Thursday, January 5, 2017

Stucco Bungalows on Arthur, 1915

Fifty-One Stucco Bungalows on Arthur Avenue
I've written a number of posts about collections of homes planned, designed and built by early developers in the neighborhood.  These range from a few identical cottages to more complex arrangements of alternating designs.   These small scale developments are found throughout Chicago and their quiet existence probably accounts for most of the city's small-scale speculative residential development.
On the block of Arthur Avenue with Clark Street on the east and the Union Pacific Railroad embankment on the west, there's an impressive collection of modest stucco bungalows constructed in 1915. Permit records shows that these homes were designed by Edgewater architect and developer Niels Buck, who was active in the area from the 1890s through the 1920s.  Two permits were issued, the first covering the homes on the north side of the block in April of 1915, and the second on the south side in October.

According to an article in the Chicago Tribune Niels Buck, in partnership with Herman Becker, bought 12 1/2 acres in the area for $60,000 from Jacob Rehm. The cost of construction was estimated to be $230,000, which puts the cost per bungalow around $5,600.  In today's value this would be about $134,000.  Typically a developer would work with a bank to issue bonds in the value of the loan. Investors buying the bonds received a guaranteed rate of return.  But partnering with Becker may have allowed Buck to bypass this process, making the development more profitable for both.
View from the west looking towards Clark Street, 1921

This is a great photograph of the street in 1921, before any substantial changes were made. The image is available on Wikipedia, which considers it too old to be subject to copyright.  Still, I wouldn't mind knowing where it originated...

This was a high quality development, with poured concrete curbs, walkways, sidewalks and electric streetlights.  The stucco cladding addressed building code requirements for fire resistance.

Real estate developers in the city were responsible for tying their development into the street grid of the city and extending the utilities.  Quality construction was profitable to the developer, who wanted homes to sell briskly so they could move on to their next opportunity.  And in 1915 affordable homes in Rogers Park, with its strong transit ties and proximity to the lake, probably went like hotcakes.


I've identified at least seven separate types of bungalow on the block.  Although perhaps "type" is too strong a work.  Basically these are all stucco boxes with slight variations in roofline and porch design. Originally they were all about the same in size and square footage, but the changes in massing makes the repetition of designs nearly unnoticeable.  This was an advantage of having a developer who also functioned as an architect. For those who look closely the block creates an almost perfect illustration of architectural variations on a theme.


Type I Bungalow with boulder cladding
Many of the homes on the block have since departed from the original design intent.  Enclosing open porches was common, especially after the introduction of affordable air conditioning.  Rear additions and detached garages are also common. I'm guessing garages weren't included in the original development in order to keep prices low.  Sometimes homes were expanded upward, losing the shape of the original roof but adding substantial square footage.

Stucco is a surface treatment that required maintenance, repair and sometimes replacement.  It wasn't such a stretch to replace one surface treatment with another.  The bungalow above incorporates a formstone cladding.  This was popular for home repair as early as the 1930s and probably a bit cheaper than new stucco, which required specialized skills for installation.

Type II Bungalow with renovations
This home has been altered just as much as the one above, losing the open porch and extending a new covered entrance porch.  But in this case the renovations observed some of the established patterns on the block, retaining the stucco and eave brackets and incorporating more traditional window details.

This block of Arthur represents the most extensive contiguous development I've found in the neighborhood. But I know there are many more out there.

Ad for Atlas Portland Cement Company from American Builder, May-1918.  Accessed through Google Books.




8 comments:

  1. According to several long-time residents of the block that I've known over the years, this block was actually built by the developers for the employees of the Chicago Union Traction Company, which had its streetcar barn, immediately south of the alley, along Schreiber Ave. The car barn was built in 1900.
    I live nearby & know several owners there.
    The houses are extremely well built, with a regular stairway to the attic, which originally was unused.
    When the car barn was there, many of the owners on the south side of the street were permitted to build garages on the northernmost part of the car barn property. That ended when the city finally tore down the car barn in 1976 to build the police station & the Streets & Sanitation garage & salt storage buildings, which opened in 1979. There was also a single factory building on Ravenswood, which was a dump when I worked in there in the early 1970s. There were also two small buildings at the corner of Schreiber & Clark, which housed the Misener Animal Hospital, which also had to move for the police station construction.
    Because the traction company property line was the northern boundary, the houses on the south side of the 1700 block of Albion have some of the longest lots in Chicago, 180 feet long.
    The Arthur Ave. house are currently selling for well above $350,000 & don't last long on the market.

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  2. Thanks Clark St.! I hadn't found any information about the involvement of the Chicago Union Traction Company, but it gives me a good angle to investigate.

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  3. Another fun fact is that the stucco is over brick. The bricks are large (around 12"x18") and hollow terra cotta.

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  4. That's impressive construction! Those homes must be really good in the winter.

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  5. I thank Chicago Union Traction Company for my huge back yard.

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  6. Larry, I live on Campbell Avenue, between Rosemont and Granville Avenues. My house is also stucco, and I love it. It's supposed to have been constructed in 1917 or 1918, which means it's 100 years old or about to turn 100. Do you know of any way that I can find more information about my house? I'd love to see some old pictures as well... Thank you!

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  7. 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 ledger reference and look that up on a different set of microfilm to find the name of the owner, builder and architect. You can also request old permit records through the City's building department. For photos you might check with the Rogers Park West Ridge Historical Society. But finding old photos for a specific address is hard, and a lot of people are disappointed.

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    1. Thanks for your quick reply, Larry! Keep up the great work!

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