Friday, May 18, 2012

6225 N. Fairfield, 1923

Here's an unusual alley building spotted by my wife on one of our innumerable drives down Granville.  She thought it might be a coach house, something I've never seen in West Ridge.  It's actually a rear lot residence and garage. Its front yard on Fairfield looks a bit like an overgrown forest.  And it's not a remnant of early development in the area either.  It was built in 1923, about the same time that the rest of the block was filling up with apartment buildings. 

There have been numerous additions over the years, so it's become an odd amalgam.  Most of it is brick, but there are several frame dormers and a tile additon on the front. There's even a little turret that's not visible in this image.

According to the permit record there was some type of carnival (with four unspecified rides) permitted on the front portion of this lot in the Fall of 1952 and 1953.  The lot to the north would have been vacant at that point, so that makes more sense. 

I remember seeing family photographs of my aunts and uncles riding ponies in their neighborhood in the 1950s . Perhaps these were the areas where local festivals were held- vacant (or underutilized)  lots on otherwise developed blocks.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Farwell and Oakley, 1928

Chicago owes a lot to small-scale neighborhood developers.  This role is generally unsung, despite being responsible for the overwhelming percentage of buildings throughout the city.

Adapted from the Sanborn Fire Insurance Map
To the right is a site block plan of Kennett's Subdivision, recorded in January of 1928.  The depth is about 125' (typical for Chicago) and the frontages on Farwell range from 50' to 58'.  The corner lot has  a larger frontage of 77'.  Corner lots are typically larger in order to offset the loss of a private backyard and the exposure to traffic from two directions.  In urban areas the corner lots are often used to develop a greater number of less expensive units.  This development consisted of five 6-flat buildings and one 18-flat building, although some of the 6-flats have since been subdivided. 

Emma Kennett was the head of Kennett Construction Company and an experienced developer by 1928.  The Chicago Daily Tribune wrote a number of articles about her, in part because of the novelty of a woman succeeding in the construction industry. By 1928 she had developed more than 80 buildings in the Jarvis-Ridge-Howard area while raising three young children.  Mrs. Kennett worked in the office of a builder prior to marrying James Kennett, a Chicago building contractor.  When the marriage ended Mrs. Kennett re-entered the building profession to support her young family.  And apparently also her husband, who was receiving checks from her as late as 1935, when he disappeared in California under assumptions of foul play. 

By the late 1920s she had begun developing clusters of buildings.  This subdivision is in West Ridge, but most of her work is found in Rogers Park. 

North side of Farwell, west of Oakley
In one article she notes her horror of long barrack-like apartments, which she attempts to avoid using various eclectic architectural styles popular at the time. Above you can see examples of Tudor Revival, Italian Rennaissance Revial, and Spanish Mission Revival.   She claimed to have designed these buildings herself, although she worked with architects to make the plans technically correct. I don't put this beyond her at all.  In fact, she seems to have relished the details of construction, including the interior decor, lobby ornamentation and landscaping.  Officially Arthur Bucket is listed as the architect of record for the corner building and J.T. Fortin for the 6-flats.

One thing which baffles me is her assertion that the buidings she creates resemble private homes.  And the writer totally agrees.  Maybe it's the distance of 80 years, but in no way do these look like individual homes.  They look like apartment buildings.  Even 1920s single family homes of comparable square footage (I'm thinking of the North Shore) wouldn't resemble these.  Still, the attempt to create unique buildings that avoid regimentation is certainly accomplished.

Entrances along Farwell (in order)
You have to admire the level of detail that went into these buildings.  But one of the reasons I started with this group is not because of their quality, but because their constuction and appearance is so typical for this area and this time period.

As I investigate more of these clusters I want to examine Emma Kennett's team, which included investors, architects, contractors, and even an illustrator who created perspective renderings for publication.  My guess is that her body of work will be just as consistent as that of an architect working in the same period on similar types of buildings.

I recently received some research performed by a hugely generous reader who investigated some of the open questions in this post.  A special thanks to Marsha Holland of Edgewater, who provided the following accounts, distilled from US Census records and other primary sources accessed through  And she even found some useful Tribune articles I had overlooked.  (inserted 10/25/12)

Herbert Richter more or less disappears after his World War II draft registration in 1942.  He seems to have drifted after his work with Emma Kennett.  At the time of the 1940 census he lived in Baltimore, Maryland, and worked as a carnival waiter.  His home in 1940 apparently was a large transient structure, perhaps the train cars that carried the circus equipment (let me know if you want me to send a pdf of the actual census pages).  He is not in the Social Security database, either because he died young or never paid in. 

Emma C. Kennett was truly a remarkable woman.  I was able to find out a good bit about her husband James’ family background but her own family of origin remains a mystery.  Her maiden name was Anderson, her parents were born in Norway, she apparently grew up in or near Chicago, and a Tribune article that I do not reference in the attached file indicates she had a sister named Mable living in Los Angeles at the time of her husband’s murder in 1935.  Someone needs to write a short biography of her for the Rogers Park and Edgewater Historical Societies, since she can be claimed by both communities as a resident.  She definitely left her mark on the city.  [Agreed! ed.]

Chicago Tribune, 23 August 1935, page 10

Article about the murder of James C, Kennett by a confessed serial killer. Kennett, who was “in the mountains for his health,” met the 21 year old man in Roseville, about 15 miles from the mine shaft in the Serra Nevada mountains where Kennett’s body was found. The killer, an itinerant prospector, said the two had met and decided to camp together, and that the murder occurred as a result of a quarrel over supplies. He claimed to have murdered 24 other people. [He was convicted and hung in May, 1936.]

Chicago Tribune, 30 August 1935, page 18
Rites Here Tomorrow for J.C. Kennett, Slain in the West
The ashes of J.C. Kennett, Sr., retired Chicago contractor, who was slain in a mining camp near Auburn, California, about two months ago, are being returned to Chicago, it was learned yesterday. Services will be held at 2:30 p.m. in the Mount Olive chapel, Irving Park Boulevard and Narragansett Street. Kennett is survived by his wife Emma of 6341 Sheridan Road, from whom he had been divorced; by two sons, James Jr., 21 years old, and Maynard, 19 years old, and a daughter Joyce, 15 years old.

Wells Street Bridge

Wells Street Bridge, 1922
Back in 2009 I did a series of drawings of the bridge-houses in the Loop.  This was one of my favorites, so I thought I would repost. It was more an exercise in representation, so there's limited historic information.

Built: 1922
Thomas Pihlfeldt, engineer
Clarence Rowe, engineer

This is a view of the Wells Street Bridge looking northwest across the Chicago River. That round thing in the water is called a dolphin, and protects the bridge house from meandering barges. I recently spent 20 minutes in the rain waiting for this bridge to lower as various yachts motored past. In the fall people bring their sailboats in from Lake Michigan to the dry docks on the south branch. It's a good time to hang around Wacker Drive and yell abuse down at them.