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Bungalow: Sweet Home Chicago

Did you know that one-third of all Chicago single family homes are bungalows?

"For many Chicagoans, a bungalow was the first house and the only house they ever owned. They were the foundation for strong families and strong communities. And for those of us who were raised in them, bungalows will always occupy a place in our hearts."-Mayor Richard M. Daley

Chicago is known the world over for its architecture. The soaring skyscrapers of downtown, the luxurious palaces of meat-packing barons, and the gracious Prairie-style homes of the elite. Yet the one residential contribution that is most common in Chicago is one that is attached to no particular architect: the bungalow. More than 80,000 Chicago bungalows stand testament to the rising prosperity of Chicago's families in the early 20th century.

Most of these squat, solid, rectangular, one-and-a-half story homes were built between 1910 and 1940. They were built from standardized fixtures, and were the first affordable homes for the middle classes, as well as the first to incorporate central heating, electricity and modern plumbing.

"The word bungalow comes from bungla", says Charles Shanabruch, Executive Director of the Historic Chicago Bungalow Association. "It was a type of housing that was first built in India for British subjects."

The bungalow was the darling of the American Arts and Crafts movement, which emphasized skilled craftsmanship and a connection with nature. It was a much different style of home than what had come before. "The whole idea behind the bungalow implies an informal setting, a relaxed setting as compared to the Victorian mansion," says historian Dominic Pacyga.

The bungalow "belt" became a part of the civic landscape; construction of these homes formed a crescent around the city. Initially many of the neighborhoods were ethnically integrated, although there were divisions along economic lines.

Some groups, however, were left out of this bungalow boom. Until 1947, the Federal Housing Authority (which granted mortgage insurance) preferred that homes sold in Chicago include a restrictive covenant that prevented the sale to an African American. This was perceived as a way to ensure the home's value. In 1948 the U.S. Supreme Court ruled these covenants unconstitutional. "And in the '50s and '60s," Pacyga says, "you started to see African Americans moving into the Belt." Edwin Beverly, African American homeowner, remembers, "At the time we moved here, there were only two black families on this block. But our neighbors have been great; we have a lot of cooperation, and life here has been wonderful."

Until recently, many bungalow owners didn't realize they resided in architecturally significant homes that are unique to Chicago. In 2000, the city launched the historic Bungalow Initiative to preserve and adapt these cornerstones of residential Chicago. The Initiative is unique in America -- it not only recognizes the homes as stylistically important, but also provides incentives for improvement and modernization. "And to help them even further," Shanabruch explains, "when somebody gets their home certified, they receive a medallion they can display on their home as well as a valuable membership card to the HCBA, good for discounts on products and services at affiliated businesses."

Another segment of the population -- young professional couples and families -- are now choosing bungalows, shunning the traditional move to the suburbs. And it seems that the bungalow is being rediscovered as the perfect home for our city, proving the old adage that everything old is new again.

The Historic Chicago Bungalow Imitative
The Historic Chicago Bungalow Initiative is a comprehensive marketing, education and financing program launched to celebrate the architectural and historical importance and ensure the viability of the Chicago bungalow's contribution to families, neighborhoods and the nation's architecture. The initiative is a joint endeavor of the City of Chicago, the Chicago Architecture Foundation and the Historic Chicago Bungalow Association. If you are interested in buying a historic Chicago bungalow or rehabbing one you already own, call the Historic Chicago Bungalow Association at 312-642-9900 to learn about how the City of Chicago and partnering financial institutions can assist you with low-cost loans, grants, architectural assistance and more. You can also visit www.chicagobungalow.org.

About the Program Producer
In addition to "The Bungalow: Sweet Home Chicago," Risé Sanders has written and produced numerous other documentaries for A&E, MSNBC, TLC and The History Channel, as well as WTTW. In December 2000, she received an NAACP Image Award nomination for her episode of A&E's flagship series, Biography, on Sally Hemming--the woman who is now accepted as having been Thomas Jefferson's mistress. For WTTW, she has also produced the popular installment of Chicago Stories on "The Swedes in Chicago," and her next assignment is a program about our city's Lithuanian population.

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