Daniel Bluestone
The politics of preserving place architectural historian
In Chicago’s bungalow belt local knowledge is helping to guide policy for preserving architectural heritage, galvanise citizenship and strengthen the fabric of local communities.
Historical analysis of everyday housing, urban preservation policy and political action in Chicago have gone hand in hand with the Historic Chicago Bungalow Initiative, launched by the city in September 2000. Chicago planners and policy makers came to realise that the fate of the city’s stock of affordable single-family housing was inextricably linked to the fate of Chicago bungalows built in the early decades of the 20th century. They established grant programmes and property tax incentives to encourage bungalow rehabilitation and energy conservation. They also developed design guidelines that help protect architectural integrity while ensuring that bungalows would provide accommodation into their second century and beyond.
Bungalows designed by Axel V Teisen and built and built in 1917-18 on West Grace Street in Chicago's Irving Park Gardens neighbourhoodthe University of Virginia,
. Long appreciated as an extremely popular housing form by builders, realtors and middle- and lowermiddle class homeowners, the Chicago bungalow had received only limited historical consideration from architectural historians. Between 1910 and 1930 Chicago developers built tens of thousands of one and one-and-one-half-storey brick bungalows on large tracts of land previously occupied by farms and prairie fields.1

These new bungalow neighbourhoods represented a major innovation in Chicago urbanism. Here a newstyle 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. Generally rectangular in plan, with the narrow end facing the street, the bungalow mass was dominated by low-pitched overhanging roofs. The front elevations had face brick, with stone trim, while the side and rear walls were constructed of common brick. Expansive windows openings flooded interiors with natural light. Small porches generally occupied the front and the rear of the house.2

New residents of the
bungalow neighbourhood
on West Argyle Avenue
in 1922He is a historian of
Typically built with bedrooms on the first floor, bungalows anticipated the public acceptance of modern houses planned on a single level that came to characterise popular housing form for much of the 20th century. The unfinished attic spaces, illuminated with gable end windows or roof dormers, provided a space into which a family could expand when resources permitted. The bungalow played a crucial role in fostering home ownership among the expanding ranks of Chicago’s middle- and lower-middle classes. Despite the bungalow’s prominence in shaping the Chicago landscape, it was the suburban houses designed by Frank Lloyd Wright, the skyscrapers of Louis Sullivan, and the civic, residential and commercial buildings by Mies van der Rohe that have shaped the canon of Chicago architecture – attracting the lion’s share of critical analysis.
Left: A meeting between
bungalow owners and a
member of the American
Institute of Architects,
facilitated by the Historic
Chicago Bungalow
Right: The 2004 Bungalow
Exposition, hosted by the
Historic Chicago Bungalow
Associationurbanism, and an advocate
Part of the recent efforts to help conserve Chicago bungalow neighbourhoods has involved an effort to understand the bungalow as a distinct architectural, social, and cultural form. We found that as people come to know their homes and neighbourhoods better in both historical and architectural terms, they tend to form greater attachments to place while better understanding the complexity of public and private decisions that shape urban landscapes. Towards this end, I helped establish a framework for the potential listing of 80,000 Chicago bungalows on the US Department of the Interior’s National Register of Historic Places.
The Bungalow Association’s
design guidelines booklet
provides advice on how to
expand bungalows while
maintaining their historic
character.and public history. He
Neighbourhood residents were clearly thrilled to participate in a process that located the bungalow within the broader narrative of Chicago’s architectural and social history. They were also genuinely pleased to learn more specific stories of the designers, builders and early residents associated with their houses and neighbourhoods. Moreover, the identification of the distinct form of the bungalow has helped attract creative design and financial support to guide the renovation and expansion of these homes while preserving their architectural and urban character.

The Bungalow Association was started with a grant from the City of Chicago for $2.5 million to fund the first five years of operation. With strong support from Mayor Richard M Daley, the bungalow initiative has been strengthened by an unusually broad coalition among city departments, including housing, cultural affairs, planning/landmarks, environment, transportation and building. Private philanthropic foundations have also supported the Bungalow Association: the Richard H Driehaus Foundation supported the historical research involved in nominating Chicago bungalows to the National Register.

