Many of the streets in Chicago are lined with modest brick homes that have large windows and low, sloping roofs. They are referred to as Chicago bungalows. The Chicago Bungalow may seem modest on an individual basis, yet together they are powerful. The bungalow is iconic for what each of them has in common as well as for what makes each example different. It was designed by investors to profit from the aspirations of an expanding middle-class populace. For generations of Chicagoans, the surrounding Bungalow Belt communities have offered enticing, high-quality, flexible housing—and they will do so for a very long time to come.
The family-oriented Chicago Bungalows had dimensions of around 1200 square feet, but stylistic variances like different brick colors and distinctive ornamental windows gave each unit its own unique character.
The design of Chicago’s bungalows was influenced by the city’s history and geography. Those made of brick appeared to be more durable and safe than homes made of wood in a city that was still wary of fire. The bungalow belt’s lots were widened to 30 feet from the more typical Chicago 25 feet, but there was still only room for two lines of rooms, a front approach porch, and a single sidewalk space separating one home from the next. The setback from the street and the garage on the alley behind are both types of homes throughout the city. The street grid and alley system also kept urban residential development packed in close.
Similar to many other facets of city living, bungalows started to lose their appeal in the second part of the 20th century. But there has been a revival of interest as several of the homes approach their 100th birthday. Bungalows are now widely seen by Chicagoans as a desirable architectural feature and as a useful compromise between the congestion of the city center and the detached homes of the suburbs.
“The idea of a landmark district is not a static museum piece. These are living landmarks.”
The Chicago Bungalow Initiative, started by the City in 2001, promotes understanding of and appreciation for this style of construction and offers guidance to homeowners on matters like sympathetic renovations and energy efficiency. At least eleven Bungalow Historic Districts have been created, offering owners financial incentives to maintain and renovate these renowned houses. Always flexible, Chicago’s bungalows will continue to offer in-demand housing long into the twenty-first century.