A Style Worth Preserving: Chicago Area Bungalows

by Chicago Agent

By Lauren Finkler

The Historic Chicago Bungalow Association and City of Homes, Inc. may not have been around for 80 to 100 years, but the classic bungalows that have been around for that long, which the two groups work to protect and rehabilitate, are nothing short of an architectural time capsule. Even in 1912, the bungalow’s distinct design and appeal was apparent, demonstrated in an article from Country Life in America magazine.

“In our opinion to simplify the problems of housekeeping… the bungalow… should have the advantages of a good apartment and in addition, of course, the joys of sole proprietorship and the possibility of a garden and outdoor home life, which the denizens of our modern apartment buildings have not, of course,” said architect Thomas E. Tallmadge in the magazine. “It seems to us that the bungalow, therefore, has a distinct place in American life and architecture.”

Nasri AbiMansour, one of the founders of the Berwyn Bungalow Preservation Initiative (a grassroots project launched through City of Homes, Inc.), emphasizes that this quote, while more than a century old, has stood the test of time. Today, many bungalow owners recognize that these homes offer all the benefits of an urban location, while still allowing owners to have a backyard, an efficient flow of space and the ability to expand-all in an affordable, attractive package.

The Berwyn Bungalow Preservation Initiative (BBPI) is an opt-in project headed by volunteers, many of whom moved from rental properties in Chicago into Berwyn’s bungalows, and have since fallen in love with the style and appeal of the structures; the community shares this compassion. “They’re proud of their historic housing,” said AbiMansour of the residents of Berwyn.

This year, Berwyn was voted “the best neighborhood for bungalows” by Old House Magazine. However, AbiMansour sees an alarming rate of bungalow owners knocking out their classic, stained-glass windows and trading them in for more modern styles, therefore ruining the old-time glamour of one of Berwyn’s key architecture styles.

“It is essential to provide new owners with incentives and tools to preserve these houses. It’s important to maintain historical integrity; it brings the neighborhood together.” said AbiMansour. BBPI provides instructional seminars, (the next of which is on August 25), design guidelines, and a network for bungalow enthusiasts. They are also currently applying for grants, and hoping to get several local bungalows marked as historical landmarks in the near future.

If approved by the Berwyn Preservation Commission and the Berwyn City Council, bungalow homeowners can become eligible for benefits, including a special plaque of landmark designation, the Illinois Property Tax Assessment Freeze, the possibility of certain permit fee waivers, and access to rehabilitation grants.

AbiMansour remains optimistic of the project’s future prospects. “When the changes start from the bottom up that’s when you have true change in a community,” he says.

In its 10 years of existence, The Historic Chicago Bungalow Association (HCBA) has already seen true change in the bungalow market, currently offering a grant for up to $4,000 (while funding is available) which assists low- to middle-income owners in renovating their bungalows, while helping them cut back on gas and electric bills. The program, titled Energy$avers, seeks to fix interior drafts by focusing on insulating and air sealing.

Bungalow owners who decide to renovate through the program may experience cost reductions anywhere from 30 percent to 50 percent, according to Faith Rackow, deputy director of HCBA. “There’s always more to be done, but we aim to get the effective measures completed.”

The program is prescriptive for each home, with contractors analyzing what needs to be done in order to preserve the homes, reduce energy bills and help homeowners stay in their bungalows longer.

The current round of funding has assisted approximately 200 bungalow owners, but Rackow says that HCBA has helped more than 1,000 bungalow owners over the years. “We’re hoping to keep expanding the program and assist as many bungalow owners as we can,” said Rackow.

With weather and time battling against bungalows of Chicago and Berwyn, these programs can help this architectural time capsule stand the test of time.

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  • Anthony C says:

    Always wondered, given the popularity of these great old classics, why they are never built anymore, but with bigger rooms, modern HVAC and better insulation.

    I’d love a classic Chicago-style bungalow with appropriate updates.

  • Donna King says:

    I have a fungal all in Franklin Park and I’d like to weatherize it and wondered if I could get a grant to help me I was reading your article my number is 847 376 0656 I would like to find out how I could apply for a grant to do that

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