He
would not have been the only person to use the fire
as a opportunity. Whatever his motivation, he
didn't scrimp on effort.
Chicago mayor, Carter Harrison, who granted access
to another investigator, gave Guenzel full
access to the
nineteen hours after the fire, lasting for the next several weeks.
Unable to obtain blueprints (reason unknown), he
measured, drew and photographed, outlining detail
probably collected no where else, including an inventory of
all the doors at the Iroquois. Since only
a few photos appear in his report I suspect others
have been lost, probably forever.
Guenzel was one of seven investigative
entities to tour the Iroquois, including Chicago
municipal authorities and fire insurance expert,
R. Freeman. The most useful information about the
structure and conditions at the Iroquois come from
Guenzel's and Freeman's reports on their
provided a German version for Wever in 1904 and forty-one
years later released an English version, naming it
Retrospects, but the
English version was produced in 1904 because he gave a
requested copy to one of the Iroquois
Will J. Davis or
Harry Powers, neither of
whom are apt to have been able to read German. Guenzel said the
owner returned it without comment. My
guess is that it was Harry Powers.
Previously an attaché of the German
Embassies in Paris, Bucharest and
Bulgaria, then consul in Rio de Janeiro,
Wever was appointed to the Chicago post
in July 1900, replacing Dr. Lettenbaur.
In 1907 Wever was promoted to Consul
General, one of only two German consuls
at that rank in the U.S. Reportedly the
new title was reward for his efforts to
encourage the study of the German
language and theater at the University
of Chicago and Northwestern.
Wever's wife and three children joined
him in the United States. He and
Louis Guenzel were members in 1907 of a
club of Chicagoans educated in Germany.
Louis Frederick Albert
(1860-1956 biographical info
A native of Koslin, Prussa
(then part of Germany; since WWII part of Poland),
Guenzel immigrated to America in 1892 and went to
work as a draftsman for the
Sullivan architectural firm. In 1894 he
left A&S to partner first with Harley Seymour Hibbard
(1868-1957), in 1898 with Arthur Hercz (1867-1941)
and from 1912 to 1915 with
William E. Drummond, formerly a draftsman for
Frank Lloyd Wright. By 1912 Guenzel had
"married up," perhaps putting him on a more even
keel with Drummond's reputation than he could have
managed prior to his marriage. Reportedly, Guenzel focused
on business and marketing, freeing Drummond to
concentrate on design. You'll have to look
elsewhere to determine if Guenzel developed a distinctive style of his own.
One online source described his style as having
varied from Victorian to Art Nouveau, Prairie School
to Art Deco.
Among buildings credited
specifically to Guenzel (versus to the firm of
Guenzel & Drummond):
Red Star Inn on Clark St.
in Chicago, originally named Zum Roten Stern
("Under the Red Star"), razed in 1970 when site
became part of present day's Carl Sandburg
Eitel / Maryland Hotel at
900 N. Rush St. at corner of Rush and Delaware,
built in 1926, 17 stories, still standing, the
address now 40 Delaware, converted to apartments
and condos. Every room had a bath and
"artificial ventilation." Guenzel pointed
out to the newspaper that his design
incorporated roof level penthouses in the
construction, eschewing the then more common
Chicago approach of building "shacks" on the
Apartment building at
1100 N. La Salle St., corner of Lasalle and W.
Maple, built in 1930, 16 stories, in the 1970s
known as the Maple Apartments Building.
Still standing, part of contemporary Chicago's
Apartment building 502 E.
Chestnut into which he and his bride moved in
Feb 1909 when structure was newly completed.
Louis and Alice were the eleventh newlywed
couple to move into the building. 4-story
His obituary credited
Guenzel with the 1905 White City College Inn, in
White City Park, on Chicago's south side, near
the site of the 1893 Columbian Exposition. The
restaurant sat 2,500. The Guenzel &
Drummond firm was the architect of record.
In the biography
accompanying his Iroquois report it is reported that
Louis had a fiery personality. That could mean
he had a bad temper, was animated, both, or something
altogether different. He was passionate about his
hobbies** and beliefs, especially about his German
homeland, and as a senior citizen spoke out when
something struck him as wrong. At age eighty-five, still
angry that no guilty verdicts were returned for the
Iroquois Theater fire tragedy, he released the
English version of his Retrospects Iroquois report.
At age ninety he penned a letter to the newspaper
describing an incident in which fire trucks were
unable to get close to the scene of an afternoon
fire because their access was blocked by cars left
in the street by thoughtless restaurant patrons.
That same year he self-published a 23-page booklet, Medical
Ethics and their Effect upon the Public.
I've not yet found a copy online but it seems
probable the treatise did not praise the medical
Louis was the son of
German natives, John and Caroline Conradt Guenzel.
It is possible that when he came to America at age
twenty-two in 1892, leaving his parents behind in
Germany, he did not see them again before their
deaths in 1894 and 1899.
By 1908, age forty-eight,
successful enough to afford a town house in the city
and country home in Glenco, Louis became engaged to
marry. The year before he had designed a
$75,000 home (just under $2 million today) for
wealthy lumberman and box maker, Herman Paepcke.
Paepcke and Guenzel shared a love for their German
homeland (both were directors of Guenzel's Germanistic Society) and Herman was probably pleased
to see his daughter Alice wooed by a successful
professional who also spoke German, reportedly the language of Paepcke's household. Louis and Alice Paepcke
married in 1909 and their son, Paul Walter Guenzel,
was born in 1910.***
Discrepancies and addendum
Sometimes misspelled as "Genzel" or "Guensel".
** Louis Guenzel sang tenor
in various amateur church and club choral groups in
Chicago in the 1890s, founding Chicago's short-lived
Richard Wagner Club (Sep-Dec 1893). The
ambition of its one hundred members was to cultivate
increased appreciation for opera, particularly
compositions by Richard Wagner, via lectures and
musical performances. The group had high hopes
for its future, going so far as to incorporate.
After its first concert in early December 1893,
however, a Chicago Tribune reviewer remarked
that in a quartet performance of Braham's Gypsy
Songs, club founder Guenzel's skill lagged behind
his energy. Ouch. The reviewer dubbed
the concert "a fiasco" worthy of a hail of lemons
from an audience less polite than those in America.
Guenzel's vocal enthusiasm thoroughly doused, the
Wager Club disappeared and he later turned to his
heritage, founding the Germanistic Society of
Chicago. He retained his passion for opera
with his wife patronized Chicago concerts for
*** Paul's grandfather
Herman's lumber company, Chicago Mill and Lumber,
was hard hit by the Depression but Herman's son,
Louis Guenzel's brother-in-law,
Walter Paepcke (founder of the Aspen Institute
think tank), used his father's decimated lumber
business as a base on which to form a conglomerate
of companies that grew into the Container Corp. of
America – in the 1940s America's largest producer of
paperboard containers, it's remaining pieces today
WestRock. Paul worked for the company
throughout his life, eventually becoming treasure
and vice president of the firm.