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Cedar Crest Addition Historic District


Homes in the Cedar Crest Addition Historic District, McLean, IL, National Register

Photo: Homes in the Cedar Crest Addition Historic District, McLean, IL. The Historic District was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2006. Photographed by User:William Wesen Appraiser (own work), 2008, [cc-by-3.0 (creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons, accessed March, 2017.

The Cedar Crest Addition Historic District [†] was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2006.

Description

The Cedar Crest Addition Historic District has fifty residential buildings built on the fifty-nine original platted lots. All of the houses were originally built as single-family residences. To date, only one building, a circa 1895 two-story, Classical Revival Queen Anne house located at 5 Broadway Place, has served as a something other than a single-family dwelling. In the 1950s, 5 Broadway Place was divided into apartments; however it was later completely restored to its period style and original use. Ninety percent of the structures were built between 1914 and 1930; three houses, which constitute non-contributing resources, have been built since 1930. The subdivision was designated as a local historic district in 1993.

The homes are generally one and a half to two-stories and mostly a combination of brick and stucco with gable roofs. The homes are predominately Prairie and Craftsman reflecting the popularity of those styles at the time of construction. Unlike many homes built during this period or in the surrounding area, there are a significant number of Cedar Crest homes with built-in or attached garages suggesting the economic and social status of many of the owners.

The district's site plan distinguishes it from the surrounding area. The original site plan of the district remains unaltered; the curvilinear streets and large, irregular lots retaining their 1914 configuration. The boulevards landscaped with vibrant and inviting plantings beneath a mature tree canopy draw one into the neighborhood. Its brick streets are still intact, winding their way through the neighborhood of irregular, large lots. The topography of Cedar Crest is respected, allowing the distinguishable homes to be pronounced as the lots incline from the brick streets and public sidewalk to private steps on up to private sidewalks. This provision is ignored today as large lot subdivisions are graded to a consistent flat plane. Lighting is minimal in this district, with fixtures isolated to the landscaped boulevards. The curbing is generally flat with no gutter.

Cedar Crest is still referred to by its historic neighborhood name. It remains a desirable, middle to upper class neighborhood, providing an attractive alternative not to crowded urban lots as it once did, but to newer cookie cutter type housing, absent of architectural distinction, but with vinyl siding and minimal landscaping. A few houses have undergone minor alterations: re-roofing, addition or extension of a garage, and tuckpointing. There have also been some building material "updates," including the covering of what was probably stucco or false half-timbering on the second floors with horizontal aluminum or shingle siding. A front entrance has been relocated on one residence. In 1930, Central Avenue was renamed Hillcrest Avenue. Cedar Crest preserves a remarkable degree of historical integrity; of the fifty residential structures built on fifty-nine platted lots, only one was built before the subdivision was laid out, and only three were constructed after 1930.

Significance

The Cedar Crest Addition Historic District embodies many distinctive characteristics of the Craftsman style of architecture that changed the way Americans built houses, as well as demonstrates a change in building materials, utilities and modern appliances and method of construction for the same time period. Cedar Crest also represents a significant and distinguishable social trend that was popularized during the early decades of the twentieth: suburbanization. Suburban characteristics that were included in the design of Cedar Crest and similar subdivisions of that time include large houses on large lots surrounded by mature trees and curvilinear streets. Aaron T. Simmons, the architect of Cedar Crest, oversaw the design of the original houses, street layout and landscaping, and also lived in 1 Clinton Place.

Cedar Crest is important to the history of town planning and development in Normal because it was the Town's first large-scale planned subdivision. As late as 1900, the Town of Normal had no paved residential streets, no electric lights, and practically no sewer system. Only two years before the Town fathers had to overcome strong opposition from tax payers in order to provide a municipal water system, which included the still existing Fell Park water tower. Bloomington residents, with some justification, tended to regard Normal not so much as a suburb but as an outlying rural backwater, a place where students could be kept reasonably safe from the temptations of city life. Even in 1907—the year Normal's newly elected mayor, Orson L. Manchester, began a series of sweeping reforms—the Town could boast of only two blocks of paved streets and was burdened with a poorly funded debt that threatened to stifle future civic improvement projects. Almost immediately Cedar Crest was recognized as a revolutionary kind of development. A McLean County history written ten years after the inception of the subdivision called it "one of the most important additions ever made to Normal."

When Burt Marley Kuhn proposed the subdivision of the "Kuhn Addition" at the February 3, 1914, town council meeting, the initial reaction from the town council was mixed. The plan was recognized at once as a striking departure from previous plats. Some members objected to the narrowness of the streets and others were concerned about the sharpness of the suggested curves which could potentially constitute a traffic hazard. The council insisted on several modifications, most notably the extension of Highland Avenue toward the Illinois Central tracks at the north end of the subdivision. After two months of consideration by the "Street and Alley" and "Judiciary" committees, minor changes were made to the original plan, and on April 7, 1914, the subdivision was approved by the town council. The name "Cedar Crest" was given to the proposed addition. The name may be attributed to the red cedar trees, two of which remain, that were a part of Charles Fell's nursery that occupied the subdivision site.

The curvilinear streets proposed by Kuhn were the first of their kind in Bloomington and Normal. This new concept in town and subdivision planning is likely attributed to the wide spreading City Beautiful Movement. In the United States this movement was centered in Chicago, but it mirrored contemporaneous town planning movements in Europe. Cedar Crest architecture likewise reflected national and European trends in its emphasis on a wide variety of building materials, multiple and irregular rooflines, picturesque visual effects, new interior arrangements and a deliberate attempt nostalgically to recall the decorative arts and handicraft traditions of the pre-machine age. Such buildings had detractors and some deemed the Craftsman Style "cartoon architecture," but in 1914, the style was enjoying a national wave of popularity. The presence of a large mass of such buildings in Normal was a clear sign that Jesse Fell's prairie crossroads was keeping current with the rest of the nation.

Kuhn mounted a veritable publicity blitz about his real estate development, advertising Cedar Crest extensively with the newest slogans from Madison Avenue. These advertisements displayed the various attractions that Cedar Crest offered and the kind of location and structural advantages that the developer and architect offered potential buyers. One advertisement effused: "Located between Normal and Bloomington, which is the most desirable residence district, having Clinton Boulevard to the south and Broadway to the north. These two streets are pleasure drives and the only boulevard streets in the city. These lots are located on high ground with good natural drainage, shade trees already grown; ... surrounded by beautiful homes and having reasonable building restrictions."

The advertisement later reminded prospective buyers that they should locate in a part of the town where growth and development were assured and where adjoining improvements would enhance the property values. The ad boasted that Cedar Crest was the only addition of its kind that offered attractive, curved drives and a beautiful landscape. Another advertisement tempted buyers with claims that Cedar Crest was free of dirt, smoke and other nuisances. It offered the best street car service along Fell Avenue, had paved streets and no bothersome railroad line to delay traffic. The new subdivision was also touted as an investment. Only a small cash payment was required (ten percent) and only five percent interest would be charged on the remaining balance. Buyers were promised that the lots would return ten to fifteen percent interest on the investment, whereas a return of only three or four percent could be expected on a savings account.

In May of 1914, the subdivision was advertised as being "Located on a Hill with trees already grown, symmetrical drives, getting away from 'houses in a row' plan. The only possible location with a panoramic view overlooking the city." This was the beginning of a real estate marketing trend, encouraging people to move from crowded, small lots and apartments to large spacious lots with extensive vegetation. It is interesting to note that this trend or aspect of the American Dream was not exclusive to major metropolitan cities, but also applied to the much smaller Town of Normal, whose population grew rapidly between 1920 and 1930 from 5,143 to 6,768.

The lots on Clinton Place and Fell Avenue in the subdivision were placed on the market almost immediately; the first lots were sold at auction on Saturday, October 17, 1914. The first houses were being built by 1915. Photographs of Cedar Crest and its first homes appeared in the 1916 book "Illustrated Bloomington," which promoted the subdivision as the "most desirable residence district ... located on high ground with good natural drainage, shade trees already grown; no dirt, smoke or other disturbance and with the best street car service in the city; surrounded by beautiful homes ..." By 1920, much of Clinton Place and all of Fell Avenue within the addition were developed. Some of the original residents included four physicians, an architect, a lawyer, and several of the community's leading businessmen; among whom were the C.W. Klemm, Van Lear, Kuhn, and Simmons families. Early on, Cedar Crest was established as an upper-middle class neighborhood.

Many prominent residents have lived in Cedar Crest, although residents have ranged in trade from lawyers to teachers, architects to artists and doctors to government employees. Historically, some of the most prominent citizens have included Cedar Crest architect, Aaron T. Simmons; businessman, Burt Marley Kuhn; and Robert Bone Jr., son of Illinois State University President, Robert Bone.

The socioeconomic diversity represented in the residents of Cedar Crest is largely the result of the mix of housing styles. For example, while 5 Broadway Place and 1 Clinton Place represent higher styles, many of the homes are more modest, craftsman dwellings.

Cedar Crest Addition Historic District is one of the most distinctive and unified historic neighborhoods in Normal. It was Normal's first planned subdivision and presents a relatively unaltered 1914-1930 landscape, with some distinctive examples of residential architecture done by a well-known regional architect. Cedar Crest is a perfect candidate for preservation.

Architecture and American housing design changed more during the first two decades of the twentieth century than in any other comparable time period. In part, this change was stylistic, representing the same forces that were suddenly changing the appearance of everything from the layout of newspapers to the design of women's dresses. But the change was also technological. In a subdivision such as Cedar Crest, technical developments, particularly those in building materials, are as important as purely aesthetic considerations.

Perhaps the most distinctive visual effect of houses like those in Cedar Crest is a general reduction in window size. This reduction was due to a number of interrelated factors. As architects became aware that the electric light had removed the necessity for the long floor-to-ceiling windows, which had been essential when artificial light was expensive and of poor quality, windows became smaller. Smaller window size was also related to the development of efficient furnaces. The nineteenth century house was intentionally designed to leak gasses. Architects and builders alike spoke out strongly against "tight houses." The frontier stove, fireplace, and early furnaces generated sufficient dangerous gasses to make close-fitting windows a real health hazard. By the first decades of the twentieth century, these hazards had been largely eliminated. The new generation of house buyers wanted buildings which air did not whistle through gaps between walls and window frames. Lastly, the smaller windows that began to characterize American residences beginning about the time of World War I were probably the result of an increasingly self-sufficient middle class. As the number of households that could afford live-in servants declined and the number of families that could afford homes increased, houses were designed that could be maintained by the resident-owners themselves.

A wide range of materials that were new at the date of construction are visible in Cedar Crest. For half of a century the typical McLean County house had been constructed from northern softwoods brought in by rail and shaped at local mills. Foundations were of dull, red, locally burned brick, or, on rare occasion, of limestone quarried near Joliet or Pontiac. Other significant imported materials were shingles—usually from the Mississippi River valley—nails, and glass. By the early twentieth century, many more manufactured house components were being imported, and many of the materials were purchased from firms dealing in regional or national markets. Some of these products included interior cabinets, doors, and window frames, although some millwork may have been done locally. The rough-faced cinder brick, sometimes called rug-face brick, found on many Cedar Crest homes, was a relatively new product that gained immense popularity just after the turn of the century. It was not available from local brickmakers and had to be shipped. There were also new colorful clay roofing tiles which originally graced many Cedar Crest structures, several of which are still intact. The tile came in a variety of colors, styles, and shapes, and was a stylistic element from the Mediterranean world that was often incorporated, via California, into the Craftsman style.

