Mr. Downing and the Bright Red Door

4500 Vincennes

John Morris/Chicago Patterns

On the 4500 block of Vincennes in Bronzeville are two sets of twin greystones–one pair is more Classically styled and the other is more Romanesque. These homes are part of an enclave of city firefighters and police officers, and many that live in the neighborhood have been here for generations.

Anton Downing in front of his brother's house. John Morris/Chicago Patterns

Anton Downing in front of his brother’s house. John Morris/Chicago Patterns

Pictured above is Anton Downing, a firefighter. The house directly behind him belongs to his twin brother, also a firefighter.

His family was originally from Bronzeville, but moved to Chatham when housing restrictions on African-Americans were relaxed. According to Anton, his family’s transition to life in Chatham went easily because of his father’s veteran status. His parents still live there, but he and his brother moved back to the old neighborhood.

4500 Vincennes

Neighboring Romanesque greystone with extra large front pediment. John Morris/Chicago Patterns

The Red Door

While discussing the traits of the nearby houses and history of the neighborhood, Mr. Downing mentioned that his brother’s house retained most of the original fixtures, with one visible exception: the bright red door.

The significance was later obvious, but he explained that similar to a firehouse, a red door often indicates that a firefighter lives in the home.

While there are competing theories as to why the color red most frequently symbolizes firefighters, the tradition is easy to spot: the color of bay doors on fire stations, the color of firetrucks, and the color used to indicate to first responders that a building is vacant.

John Morris/Chicago Patterns

John Morris/Chicago Patterns

Nearby are other firefighters and police officers, forming a small community of public safety professionals in Bronzeville. Anton’s wife is a police officer as well.

When his parents left Bronzeville, the neighborhood was in a state of decline as much of the African-American middle class left in search of greener pastures in other neighborhoods and in the suburbs.

Today it is slowly regaining its fabled and historic reputation as a center for art and culture.

Related Articles:

2 responses to “Mr. Downing and the Bright Red Door”

  1. Lara says:

    Thanks for featuring these houses. They are some of my favorites in Bronzeville. No build date/permits for these?

    Sears Homes of Chicagoland

  2. John Morris says:

    Hi Lara,

    I don’t have permit/build year data readily available, but I plan on researching this block further.

    Thanks for your comment. Love what I’ve seen so far of Sears Homes of Chicagoland!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *