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Brainerd Bungalow Historic District


Homes in the 8900 block of South Racine Street, Brainerd Bungalow Historic District, Chicago, IL, National Register

Photo: Homes in the 8900 block of South Racine Street, Brainerd Bungalow Historic District, Chicago, IL. The Historic District was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2016. Photographer: Carla Bruni, ca. 2016, for nomination document, Brainerd Bungalow Historic District, Cook County, IL, NR# 16000895, National Park Service, National Register of Historic Places, Washington, D.C.

The Brainerd Bungalow Historic District [†] was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2016.

The Brainerd Bungalow Historic District is located in Community Area 73 on the southwest side of Chicago in the Washington Heights community, approximately 14 miles from the city's commercial center. The district is roughly bounded by S. May Street to the east, 95th Street to the south, S. Loomis Street to the west, and 89th Street to the north

Brick Chicago bungalows form the bulk of the Brainerd Bungalow Historic district and make up the majority of the primary structures built within the period of significance. The district has 42 known architects, though a few of those architects dominated the district. Over 250 homes in the district did not use an architect, but instead used already-existing plans. Although a variety of architects, developers, and architectural plans contributed to the design and construction of the district, it maintained a uniform scale and cohesiveness throughout its periods of rapid growth with common features such as low-pitched roofs with overhanging eaves, banded or grouped fenestration, decorative brickwork and limestone detailing.

Brainerd is part of the Washington Heights Community Area, located within Lake Township in Chicago. Washington Heights shares its boundaries with five other community areas: Auburn Gresham to the north, Roseland to the east, Morgan Park to the south, and Beverly to the west. The Brainerd neighborhood is just west of the I-94 Dan Ryan Expressway, and bounded by 89th Street to the north, Princeton Park (Eggleston Avenue) to the east, 95th Street to the south, and S. Beverly Boulevard to the west. The neighborhood has a natural division along S. Vincennes Avenue, which is wider and busier than any other interior streets in the neighborhood, and runs parallel to railroad tracks and an industrial corridor, breaking the continuity of housing. The Brainerd Bungalow Historic District is located in the central-western portion of the neighborhood.

Brainerd is a quiet, tree-lined neighborhood and remains insulated from heavy traffic with homes set back on their lots that do not front onto larger, bordering streets around the periphery of the neighborhood. The Brainerd Bungalow Historic District is largely made up of one-way streets (all of the north-south streets), which prevent traffic and high speed driving through the neighborhood and increases safety for the families who live here. Brainerd Park is located roughly in the center of this portion of Brainerd, and contains fields where baseball, softball, football and soccer teams regularly play, as well as basketball and tennis courts and a playground. There is also a field house building with meeting rooms for the community, though the field house itself was constructed after the period of significance and is non-contributing to the district. The park space has been a feature of the neighborhood since it was originally laid out in the 1910s and was never gridded out for development like the surrounding streets in the neighborhood. Just north of the park is a high school, which is also a contributing structure.

There are 43 block faces within the Brainerd Bungalow Historic District, each containing between 12 and 20 individual lots. The variation in the number of lots is largely due to a difference in street lengths (for example, all streets between 94th and 95th Streets are considerably shorter than all streets between 92nd and 93rd Streets). Lot sizes in the district range from 25 feet wide to 60 feet wide, but the average size of interior lots is approximately 25 feet wide and 125 feet deep. Corner lots and lots occupied by two-flats and multi-unit dwellings are generally wider. All buildings in the district face east or west, with the exception of some primary entrances to multi-unit apartment buildings located along 90th, 91st, 92nd, and 94th Streets. North-south streets in the district are designated one-way traffic and are approximately 30 feet wide. The right-of-way on each block face includes street lawns fronting the street pavement, as well as sidewalks, which are consistently around four feet in depth. The majority of buildings are set back between 15 to 20 feet from the street.

Bungalow neighborhoods, typically diverse in terms of the occupations and ethnic makeup of their populations, were also commonly the result of a patchwork effort of developers and architects. Some of the most active architects in the district include Sammons, Braucher, McClellan, Joneke, and Johnson. Many of these architects worked on entire block faces—often in conjunction with a single developer—and most had contributed to other Chicago Bungalow Historic Districts in the city, such as North Mayfair, West Chatham, and Rogers Park Manor, and Auburn Gresham. Despite the undeniable influence of a handful of architects and developers, a wide range of speculators and homeowners contributed to the district as a whole, and many developers worked without the direct involvement of an architect using easily purchased and replicated plans. This has left a distinct but cohesive stamp on the neighborhood.

While bungalows make up the bulk of the buildings in the district, there are also a number of multi-family residential structures. Two-flats and larger apartment buildings were built alongside bungalows in the 1910s and 20s and can be found on many streets in the area. Because many were built during the same period and often by the same developers and architects, their style, setbacks, and materials contribute to the varied yet rhythmic streetscapes. Features such as projecting bays, grouped fenestration, creative and decorative brickwork, and limestone detailing help to visually connect them to neighboring bungalows, while allowing them to remain distinct. An example of this can be seen in the two-flats from the 9210 and 9212 S. Ada where the buildings have similar forms and set-back entranceways, but each has distinct brick patterning, slightly varied parapet designs, and unique limestone detailing. Many preferred to purchase two-flats during this period (and even today) because they stretched beyond the concept of the single family home while reflecting the basic bungalow floor plan on each floor while helping to defray homeownership costs or provide housing for extended families.

The contributing bungalows in the district are one-and-one-half story structures that manifest all of the typical details and forms mentioned. Flat bays with offset entrances are the most common style of bungalow, followed by polygonal bays. The flat bay is the simplest of the Chicago bay types, as the facade has no projection and the windows are flush with the wall. When paired with an offset porch, as most are in this district, the flat bay generally features a set of ribbon windows in a grouping of three or four into a single architectural frame. This type of bay is associated with more modest Chicago bungalows and typically has very little ornamentation. Polygonal bays—some with three sides and some with five—are also common in the district. The three-sided bays generally have little ornamentation and side entrances, and encompass the entire front of the bungalow. Five-sided bays in the district tend to protrude significantly from the facade wall and have offset entrances. On some streets, such as the 9000 and 9200 blocks of S. Racine, the bays are used as a focal point to showcase art glass windows and elaborate detailing. Open front porches are a rarity in the district, likely because these porches were typically built in the 1910s and the majority of the area was developed in the 1920s. Entrances are either located on the primary facade but offset, or they are found along the side of the bungalow.

Most of the bungalows have a typical, low-pitched, hipped roof that adds a horizontal emphasis to the building, though there is some variation in the rooflines, especially at the northern end of the district. Many bungalows along the 8900 blocks of Elizabeth, May, Racine, and Throop have frame gabled roofs, often with a clipped peak. To add some interest to street faces, developers often alternated pointed gable roofs with clipped gables or gabled roofs with hipped roofs. The majority of the roofs in the district are covered in either modern asphalt tile or asphalt sheet roofing over what was likely original asbestos shingle roofing.

Brick is, without a doubt, the most common material used in the neighborhood for both contributing and noncontributing structures. Buildings occupying corner lots are usually clad in face brick on both street-facing elevations, although many corner lots were developed in the 1940s and 1950s. These corner lots developed after the period of significance consist of two-story homes, cape cods, or ranches, which maintain the rhythm and setbacks of the bungalows that dominate the rest of the street. Buildings resting on interior lots feature face brick only on the primary facade, though it wraps around the corners to the side walls. By wrapping the face brick in this way, it gives the illusion to passersby that it clads the entire structure—an illusion further aided by the close grouping of the buildings. Face brick in the district ranges from tans to yellows to deep reds and browns, as is typical of bungalow districts, and is used decoratively as a means to give each home character, despite the similar massing and layout designs. Secondary materials include: limestone, used for brackets, window lintels and sills, copings, and decorative accents throughout the district; and wood elements used to construct gables, doors, window frames, and back porches, most of which are now enclosed.

While some of the bungalows and lot sizes are slightly larger than others, the general sizing and spacing of bungalows is consistent but differences are not dramatic. Even multi-family buildings and homes built after the period of significance, such as cape cods and raised ranches, are to scale with contributing buildings, appealing to the same tradition of working class homeowners.

Significance

Possessed of a high degree of original architectural and urban integrity, the District embodies the characteristics of a distinctive type, period and method of residential construction—the bungalow. Early Chicago bungalow neighborhoods like Brainerd offered working class families the opportunity to own solid, thoughtfully designed homes and build communities within a quiet residential setting. While there was a wide range of architects, developers, builders, and ethnicities contributing to the tapestry of Brainerd, the steady, rhythmic streetscapes create a strong and consistent architectural fabric in the community. Brainerd was an opportunity for bungalow architects and developers to promote the attributes of the functioning, well-built, yet affordable Chicago bungalow.

The Brainerd Bungalow Historic District maintains a strictly residential urban pattern in sharp contrast to Chicago's nineteenth century communities, where residential and commercial and industrial activities overlapped in the built environment. Thus, Brainerd and other bungalow neighborhoods, with their distinctive land use patterns that anticipated Chicago's 1923 adoption of comprehensively zoned land uses and building restrictions. Other structures, such as the Fort Dearborn Elementary School (9025 S. Throop Street), multi-unit buildings, and brick two-flats built within the period of significance and possessing adequate architectural integrity are also contributing structures within this district.

The development of the Brainerd neighborhood in the 1910s and 1920s was characterized by the rise and enormous popularity of Chicago bungalow neighborhoods between 1907 and the early 1930s. During the first three decades of the twentieth century, Chicago's population doubled as an additional 1.5 million residents settled into the city. During this same period, the number of owner-occupied housing units in Chicago rose from 86,435 in 1900 to 261,750 in 1930. The tens of thousands of 1-1/2 story brick bungalows built in the city's outlying neighborhoods during this time stood at the forefront of the expansion of single-family homeownership. Built together, many times in entire blocks to form a veritable belt around the center city, the unprecedented form of the Chicago bungalow created an entirely novel form of Chicago urbanism.

The Brainerd neighborhood is located in Washington Heights, a merger of several early settlements. The area was predominantly farmland from the 1830s to 1860s and referred to as North Blue Island when John Blackstone purchased his 9,000 acres in 1839 from what is currently 91st to 115th between Halsted Street and Western Avenue. A tribe of Potawatomi Indians remained in the area until a treaty devised by the U.S. government forced them to leave in 1844 and move to Kansas and Oklahoma. That same year, Blackstone sold the land to Thomas Morgan, a native of Surrey, England, for $5,450.

By 1874, Washington Heights had enough residents to incorporate. In 1883, the Fernwood subdivision of Washington Heights was registered between 99th and 103rd Streets—the southeast portion—and had over 185 houses by 1885. Other areas, like the portion that would soon become Brainerd, were much slower to grow due to a lack of transit in the early and mid 1880s.

In 1887, the Beverly Hills branch of the Rock Island Railroad lead E. L. Brainerd to grade a right of way and erect a station at 89th and Loomis Streets. These railroads hastened the drainage of the swampy areas and made way for more settlement, and in 1890, Washington Heights and Brainerd were annexed to the city of Chicago. By 1893, E. L. Brainerd built Brainerd Hall across from the station, and 25 families were then living in the district, bounded by 87th and 95th Streets, Vincennes Road and Ashland Avenue. By 1900 "the heights" area of Washington Heights had developed separately as a settlement for upper-income residents and was renamed Beverly.

In 1902, E. L. Brainerd and other early settlers decided to form a community organization called the Men's Club of Brainerd, then changed its name to Brainerd Improvement Club a year later in order to permit women. The neighborhood at this time was described by one Brainerd pioneer as "the good old days, when Brainerd real estate sold for $10 a front foot, when there were no paved streets, sewers, or water systems, the few sidewalks were wooden, and a kerosene lamp on the Rock Island Station platform was the only street light in the district. But apparently, some early residents didn't feel the same fondness for muddy shoes and dark roads. The first gas lines were piped in 1905 from 79th and Halsted Streets and telephones were installed in 1907, along with the first community store. In 1912, the Chicago Surface Lines extended street car service from 79th Street to the city limits, and in 1913, the Racine Avenue car was extended to 87th Street. Finally, in 1929, the Ashland Avenue line was extended to 95th Street. Loomis was the first street to be paved in 1913, but paving was not picked up again until 1925, when streets north of the Rock Island tracks were completed. Streets south of the tracks were paved in 1927, and finally electric streetlights were installed from 1928 to 1929.

In the 1920s, the Brainerd neighborhood was taken over by brick Chicago bungalows—a reflection the city's booming growth during the first three decades of the century and the need to construct affordable housing. While many areas of the city responded either with luxury high-rise apartments or, at the other end of the spectrum, blocks of tenement housing, these new districts of single-family homes provided an alternative, accessible form of living for the middle classes and new populations of immigrants seeking the American dream. Between 1910 and 1930, Chicago developers built tens of thousands of one and 1-1/2 story brick bungalows on large tracts of land previously occupied by farms and prairie fields. Developers began appealing directly to apartment house residents declaring that for the amount they were paying in rent they could actually own a home. These new bungalow neighborhoods represented a major innovation in Chicago urbanism where a new style of house, unprecedented in the previous century, provided Chicago home buyers of moderate means with extraordinary levels of domestic comfort made possible through innovative systems of heating, plumbing, and electricity.

The bungalow form became a housing style that was national in scope, featured in popular magazines like Ladies Home Journal, Good Housekeeping, and The Craftsman, as well as in pattern books from Aladdin Homes of Bay City, Michigan, and Radford Architectural Company of Chicago. Building kits by Sears Roebuck, Montgomery Ward, and other companies encouraged further popularization of the form. Because Chicago's population was growing so quickly during the peak of the bungalow's popularity, the bungalow form is especially well represented in Chicago.

The first Chicago bungalows in the Brainerd Bungalow Historic District sprouted up in 1915, but building moved at a trickling pace in the 1910s, with a handful of homeowners hiring an architect with the last name Allison, who built a few bungalows along the 9200 block of S. Throop, and A. G. Lund, who built a handful along the 9300 and 9400 blocks of S. Loomis. Brainerd was not heavily populated until the 1920s, when increased accessibility to transportation, affordable housing, and access to jobs made the neighborhood attractive to families looking to escape congested sections of the city. Hundreds of building permits were issued in the mid to late 1920s in Brainerd—peaking in 1927—and it was not until the collapse of the home building market and the onset of the Great Depression that bungalow construction quickly tapered. This is typical in bungalow districts throughout the city and shows a trend of modest bungalow forms in the 1910s that grow increasingly more decorative into the 1920s before coming to a screeching halt right around 1930. The fact that so much of the district came to exist in a matter of just a few years and that a handful of architects dominated many of these street faces has created an even more cohesive effect in terms of building style and materials.

The homes in the district adhered to the unwritten rules regarding uniform setbacks and regular spacing between buildings that provided a feeling of continuity and community, and indeed many residents even worked at the same places. Fort Dearborn Elementary was completed in 1928 to accommodate the hundreds of families flooding into the area, and streetlights were added in 1928-29. Because of the slowed growth during the Depression, many corner lots were still vacant in the mid 1930s and some street faces in the district, such as the east side of the 9200 block of Elizabeth, were only about half developed before the housing crash and are therefore not contributing to the district. Building began to rebound in the 1940s, and even homes built outside of the period of significance (post-1931) have similar massing and setbacks, maintaining the rhythm of the streetscapes; ranches and cape cods are constructed of materials like brick and limestone, keeping in harmony with their neighboring Chicago bungalows.

While the Chicago bungalows in the Brainerd area did little to counter the criticism over the general uniformity arising from building bungalows packed tightly onto adjacent city lots, the benefit to standardized construction was obvious. The average cost to construct one of these brick bungalows was only around $5,000-$7,000, and the earliest bungalows constructed in the 1910s in Brainerd cost only $3,000-$3,500. This was a great deal for developers, especially if they bought up several lots at a time and acted as their own contractor, as many did in Brainerd. Chicago bungalows typically measured around 24' x 50' x 20'—and sold for $8,000-$9,000 each—till a manageable sum for the working class families moving to the area.

The most prolific architects in the district were William E. Sammons, who designed over 40 buildings with a variety of developers and contractors in the area; Braucher who worked on over 30 buildings with a various partners; Joneke, who worked exclusively with developer and Matthew J. Healy and contractor Gutrich on over 40 buildings; Johnson, who also worked exclusively with developer Matt J. Healy, but with a contractor named Petersen, on 37 buildings; and Edward G. McClellan who worked almost exclusively with developer W. J. Wightman and contractor C. A. Blommaert on close to 70 buildings.

McClellan was a South-Side architect, with an office at 7441 S. Cottage Grove Ave. He also designed the Roberts Temple Church of God in Christ, a designated Chicago Landmark, and houses in the Jackson Park Highlands Chicago Landmark District and in the Beverly and Morgan Park neighborhoods. In 1929, he helped form the Chicago Associated Architects, which later expanded into other chapters around the city, and served as a member of its Board of Directors (Jacques J. Kocher, another prominent architect in Brainerd, was also a charter member who served on the Board of Directors, as were Lund and Lautz, who each designed a handful of bungalows in the district). McClellan designed numerous mixed-use buildings in a variety of architectural styles, including many pre- and post-World War II houses for the Federal Housing Administration in Chicago and the south suburbs. In the Brainerd district, McClellan designed bungalows on the 9200, 9300, and 9400 blocks of Throop; on the 9200, 9300, and 9400 blocks of Ada; and along the 9300 block of Elizabeth. He did work in 1920 on Throop and then returned 7 years later to reconnect with Wightman and Bloomberg to build out the other streets.

Sammons worked on bungalows on the 9000 block of Ada; the 9200 block of Throop; the 9000, 9200 and 9300 blocks of Racine; and on the 9300 block of Elizabeth. Technically, he was a structural engineer, and operated his business from his home at 3522 W. 60th Place for forty-five years before he died at age eighty-two in 1967. All of Sammons' work in Brainerd—including large multi-unit buildings at 9051 S. Ada and 9000 S. Throop—was done at the height of the building boom, from 1927-1930. Most of the bungalows he designed have a hipped roof, polygonal bay, grouped windows, brick and limestone details, and an offset front entrance—typical and slightly more elaborate details on bungalows built at the end of the 1920s.

While there is a uniformity that comes from building a single housing type along entire street faces, Chicago bungalows have subtle stylistic shifts to distinguish them from their neighbors, and developers and architects certainly play within the architectural boundaries. In order to distinguish homes when developing an entire street face or block at a time, Sammons would often vary the limestone detailing and brick color with homes that otherwise have the same shapes, roofs, dormers, and battered brick piers, in order to distinguish them. Brick colors ranged from a saturated yellow to light and dark browns. Most of his bungalows also have brick soldier courses either running straight across the tops of grouped bay windows or bending around the tops of arched windows that topped bay windows. When Sammons wove arched windows into his designs, they were usually single arched windows above the sides of the bay windows, and fixed, divided bisected (or trisected) arched windows that topped the grouped windows on the front of the bays. These soldier courses also ran over basement windows along the bay, many of which have since been filled in with glass block for safety reasons, a common practice in most bungalow districts. Limestone copings top the wing walls—many of which are in surprisingly good condition, and limestone detailing, such as keystones above windows, adds further character to the homes. Limestone planter brackets sit under grouped windows on the fronts of his polygonal bays (originally there would have been limestone planters resting on these, but very few remain in the city due to cracking or theft), keystones and Prairie-style patterns worked into the brickwork throughout the primary facade.

