Krehbiel to demolish Historic River North building for club

152-year-old building constructed after Great Chicago Fire has no protection from teardown

Liam Krehbiel to Demolish Historic Chicago Building
A photo illustration of Liam Krehbiel along with 720 North Wells Street (Getty, LoopNet, LinkedIn/Liam Krehbiel)

The wrecking ball is looming over a historic Chicago building, despite preservationists’ best efforts to grant a landmark status and protect its legacy. 

The 152-year-old building at 720 North Wells Street in River North is slated for demolition in the coming days, clearing the way for a development from Liam Krehbiel, founder and CEO of Chicago-based Topography Hospitality, the Chicago Tribune reported

Krehbiel also wants to raze the adjacent three-story structure at 720 North Wells Street, another historic property. He plans to build a four-story club designed by New York-based Robert A.M. Stern Architects. 

Constructed in 1872 by Conrad Seipp, a prominent brewer and German immigrant, the building stands as a poignant reminder of Chicago’s post-fire reconstruction. With its brick facade and cast-iron columns, it embodies the city’s architectural heritage. Over the years, it has seen various incarnations, from housing storefronts and offices to serving as a Masonic Hall and a Swedish social club.

The building later underwent dramatic transformations, becoming home to the trendy Cairo nightclub in 1988, and later, the Boarding House restaurant. Despite its rich history and cultural significance, the landmark status was never secured for the building, leaving it vulnerable to demolition.

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Preservation Chicago made a last-ditch effort to save it by petitioning for landmark designation, but its plea was unsuccessful, as the Commission on Chicago Landmarks deemed that it lacked certain criteria. The absence of broader protection in River North contributes to the situation, with a proposed landmark district remaining stagnant for 15 years.

“This is one of the first buildings in the River North community built after the Chicago Fire, sort of representing the city that burned,” said Ward Miller, executive director of Preservation Chicago. “It’s just tragic to see this come down. There’s so few of these buildings dating back to this period remaining.”

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Chicago needs stricter preservation measures, including demolition reviews for structures over 50 years old, akin to regulations in other cities like Boston, he said.

Krehbiel, meanwhile, is plotting another ambitious redevelopment on Geneva Lake in Williams Bay, Wisconsin. Krehbiel, who’s the great-grandson of Frederick Krehbiel, the founder of electronics company Molex, wants to transform the 137-acre George Williams College campus into a retreat center, amphitheater, country inn and nature preserve.

—Quinn Donoghue