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The Florence May apartment building was erected in 1907 at 210-212 North Wyman Street on the former site of the Commercial Club, which was originally the Butterworth homestead. The building fronted on both North Wyman and North Main Streets and was adjacent to the Christian Union Church. The old Commercial Club building was moved from the site and relocated to Chestnut and West Streets where it was converted into a modern two family flat by the Engstrom's. The Florence May was the first apartment building of it's kind in Rockford. The structure was designed by Architect Frank A. Carpenter. Beadon R. Lyddon was the contractor and builder. It was three stories tall with twenty four apartments, eight on each floor, thoroughly modern and elegant throughout. The building had four solid stone entranceway's to the apartments, one on North Main, One on Wyman and two on the north side of the building. From the entranceway and lobby, massive stairways led up to the second and third floors of the building, winding in such a way that they did not take away much room from the structure. The apartments had a floor space of over 800 square feet each making them large and airy. Each apartment was supplied with plenty of natural light, courts being arranged so the apartments located in the center of the building had outside windows on two sides. Private porches were provided for twelve of the apartments facing Main or Wyman. In the basement of the building a private storage area was provided for each of the apartments as well as large laundry rooms. One of the amenities included was that each tenant was able to control the temperature in their own apartment, a sort of rarity back then.
The proprietors were the three Engstrom brothers, Theodore V. who was involved in real estate, and had owned and rented property on both sides of the river for years. He worked as a traveling salesman for the Wyman, Parbridge and Company located in Minneapolis, Minnesota which was the largest dry good distributor in the Midwest at the time. He refused a promotion for an office job in which he would of had to relocate to Minnesota because he did not want to give up his Rockford ties. In his travels he made a study of apartment buildings all over the country and the Florence May took the best of the ideas that he noted in their construction. At the time Theodore proclaimed, You show me a vital downtown region anywhere across the country that doesn't have places to stay, “It doesn't exist”. Alfred A. Engstrom was an accountant who had worked for the Central Furniture Company, the Mechanics Furniture Company and the Building and Loan Association. He left to study at Evanston and Chicago before joining his brother Theodore as a traveling salesman. Ebenezer W. Engstrom was a graduate of Rockford High School in 1892. Later he was employed at the Third National Bank for two years. He went on to study and graduated from the College of Liberal Arts of Northwestern University, the Cormack School of Oratory and Northwestern Law School. After completing his college courses he became a member of the faculty of Dakota University for one year and then for two years at Albion College, Albion, Michigan. He then became a member of the faculty of Northwestern University Law School and would drive to Chicago once a week to lecture at the school. Ebenezer was also one of the founders of Swedish American National Bank 1910. The building was named after the wives of the three brothers, Theodore's wife Florence and Alfred's wife May and Ebenezer's wife, also named May.
A restaurant, The Thadwa Cafe was located in the southeast corner of the large basement facing Wyman Street. The restaurant had an entry leading from North Main Street. For the convenience of the residents living in the Florence May that wished to utilize the cafe, there was a separate entryway for the apartments above. The Thadwa Cafe was operated by Mrs. Miner.
The Engstrom Brothers would join forces in the real estate, loan, law and general brokerage business in August 1907. The idea for the firm was an outgrowth of plans made in 1903. Although they were already in the real estate, mortgage and loan business they decided to specialize in commercial law and the handling of estates. The brothers opened their office suite on the second floor of the then new Rockford Trust Building on the corner of State and Main Streets. Theodore held the position of president of the firm. Alfred was secretary of the firm while Ebenezer was in charge of the law department. As the business grew Phillip H. Lewis was added to the legal department and Hugh T. Brown as manager of the real estate department.
The success of the Florence May apartments sparked a rapid increase in the construction of other apartment buildings in Rockford. The tract of land which was located west of the intersection of Kishwaukee Street and Sixteenth Avenue was owned by the Engstrom family since 1878, which they improved with cement sidewalks and trees, sewer, etc. and sold the lots for homes in 1908. Mrs. Mrtyle Liomin and Mrs. Francis W. Foster opened a beauty parlor in apartment one in January 1908. After a rent dispute with the operator of the Thadwa Cafe, Mrs. Milner, the Engstrom Brothers took possession of the cafe in 1910 and appointed Clarence Beck who ran it for a short time and finally by Mr. and Mrs. W. H. McGrahan. In May 1912 the Engstrom Brothers closed the Thadwa and moved their offices into the Florence May in the former Thadwa Cafe space.
Every Saturday afternoon the three Engstrom brothers would put on their overalls and go down to their dairy farm, Meadow Stream farm which was located on the river road south of Rockford, and become farmers for the rest of the day. The Meadow Stream farm consisted of a herd of fifty pure blood Holstein cattle, the result of their own breeding. The Engstrom brothers had taken great interest in the raising and breeding of Holstein cattle. They would enter some of their stock in contests and came away winners many times. This would always bring a good sale price for the prized cow. Many products were made on the Engstrom Brothers farm including butter and milk. The milk was bottled on the farm and distributed by the Union Dairy Company. Visitors were always welcome to stop by the farm.
