Chicago's Bungalows Making a Comeback

Chicago bungalows, built over a period of about 30 years up to 1940, at first  provided housing for immigrants. Now they are in demand by young couples,  families and newer immigrants.
Chicago bungalows, built over a period of about 30 years up to 1940, at first provided housing for immigrants. Now they are in demand by young couples, families and newer immigrants. (John Gress - For the Washington Post)
By Kari Lydersen
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, May 30, 2005

CHICAGO -- When Maribeth and Greg Brewer moved back to their native Chicago, they wanted to reconnect to the city and feel a sense of community -- something they had never felt in the years they lived in a soulless condo in a trendy neighborhood.

The new house of their dreams they found here was 79 years old, a simple brick bungalow. They were not alone. The Chicago bungalow, unpretentious but comfortable, home to generations of working-class immigrants, has become one of the hottest houses here for young, hip couples and families looking for a manageable slice of city life.

The new homeowners are turning their love of the houses into a hobby, with clubs that meet monthly to discuss the bungalows' history as well as practical tips on how to fix them up.

Bungalows didn't receive much fanfare for their architecture and artistry when they were built from 1910 to 1940. But now they are being heralded as prime examples of the Arts and Crafts and Prairie schools of architecture, directly influenced by the work of Frank Lloyd Wright.

"We've had this weird bungalow bond with people," said Maribeth Brewer, 46, a manager at the Field Museum. "This house has really made us feel a part of the neighborhood. Bungalows seem to attract people with an appreciation for the arts, and it's very multicultural."

About 80,000 were built, creating a "bungalow belt" around the northwest and south sides of the city and accounting for about a third of the city's housing stock. One-and-a-half-story brick buildings with peaked roofs, covered porches and lots of windows, bungalows were never seen as flashy markers of wealth. But they were pleasant, spacious places to raise a family.

Though there are bungalows in other cities, the ones in Chicago are distinctive for a number of characteristics, including their roof peaks, which are perpendicular to the street rather than parallel, their narrow lots and the fact that they are made of brick. Chicago also has houses reminiscent of bungalows but with extra levels and flourishes, such as turrets; people like to call them "bungaloids." Bungalows are generally considered affordable housing, though prices range from about $120,000 to $900,000 depending on location, condition and extra features.

The city has officially noted the historical significance of the homes. Mayor Richard M. Daley five years ago launched a city initiative offering grants, loans and technical assistance to help owners restore their bungalows and outfit them with energy-efficient technology. Daley himself grew up in a bungalow in the South Side neighborhood of Bridgeport with seven siblings, his parents and his grandfather, and he lived there until he got married.

"A bungalow is so unique to Chicago history," Daley said in an interview. "My father [the famous former mayor] built ours in 1937 or 1938. Bungalows were built by great tradesmen and architects. They were well constructed by people who put a lot of thought into it, not like some of the things you see now that will be down in 25 years."

In order to take advantage of city incentives, owners must certify their bungalows as historic structures through the nonprofit Historic Chicago Bungalow Association. More than 7,000 have been registered. Some neighborhoods are also being designated as historic bungalow districts.

"From the late 1960s through the 1980s, bungalows had sort of gone out of vogue and weren't appreciated for what they are," said Charles Shanabruch, executive director of the Historic Chicago Bungalow Association and an owner himself. "That's changed."

Cities including Denver and Milwaukee are also working to protect and restore their bungalows. Visitors from around the country attended the fourth annual Chicago Bungalow Expo in April, when more than 9,000 people explored exhibits on restoration and care and historical significance.

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