Several terms have been used to describe the style of homes in Cedar Crest, including Arts and Crafts, California, Craftsman, and Prairie. Kuhn's advertising for the subdivision described the homes as bungalows. Since many of the homes have a similar design, they may loosely be referred to as Craftsman-type houses (a term that Simmons and Kuhn would have been familiar with). The other smaller homes may be referred to as Craftsman Bungalows. For example, 5 Clinton Place was advertised as a "real California bungalow of pleasing lines. Very much out of the ordinary in arrangement. Six rooms. Disappearing bed, sleeping porch. Garage in basement." Yet this house has many features in common with its neighbors that are commonly associated with the Craftsman style.

Cedar Crest was the first large-scale subdivision in the twin cities that illustrates the impact of the automobile. This impact is seen in the very development of a residential subdivision so far from the existing commercial cores. That is, the subdivision was premised on using one's automobile to do the family shopping. It is also seen in the developer's insistence on paved streets and alleys.

But the most striking visual reminder of the presence of the automobile is the way in which garages were integrated into many of the Cedar Crest houses. Before Cedar Crest, automobiles (like horses and carriages before them) were consigned exclusively to outbuildings. Normal still has a number of stables and carriages that have been converted into garages to store automobiles. Indeed, Cedar Crest has two examples of freestanding garages erected toward the rear of the lots (4 and 28 Clinton Place). These structures place Cedar Crest in a transitional period, for the subdivision has numerous examples of attached garages and also many basement garages; the latter an attempt to conceal the parked automobile altogether. The Old House Journal, in an article devoted exclusively to historic garages, "The Great American Garage," claimed that the full integration of the garage with the dwelling house did not appear in the United States until the 1920s. Therefore, the presence of such garages in a 1915 subdivision demonstrates the extent to which Normal had moved to the forefront of design in American domestic architecture.

The architect of Cedar Crest, Aaron Trabue Simmons, was born to a farming family in Jerseyville, Illinois, October 30, 1876. After attending public schools in Jerseyville, he studied architecture at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign. While he attended school it was likely that he knew Arthur Lowe Pillsbury, who would become Bloomington's first architect with a completed university degree. Simmons' career was unusual in that he was able to gain considerable practical architectural experience prior to graduation. Downtown Bloomington was destroyed in a massive fire in the summer of 1900 and Paul O. Moratz, a local architect and builder took on young Simmons to assist with the extensive post-fire rebuilding. Moratz was so pleased with architectural student's work that he requested Simmons to continue working for him after graduation. Consequently, Simmons settled in Bloomington in 1901 and commenced a career in architecture, working first for Moratz and later for himself.

Simmons worked as an architect from 1901 to 1924 and compiled an impressive list of completed projects, specializing in public buildings. He designed 71 Carnegie public libraries in 13 states, as well as many high schools, court houses and large churches. In the Bloomington-Normal community he designed such buildings as the (former) YMCA, the Lafayette Apartment Building and the factory building for the Williams Oil-O-Matic company. He designed few houses, primarily for friends. Besides the houses in Cedar Crest Addition, which included his own home at 1 Clinton Place, he designed houses for some of the prominent citizens in the community, including the Samuel Livingston house on Clinton Boulevard and the remodeling of the Byrd C. Van Leer residence on Fell Avenue (once known as Broadmore and is now the Immanuel Bible Foundation) and the Ferguson residence on Highland Avenue.

Simmons continued to practice architecture until 1924 when he became associated with the Williams Oil-O-Matic Heating Corporation in Bloomington. He served as director, vice-president, treasurer and later general manager for the company which specialized in the manufacture of automatic oil heating equipment. As early as 1935, the company reportedly provided approximately 95% of all such equipment exported from the United States. In 1945 the company merged with Eureka Vacuum Cleaner Co. to become Eureka Williams Corporation. Mr. Simmons served as export manager until he retired in 1947. While in this position he traveled abroad extensively marketing the company's products to forty-eight countries. He died in Normal, October 29, 1963. Simmons does not seem to have been invested in Cedar Crest beyond his architectural contributions. However, his own house at 1 Clinton Place was one of the first to be erected in the subdivision and was clearly designed to serve as a focal point for the newly planned area. The home, prominently positioned on a triangular parcel of land at the intersection of Fell Avenue and Clinton Place, demonstrates the kinds of strikingly modern ideas that he would bring to Cedar Crest. The long-time residence of Simmons has remained substantially unaltered. Burt Marley Kuhn offered Simmons the opportunity to demonstrate his architectural skills in Cedar Crest.

