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Photo: Chicago skyline at sunrise. Photographed by User:Renelibrary (own work), 2009, [cc-by-4.0 ], via Wikimedia Commons, accessed March, 2021.
The Gage Park Bungalow Historic District [†] was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2020. The development of the Gage Park neighborhood in the 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 one-and-one-half 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 first settlers of what is now Gage Park were German farmers who came to the district in the 1840s and 50s. Family members of George Washington Gage owned property about seven blocks east of the proposed Gage Park Bungalow District, near 55th Street (which was often called Garfield Boulevard and earlier known as Pavilion Street) and Western Avenue. George and his brother David came to Chicago some time around 1850 and quickly became successful real estate speculators, first leasing and then buying the famous Tremont House, a hotel at Lake and Dearborn Streets, and then purchasing many other properties.
In 1865, the area was incorporated as the town of Lake4 and the Gage family was thriving. Ever the visionary, George was also an original member of the South Park Commission, which was organized to establish a park system and boulevards for the south side and the southern collar townships. But, alas, while the Gage family's influence and holdings were enviable, they were no match for the Chicago Fire in 1871. The blaze almost put the Gages out of business5 and possibly contributed to George himself perishing in 1872.
When land for a park was purchased in 1873 at 55th and Western, the park and community area were named for George and the Gage family despite the family's continued financial troubles. The family heirs lost most of George's property when they defaulted on a mortgage for which land south of the park was held as collateral. In 1877, New York multimillionaire and real estate mogul Hetty Green took title on the land and sat on it, doing little to nothing to improve it. In 1911, her son Edward H. R. Green sold the land to Bartlett Realty Company, who resold it for subdivision.
At the Western edge of what is now the Gage Park neighborhood, the Grand Trunk Western Railroad entered Lake Township in 1880, running along Central Park Avenue. This caused some real estate speculation and a small railroad settlement named Elsdon, consisting of mostly Germans and a few Irish families, to spring up in the early- to mid-1880s at a railroad stop near 51st and the tracks. At around the same time, James A. Campbell subdivided his land for residential development between 55th and 59th Streets from Central Park west to Pulaski, which became known as West Elsdon. Still, when the area was annexed to Chicago in 1889, there were only about 30 wood frame cottages in Gage Park, and no paved streets or public transportation. This finally changed when between 1900 and 1910, the electric trolley extended its service to Western and Kedzie Streets, and a building boom began in earnest. In 1911, Hetty Green's son Edward H.R. Green sold the land to the Bartlett Realty Company, which finally developed the land into what they called Marquette Manor. From 1905 to 1919, Western and Garfield Boulevards were laid out, and residential and industrial development escalated.
While Protestants tended to settle in the adjacent Chicago Lawn (known informally as Marquette Park), Roman Catholics came to Gage Park from nearby neighborhoods like Bridgeport and Back of the Yards neighborhoods. By 1920, there were almost 14,000 people in Gage Park, mostly Bohemian and Polish, and mostly employees of the Union Stock Yard. To relax from the grueling work at the yards, the growing community filled three movie theaters, including the Colony at 59th and Kedzie (still extant), built in 1925 in classical Gothic style. Slavic immigrants were lured to the area as national churches were created.
In 1922, Ben F. Bohac, a Czech American, organized one of the largest savings and loan institutions in Illinois, Talman Home Federal Savings and Loan at 51st and Talman Streets (which later merged with LaSalle National Bank). Other important employers were attracted by the railroads that bordered three sides of the neighborhood and moved in, including Central Steel and Wire Company, Royal Crown Bottling Company, and World's Finest Chocolate. Industries settled along the railroads, while businesses located themselves along Western and Kedzie Avenues and 51st, 55th, and 59th Streets. The neighborhood reached a population peak in the 1920s with 31,500 residents.
