Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Clark, Greenleaf, Ravenswood and Estes, Part 1

The biggest property disaster that I know of in Rogers Park was a fire that burned down nearly the entire block bounded by Clark, Greenleaf, Ravenswood and Estes.   It was documented in the Chicago Tribune with a map of the burned area and a line drawing showing the destruction.  I recreated the map in order to add labels, but I can't improve on the drawing, which somehow came through microfilming (and then scanning) with a good amount of its detail intact.  Welcome to Rogers Park, 1894.

Looking Northeast through the burned area. From the August 9th, 1894 Chicago Tribune.

The article mentions that 14 buildings were lost, including stores, factories and dwellings.   It even provided a table itemizing the losses.  I've done my best go through the description and map out where I believe everything was located, but I'm only about 70% sure of my accuracy.

But so what? There was a big fire in Rogers Park over a hundred years ago and a bunch of people lost their homes and businesses.  How does that impact the neighborhood today? To investigate this maybe we need to go back another Chicago fire that's become a defining element in the conception of the modern Chicago.

After the fire of 1871 Chicago didn't rise from the ashes with dozens of skyscrapers stretching upward. The first steel frame skyscraper wasn't even constructed until 1884.  Instead Chicago rebuilt itself much as it had been, except that the city government scrambled to adopt new building codes and regulations to minimize the chances of another catastrophic fire.

It took years to adopt the regulations for new fire-resistant and fireproof construction and property owners and builders screamed the entire way.  (I definitely recommend Margaret Garb's "City of American Dreams" which describes this era vividly.)  One outcome of this assertion of governmental responsibility was an overall strengthening of the administrative policies of Chicago related to building.  This came to influence the look of the city far more than any fire.  Height limits, minimum construction standards, setbacks,  exiting requirements, etc. all became a part of the modern Chicago.

Rogers Park was annexed to Chicago a year before the fire, in 1893.  This meant that any new development on the damaged block had to conform to the new construction standards.  So this disaster provides me with something useful-- a clean slate.  Periodically I'm going to be taking a closer look at how this block developed post-fire, and what it might reveal about Rogers Park in particular and about Chicago in general.



  1. Surprising this is not listed on

  2. Yes, but there must have been hundreds of these neighborhood fires. Although this one does seem particularly destructive there wasn't any loss of life.