Kuhn was born in Red Wing, Minnesota, April 15, 1858, but when he was one year old, his family moved to McLean County. He was educated in the public schools of Hudson and Normal and graduated from high school in 1879. After teaching school for a year, Kuhn followed in his father's footsteps as a free-wheeling businessman involved in many different enterprises. At various times Kuhn was involved in real estate, coal and for a time, he was sole owner of the Lincoln Street Railway. Perhaps his best known enterprise was a patent dressmaking project called the Climax Tailor System, which Kuhn promoted throughout central Illinois. In 1896, Governor Tanner appointed Kuhn treasurer of the Illinois Soldiers' and Sailors' Children's Home in Normal. When Kuhn began the development of Cedar Crest, he was one of Normal's best known businessmen. He had resided on the site of his development since about 1890, apparently purchasing the property from Charles Fell, whose nursery had occupied the entire tract of land. Kuhn built for himself the 1895 Queen Anne at 5 Broadway Place. This house is one of the few Queen Anne houses remaining in Normal and it adds complexity and historical richness to Cedar Crest, which is primarily an Arts and Crafts subdivision.

By 1920 much of Clinton Place and all of Fell Avenue within the addition had residences. Most of the houses on Broadway Place, Division and Central Avenue (now Hillcrest Avenue) were constructed by 1923. Development slowed after this, with little construction between 1923 and 1928. After 1928, there was only occasional construction, because few vacant lots remained. Though there is some diversity within the district, the overall stylistic unity of Cedar Crest is most likely the result of its brief construction time, essentially 1914-1923. The time frame of the subdivision's development closely parallels a similar phenomenon in the general history of American home building.

America experienced one of the most exceptional building booms in its history during World War I, as European demands for American agricultural and industrial goods spawned a general prosperity that continued virtually unabated into the latter 1920s. The slowing down of building in the later 1920s was also part of a nationwide trend; the American housing industry was already well into an extended slump by the time of the 1929 stock market crash. This was true of development in the Cedar Crest Addition; after the Depression no houses were constructed in the neighborhood until the 1950s.

As Normal's first important planned residential development, Cedar Crest exercised large influence on the design of future subdivisions. This influence is especially apparent in such additions as Walglen, Maplewood and Pleasant Hills, all of which have many of Cedar Crest's characteristics: homogeneous architecture, curvilinear streets and accommodations for modern automobile transportation.

Cedar Crest differs from many of the other subdivisions in Normal, because of the unique way in which it was planned and developed. Much of the area to the north of Cedar Crest was subdivided into individual house lots, not into cohesive subdivisions. This process was gradual and erratic as individual farms ceased their operations; most of the subdivisions were only one or two blocks. Cedar Crest's curvilinear brick streets contrast the rigid grid pattern of the surrounding historic neighborhoods in both Normal and Bloomington. Although some brick streets have been paved with blacktop, Clinton Place, Highland and Hillcrest are some of the few remaining brick streets in Normal. In Cedar Crest, the development of the large houses on large lots worked in harmony with the topography of the area, instead of making the topography conform to the subdivision like many developments of the recent past and today. The styles of the neighboring residences are overwhelmingly bungalows and foursquares with Craftsman detailing. Many houses outside of Cedar Crest have been altered through remodeling, additions, and replacement materials, such as aluminum and vinyl siding. The original design of Cedar Crest remains essentially unchanged.

† Adapted from: Lauren Kerrestes, Associate Planner, Carl J. Ekberg, Retired History Professor, ISU, Town of Normal, Cedar Crest Addition Historic District, McLean County, IL, 2006, nomination document, National Park Service, National Register of Historic Places, Washington, D.C.

Cedar Crest Addition Historic District Map

Street Names
Broadway Place • Clinton Place • Fell Avenue South • Highland Avenue • Hillcrest Street

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