Photo: East side of the 8100 block of S. Blackstone Avenue, Avalon Park Bungalow Historic District, Chicago. The District was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2023. Photographed by Carla Bruni, 2021/2022 for the nomination document. Accessed September, 2023, registration document, National Park Service, Washington, D.C.
The Avalon Park Bungalow Historic District [†] is located in Community Area 45 on the southeast side of Chicago, approximately ten miles from the city's commercial center. The district is roughly bounded by E. 79th Street to the north; S. Harper Avenue to the east, E. 83rd Street to the south; and S. Woodlawn Avenue to the west.
Brick Chicago bungalows form the bulk of the Avalon Park Bungalow Historic district and make up the vast majority of the primary structures built within the period of significance. The district has dozens of recorded architects, but a handful of those architects dominated the district. Homes in the district that were not built using an architect instead relied on already-existing architectural plans. Although a variety of architects, developers, and plans contributed to the design and construction of the district, it maintained a uniform scale and cohesiveness throughout its periods of rapid growth with common features such as low-pitched roofs with overhanging eaves, banded or grouped fenestration, decorative brickwork and limestone detailing.
The community area also includes the neighborhoods of Avalon Park, Marynook, and Stony Island Park. Avalon Park also shares boundaries with six additional neighborhoods: Greater Grand Crossing, South Shore, South Chicago, Calumet Heights, Burnside, and Chatham. The borders of the community are South Chicago Avenue and the Chicago Skyway to the northeast, 87th Street on the southern edge, and the Illinois Central Railroad to the west. The proposed district is located in the north-central portion of the neighborhood.
Avalon Park is a quiet, tree-lined neighborhood and remains largely insulated from heavy traffic. The district is made up primarily of one-way streets. In contrast, 79th Street to the north and 83rd Street to the south are thoroughfares with stoplights that provide strong borders for the neighborhood itself, as well as for this proposed district. The area between these streets, has little traffic or high-speed driving. The average household size is 2.3 people per home and about 70% of households have 1-2 people.
There are 40 block faces within the Avalon Park Bungalow Historic District, each containing between 15 and 20 individual lots, with the exception of the one section of S. Woodlawn Avenue between 81st and 82nd Street, which has only ten homes due to a large vacant lot that extends from an alley southward to 82nd Street. Beyond than anomaly, the variation in the number of lots is largely due to a difference in street lengths of the streets themselves, not in the width of the lots. Lot sizes in the district range from 25 feet wide to 60 feet wide, but the average size of interior lots is approximately 25 feet wide and 125 feet deep. Some corner lots and lots occupied by two-flats and multi-unit dwellings are slightly wider. All buildings in the district face east or west. Streets contained within the district are approximately 30 feet wide. The right-of-way on each block face includes street lawns fronting the street pavement, as well as sidewalks, which are consistently between five and six feet in depth. The majority of buildings are set back approximately 15 feet from sidewalks. All of these measurements are based on the City of Chicago's interactive zoning map2 and numerous site visits.
Bungalow neighborhoods, typically diverse in terms of the occupations and ethnic makeup of their populations, were also commonly the result of a patchwork effort of developers and architects. Some of the most active architects in the district include Luther McDonald, AG Lund, FW Fischer, Earnest Braucher, JJ Kocher, JN Coleman, and WH Lautz. Many of these architects worked on multiple properties along block faces*mdash;sometimes in conjunction with a single developer and/or contractor—and most have contributed to other Chicago Bungalow Historic Districts across the city, such as North Mayfair, West Chatham, Brainerd, Rogers Park Manor, Auburn Gresham, and Hermosa. Despite the undeniable influence of a handful of architects and developers, a wide range of speculators and homeowners contributed to the district as a whole, and many developers worked without the direct involvement of an architect, such as OA Johnson, Wm Kirkman, or Ellen Brady, who used plans that were easily purchased and replicated. This has also left a distinct but cohesive stamp on the neighborhood. It may also be worth noting that Ellen Brad and several other women, including Emma Jensen and Elsie Poulsen, developed multiple properties in this district, or at a minimum legally owned these homes.
The contributing bungalows in the district are one-and-one-half story structures that manifest all of the typical details and forms mentioned. To add some interest to street faces, developers sometimes alternated dormers with pointed and clipped gables, as seen on the east side of the 8100 block of S. Blackstone (IMAGE 5). The majority of the roofs in the district are covered in either modern asphalt tile or asphalt sheet roofing over what was likely original asbestos shingle roofing.
Brick is, without a doubt, the most common material used for both contributing and non-contributing structures. Buildings occupying corner lots are usually clad in face brick on both street-facing elevations and are a mix of Chicago bungalows and multi-unit buildings. The apartment buildings, built within the period of significance, maintain the rhythm and setbacks of the bungalows that dominate the rest of the street. Buildings resting on interior lots feature face brick only on the primary façade, though it wraps around the corners to the side walls. By wrapping the face brick in this way, it gives the illusion to passersby that it clads the entire structure—an illusion further aided by the close grouping of the buildings. Face brick in the district ranges from tans to yellows to deep reds and browns, as is typical of bungalow districts, and is used decoratively as a means to give each home character, despite the similar massing and layout designs. Secondary materials include: limestone, used for brackets, window lintels and sills, copings, and decorative accents throughout the district; and wood elements used to construct gables, doors, window frames, and back porches, most of which are now enclosed.
The development of the Avalon Park neighborhood in the 1910s and 20s 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 area called Avalon Park was originally made up of a low-lying swamp on either side of what is now Stony Island Avenue. In the late 1880s, a section between 81st and 83rd Streets and Woodlawn and Dorchester Avenues was subdivided and nicknamed Pennytown,5 supposedly after a general store owner named Penny who sold homemade popcorn balls. This section makes up a large portion of the proposed Avalon Park Bungalow Historic District.
