History: Built as the the Par-T-Pak Royal Crown Corporation, the bottling plant at 47th and California dated back to 1917. As the next 90-some years went on the plant grew to encompass 300,000 square feet – an entire block of the Brighton Park neighborhood – which by 2001 deemed it the largest independent RC bottler in the country.
The success and strong presence of Royal Crown in Chicago, even to this day, can be traced to a unique marketing strategy born at this plant in the 1960s, where they catered almost exclusively to the boom in pizzerias opening throughout the city. During which, it became common for pizzerias to throw in free 1-liter bottles of RC when an order hit a certain amount. With RC being much cheaper to the pizzeria than its rivals, and RC seeing it as a way to get “free trials” of their product to Chicagoans: it was a win-win for both RC and the pizzerias, who saw a sales boost as people ordered more food to get free pop.
Cadbury Schweppes purchased RC in 2000, putting it and its Diet Rite counterpart in the same bed with Dr Pepper, 7UP and Snapple. Somewhere between 2005 and 2008, this facility – then operated as the Royal Crown Bottling Company of Chicago – stopped bottling RC products and was put up for sale. By early 2012 the building was abandoned and the company liquidated.
Explore: By the end of 2012 this spot was a hotbed for the city’s graffiti scene, which was reeling from the added security at the abandoned Brach’s Candy Factory up north. We caught wind of it and rode out one January morning to find the place wide-open and an utter free-for-all, crossing paths with probably a dozen people either shooting or spraying in the four or so hours we were there.
The shipping/receiving area, on the west side of the plant, had been turned into a D.I.Y. skate park using random pallets and signage that had been scattered about.
Photos on Flickr showed the employee break room having a vintage RC machine in it just a few weeks prior, but it was looted by the time we got there. Somewhere else there was also a trash bin decked with vintage RC decals that had gone missing. The fate of the massive framed photo of the plant remains unknown, however we did snag an old wooden box that was laying around.
With as many open walls this spot had, the graffiti really exploded here in the months and weeks leading to this visit. This spot would’ve really turned into something colorful if given another year.
A few cats were there that day but we didn’t really talk. I turned my back for a minute and one managed to hit the RC mural in the entry foyer shortly after snapping the Polaroid at the top of this article… it hadn’t even finished developing.
The east end had been converted into offices and such that were just fodder for scrappers and something vaguely cozy enough for a hobo to take refuge. They were pretty thoroughly trashed at this point.
In a case of perfect timing, the place was fenced off and heavy equipment staged to begin demolition only a week or so after our visit. By summer, everything was gone. Today the site is home to Mansueto High School, and the Esperanza Health Center is currently under construction at the corner lot.
This entry was rewritten from its original publishing date on 12/2/14.