Friday, June 2, 2017

Mid-Century Multi-Family Buildings in West Ridge- Part 1

There's been some interesting discussion in Chicago about how residents perceive their neighborhood and how that shapes their response to new development. For a great introduction read this piece by Daniel Kay Hertz, "How Bungalow-y is the Bungalow Belt?
3001-3330 W. Granville, 1956.
To summarize, if you live on a block of predominantly single family homes it's easy to overlook scattered multi-family buildings nearby, which easily outnumber single family homes in regard to unit counts.  So when new multi-family housing is proposed it's seen as uncharacteristic by a comparatively small proportion of neighborhood residents who are guided more by their intuitive understanding of the area rather than actual demographics.

2250 Single-Family Homes and 946 Multi-Family Homes (1945-1965)
Those who see new development as threatening to the character of their neighborhood may be successful in opposing and blocking these projects, particularly if they require a zoning change, which is subject to  review through the local alderman. These opponents often appropriate the language of planning to justify that opposition--  not enough parking, too much density, incompatible in scale... Although these may be valid concerns they often stem from a qualitative understanding of the neighborhood and don't acknowledge the complex interweaving of different types of land use.

So I thought it might be interesting to look at multi-family housing in the West Ridge neighborhood.  In particular I'm focusing on  mid-century development which is often overlooked by housing advocates and architectural historians. What exactly are the proportions of multi-family buildings to single family during this period?  How did development change over time?  To answer some of these questions I used the Building Footprints data provided by the City of Chicago.  This is the information the city uses in their Geographic Information System, and includes construction date, unit counts and number of floors.  Full disclosure--  I have no idea if this information is accurate.  I assume much of it was taken from the Cook County Tax Assessor.  But it was the best building-level information I could identify, so I'm going with it.

2250 Single Family Units and 4653 Multi Family Units
Between 1945 and 1965 there were 2550 single family homes constructed in West Ridge. Not surprising, since much of the neighborhood participated in the post-war building boom.   In the same time period there were 946 multi-family homes built.  In comparison the  total number of single family households remain at 2550 but the multi-family buildings contain 4653 households-- nearly twice as many.  (My crummy graphs are meant to represent this visually, although you'll have to click on them before they become legible.) So the real weight of opinion in the neighborhood should really be with the residents of the multi-family buildings.

6158 N. Richmond, 1959
In the next few weeks I'll be taking a closer look at some of these mid-century multi-family buildings.  I find this era to be a very creative period in housing history, and one that hasn't really received enough attention from a developmental or architectural standpoint.  The West Ridge neighborhood is practically an encyclopedia of mid-century design, and I hope to plot out a small part of it.

I also want to talk a bit about what's becoming known as the "missing middle" of the housing market- developments which are similar in scale to single family homes but create a denser neighborhood, permitting greater diversity, walkability and affordability.  I believe these mid-century buildings are good examples and can provide some lessons on adding density in established urban neighborhoods.


  1. I agree Larry. I walk by the "bird cage" and the complex on the west side of Ridge between Morse and Farwell every day and I love the rhythm of the set backs of that complex along Ridge. Some of the courtyard mid-century apartment complexes are nice too and several of the larger apartment buildings have great lobbies. I also like the 4 Unit Brown brick, 2-story infill complexes on the lower density streets with walled in individual backyards. There is one on Greenleaf and Farwell East of Ridge and one on Hamilton between Lunt and Morse. They must all be same architect/builder. Would love to know. Lisa

  2. Thanks Lisa. There are some interesting ones out there. I've got about 9 buildings to start with, and then I may be casting around for more.

  3. At least in terms of garbage collection, the city considers our townhouse complex to be a multi-family unit (as opposed to the bank and title companies, which consider them stinker family homes). Ours was built in 1965, and there are multiple matching complexes in Rogers Park and Edgewater. I wonder about their history and where they fall in the neighborhood perception.

  4. Single family, not stinker family. Although that is a hilarious typo I light of the nimby nature of the housing debates.

  5. Thanks Laura. I wonder how the city classifies the old Chicago rowhouses... And whenever I see SFR I'll suspect "S" could be stinker!