Washington Park Substation
The South Side’s Washington Park Substation was constructed in stages between 1928 and 1939. The utility building was designed by architect Hermann von Holst and presents quite a few features. Carved limestone roundels depicting lightbulbs and other electrical themed imagery can be found throughout the facade as well as the interior of the building.
Many preservationists call it an excellent example of the many substations built across the Chicago region, with one distinguishing feature – this substation is larger than most as it was built to distribute higher voltages to other substations in the Washington Park neighborhood.
These purpose-built substations, particularly from the 1910s, were mostly built of a high quality by notable architects including Holabird and Roche; Shepley, Rutan and Coolidge; and particularly Hermann von Holst, whose firm Von Holst & Fyfe and his own independent practice designed a majority of the substations built between the 1910s and 1930s, many in a unique Prairie School style.
Substations such as this one were constructed of very durable materials and meant to store heavy equipment. They were also constructed for streetcars belonging to the municipal agencies as well as the railroad companies.
The Hermann von Holst Washington Park Substation was built in 1928 to house electrical power transformers nearest the largest load demand – in this case, the nearby ‘L’ station.
Hermann V. von Holst (1874–1955) was an American architect practicing in Chicago, Illinois, and Boca Raton, Florida, from the 1890s to the 1940s.
He is best remembered for agreeing to take on the responsibility of heading up Frank Lloyd Wright’s architectural practice when Wright went off to Europe with Mamah Cheney in 1909.