Chicago’s bungalows emerged as a local appropriation and variant of a house style that was national in scope. The bungalow style was well represented in all parts of the USA. Popular magazines like Ladies Home Journal, Good Housekeeping and The Craftsman, as well as pattern books and catalogues from companies like Aladdin Homes of Bay City, Michigan, and Radford Architectural Company of Chicago, promoted the national diffusion of the bungalow style. Bungalow building kits advertised by Sears, Roebuck, Montgomery Ward and other companies further popularised the style.

Nevertheless, Chicago’s massive population expansion, from 1.7 million in 1900 to 3.4 million in1930, in the years of the greatest popular enthusiasm for the bungalow, meant that the bungalow was particularly well represented in Chicago. The Chicago bungalow project helped frame key aspects of their distinct development in Chicago: an identity rooted in local building practices and regulations, prevailing patterns of land division and transportation, and the regional market for building materials.

Interestingly, many of the most prominent national promoters of bungalows looked askance at their construction in dense city neighbourhoods – the sort of placement necessary for economical building in Chicago. Gustav Stickley, the apostle of the arts and crafts movement, for example, generally avoided promoting houses intended for urban lots. His advocacy of economy, simplicity and honesty of home construction could theoretically extend to the urban house. However, dense urban lots undercut a primary tenet of Stickley’s arts and crafts ideals – the restoration of a harmonious relationship between people, their houses and nature.

In 1909, laying out the elements of his ‘craftsman idea’, Stickley addressed the urban context directly. ‘We need hardly say that a house of the kind we have described belongs either in the open country or in a small village or town, where the dwellings do not elbow or crowd one another any more than the people do. We have planned houses for country living because we firmly believe that the country is the only place to live in. The city is all very well for business, for amusement and some formal entertainment, in fact for anything and everything that, by its nature, must be carried on outside of the home. But the home itself should be in some place where there is peace and quiet, plenty of room and the chance to establish a sense of intimate relationship with the hills and valleys, trees and brooks and all the things whichtend to lessen the strain and worry of modern life.’3 Part of the achievement of Chicago builders, architects and residents came in their reworking of a house form initially envisioned for country living in the context of Chicago’s street grid and narrower residential lots.

Bungalows built in the
1920s in Elmwood Parkbuilding and neighbourhood
There is an important parallel between the omission of the bungalow from the narrative of Chicago architecture and the chilly reception many architects and critics gave the form at the height of the popular ‘bungalow craze’. In 1911, just as brick bungalows began to appear on Chicago streets, Henry Saylor published his popular book Bungalows: their design, construction and furnishing, with suggestions also for camps, summer homes and cottages of similar character. Saylor shared with Stickley the sense that bungalows needed to be built in country settings. In 1911, architect Wilson Eyre declared the inappropriateness of the bungalow as a permanent form of residential architecture.

Eyre wrote: ‘The bungalow, I take it, is not a new style of suburban home. It is misused as such, and it is generally objectionable when so used… In general, I do not believe in the one-storey house for an all-year dwelling. It is a fad which, like Mission furniture, is being much overdone… In my opinion, this bungalow style is not destined to produce any lasting effect on domestic architecture in America.’4

Such writers clearly misjudged both the popularity of the bungalow and the ingenuity of architects and builders determined to give a new shape to the residential landscape in American cities like Chicago. Until recently historians have themselves underestimated the significance of bungalow design. One of the interesting things that surfaced in our research on Chicago bungalows was the influence of apartment design and living upon bungalow design. In 1912, when Country Life in America asked Chicago architect Thomas E Tallmadge a question about bungalow living, he offered a surprisingly urban perspective. ‘We will answer your question, “why do people live in bungalows?” with the question, “why do people live in apartments?” In our opinion to simplify the problems of housekeeping… the bungalow… should have the advantages of a good apartment and in addition, of course, the joys of sole proprietorship and the possibility of a garden and outdoor home life, which the denizens of our modern apartment buildings have not, of course. It seems to us that the bungalow, therefore, has a distinct place in American life and architecture.’5

