Brewery to be demolished, apartments can be saved, but cause of Albany Park fire still unknown

An investigation into the cause of the fire was delayed due to unsafe building conditions. Investigators cannot enter the buildings without the aid of heavy equipment, and several people still need to be interviewed.

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Firefighters work the scene of a fire at Twisted Hippo Brewery in the 4300 block of North Richmond in Albany Park, Monday, Feb. 21, 2022.

Firefighters work the scene of a fire at Twisted Hippo Brewery in the 4300 block of North Richmond in Albany Park, Monday, Feb. 21, 2022.

Anthony Vazquez/Sun-Times

Investigators have yet to determine the cause of a fire that tore through a block of Albany Park early Monday, but city officials said it’s unlikely that unsafe conditions at an apartment building that burned played any role.

The fire knocked down the roof and west wall of the building that housed Twisted Hippo Brewery and Ultimate Ninjas Chicago, and it will likely need to be demolished, Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s office said in a statement Tuesday.

The apartment building across a gangway could be renovated, depending what an independent structural engineer’s report finds, the statement said.

The conditions of both buildings are considered unsafe and have delayed an investigation into the cause of the fire. Investigators need heavy equipment to sift through the rubble, and several people still need to be interviewed, a Fire Department spokesman said.

The owner of the apartment building in the 4300 block of North Richmond Street had been taken to court last year for unsafe conditions, but city officials said those issues likely did not contribute to the fire.

The lawsuit cited owner Gary Carlson with a range of code violations, from electrical issues and no smoke detectors in an outdoor common stairwell to gang graffiti and inadequate hot water.

Public records show Carlson got a permit in January to fix the electrical issues, but it was unclear if the work was completed. A Feb. 7 inspection was delayed until March because of scheduling issues, a city spokesman said.

In its statement, the city noted that Carlson is named in dozens of lawsuits filed by the city against his properties. Carlson has 72 active housing court cases against him stemming from city inspections at 77 of his buildings, the city said. 

Those cases are all ongoing. Even so, the city said none of Carlson’s properties were on Chicago’s building code scofflaw list when it was last updated in September. The list  includes buildings with “serious and chronic building code violations.”

Reached Tuesday, Carlson said he hasn’t decided whether to rehab the damaged building on Richmond, but has hired a public adjuster to analyze the cost. “If he calls me and we’re in agreement about what should be done, I would be following his directive,” he said.

Carlson said the city has waged a “revenge” campaign against him, targeting his buildings with citations, after a firefighter was shot in one of his buildings in 2020.

“If you go into the court records, you’re going to find my name as far as building code violations more than any single person who’s ever lived in Chicago,” Carlson said. “It’s a complete revenge.”

Carlson said he does his best to correct issues but “there’s no way for me to take care of them all.”

In Monday’s blaze, fire crews were called around 3:45 a.m. and the alarm was quickly raised to a 3-11 as the fire burned through the apartment building, the brewery and the gym. Officials said all the residents were able to escape, but a 60-year-old man was taken in serious condition to Swedish Hospital with smoke inhalation.

Twisted Hippo opened in January of 2019 at a site where three other breweries had opened and quickly closed.

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