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«John and Clara Merchant House 3854 North Kostner Avenue Preliminary Landmark recommendation approved by the Commission on Chicago Landmarks, February ...»

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John and Clara Merchant House

3854 North Kostner Avenue

Preliminary Landmark recommendation approved by the Commission on Chicago

Landmarks, February 7, 2008


Richard M. Daley, Mayor

Department of Planning and Development

Arnold L. Randall, Commissioner

The Commission on Chicago Landmarks, whose nine members are appointed by the Mayor and

City Council, was established in 1968 by city ordinance. The Commission is responsible for recommending to the City Council which individual buildings, sites, objects, or districts should be designated as Chicago Landmarks, which protects them by law.

The landmark designation process begins with a staff study and a preliminary summary of informa- tion related to the potential designation criteria. The next step is a preliminary vote by the landmarks commission as to whether the proposed landmark is worthy of consideration. This vote not only initiates the formal designation process, but it places the review of city permits for the property under the jurisdic- tion of the Commission until a final landmark recommendation is acted on by the City Council.

This Landmark Designation Report is subject to possible revision and amendment during the designation process. Only language contained within the designation ordinance adopted by the City Council should be regarded as final.

Cover: The John and Clara Merchant House (left) at 3854 N. Kostner Ave. in the Irving Park neighborhood.

The house was modeled after an 1869 design featured in Woodward’s National Architect (right). The house is an exceptional example of 19th-century mail-order pattern-book architecture, a design and distribution method popularly used in suburban development. (Photo by Susan Perry, CCL)



BUILT: 1872 C.


(WOODWARD’S NATIONAL ARCHITECT, DESIGN # 2) In the mid-19th century, the neighborhood of Irving Park, located on Chicago’s northwest side, was a series of small “railroad suburbs” clustered around two rail lines that provided passenger service to the area. The communities grew as real estate developers promoted the area’s large lots, its distance from the city’s congestion and pollution, and its excellent transportation. After the Chicago Fire of 1871, Irving Park gained greater recognition for maintaining its “suburban-ness” as people rushed to replace property lost in the fire.

With the city’s urgent need to rebuild—and the rapid outward growth into the suburbs—it seemed virtually impossible for a finite number of architects to produce such a variety of designs for each individual client. By its very nature, the architect-client relationship was too intimate to successfully keep up with the demand. House plans via mail-order or “pattern book architecture” was a method devised to multiply the effectiveness of the architect, plus educate the home buyer in the basics of architectural design and taste. As a pattern-book house, the John and Clara Merchant House exemplifies this important housing design phenomenon.

The John and Clara Merchant House, built ca. 1872 from a pattern in Woodward’s National Architect (1869), is a handsome Second Empire-style building near the corner of Kostner and Byron avenues. Its large mansard roof and carved flat-lintel window hoods exemplifies the style and visual character of the large single-family homes that dotted the Grayland settlement in the 1860s and 70s.

John and Clara Merchant House The John and Clara Merchant House at 3854 N. Kostner Ave. is located in the Irving Park neighborhood on Chicago’s Northwest Side.

2 The house has excellent physical integrity, and exemplifies the type of residential architecture designs produced through the mail-order pattern book method. It also represents an early stage of Irving Park’s development as a railroad suburb.


Irving Park is a classic example of the “railroad suburb”—a community that developed and prospered during the late-l9th century based on access to railroad lines. During the last four decades of the l9th century, rail service had a strong influence on the patterns of urban settlement, as real estate speculators began to plan outlying communities around commuter railroads. Developers sold large lots for the construction of single-family houses, and often sold land at discounts to civic and religious institutions that would build in the area and help attract middle-class families to these new railroad suburbs.

The present-day Irving Park neighborhood grew from a consolidation of three early suburban settlements within Jefferson Township: Irving Park, Grayland and Montrose (later called Mayfair). Comprised of a total of 15 small settlements, the township was officially formed in 1850, despite the fact that most of its 700 citizens had settled in the area in the 1830s.

Jefferson’s town hall was built in 1857 on land donated by John Gray, a farmer and businessman who was elected Cook County Sheriff shortly after the town hall was completed.

In 1869, New York businessman Charles T. Race purchased 160 acres from Major Noble, whose father bought land in the area in 1833. Race’s intent was to become a gentleman farmer, but decided it would be more profitable to develop a settlement on the land. That same year his son, Richard T. Race, purchased an adjacent parcel of 80 acres from John Gray, assisting his father in this new business venture. Charles Race also took on additional family members and investors, each bringing with them additional acreage. The new settlement was to have been called “Irvington” in honor of the New York author, Washington Irving, but it was already in use by another Illinois town. “Irving Park” was eventually decided upon, and with their combined land resources, they organized the Irving Park Land and Building Company.

Early on, the company marketed to those who desired to escape the noise and grime of a burgeoning population in Chicago. Initially, the Chicago & North Western Railroad (C&NW), whose tracks were in close proximity to the land, didn’t stop there; however, Charles Race persuaded the railroad to make stops in Irving Park in exchange for Race paying to have the depot built. The railroad agreed, and soon houses sprang up around the depot, establishing the first railroad suburb in Jefferson Township. Shortly thereafter, the desperate need of new homes in the aftermath of the Chicago Fire of 1871 spurred rapid growth to the area. Subsequently the Irving Park Land and Building Company routinely mentioned the railroad’s frequency to the area, or printed train timetables in their advertisements.

3 A current view (above) of the John and Clara Merchant House, built ca. 1872. The house was produced from architectural drawings available through mail-order pattern books, as seen in the rendering below. Its Second Empire design demonstrates the architectural style that was popular at the time.

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Above: An 1874 map of the Irving Park and Montrose railroad suburbs in Jefferson Township.