The relative isolation of Avalon Park during these years made it a convenient location for some industries and activities, but somewhat less desirable for developers. Local amenities included a contagious disease hospital and a garbage dump along 83rd Street. What is now the actual park in the area was then called Mud Lake, a popular spot for fishing, duck, and rabbit hunting. Although the landscape discouraged early attempts at settlement, German and Irish railroad workers and mechanics employed in nearby Pullman and Burnside decided to put down some roots in the northern section of town.
Annexation to Chicago happened in 1889, and by 1900, the 79th Street sewer was installed, the swamp was drained, and dwellings no longer needed to be built on top of posts. Shortly thereafter, gas lines, water mains, streets, and sidewalks made living considerably more pleasant, and the World's Columbian Exposition of 1893 helped stimulate some residential growth as well. During the first decade of the 20th century, numerous single-family homes came up, particularly between Stony Island and Cregier Avenues, 80th and 83rd Streets. Now that the area no longer required stilts to avoid flooding and infestation, community church members lead an effort to change the name from Pennytown to something they felt was more inspiring. This effort was said to be led by a female pastor named Dr. Star, who in her younger years had been arrested in Pittsburgh for playing and singing in front of saloons, and who then went on to become a well-known temperance lecturer. She eventually moved west to Chicago and in 1910 lead a movement to purchase the site of the community church, located at 8100 Dante Avenue (now Avalon Park Community Church, built in 1915)—as well as advocating for a name change of the area itself. It's possible that the pastor came up with the name Avalon based on the Avalon suburb of Pittsburgh, from where she came,9 though most sources simply credit a desire to pay homage to the English Isle of Avalon, which while popcorn ball-less, is believed to be the burial place of King Arthur.
Between 1910 and 1918, brick Chicago bungalows began lining the streets of Avalon Park. In 1920, the population of Avalon Park was still under 3,000, most of these residents were foreign-born, and about 10% were Swedish. Building happened in waves, with some years booming and others showing only a handful of permits, but overall, it continued steadily until around 1925 when many of the lots were built on and the overall trend slowed. Meanwhile, manufacturing had developed north of 87th Street along the railroad tracks and along South Chicago Avenue, making the area an island of single-family homes. By 1930, the population was three times what it was in 1920 at over 10,000. The Swedish population continued to make up the largest share of the community—20% at that time*mdash;and most Swedes were railroad, steel mill, and factory workers. There were two minor business centers at this time, one along 79th Street and the other along Stony Island Avenue.
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 completed Chicago bungalow in the district was completed by developer Arthur Watson on October 14th, 1913 at 8153 S Harper Avenue, located very near to the first frame bungalows. While no contractor or architect was listed for this first home, Watson completed a second bungalow exactly one month later that was designed by architect AR Darker and contractor Edward Kirby—this time a with a "Detroit" style roofline with a side gable.
According to the 1920 U.S. Census, early inhabitants at 8153 S. Harper were George and Mary Alexander, and their daughter, Dorothy, who as just one year old when the Census taker knocked on the door. James was a native Arkansan and furniture salesman, and Mary, who does not have an occupation listed in 1920, came from Wisconsin. Both of their parents were also born in the U.S., so they are at least 2nd generation Americans, though their home was flanked by Irish and Swiss immigrants.
Only six buildings were built in the proposed district in 1912, and the pace continued to trickly during 1913 with only seven more homes built—all brick and frame bungalows. These were scattered along the eastern half of the proposed district, mostly on S. Harper and S. Dorchester. Developer interested in the area seemed to ebb and flow with numbers jumping up to as high as 128 homes built in 1923, then back down to just seven in 1929, with ups-and-downs in general throughout the 1910s and 20s.
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 majority of the homes—about 60%—were constructed in the brief period from 1919-1924, 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 Avalon 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 $4,000-$8,000 with the range largely dependent on the year of construction as things became more expensive in the mid- to-late 20s. Regardless of the year, this kind of construction 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 Avalon Park. When looking at the chart of contributing properties in this nomination, some prices listed on permits are higher than the mentioned above; that is because garages were occasionally built at the same time as the house, and the ancient building permits reflect the cost of both the home and garage in one lump sum. Chicago bungalows typically measured around 24'x50'x20' &mdash'; and sold for $5,000-$10,000 each—still a manageable sum for the working-class families moving to the area.
While there are over 80 known architects in the district, the most prolific of the bunch were Luther McDonald, responsible for more than 56 Chicago bungalows and one brick two-story home; AG Lund designed 44 Chicago bungalows; FW Fischer designed 26; and Earnest Braucher designed 22. All of these numbers are conservative, because while the majority of the original building permits were found for properties in the district, some were not, or were illegible.
While dozens of developers, builders and architects, many working on only a few houses, helped to fill in the rest of the district, the building trends are clear and not surprising when compared with other historic Chicago bungalow districts. For example, the architects mentioned above designed Chicago bungalows in neighborhoods all over the city, including the West Chatham, Hermosa, South Park Manor, and West Ridge Bungalow Historic Districts, among others.
† çarla Bruni, Chicago Bungalow Association, Avalno Park Bungalow Historic District, nomination document, 2022, National Register of Historic Places, Washington, D.C.
79th Street East • 83rd Street East • Avalon Avenue SOuth • Blackstone Avenue South • Dante Avenue South • Dorchester Avenue South • Harper Avenue Souyh • Kenwood Avenie South • Kimbark Avenue South • Woodlawn Avenue South