A bungalow designed by
Anders G Lund in 1924
in Chicago’s South Park
Manor neighbourhood.
Setback massing gives
the bungalow an unusual
feature – a bedroom
window (at left) facing
directly on to the street.including his work with the
1 Homer Hoyt, One
Hundred Years of Land
Values in Chicago,
(Chicago: University of
Chicago Press, 1933),
245, estimates that
100,000 bungalows
were constructed in
Chicago and Cook
County between in
the period between
World War I and 1933;
The Chicago Bungalow,
edited by Dominic A
Pacyga and Charles
Shanabruch, (Chicago:
Arcadia Publishing,
2001), gives a similar
figure, 80,000–100,000
built in Chicago
between 1910 and 1940
2 Scott Sonoc, ‘Defining
the Chicago Bungalow’,
in The Chicago
Bungalow, edited by
Dominic A Pacyga and
Charles Shanabruch,
(Chicago: Arcadia
Publishing, 2001), 9–30
3 Gustav Stickley,
Craftsman Homes,
(New York: Gramercy
Books, 1995; originally
published in 1909),
4 Wilson Eyre, ‘The
Purpose of the
Bungalow’, Country
Life in America, 19
(February, 1911):
5 Quoted in: Phil M Riley,
‘What Is A Bungalow?’,
Country Life in America,
22 (November, 1906):
6 Charles E White, The
Bungalow Book (New
York: MacMillan
Company, 1923), 4
7 Chicago Tribune, 10 April
8 Ned Kaufman, ‘Places
of Historical, Cultural,
and Social Value:
Identification and
Protection, Part I’,
Environmental Law in
New York 12 (November
2001): 211–212,
9 Joseph A Amato,
Rethinking Home: a case
for writing local history,
Berkeley, 2002Historic Chicago Bungalow
In 1923 Charles W White’s The Bungalow Book underscored this point when he wrote: ‘The modern American apartment has helped to call attention to the advantage of rooms all on one floor. Conditions in cities, where density of population dictates that many families shall be housed in a single apartment building, causes thousands of people to live in this manner… Prospective house owners… are struck by their apparent comfort and the greater ease with which housework is done.’6 Bungalows also appropriated from many apartment buildings their modern systems
of heating, electricity, and plumbing. The dovetailing of living rooms and dining rooms, the elimination of prominent stairs and interior corridors all contributed to the economy of bungalow design.

The Chicago bungalow came to rely on the presence of a massive regional brick-making industry. As Chicago bungalows assumed a more standard form in the 1910s, it became clear that the majority of bungalows would be constructed of brick. In this regard they took leave of the wood and stucco forms popular in Southern California and initially developed in Chicago. Builders and architects who adopted the bungalow style in other parts of the country experimented with brick in the hopes of realising greater durability, permanence and insulation in colder climates. These considerations combined with other local factors, like the presence of residential zones requiring fireproof construction, to motivate Chicago builders to turn most readily to brick for local bungalow construction.

A key innovation in the neighbourhoods of Chicago’s bungalow belt was the rise of fairly harmonious residential streets and blocks. In sharp contrast to the older parts of the city where a vast array of residential, commercial, industrial, and civic buildings stood in close proximity and formed a crazy-quilt urban pattern, the bungalow neighbourhoods enjoyed a high degree of cohesiveness and uniformity. The cohesiveness did not necessarily mean monotony. A degree of standardisation of design and construction held out the possibilities of further economy.

However, the form of bungalow neighbourhoods suggested that there were limits to the premium placed on both economy and cohesiveness. In many neighbourhoods the relatively small scale of builder operations, where a single builder constructed only between one and four bungalows at a time, meant that the streetscape usually took on a character of modest stylistic variation within a cohesive landscape, framed by pre-established building lines and street lawns.

