As one of Winnetka’s longest-running businesses, it’s hard to imagine the building at 801 Oak without the iconic Bratschi Plumbing name and storefront. When Bratschi opened for business in 1937, however, its Oak Street building had already been around for 20 years.
The tall, slim structure at 801 Oak (originally 803 Oak) was first built c. 1907 by John T. Brady, a young yet experienced blacksmith originally from Evanston. Brady operated his blacksmith and horseshoe shop on the bottom floor, and he and his wife Mary lived in an apartment above the shop.
Around the same time, just a few blocks north, William P. Happ purchased a blacksmith shop at the corner of Chestnut and Spruce. Blacksmithing was in William Happ’s blood – he was the grandson of Winnetka’s first blacksmith John Happ, who opened a shop at Maple and Elm in 1843.
William Happ ran a successful business on Spruce until the 1920s when he struck a deal with John Brady to merge their two blacksmithing businesses. Happ sold the building on Spruce and moved his business to Brady’s location at 801 Oak. The business was renamed the Brady and Happ Blacksmith Shop.
While the need for horseshoes diminished as fewer horses could be seen on Winnetka’s streets, the blacksmith shop remained in business by focusing more on other blacksmithing work, such as decorative metals. Though successful, Brady and Happ’s partnership proved short-lived when John Brady died in 1928.
The building at 801 Oak continued to be used as a blacksmith shop until 1937 when it was rented to Walter Bratschi, who opened Bratschi Plumbing that year. Since 1937, four generations of the Bratschi family have worked for the business, including WHS sustaining board member, Phil Hoza and his daughter, Carrie Hoza, who now works as the business’s dispatcher and is a current WHS board member.
To learn more about the Bratschi family history, CLICK HERE!