Future of Queen Anne building in doubt

StoryImage( ‘/Images/Story//Auto-img-11115951458661.jpg’, ‘Photo by Jeff Havens’, ‘The Queen Ann building at 617-623 Seventh St.’);

A piece of Rockford’s history is hanging in the balance.

The historic Queen Anne building on Seventh Street is a venerable structure that dates back to the 1800s when Swedish immigrants were opening businesses in the Seventh Street area. Owner Zion Development Corporation has had the building up for sale (asking price is $125,000), but so far without success. Some people were speculating that the building might be torn down for more parking space. However, Brad Roos, director of Zion Development, told The Rock River Times: “We are selling it. We have it up for sale. I do not have an offer to purchase in hand. I have not signed an offer or agreement with anyone. We do not have a plan to tear it down.”

History of the building

The Queen Anne building sits on lots 2, 3 and 4 of block 23 of the Gregory addition, in the heart of the Swedish business district that grew up in the blocks around the Chicago Northwestern Railway station that was the end of the line for many arriving immigrants. These immigrants could find rooms to rent, restaurants, taverns, barbers and general stores in the area.

Constructed in 1890, the Queen Anne’s builder’s name is lost to us, but Charles and Fred Bengston of Bengston Bros. store were among the first to have a store there. The earliest owner of record was George Spafford, who sold it in 1914.

The building housed a variety of businesses both in street-level storefronts and in rooms upstairs that were rented as sleeping rooms and businesses such as photographers. The key business was the Bengston Bros.: cigars, confectionery, sporting goods, stationery, with furnished rooms to let upstairs. They were in 617-619 Seventh St. until around 1900, when a stationery bookstore occupied 619, and the Salvation Army Hall was in 617. For the first 20 years, different barbers were in 615, and a series of restaurants were in 623 Seventh St. The restaurants started with A.J. Carlson Saloon, but soon became Carlson and Nelson’s lunchroom and stayed a restaurant until 1920 with a variety of owners.

An old photograph from around 1909-10 shows the most interesting but mysterious occupant of the building. The Lyric Theater operated in 617 Seventh St. from 1908 to 1914. In 1915, it was listed as vacant, but there is no mention of this theater in newspapers of the time. A resident of the area old enough to remember this era could not help in ascertaining the nature and type of business it was. The only name associated with the theater was Pete Rosene.

A stable early business was Oscar Tholin, Painter and Decorator, in 613 Seventh St. It was there from at least 1896 to 1920.

In 1920, we find Carl J. Olsen, Sheetmetal, in 623 Seventh St., and the building was used from here on by sheetmetal, hardware and different repair shops with residences upstairs.

In more recent years, the building has housed Rockford Urban Ministries at 623 and the Skuggi art gallery next door—though the gallery has been gone for about 10 years. A sign in the front window of the former gallery proclaims, “Save Queen Anne.”

Anyone interested in the building may call Zion Development at (815) 964-8280.

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