The Grayland settlement (indicated), organized in 1873, was not yet platted but located south of Irving Park Blvd. with a depot along the Chicago, Milwaukee & St. Paul Railroad.

5 The settlement of Grayland adjoined Irving Park on the southwest and located along the Chicago, Milwaukee & St. Paul Railroad (CM&St.P). In 1869, John Gray built an Italianatestyle house located at 4362 W. Grace, and in 1873 subdivided his land and christened it “Grayland.” Shortly afterward, an artesian well was tapped to provide water to his settlement, and a depot was built along the rail line. John Gray initially subdivided his land to provide for his six children and their families, but the high demand and prices being paid for land outside of the city limits were hard to ignore. Gray eventually abandoned farming and worked exclusively in land development until his death in 1889. It was at this early stage of Grayland’s development as a railroad suburb that the Merchant House was built, with its inhabitants taking full advantage of the short commute into the city.

Like Irving Park and Grayland, Montrose shares a similar history. With the C&NW and CM&St.P railroad tracks criss-crossing through the center of the settlement, Montrose became the largest of the three settlements, spurred by the added advantage of two train lines. Soon there were as many as 60 houses clustered around the three depots, and the population of Jefferson Township in 1880 swelled from 700 to 4,876.

19TH-CENTURY PATTERN BOOK HOMES In the late-19th century, America’s cities and towns grew with such rapidity that it seemed virtually impossible for the limited number of architects at the time to produce a variety of designs for each individual client. By its very nature, the architect-client relationship was too intimate to successfully keep up with the demands of the nation’s burgeoning suburbs. House plans via mailorder or “pattern book architecture” were a method devised to multiply the effectiveness of the architect, plus educate the home buyer in the basics of architectural design and taste.

Prior to the Civil War, the first of the “mass-produced” house plans were introduced and advertised through a type of book that was loosely similar to the architectural pattern books of the late 19th century. Andrew Jackson Downing’s Cottage Residences (1842) was a popular publication that inspired its reader with an array of architectural design possibilities. The book was not primarily intended to sell plans, but if a homeowner wished to have any of the architectural designs replicated, the author would provide his architectural services. With this method, Downing generated a few building commissions from the book’s popularity, but his profits were chiefly derived from book royalties.

Shortly after the war, plan books were a means to generate home sales. Inexpensive and produced on inferior paper, they were nothing more than catalogs of house plans that were available for purchase. Since the money generated from these books were produced from house plan sales rather than book sales, the books were often discarded shortly after the building was completed. In the book Architecture: Designs for Street Fronts, Suburban Houses, and Cottages (1865), architects Marcus F. Cummings and Charles C. Miller went back to the earlier format of architectural pattern books, but focused almost entirely on architectural detailing and millwork, rather than providing complete house designs.

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Right: An advertisement for the Irving Park Land and Building Company, 1874. Charles T. Race founded the Irving Park settlement in 1869 and persuaded the C & NW Railroad to make stops there in exchange for providing payment for the train depot. His advertisements often contained timetables or mentioned the frequency of trains to the area.

Bottom: A portrait of John Gray, former Cook County Sheriff and founder of the Grayland settlement where the Merchant House was built.

7 One of the most prolific writers who established himself in the pattern-book tradition after the war was New York architect George E. Woodward (1829-1905). Unlike his contemporaries, Woodward produced high-priced publications, complete with presentation drawings, elevations, sections, and carpentry, masonry and plumbing specifications. The thoroughness of the drawings was intended to allow the homeowner to become his own general contractor, while protecting him against shoddy workmanship.

Over a short period of time, Woodward published numerous architectural pattern books and serials on virtually any building type: Woodward’s Country Homes (1865), Woodward’s Graperies and Horticultural Buildings (1865), Woodward’s Cottages and Farm Houses (1867), Architecture, Landscape Gardening and Rural Art (1867-68), Woodward’s National Architect (1869), and Woodward’s Suburban and Country Homes (1873). The John and Clara Merchant House, located at 3854 N. Kostner Ave., is Design No. 2 in Woodward’s National Architect.

Another successful publisher of pattern-book architecture was George Palliser (1849- 1903).

An English immigrant who arrived in Newark, New Jersey, in 1868, Palliser worked as a master carpenter and became a co-owner of a millwork company. In 1873, he moved to Bridgeport, Connecticut, where he formed a company commissioned to build speculative housing by the town’s mayor, and future circus entrepreneur, P. T. Barnum.

The publication of inexpensive pattern books was the key to Palliser’s success. In 1876, he published a booklet called Model Homes for the People, a Complete Guide to the Proper and Economical Erection of Buildings. It sold for 25 cents, at a time when comparable books cost as much as ten dollars. Palliser was able to lower the cost by including ads from local businesses and by printing it on inexpensive paper. Its low cost, coupled with the wide variety of stylish, low-cost designs it featured, made the book a success, selling all of the 5,000 copies printed.

By 1878, George was joined by his brother Charles in “Palliser, Palliser and Co.” which became the first large mail-order-plan business. Neither were architects in the modern sense of the word, though George’s experience was probably sufficient at the time for him to be recognized as one. The brothers had a clear sense of the urgent need for architectural services throughout the country, as indicated in their enlarged and revised second edition of Model Homes (1878).

In effect, the Pallisers offered the services of a mail-order architect. Anyone interested in one of their designs filled out a questionnaire addressing such matters as the building site, budget, materials desired, and space needs. Fees for plans ranged from 50 cents (for plans of a relatively modest $3,000 house) to $40 (for a more detailed $7,500 residence).

Customers would receive working drawings, including any alterations necessary for their individual needs. A customer could also make arrangements for the company to design a house from scratch, for which the Pallisers charged two percent of the building’s cost; by comparison,

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