Different builders had different stylistic preferences and different senses of just what bungalow model would sell best in the market. Window openings, porch and door placement, roof patterns, floor plans, brick colour and brickwork style, and ornamental elements all varied the character of the streetscape. This avoided, in the words of a Chicago Tribune critic, ‘the pea-in-a-pod effect so disconcerting to the celebrating gentleman who had forgotten the number of his own castle.’7

The Chicago Bungalow project also highlighted the social meaning of architecture and community – a set of relations that are as important today as they were in the early 20th century. Despite some efforts to avoid architectural uniformity, bungalows became a vehicle for forging a uniform American identity out of the diverse ethnicities gathered in the city. Homeownership has long stood as one of the icons of the American dream. The ability of Americans to increase their rate of homeownership has historically depended on overlapping influences related to family purchasing power, financial mechanisms and institutions that facilitate home buying, a business- and governmentsupported ideology concerning the public and private benefits of home ownership, and the actual design and construction of houses that could draw larger numbers of families into the ranks of homeowners.

In the first three decades of the 20th century the bungalow provided the image of the expansion of the American dream in a city that served as a major destination for foreign-born immigrants. Looked at in the context of urban neighbourhoods, the crazyquilt patterns of older and poorer Chicago ethnic neighbourhoods provided immediate evidence at almost every turn of major markers of ethnic identity. With corner stores, saloons and other commercial establishments mixed in with high-density apartments and tenements, as well as the physical prominence of religious and cultural institutions, ethnic identity and associations pervaded Chicago’s older neighbourhoods.

Bungalow neighbourhoods with their cohesive single-use residential streetscapes tended to level or mask ethnic identity. The character of the bungalow neighbourhood operated overtime to promote the amalgamation of citizens who found themselves sharing the opportunities, experiences and material culture of a vast array of American citizens. In early 20th century Chicago Swedes, German, Norwegians, Bohemians and Poles predominated in different bungalow neighbourhoods. Nevertheless, standing on a residential block, simply looking at houses, it would be difficult to tell which group resided there.

The movement of wealthier members of various ethnic groups out of older neighbourhoods and into the bungalow belt involved an important move toward assimilation and American identity, an identity defined in part by homeownership. In sharing a common residential form that tended to mask ethnicity, Chicago’s diverse residents began defining a common ground of American citizenship.

Understanding the historical identity that bungalow owners and residents derived from their homes can perhaps help historians and bungalow residents today to assess more thoughtfully the role of houses, communities and goods in defining our own sense of social identity and geographical place. These are important issues to continue to weigh in designing, preserving and using these landscapes. In carrying out the Chicago bungalow research we developed what is called a multiple property Nomination to the National Register. We provided a narrative scaffolding for analysing and interpreting Chicago bungalows, and for better understanding their place in the history of Chicago architecture and urbanism. We also completed district nominations for South Park Manor and Irving
Park Gardens, the first neighbourhoods listed on the National Register under the bungalow multiple property nomination process.

A bungalow streetscape
in Chicago’s Mayfair
Daniel Bluestone is an
architectural historian and
director of the Historic
Preservation Program at
the University of Virginia,
Charlottesville, Virginia.
He is a historian of
American architecture and
urbanism, and an advocate
of community preservation
and public history. He
has worked on numerous
building and neighbourhood
revitalisation projects,
including his work with the
Historic Chicago Bungalow
Residents of the neighbourhoods responded enthusiastically to the work. The level of individual memberships in the Historic Chicago Bungalow Association is rapidly rising. Most impressively, residents in several bungalow neighbourhoods have started doing their own research on the architecture and history of their communities. Working on and engaging the history of locality helps anchor neighbourhood identity, providing a historical framework for understanding the dynamics of the past and present. As these neighbours gather and narrate and take measure of their history, they develop deeper attachments to their homes, blocks and communities. Their knowledge becomes the keystone of a more energised politics of place built on locality and perhaps capable of resisting the forces of global placelessness and homogenisation.8

In this regard I very much appreciate Joseph Amato’s boosting of local histories in his recent book Rethinking Home: a case for writing local history. Amato argues that ‘local historians provide a passionate attachment to concrete places in an age when home and place, locale and landscape, are in a state of great mutation… [Local history] awakens a passion for understanding the compass of local action. In this way, local history serves the intelligence that frees the energy of local people to work in the dimensions of the possible. Committed to understanding the present and the changes that characterise it, local history proves a golden asset for all vital people of a place.’9

In Chicago’s bungalow belt we are seeing such local knowledge help to guide policy for preserving architectural heritage, galvanise citizenship and strengthen the fabric of local community.