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The Emergence, Demolition, and Preservation of Italianate Cottages and Flats

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2429 W Augusta (center) facing demolition [John Morris/Chicago Patterns]


As Northwest Side neighborhoods along the Blue Line experience glowing hot growth in real estate values, original homes and flats are getting erased in favor of expensive new construction. While this trend has long been an issue in older neighborhoods near the lake or the Loop, this rapid expansion of teardown construction in these neighborhoods is a more recent phenomenon.

In years past, as successive waves of people moved into these neighborhoods, existing housing stock was a source of pride and buildings were rehabbed and improved. The change in neighborhood demographics this time is different as wealthy newcomers often opt for large single-family homes often built after tearing down an existing home.

The loss of housing stock in these areas is particularly painful as the homes getting destroyed are well over a hundred years old, many of which were erected in the aftermath of the Great Fire.

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A Brief History of Milwaukee Avenue: the Chicago School and Sullivanesque Style

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The first part of this series looked at the early history of Milwaukee Avenue, and now we’re going to look at two related styles prevalent along the diagonal thoroughfare: the Chicago School and Sullivanesque.

Above is the Chicago School style, 1913 Holabird & Roche building at Milwaukee, North, and Damen.

The Chicago School (or Commercial Style) is frequently referred to as the architectural style that brought forth the earliest skyscrapers. This style was practiced by the firms of Louis Sullivan, Frank Lloyd Wright, Holabird and Roche, and Burnham and Root.

The Sullivanesque style evolved in the late 1890s, growing out of inspiration from Adler & Sullivan’s grand creations. Some of its early practitioners were former employees of Adler & Sullivan’s firm and went on to create landmarks and icons espousing the principles of the firm.

But by the 1920s, the Sullivanesque architectural style quietly morphed into to a regional design pattern, one of many choices for economical facade design.

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A Brief History of Milwaukee Avenue, Part 1: an Indian Trail Becomes Dinner Pail Avenue

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Milwaukee/Kimball/Diversey

Milwaukee/Kimball/Diversey [John Morris/Chicago Patterns]

Outside of Downtown, Milwaukee Avenue is likely the fastest growing and changing thoroughfare in the city, and it isn’t the first time in history it’s had this position. Since the early beginnings of Chicago, it’s been a busy commuting path and one of the most bustling commercial centers.

The beauty and lore of this avenue was captured over a century ago in a book by a Jefferson Park resident:

What Soho is to London this diagonal avenue is to the Garden City. By turns the Greek, Italian, German, Scandinavian, Russian, Lithuanian and Pole monopolize the street signs, the corner news-stands, the sidewalks and the cars, or proclaim to the passing nose one aspect of their national delicacies.

Every half-section line exhibits in its ganglia, as the crossing of the thoroughfares, a sharp-angled picturesque frontage, akin to Seven Dials or Five Points in their palmy days.

Alfred Bull, amateur historian describing Milwaukee Avenue in 1911

In the first part of this series, we’ll look at the early history of Milwaukee Avenue, and follow it until the boom years of the 1920s. Next we’ll cover the Chicago School of architecture, and later, the transition to the Machine Age and Art Deco.

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Division and Milwaukee – Blue Line

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John Morris/Chicago Patterns

John Morris/Chicago Patterns

Interior view of the Division – Blue Line station at Division/Ashland/Milwaukee.