The story of the Public Service Building in Libertyville is very much connected with Samuel Insull, founder of the Public Service Company of Northern Illinois, Commonwealth Edison, and owner of numerous banks. In 1907 Insull bought a large acreage south of Libertyville and built and lived in the house now known as the Cuneo mansion.
Insull wanted to build a commercial building that would house his bank and promote the potential uses of electricity. To this end, the Public Service Building was constructed in six months in 1928 at a cost of $250,000. The architect, Hermann Valentin Von Holst, had designed many buildings for Insull, including the original Condell Hospital. The Public Service Building was the last structure on which they collaborated.
The new structure graced the southeast corner of Milwaukee Avenue and Church Street. Architecturally, the Public Service Building combines several styles, mostly featuring Tudor Gothic and Spanish Plateresque, but incorporating elements of Old English, Moorish, and Asian Indian.
Notable features of the new building were an open arcade near the center of the building, topped by a dome and a lighted clock. Through the arcade was a courtyard featuring a sunken garden, a fountain, and landscaping decorated with (what else?) electric lights.
Tenants of the building included Insull’s Libertyville Bank and Trust as well as The Frock Shop and Lindroth Millinery, upscale retail shops. The Public Service Store was located in the northwest corner of the building, a showcase for electrical appliances. The northeast corner of the building housed Countryside Motors, a Chevrolet dealer, the entrance of which faced Church Street and featured an 8-foot doorway so cars could be brought into the showroom space.
The second story of the Public Service Building was home to offices, including two dentists, a beauty shop, an excavating company, a realty and a lawyer. Three-, two- and one-room apartments rounded out this early multi-use building.
The building opened to great acclaim on November 17, 1928. It was the height of the booming twenties, and optimism reigned. Boy Scouts gave tours of the new structure, and young ladies handed out cigars to the men and roses to the women.
Unfortunately, the confidence of the era didn’t last long after the Public Service Building was built. When the stock market crashed in 1929 Insull lost everything, including the Public Service Building. In the years following, the building and grounds gradually deteriorated due to neglect.
In the early 1950s the building was purchased and “modernized” with a marble façade to hide any memory of the failed Bank and Trust. The Libertyville Federal Savings Bank and Harry Taylor’s Drug Store were some of the new occupants.
In 1982 a complete restoration of the building was undertaken. The following year it was added to the National Register of Historic Places.
Today the courtyard is gone, with a parking lot and bank drive-through in its place behind the building. The arcade is filled in but the outline of its magnificent walkthrough can still be seen by the keen observer. Despite changes over the years, the Public Service Building remains a town landmark and fine example of unique architecture.