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Unadulterated rows of bungalows march on in Chicago's bungalow belt. The uniformly stocky masonry massing, a unique local interpretation of the bungalow form, is varied with patterned brickwork and cast stone pendants on porch pillars.

Photo Courtesy of Maldre/Chicago Architecture Foundation

Famous for architectural masterpieces by Louis Sullivan and Mies Van der Rohe, Chicago is home to more bungalows than any other single building type. Estimates hover at around 80,000 bungalows just within city limits, representing nearly one-third of the single-family homes. A crescent-shaped area, dubbed the "bungalow belt," spans the western outskirts of the city from north to south. Generally constructed between 1910 and 1940, bungalows were the home of choice during Chicago's biggest growth spurt, with thousands being built at their peak in 1925.

What is it that makes Chicago bungalows unique? Their distinctive style was influenced by many factors, perhaps dating back to the Great Fire of 1871. Bungalows in the Windy City are invariably one-and-a-half storeys and of fireproof, solid-brick construction. Bricks called Chicago "commons" were employed by the millions for secondary elevations, chimneys, and back-up masonry, while bungalow fronts were frequently faced with cream or yellow bricks. Front façades often feature decorative herringbone, checkered, or other brick patterns that add interest and are typically trimmed with Indiana limestone or cast stone.

Deep, narrow Chicago lots—typically 125´ front to back but only 30´ to 35´ wide—dictated unwavering rectangular floor plans. Butting up to their neighbors, Chicago bungalows address light and privacy by concentrating the largest windows in the chief living space at the front of the house. Many times these windows are accented with art glass housed in bowfront bays and serve as the focal point of the house, inside and out. Truncated "clipped" hipped roofs commonly nestle prominent dormers on the front of the house as well. Often built as unfinished attic or storage space, the crow's nest (or half storey) has normally been converted to bedrooms years ago. Windows along the side of the house are plentiful, but smaller and located high on the wall over built-in bookcases, buffets, and staircases.

While the city's density required its bungalows to provide more privacy than those built elsewhere, the Chicago model remains informal and welcoming. A modest front entrance is always located off to one side. Many Chicago bungalows hug one lot line in order to surrender as much space as possible to the other side of the house. Generous setbacks and small front stoops encourage socializing with neighbors and historically contributed to Chicago's close-knit working-class neighborhoods.

Chicago bungalow interiors are modest but deceptively expansive inside. The primary rooms are open, flowing from the front to the back of the house. True to bungalows in general, bedrooms, bathrooms, and closets are usually small in order to relinquish space to the primary living and dining rooms. Another Chicago invention, Pullman kitchens (where the sink, cabinets, and counter top were all aligned on one wall) were commonly installed in these bungalows.

Of course, the Chicago bungalow could not escape the Prairie School influence. Most have a hunkered-down, horizontal emphasis bolstered by masonry bands, overhanging eaves, and linear Prairie School art glass. While Frank Lloyd Wright, Walter Burley Griffin, George Maher, and other important Prairie School architects inspired some of these decorative details of Chicago bungalows, the origin of their overall design remains unattributed.

Bungalows are the most abundant single-family home not only in Chicago proper but also in many of the area's older suburbs. Chicago Mayor Richard M. Daley grew up in a bungalow, and the Daley administration encourages the preservation of bungalows through the Historic Chicago Bungalow Initiative. As Mayor Daley himself put it, "For many Chicagoans, a bungalow was the first house—and the only house—they ever owned."

Neal Vogel, the principal of Restoric, LLC (847-492-0416; restoric@earthlink.net), lives in a 1908 bungalow in Evanston, Illinois.



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