Monday, October 3, 2011

Lawndale Cottages

3149 S. Komensky, 1922, 841 sq.ft.
While looking up a few images in Google I found an unusual building type.  Well, it was unusual to me. Blocks of 1-story masonry cottages with flat roofs, mostly built in the 1910s and early 1920s.  They look like 2-flats with the top floor cut off.  These are single family homes complete with yards and garages, ranging in size from 800 to 1000 sq.ft.  This is about the size of a modest two-bedroom apartment, although these also have full basements.

They tend to group together, alternating designs in an A-B-A-B pattern. Just another reminder of how much of Chicago was created by builders trying to minimize design fees and maximize profit.  And provide solid neighborhood buildings, of course.
3147 S. Komensky, 1922, 841 sq.ft.
 So the other weekend we found ourselves driving through a light rain with a couple of snoozing kids in back, and Angela suggested that we take a drive to check out these cottages.  So we did.  It's a good thing my wife is game for this sort of thing.  In addition to getting some decent photos through the drizzle we discovered the original Home Run Pizzeria on 31st street.  Good reason for a return visit.

Not all of these houses are cut from a few basic designs.  There are some that have more elaborate parapets and details, and were probably individually designed for a particular client. The building below has a carefully proportioned
3145 S. Keeler, 1919, 847 sq.ft.
parapet (Mission-style? Craftsman?) and brick columns with chamfered corners to create a more elegant appearance.  And you can't overlook the generous full-width front porch.

I'm struck by how unlikely it would be for anyone to build something comparable today.  It's really a function of the economy more than anything else.  First, you would have to buy the land.  Second, you would have to excavate the foundation and use all new materials. Third, you would end up with something that utilizes a fraction of the possible floor area but with triple the costs.  This alone gives a good snapshot of this neighborhood when it first developed- inexpensive land and affordable materials and labor.

Angela's theory is that this neighborhood developed because of its proximity to the Crawford Power Plant, which began generating in 1924.  But even before then it was a very industrial area, and there would have been a steady demand for single family houses.

So I think I'll start a collection of these types of cottages, and maybe a typology will start to emerge.  There are some really interesting single-story greystones a bit further north, in the area known as K-Town.


  1. You should take a look at the Forgotten Chicago forums. There is a very active thread of knowledgeable Lawndale enthusiasts.

  2. I think there are two of these on Foster, just east of Western. Only ones I've seen in this vicinity, so they stand out.

  3. Thanks Sarah, those are great! And I will check out the Forgotten Chicago threads. I also want to read the K-Town National Register nomination, which happened just recently.