Theodore was the treasurer of the Rockford Mausoleum Company, and was president of the Forest City Life Insurance Company which he organized with Arthur D. Warner in 1907, they were granted a charter in 1909. Theodore purchased the house at 1313 East State Street in 1914 for his family home. The home is now known as the Lake-Peterson House on the campus of Swedish American Hospital. Previously the family was residing on North Main Street. Married Florence in 1891 and had three children, Victor B., Frank A., and Florence T. Engstrom. By 1914 the Engstrom brothers in addition to the Florence May also owned the Frederick and Wilhelmina Apartment buildings. The Frederick Apartments were originally named the Barnes Flats and were located at the southwest corner of North Main Street and Park Avenue and had six apartments. The Engstroms bought the building in 1913. In 1923 they would sell the building to Oscar F. Wilson, a printing company owner.
In 1913 the Ekstrom Brothers also owned several banks in North Dakota, the Regent State Bank and New Leipzig State Bank. The Regent Bank eliminated the competition in Regent, North Dakota when it purchased the accounts, deposits and building of Citizen's State Bank. They collaborated with the Brown Brothers State Bank of South Dakota on selling farm mortgages in Dakota. In November 1913 The Rockford Mausoleum Company moved from the Trust Building to the basement of the Florence May, as did Forest City Life Insurance. The office area was remodeled using only the finest hardwoods and marble. The Florence May Apartments were an address of distinction with many well known and prominent people of Rockford residing at the address. The Engstrom Brothers who always strived to make Rockford a more pleasant place installed three boulevard lamps on North Wyman Street between Mulberry and Peach Streets ( now Jefferson Street ) at no cost to the city or it's residents. At what seemed to be the height of success at that point took a tragic turn when on February 5, 1916, Theodore V. Engstrom died of tuberculosis. Shortly afterwards on December 14, 1917, Alfred A Engstrom died after an extended illness of two years, leaving behind his wife May and son Alfred. Ebenezer passed away on October 24, 1936 at Meadow Stream Farm, leaving behind his wife Florence and two daughters.
In June 1936 a popular new downtown gathering place, Hicks Coffee Shop, opened in the Florence May in the vacated basement offices of the Engstrom Brothers. Owned and operated by Harold E. Hicks, the restaurant even had it's own pastry chef. The Hick's Coffee shop would see several name changes over the years from buffeteria to restaurant. Hicks also had two private dining rooms, the long enduring Rockford landmark would shut it's doors in 1959.
The Florence May Apartment building was demolished in November 1962, another victim of Rockford's urban renewal mentality at the time, for a new drive up facility for Central National Bank, the bank with the "Revolving Time - Temperature Clock". Today the site is home to a City of Rockford municipal parking lot.
The Barnes Flats were one of the first apartment buildings in Rockford, built in 1891 by businessman B. Frank Barnes who was connected with the W. F. and John Barnes factory. Located on the southwest corner of North Main and North Streets, later North Street was renamed to Park Avenue. The three story Barnes Flats had all of the modern amenities that were available at the time. At the entrance was two rows of electric doorbells, speaking tubes and mail boxes, and two wide stairways leading to the main staircase and and the three floors above. A step through a door between the lower staircases disclosed the spacious court that allowed light for the inner rooms and also furnished ventilation. In the basement was a well equipped laundry and drying rooms, and several compartments for storage. The flats were arranged into suites, each with seven main rooms, five closets, pantry and a well furnished bath room. Each suite could be entered from the main hall that furnished protection from outside exposure. On the rear of the building was a latticed veranda with an entrance from the street. Hot and cold water was furnished to each suite at any time "day or night". Each separate apartment was heated by steam and had every modern convenience of plumbing and sanitary perfection. Many people said that nobody would live in a third floor apartment, they were proven wrong as the third floor apartments were some of the first to be rented out, and the tenants raved about it. Another address of distinction it was the address of many prominent citizens of the era. The large structure that stretched 52 feet on North Main and 159 feet on Park avenue featured large eight room apartments and housed six families. In 1912 the Engstrom Brothers acquired the Barnes Flats and updated them with several improvements.
In June 1923 Oscar F. Wilson, president and manager of the Wilson Printing Company, Church and Chestnut Streets, purchased the Barnes Flats from E. W. and Florence Engstrom. He had no immediate plans for the building but speculated on converting the bottom floor into retail space and remodeling the upper floors to house his printing business now located in the Cook Building. Instead he sold the building in August 1923 to E. E. Smith of the Smith Oil and Refining Company. The building was once again sold for the last time in 1927 to Carroll Waller who would raze the building and sell the land to the developers of the soon to be constructed Coronado Theater building.
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