Hawthorne Works, Cicero Illinois
Western Electric's Hawthorne works in Cicero was the largest telephone factory in the U.S. and probably the world for decades. It was Western Electric's main production facility from the time it was built, in 1905, until the AT&T monopoly was broken up. During peak periods, the plant employed more than 40,000 people. The Hawthorne Works closed in 1986. Western Electric was a subsidiary of AT&T. It produced all of the telephones, switching equipment and other hardware used in the Bell System. Western Electric also produced bomb sights, Radar and other electronic equipment. My grandfather spent his working life with Western Electric in Detroit.
The Renaissance Revival water tower pictured here was the centerpiece of the sprawling plant. It is the plant's only surviving structure. The rest of the Hawthorne Works was demolished 1994. In its' place, a developer built a strip mall that has features that echo the original plant in a cartoonish and half hearted way (photo above). The tower, which can been seen from quite some distance, is unmarked and unmaintained in the service area behind the shopping center. It's a weird bit of preservation. Yes part of the factory was saved. And yes the buildings that replaced the bulk of the plant attempt to evoke what was destroyed in their design. But there is nothing to help interpret the water tower- no sign or plaque. Access to the tower is unmarked and there was nothing specific in place to accommodate anyone visiting the landmark. There were no visitors either. Besides myself, a delivery driver and shopping center security, no one was in the rear area of this busy shopping center when I visited in 2017. It's nice that the water tower, at least, was saved though.
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