Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Frame homes at Chase and Wolcott, 1905

Home with a sick 2-year old today, so maybe I can finally finish this entry while he naps.

There are thirteen frame houses on the south side of Chase, west of Wolcott in Rogers Park.  They're not remarkable but they're obviously related, with identical setbacks, massing and materials.  Some of them have been altered over time but you can't hide the family resemblance.

Early neighborhood developers often added value to their offering by modifying a basic design.   This would give the impression of variety while still taking advantage of the economy of scale.  They would vary the materials, the window styles or the roof shapes.  In this case the builder was working with three models, each with an identical layout but a different roof configuration.  These include a hipped roof modified with a deck (A), a standard hipped roof (B), and a hipped roof with the ridge extended forward to create a gable (C).  I wouldn't be surprised to find that the floor area of each house is essentially identical.

Developing the block with these homes is like putting together a kit. In this case the pattern is A-B-A-B, then switching to C-A-B-C-A-B.  Once sensitized to these types of development patterns you begin to notice them everywhere. 

The building at the corner of Wolcott and Chase was the first, and received a permit in the spring of 1905.  Perhaps this functioned as the model home for the development.  The remaining homes were permitted a couple of months later.
 And 108 years later here's the result.  One  of these homes was demolished for an apartment building in the 1920s,  but those that remain maintain the feel of a solid neighborhood block.

Developers are sometimes criticized for being motivated by profit and for not taking into account the impact of their projects on the surrounding area.  It's easy to forget that most of Chicago was built by developers.  They certainly made a profit, but they're also responsible for the look and feel of basically every neighborhood in the city.

Building permits for these homes were found in the Ancient Building Permit files of Chicago.  And no, it wasn't easy.  I hate microfilm.  The block plan was developed from the 1937 Sanborn Fire Insurance Maps and online aerial photos from Google.  The streetscape image is developed from reference photos, drawn with Micron pens, and shaded with cool grey Prismacolor markers.  OK, too much information.

Carl and Pearl Peterson at 1905 W. Chase, c.1905. 
Carl not looking too excited about their new house. Is that his mother?
From the RPWRHS Collection (P001-30299)


  1. I just discovered your blog. How interesting, especially since we're moving to Rogers Park at the end of April. I want to comment on your last paragraph. I love the old Sanborn maps, and am glad I'm not the only one who uses them. I use the database through the Chicago Public Library's webpage. How do you get access to the Ancient Building Permit files?

  2. Thanks Steve. In Chicago you can view the old permit cards on microfilm at the UIC Library or the Harold Washington Library. The card will give you the date of the permit application and reference to a ledger. You can then take the ledge reference and look that up on a different set of microfilm for name of the architect and some notes about the construction. If successful you'll have a enormous sense of satisifaction, followed by a blinding headache.

    You can also request old permit records through the City's building department, but that's expensive and time consuming.

  3. Oh no! Microfilm! I use ProQuest internet databases to search the old Chicago Tribune and New York Times. You can do keyword searching so easily... I don't know how anyone every found anything useful in the old days with microfilm. And I totally know about the headaches.

  4. Larry, do you know anyone willing to look up a building permit from about 1919 (paid, of course)?

  5. A local genealogist would do it for you. Or a title search company. Or you could submit a FOIA request to Chicago's Dept. of Buildings. That would probably be the most direct (and cheapest) way to go: