Sauganash Historic District
The Sauganash Historic District was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2010. Portions of the content on this web page were adapted from a copy of the original nomination document. [†] Adaptation copyright © 2014, The Gombach Group.
Sauganash was conceived by its developers, Koester and Zander, as a haven for middle-class families fleeing the crowded city center. At a time when large corporations were quickly replacing older and smaller industries, many mid-level businessmen felt as if their individual identities were lost amid the swelling ranks of employees. Recognizing this phenomenon, Koester and Zander targeted this growing segment of society through their aggressive advertisement campaign that detailed Sauganash's amenities. Although they moved to Sauganash to express their individuality, quickly these residents came together and formed a lasting community. Today Sauganash maintains not only the original appearance that Koester and Zander intended, but also the community spirit and identity that its earliest denizens helped to create. Together these set Sauganash apart from the rest of the city.
Between the years 1912-1950 Sauganash developed as a community of eclectic houses built for the most part by the homes' owners. After 1950, less-diverse homes built by large scale developers encroached in the area and departed from Koester and Zander's original plan of development.
From 1840 to 1880 Chicago's population multiplied 126 times over. As hundreds of thousands of people flocked to the city, they encountered congested streets, crowded tenements, and unsanitary living conditions. The ability of the city government to handle the large influx of immigrants and migrants was undermined by both outdated technologies and meager funds. Very quickly the city became a cesspool of dirt and disease. Smoke, dust, noise, and the stockyard stench assaulted the senses of Chicago denizens. Those who could afford to leave the city for the suburbs did so with expediency. The availability of reliable and affordable transportation to and from the city center was a prerequisite for suburban development, however. In the nineteenth century, the railroad provided such transportation; in the twentieth century, it was the automobile. Together these two modes of transportation revolutionized the country by providing Americans with an opportunity to live away from their work places.
Railroad transportation was introduced to Chicago in 1848. In its early years, the railroad enabled manufacturing, agriculture, and trade to expand. By the 1870s, it became a reliable mode of public transportation and set the stage for the long-distance separation of the home and workplace. With the availability of cheap and convenient transportation that the railroad provided, people realized that they could have the best of both worlds—they could retain their jobs in the urban core, but live farther away from the city center and its problems. For example, by the turn of the twentieth century, the towns along Chicago's North Shore transformed from sparsely populated villages to genuine commuter suburbs. No longer were workers forced to live next to the industries that employed them. Now, for a relatively small sum, men and women could essentially live in the country and commute to the city for work.
The same process applied in Sauganash. Beginning in the 1850s, the Chicago and Northwest Railway started building tracks through Jefferson Township, where Sauganash is located. The railroad opened up new areas in Jefferson Township, such as Jefferson and Irving Park, to commuters. By the time developers Koester and Zander started building Sauganash, the Chicago and Northwest Railway already ran through the area; they simply added a new station for the community. Koester and Zander knew that railroad access would bring people to their community. They even highlight it in some of their advertisements. In a 1928 advertisement they explain that "Sauganash is 9 miles from the loop. On the Northwest Railway (28 minutes)." Thus, the railroad clearly aided Koester and Zander in their efforts to develop the area.
Although railroad access made Sauganash a desirable community, it was the automobile that really drove the development of the area. The first car was invented in the late nineteenth century, but it was not until 1908 with Henry Ford's Model T, the first mass-produced automobile, that the average American could afford to own a car. Thus, in the following decades, the popularity and ownership of the automobile skyrocketed. In 1919, for example, there were just 6.7 million cars on American roads. By 1929, there were more than 23 million cars—or nearly one car for every household in the United States. The automobile revolutionized the transportation industry and opened up new areas of the city to development. Now commuters could travel to and from work in the privacy of their own car.
As the landscape suggests, Koester and Zander developed Sauganash with the car in mind. This was especially important because there were no streetcars or elevated trains to take residents to other parts of the city. Roads were paved before any lots were sold to homebuyers; streets were built wide enough to accommodate car traffic and street parking; and most homes were built with garages. Indeed, the advertisements Koester and Zander published for Sauganash clearly demonstrate that they saw the automobile as the key to the development of their subdivision. For example, in a 1928 advertisement, ten reasons were listed for moving to Sauganash. Out of those ten reasons five of them mention street transportation. Numerous other ads encouraged potential homebuyers to, "drive out and see for yourself' or happily chirped that "you'll find it a pleasant drive to Sauganash." As these ads show, car accessibility was especially important to the development of this community.
Yet the tribulations of city life and the influx of mass transportation and cars cannot completely explain why people moved specifically to Sauganash and created a unique community there. Indeed, other processes were at work. Perhaps best understood as reactions against industrialization and corporate capitalism, suburbanization and individualism flourished in Chicago as it did in all American cities at the turn of the century. As more people moved into the city, there was physically less space to live in. Living so close to your neighbors made it exceedingly more difficult to differentiate between them. Moreover, the rapid increase in population made it difficult to know your neighbors. No doubt for some, it led to feelings of alienation. Changes in the workplace also contributed to this feeling of anonymity. Factories and offices transformed from small teams of people working together into large businesses where employees were segregated by task. Thus, as part of the corporate capitalist system, workers transformed from individuals into nameless numbers.
Although corporate capitalism undermined personal differences and autonomy, it created a managerial class that could afford to escape the anonymity of the city. Like the workers they supervised, these managers also struggled with an identity crisis. Unwilling to accept the loss of their individual identities in the office and in the home, these managers found a way to express their individuality through their homes. Those who moved to Sauganash built houses in a variety of styles to help combat the namelessness they felt as employees and as Chicagoans. In an ad from 1928, developer George F. Koester boasted that homes in Sauganash have "charm and individuality." According to another advertisement, "No two homes are alike." Indeed, in one of the first articles about the area, The Chicago Daily Tribune bragged, "Every House Different in Sauganash." Koester and Zander's method "show[ed] prospective homeowners that they don't have to live in humdrum, common place looking houses, similar in nearly every aspect to their neighbors' homes." No doubt Sauganash's developers tried to sell their community to people who felt that their individuality was under attack.
Sauganash's rustic setting also appealed to nature-starved urbanites. Industrialism, with its destruction of the natural environment, felt alien to many Americans. They strived to connect themselves to their more agrarian roots and that supposed simple way of life. In one ad, the developers state, "In Sauganash, your family would live ... in a thickly wooded country-side-free from the noise, the dust and turmoil of the crowded city."
In addition to the natural landscape, the built environment could also help to create a country-like setting. Thus, in the 1920s and 1930s, during a time of great change and upheaval, the popularity of homes that harkened back to simpler times grew. Historic housing designs, such as the revival styles of Colonial, Dutch Colonial, Classical, Tudor, French, and Spanish, as well as Italian Renaissance and Cape Cod were popular around the country in general, and in Sauganash in particular. These designs were rooted in the past and gave homeowners a sense of stability in the fast-changing modern world. According to one design book of the time, for example, "No one can deny that there is a sense of security underlying the possession of a house that stands in the neighborhood as a monument to good taste and good sense." Even newer housing designs like Art Deco, Art Moderne, and Chicago Bungalows emerged in response to the desire to create architectural styles that would build on the past, yet embrace the spirit of the modern age.
This is exactly what Koester and Zander did when they chose to name their new subdivision Sauganash. Sauganash borrowed its name from the enigmatic, biracial, jack-of-all-trades, Billy Caldwell. Billy Caldwell was born in 1780 to a British officer and an unknown Mohawk woman. For many years, he lived in the shadow of his father who begrudgingly accepted him as an illegitimate child. Caldwell came to Chicago in 1820, desperate to leave his father and his business failures behind him in Canada. Because of his connections with the British, Caldwell had to contend with suspiciousness wherever he went in America; Chicago was no different. He worked hard, however, to establish himself as a savvy tradesman and a friend to both the local Potawatomi peoples and the Americans. For his loyalty to the American government in their efforts to help manage the affairs of the Native Americans, Caldwell was appointed the "principal chief' of the Potawatomi tribe by the American government, and was renamed Chief Sauganash. For his role in helping to negotiate the Prairie du Chien Treaty of 1829, the government granted Chief Sauganash 1600 acres of land on the north branch of the Chicago river-including the future site of the Sauganash community. Chief Sauganash also helped to negotiate the Treaty of Chicago in 1833 which required the Potawatomi tribes to move to a reservation in Kansas. Two years later, the treaty was proclaimed under the Treaty Elm at the modem-day intersection of Rogers and Caldwell Avenues in Sauganash.
After Caldwell and the Native Americans relocated west, most of his land was purchased by small farmers. For many years it remained woods and farmland. In 1912, real estate developers Koester and Zander purchased 260 acres of the land; they immediately played up its history—it was a drawing point to the area. Indeed, Zander wrote to the Chicago Historical Society in 1919 to inquire about the history of Chief Sauganash and the land he once owned. He used the information he obtained from the historical society in his advertisement campaign. According to one ad, "When you look at the wooded lots of Sauganash, you will readily understand why the Indians under Chief Sauganash in 1835 were loath [sic] to push farther westward. Where stood the tepees [sic] of the red man 100 years ago now rise beautiful homes of wood, of brick and of stone surrounded by scenes of natural beauty yet within Chicago."
In Sauganash, Koester and Zander spent years preparing the land for habitation before opening it up to buyers. They began by subdividing the land. The majority of the Sauganash Historic District was subdivided in 1919, with five additions made between 1927 and 1929. Focusing on small sections at a time, Koester and Zander began with a 65 acre unit between Peterson, Rogers, and Caldwell Avenues.
First, they cleared the land. Shortly thereafter, and a full eight years before the first house was built, they planted trees and other shrubbery. Zander, in particular, was adamant about flora variety and handpicked over twenty different tree species for the neighborhood, including oak, sycamore, and mountain ash. The purpose of this green endeavor was to create a pleasant atmosphere for all of Sauganash's residents, even the earliest ones. Next, they put in sewers, water and gas lines, paved the streets, and laid the sidewalks. In an article in the National Real Estate Journal, Zander justified his firm's lengthy process of development when he said, "It is not fair to sell a house unless ... the home be of first quality of construction, [and] the conveniences and public utilities ... installed." Koester and Zander thought it their duty and responsibility to provide their subdivision with all of these amenities from its inception. Only after such conveniences were added, did they finally entertain prospective residents.
Many earlier subdivisions and suburbs in the Chicago area did not initially include land improvements such as water, electricity, and/or paved roads. Thus, community members established improvement associations in order to install such amenities. Though by the early twentieth century many developers had started adding in some improvements such as paved streets and sidewalks, Koester and Zander's process of development was particularly thorough, especially in a part of the city so far removed from the urban center.
After their long preparation of the land, Koester and Zander opened the community to builders. In order to encourage development and give prospective buyers a taste of what the neighborhood should look like when complete, Koester and Zander constructed a limited number of model homes. These homes were intended to showcase the future development of the neighborhood and were built in several different architectural styles. As a general rule of thumb, however, the firm developed the land; they did not construct houses.
Instead, Koester and Zander referred buyers to a variety of architects and builders. This would ensure that Sauganash would be distinctive from other physically homogenous subdivisions. Many of the homes in Sauganash were designed by locally notable architects including: Lyman J. Allison, Dewey and Pavlovich, Charles Kristen, C.W. Lampe, Elmer W. Marx, Quinn & Christiansen, and James G. Steinbach among others.
In addition to contracting with a variety of architects to design homes, many Sauganash residents also utilized the Architects' Small House Service Bureau (ASHSB) plans. Established in 1920, the ASHSB sold blueprints and specifications for architect-designed homes through the mail to Americans who otherwise could not afford the services of an architect. Koester and Zander utilized ASHSB plans to build modestly-sized model homes in an array of architectural styles. The firm also likely recommended the Bureau's services to potential residents.
Thus, unlike in their earliest subdivisions, most Sauganash homeowners purchased empty lots from the firm and then built their own homes. In many ways, they had the liberty to build the type of home that best suited their needs and tastes. In addition to encouraging eclectic development through the use of a variety of architects, Koester and Zander applied other means of control as well. In one display ad, they boasted, "These homes are of the character which will be carefully maintained throughout by means of rigid restriction and architectural supervision of all construction. Thus here only in Chicago is it possible for you to build your home in full confidence that good environment will always prevail." The home builders, however, had to contend with the guiding hands of the subdivision's developers.
Once the sale of a lot was approved, Koester and Zander gave each successful candidate a subscription to a popular architectural magazine. As most homeowners built their own homes, rather than purchase existing ones, the magazine was a not-so-subtle way of influencing their design choice and encouraging homeowners to build a house fitting for the area. Furthermore, once homeowners decided upon a design, they had to run the idea by Koester and Zander for final approval. Only then could the house be constructed. When the home was complete, Koester and Zander sent the new homeowners a subscription to a garden magazine. In these ways, the firm heavily influenced the development of its subdivision.
Koester and Zander also used other means to shape the character of the community. The 1923 Zoning Act designated Sauganash as a residential use district (meaning it was exclusively for single-family residences, schools, churches, parks and small businesses), but for added control, Koester and Zander also put price restrictions on each individual lot they sold. Koester and Zander did allow, however, for a range, of home prices which ensured some economic diversity within the community. As one moved northwest in the community, homes generally became more costly and homeowners more affluent. On Kostner Avenue south of Peterson, for instance, the lot size ranged from 40, 60, and 80 feet in width, and the home prices ranged from $8,500 to $10,000. Most of the homes south of Peterson are noticeably less grandiose, the lots are significantly smaller, and the streets narrower. Indeed, part of the contrast between the Peterson divide is because the land south of Peterson was the first to be developed by the firm. They began by selling these smaller lots first, probably to encourage the initial development of the neighborhood. Quickly thereafter, however, Koester and Zander no longer had to rely on modest-priced homes to develop the land; word had gotten out and Sauganash seemed to sell itself-particularly to those with money. In just a few years Sauganash became a "community of charming residences owned by people of influence and distinction."
In addition to price restrictions, Koester and Zander also interviewed homeowners in an attempt to weed out people who they thought might depreciate the value of the neighborhood. This in turn, created a relatively culturally homogenous community, comprised mostly of people of Northern European descent. According to the 1930 Federal Census, almost half of the residents, like the developers, were of German parentage. There were also a significant number of Scandinavians in the area. Clearly Koester and Zander sought out buyers who had similar cultural backgrounds to their own.
Not surprisingly then, as revealed in the 1930 Federal Census, the area primarily catered to upper middle-class families. The Census shows that 28% of Sauganash residents were under fourteen. Middle-class parents liked the large lot sizes, the pastoral setting, and the endless possibilities for building the perfect family home with all the modem conveniences. Indeed, nearly 87% of Sauganash residents owned their own homes in that year, compared to a mere 32% of other Chicago residents. Moreover, the homes that Sauganash residents owned were more expensive than those outside of the neighborhood. According to the 1930 Census, fewer than 5% of homes in Sauganash were valued at or below $9,999. The majority of homes (55%) were valued at or over $15,000. Conversely, 64% of homeowners in Chicago owned homes at or below the $9,999 mark and only 14% of homeowners lived in homes valued at or above $15,000. These statistics demonstrate that Sauganash was, without doubt, an upper middle-class haven.
Clearly, home diversity was part of Koester and Zander's plan to offset the loss of individuality, an increasingly lamented byproduct of living in a growing corporate America. It was their job to develop the character of their subdivision and they were good at it.
They realized, however, that individual home construction was not enough to create a lasting, close-knit community; Koester and Zander had to encourage the development of community spaces as well. Not surprisingly, they took the lead and constructed a community center at 4618 W. Peterson in 1927, which served as an office, gymnasium, and meeting place for local residents. A year earlier, the Sauganash Park District was created, with Henry G. Zander, Jr. serving as one of its commissioners. The park encompassed over two acres along the eastern border of Sauganash, and included ball fields, a field house, horseshoe and tennis courts, a wading pool, and walking paths. Catering to the needs of the growing number of families in the area, the Chicago Public Schools system established an elementary school for the community in 1927. The current structure, Sauganash Elementary School, was completed in 1936.
Religion also played a significant role in the development of Sauganash. Two of the neighborhood's parishes, the non-denominational Sauganash Community Church and the Roman Catholic Queen of All Saints, fostered an even greater sense of community as church activities became community activities. In the early years of Sauganash, for example, many residents remembered the churches as places that instituted and provided spaces for community events such as musical revues, "Luau" luncheons, rummage sales, and Camp Sauganash, a summer camp for Sauganash children that was held alternately in Wisconsin and Michigan. Although both churches are excluded from the historic district (Sauganash Community Church is a non-contributing building because of its addition, and Queen of All Saints is not within the District boundaries), it is evident that religion, in general, and these two churches in particular, are community-building institutions.
The community center, the park, the public school, and the churches helped to foment a sense of a community identity in Sauganash's residents. Indeed, Sauganash even celebrates many holidays as a community. The Fourth of July parade is notable and the community prepares for the parade months in advance. In addition, since the 1930s, the community comes together at Christmastime to decorate their homes and yards to create a lighted, winter wonderland. As Chicago Tribune reporter Joan Gillespie wrote, "Sauganash went all out in its holiday effort. Every house strung outdoor lights and some residents even used live animals for crib scenes." Another reporter reminisced, "For block after block, all the eaves would be outlined with strings of Christmas tree lights while front yards were well guarded by illuminated Santa Clauses and reindeers."
By the mid-1920s, it was clear that Koester and Zander had laid the foundation for a successful subdivision and community. As a testament to how much they believed in the community, both George Koester, Jr. and Henry Zander, Jr. owned homes in the neighborhood. However, in 1925 George Koester, Sr. died, thus dissolving the partnership of Koester and Zander. The surviving partners continued under the name Koester and Zander until 1927, when Henry Zander, Sr. and his sons organized Henry G. Zander & Co. At the same time, George Koester, Jr. organized the firm George F. Koester & Co. to further develop Sauganash. Koester continued to live at 5888 N. Forest Glen, and successfully managed the growth of Sauganash through the 1930s.
The stock market crash in October 1929 signaled the beginning of the Great Depression. Building in Sauganash continued unabated through 1931, however, with a total of 167 houses constructed between 1926 and 1931. Unable to shield itself from the Great Depression forever, Sauganash felt its effects in 1932 when the number of houses built dropped from seventeen in the previous year to three. The slump continued for a couple of years, with only two houses built in 1933, and five in 1934. This decline in Sauganash mirrored the national trends, as nation-wide the construction of residential property fell 95% between 1928 and 1933. The Depression hurt George F. Koester & Co. Koester stopped subdividing and developing the land. His last subdivision of the land occurred in 1929, and in 1932 he auctioned off 300 lots in Sauganash. Although Koester was crippled by the Depression and was unable to continue development, the steps that his father's firm of Koester and Zander took beginning in 1912 left an indelible mark on the community.
† Katie Macica and Stella Ress, Loyola University Chicago, Sauganash Historic District, Cook County, IL, nomination document, 2010, National Park Service, National Register of Historic Places, Washington, D.C.