Chicago Demolition

Cooperative Temperance Cafe

by Michael R. Allen

The building at 3206 N. Wilton Avenue housing Chicago all-ages venue the Bottom Lounge was demolished by early 2006 to make way for an expansion of the Belmont El station. At the time, the main story was that Chicago was sadly losing another all-ages venue due to technicalities in laws assisting the relocation of businesses. No one seemed to remember the history behind the building, despite the inexplicable painted-over sign reading “Cooperative Temperance Cafe – Idrott” that appeared above its storefront openings.

The building during demolition on December 31, 2005.

The design alone inspired intrigue. The basic form as the average early twentieth century flat-roofed Chicago Arts & Crafts commercial building. Yet the details were odd: yellow brick above a storefront ribbon trimmed with intricate terra cotta pieces that pleasantly clashed with the upper level even after being subjected to later painting schemes. (Demolition robbed us of the chance to see if the terra cotta was polychromatic.) The storefront ornament was part Spanish Revival, part Moorish and part Renaissance Revival and contained a lovely arcade entrance (see photograph).

Detail of the entrance arcade.

Through this entrance passed many young people headed to a show, including the editors of Ecology of Absence. (This is where we saw Bobby Conn and the Glass Gypsies as well as Weird War perform on the day after Ronald Reagan’s death.) But long before that phase, the building was built for an idealistic experiment that also was an important part of the social fabric of Lakeview: the Cooperative Temperance Society Cafe, also known as Idrott.

The local society had its roots in the Cooperative Movement, an almost socialist consumers’ movement. The center of the movement was the Cooperative League, based in New York and founded in 1916, which aimed to promote a world “whereby the people, in voluntary association, produce and distribute for their own use the things they need.”

In 1913, a Chicago group composed of 75 young Swedish people, elected to open a cafe and club known as “Idrott” (Swedish for “sport”) on Wilton Avenue just north of Belmont Avenue. The organization existed to promote temperance and athletics as well as to provide a place for Swedish immigrants to speak and read in the native language while in a new country. The principles of the club were based on self-sufficiency, thrift and sharing. The goal of the cafe was to provide good food at good prices with fair ages paid to staff. The society decided to limit membership to ten new members each year. Later, the group became an important part of the Cooperative Movement although never an official affiliate of the Cooperative League. The society built a new building at the Wilton Avenue location, adding a bakery, meat department, library, game room, overnight rooms and mail delivery for members. The operation was renamed the Cooperative Temperance Cafe, with the old name noted on the exterior. By 1926, there were 200 members and the organization opened a branch cafe at 5248 N. Clark Street. All surplus funds raised by the club were used for expansion and educational efforts, so that there was no profit to any member or to the club.

The Cooperative League became the National Cooperative Business Association and still exists. The Chicago group eventually folded, and the building became home to Lakeview Links, later the Bottom Lounge, in 1991. More information about the history of the Cooperative Movement and the Cooperative Temperance Society can be found in the archives of Co-Op Magazine, where I gleaned some of my information.