In 1920, M.J. Healy bought up 14 lots on the 8900 block of S. May and worked with architect Joneke to build a street face of alternating square bay bungalows with offset entrances and bungalows with front entrances and framed, street-facing clipped gables. While we see some framed gables in other bungalow neighborhoods, they are not nearly as typical as hipped roofs for this building type, and the developer's decision to alternate between hipped roofs and gables is a way to play with the form while keeping the handsome rhythm of the street face. Another advantage of incorporating framed gable roofs is that it provided an alternative interior layout option while keeping construction costs at a modest $4500—the cost of the rest of the bungalows along this street. This extension of space effectively eliminated the need for dormers as a means of expanding attic or second floor living area. The first floors of the gabled bungalows have offset, recessed entrances and identical to those of neighboring bungalows with hipped roofs and dormers.

While many bungalows followed more common trends with this housing type, there were some anomalies. A unique Tudor revival bungalow variation can be found at 9343 S. Loomis Street—an unusual expression of half timbering in a large, street facing frame gable; and William J. Wightman, the most prolific developer in the district, broke with trends at 9401 S. Elizabeth to build an unusual side gable bungalow with an open front porch and central entrance with groupings of three windows on either side—the only one of its kind in the district. As with the alternating gable options mentioned above, this playing with form while keeping a standard footprint (in this case, Wightman's standard 23'x58'x18') offered a lucky home buyer the option to have a more unique design while keeping Wightman's construction costs the same as his more typical Chicago bungalow forms. Other distinct variations include the prominent use of leaded glass in certain areas in the district—especially in clusters of homes on the 9000 and 9200 blocks of S. Racine. The bay windows at 9047 S. Racine have groupings of casements and hopper windows with stunning, remarkably intact organic forms and pink and green glass in each pane. Organic designs are relatively common in the stained glass patterns in Brainerd, though some homes also have Prairie-style forms with a variety of geometric shapes adorning the casements and hoppers.

The first cluster of Chicago bungalows in the district were built in the central portion of the district on the 9200 block of S. Throop, perhaps due to its location next to the park. 9216, 9218, and 9220 S. Throop were all completed on June 2nd, 1915 for $5000 each. Bungalows built a little later were constructed for even less than this, but likely that was due to price drops for developing entire street faces at once. These first three bungalows were developed by J. Collins, who built a few more bungalows on the same street years later. Collins worked with architect Allison and contractor Kramer, who did a lot of work in the district through the coming years. The 9200 block of S. Throop is not included in the 1920 U.S. Census, but the next bungalow to be built, completed on December 17th of the same year at 9354 S. Loomis for just $3,000, was picked up by the Census and lists the inhabitants as George and Magdalena Paschold, a husband and wife born in Saxony and Belgium. They were no longer working at ages 65 and 63, so they had the whole place to themselves, unlike the Kuebler family a few doors down at 9416 Loomis, where the parents and their six children, ranging from ages 17 to 5 months, crammed into two bedrooms. All the Kueblers were born in Illinois and Fred, the father, worked in construction, with the only additional income coming in from their oldest daughter, who was a bookkeeper.

Most of the bungalows in the district were inhabited by first generation Americans, their parents emigrated from countries including Ireland, France, Sweden, Luxembourg, Germany, Belgium, Saxony, Holland and Canada, Austria, Italy, and Scotland. Most homeowners were born in Illinois or other Midwestern states, though some had also themselves come directly from the countries listed above. Occupations in the neighborhood included machinist, salesman, clerk, barber, laborer, stenographer, carpenter, bookkeeper, truck driver, printer, and mechanic. While young women still living with their families were sometimes stenographers or book keepers, their mothers often did not work, indicating the shifting roles of women at this time.

[Adapted from:] Carla Bruni, Angela Pauldine, John Schulte, Historic Chicago Bungalow Association, Brainerd Bungalow District, Cook County, IL, nomination document, 2016, National Park Service, National Register of Historic Places, Washington, D.C.

Brainerd Bungalow Historic District Map

Street Names
89th Street West • 90th Street West • 91st Street West • 92nd Street West • 93rd Street West • 94th Street West • Ada Street South • Elizabeth Street South • Loomis Street South • May Street South • Racine Avenue South • Throop Street South

**Information is curated from a variety of sources and, while deemed reliable, is not guaranteed.
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