Brick Chicago bungalows, two-flats, and multi-unit buildings dominated much of Gage Park in the 1920s—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 one-and-one-half-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 homebuyers 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 confirmed Chicago bungalows in the proposed Gage Park Bungalow Historic District were completed on March 24th, 1919 at 5742 and 5748 S. California Avenue. They were designed by architects Davidson & Weiss who, and as far as was able to be verified through permit research, built only these two homes in the proposed district. The developer of these lots, H. J. Keisel, also seems to have only been involved with the creation of these two early bungalows in the district. According to the 1920 U.S. Census, early inhabitants at 5724 were James and Ellen Ross, their two sons and two granddaughters. James, still working as a boilermaker at age 67, emigrated from Scotland and Ellen came over from Ireland. Their children were born in Michigan and Illinois, one son following in his father's footsteps as a boilermaker and the other a bookkeeper. Their neighbors at 5748 had only one income, but fewer mouths to feed—and 28-year-old John Marshitz likely fed them well as a baker. John was a husband to Gertrude, an Austrian immigrant like John, and father to a six-year-old named after her mother and born in New York. The two bungalows are identical in form, each with a hipped roof, front-facing dormer, flat bay with an offset front entrance, and brick and limestone detailing.
Only seven buildings were built in the proposed district in 1919, but they were scattered onto the 5600 and 5700 blocks of S. Richmond, S. California and S. Mozart. Each year, the number grew at a trickling pace until 1924, when developers put up 76 new single-family homes, all Chicago bungalows. A wide range of architects and developers were responsible for the rapid growth, and by far, the most prolific architect in the proposed district was W. E. Sammons, who will be discussed more below. To accommodate the massive number of families coming into the area, Nightingale Elementary was built near the proposed district at 53rd and Rockwell Streets in 1926, allowing 1152 students to leave the four temporary structures that were built to accommodate them. It took another 12 years, likely in part due to the Great Depression, to finally add the furniture and educational equipment needed to open Gage Park High School, which is right outside of the district at 56th and Rockwell Streets. This is typical in bungalow districts throughout the city and shows a trend of bungalows trickling in during the 1910s and then rapidly filling up neighborhoods from the mid- to late-1920s, causing existing school buildings to require portable structures for students, and/or for students to have to travel far to a school that has seats available.
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. Many homes had 25-foot frontages, and the narrow distance between houses generated neighborliness on the blocks. Because the vast majority of the homes (over 70%) were constructed in the brief period from 1924-1927, the area is exceptionally cohesive in terms of building style and materials. We can again assume that due to the Depression, construction stopped abruptly in the district in 1931. Building began to slowly rebound in the 1940s, and even homes built outside of the period of significance (post-1931) have similar massing and setbacks, despite being new and distinct styles, maintaining the rhythm of the streetscapes. These Ranches, Cape Cods, Tudor revivals, and Georgian Revivals of the 1940s and 50s are constructed of materials like brick and limestone, keeping in harmony with their neighboring Chicago bungalows.
While the Chicago bungalows in the Gage Park 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. 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 Gage Park. Chicago bungalows typically measured around 24'x50'x20'—and sold for $8,000-$9,000 each—still a manageable sum for the working-class families moving to the area.
While there are 32 known architects in the district, the most prolific architects were William E. Sammons, responsible for a designing more than 175 Chicago bungalows and one multi-unit building between 1924 and 1931; Earnest Braucher, one of Chicago's most prolific residential architects during the era, who worked on approximately 30 buildings with a various partners; Saxe, responsible for around 26 buildings; Kocher&Larson with approximately 23 houses; and A. G. Lund, responsible for designing around 20 homes. All of these numbers are conservative, because while the majority of the original building permits were located for properties in the district, some were not, or were illegible. That said, the building trends are clear and not surprising when compared with other historic Chicago bungalow districts. Sammons, for example, who was responsible for designing the most homes in the district (and who was responsible for homes on all but four streets in the district), was a very busy man during this period, and designed Chicago bungalows in neighborhoods all over the city, including the West Chatham, Auburn Gresham, and Brainerd Bungalow Historic Districts, among others.
† Adapted from: Carl Bruni, Historic Chicago Bungalow Association, 2019, Gage Park Bungalow District, nomination document, National Park Service, National Register of Historic Places, Washington, D.C.