October 11, 2007

Sheridan Road South from Lawrence, the Old Kemper Building

Does the old Kemper Building look strange to you? That's because it's actually shorter in this image than it is now. Four more stories were added some time after its initial construction.

It was built by Harry Emmerman in 1925 and housed the Mutual Insurance company. It was one of Uptown's best and most modern office buildings, with air conditioning and stunning views of Lake Michigan (the shore was closer in those days). In 1928, Kemper insurance moved into the top floors, and eventually bought and took over the building. It would be its headquarters for forty years, until the company moved out to Long Grove. They donated the building to Chicago Ecumenical Institute in 1971. Today, it houses a variety of non-profit groups.

I have a personal connection to this building (one generation removed). When my mom was young and single, she worked for Kemper Insurance. This was in the mid-sixties. She became good friends with two women who also worked there, Marsha and Herma. (Herma is now my godmother.)

When Marsha got engaged, she had a bridal shower, and my mom attended. Someone there took home movies, which Marsha later subjected her youngest brother Ron to. Being a good brother, he humored her, but he made her stop the film and back it up when this pretty blonde—my mom—appeared on the screen. "Who is that? Can you fix me up with her?" he asked.

Marsha went to work the following day, and told my mom what happened. "You don't have to go out with the guy if you don't want to, Donna," she said. "He is my brother." But my mom was game, and agreed to the blind date. A week later they were engaged.

And that's how my parents met.


Anonymous said...

Somewhere at or near the top of that building, it still says "Home of Kemper Insurance." One of these days when I have my camera with me at the Wilson stop I'll have to snap some pictures of it..

Travis said...

The building was also used in the movie "U.S. Marshall's" The Lorali was the nursing home, but the shots were taken on the 8th floor of the ICA building, and the roof of the People's Church building.

Joanne said...

Travis--Thanks for pointing that out; I'll have to rent the movie now. Uptown's been a good backdrop for a lot of films. Looking forward to seeing Bridgeview (Uptown) Bank in the new Johnny Depp film!

Joe Ragont said...

I really love these posts because they bring back such great memories. I worked for Kemper Insurance as a shipping clerk at their Broadway/Thorndale facility from 1958 to 1960. I was then transferred to their purchasing dept. at the Sheridan/Lawerence location. It was for me the most boring job I ever had, but there was one saving grace. On my first day I met a girl named patricia, who four months late would become my wife. This year we'll celebrate 49 years together and look forward to the big 5-0 in 2010.
Neither one of us stayed at Kemper very long. I went into the army and she began a career in motherhood.
When Kemper moved to Long Grove some of our old friends asked us to come for a tour. Nice place, but it wasn't the same. Now we drive by the Lawerence facility occasionally, point up to the second floor window in the purchasing dept., and recall where it all began.

Joanne said...

I wonder how many other marriages got their beginnings at Kemper...

Thanks for sharing, Joe!

Anonymous said...

Thank you for these stories. I lived in this building on the 3rd floor as a 7th and 8th grader in 1976-78, and then visited each summer through high school. The building is placed firmly in my consciousness. I loved being near Lake Michigan, but it was a pretty rough and tough neighborhood in those days.

Unknown said...

I was married in that wonderful building on March 9th, 1975, with a Polish sausage reception for 500 in the huge 2nd floor conference room... I learned to do the Polka. Thanks for posting this Green Fairy.

Anonymous said...

Guess I qualify as a semi-Kemper Blueblood. Father worked at the Sheridan Road location in the 60's and was transferred out to Long Grove. My Mother worked in the Legal department in LG; dads cousin was President of 20 N Wacker corp and the Lyric Opera House and yours truly was a Kemper Scholar who was hired upon graduation and promptly relocated to the Atlanta Kemper office on Peachtree street. I have so many fond memories of Kemper including the Childrens Christmas part at the Pick Congress where the Ambassador personally handed out gifts and am so grateful for the opportunity they provided to start a career. I have the Cavalry painting that hung in LG a Bugggle and a few other keepsakes and have rounded my 35th year in the Group Insurance world-Many thanks to all that made the company such an incredible place to learn and work.

Unknown said...

back in the 70s this building was given to the Ecumenical institute/Institute for Cultural Affairs, and we moved in at night to take up living there, there were perhaps 60 of us that started living full time there as we repurposed the building from just offices to something other. I remember the presidents office on the 8th floor had a bathroom with a shower that had 6 nozzles and boy was there a line for that.We had previously lived in the old Bethel Bible college in 5th city which was begun by E.I. back in the 60s. https://wedgeblade.net/wordpress/fifthcity/index.html


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