Time is of the essence for firefighters. In old firehouses like the one at 1700 W. 95th St. on Chicago’s South Side, firemen would sleep upstairs and, at the alarm bell, zip down the fire pole, rev up the fire truck on the ground floor, and zoom out to extinguish the flames. Now that Optimo Hats, a manufacturer of luxury men’s hats, has moved their headquarters into the 1915 firehouse, things have slowed down a bit. The handful of hat craftsmen who work there can peek through the hole in the ceiling where the fire pole was, and the building's brick facade is still emblazoned with the name of the Chicago Fire Department.
But the place has a brand new look. Completed in 2016, the firehouse-to-factory transition was a wholesale makeover, done with an eye toward saving both energy and water. Windows were unboarded, allowing in lots of sunlight, and LED task lamps installed. Optimo's floors were upgraded with radiant heat systems, the bathrooms were outfitted with low-flow fixtures, and the kitchen was finished with marble reclaimed from the firehouse. To top it off, the structure was awarded LEED Silver certification.
Movie stars and other customers who head down to Chicago’s Loop to try on custom-made fedoras at the Optimo hat showroom would be fired up to know that these hats originated in what was once the home of Engine Company 121's firefighters--and their fire hats, of course!