The Portage Park Neighborhood of Chicago
Portage Park Street Coordinates: 3600 N to 4400 N
4800 W to 2600 W
Portage Park, home of the beloved Chicago bungalow, is located between Cicero and Austin Avenues (westward), & Addison and Montrose Avenues (south > north). The neighborhood is a mixture of mostly 1920s brick architecture (single family houses, condo conversions, brick bungalows, apartment rental buildings) with a blossoming dining and cafe scene. The actual park of Portage Park is one of the most popular recreational destinations on the city's northwest side. There are many affordable rental options in the area. Transportation nearby: trains (Brown Line), buses (CTA) and an average flow of taxi cabs, livery, and Uber options
by Geno Petro (re-post of my October 14, 2014 House.com article)
The Chicago ‘bungalow’ (note: this housing term has varying definitions and regional characteristics depending specific areas of the country), at least in its original form, was a brick and timber economy-of-space dwelling:
- Three bedrooms
- One bath (add another ‘half’ if you were lucky enough to find one with a commode and wash sink in the basement)
- Tiny closets
- Utilitarian kitchen
- Unfinished attic (pitched rafters, exposed wood joists, and rusty roofing nail tips not withstanding)
- All tucked into a tight but affordable urban footprint.
Constructed on postage stamp lots (30’ x 125’) in neat tidy rows throughout the city between 1910 and the mid-1930s (several blocks of which are now National Register Historic Districts), these squat, one and one-half story brick abodes — with their creamy plaster walls, cast iron steam-heat radiators, creaky hardwood floors, stained glass accent windows, and mahogany finished woodwork — have always been an architectural fusion of art form and geotic function.
It is estimated that 80,000 bungalows (about 1/3 of the existing single family housing stock in the city) still stand today. Most have been upgraded over time with the usual improvements like a remodeled kitchen, finished attic, an extra shower in the basement, SpacePak air conditioning, etc. In addition, bungalows in certain ‘designated districts’ are eligible for up to a 12 year property tax freeze as well as special loans and grants for ‘approved’ renovations if the owners agree to kick in at least 25% of the market value in repairs. The following is a snapshot overview of some of Chicago’s most noted bungalow neighborhoods, historic and otherwise.
How to Rehab a Chicago Bungalow Wrightwood Historic District
Built on a short, ‘North Side’ boulevard setting between 1923 and 1925, this stretch of Wrightwood Avenue (4600 – 4800 W) is living testimony to the craftsmanship (although now a bit well-worn in spots) of an era gone, but not forgotten. Sixty-four nearly identical houses on the (32 on each side of the street) originally sold for $6,000 apiece. Historic Landmark status was granted to the neighborhood by the National Park Service in 2004 but not before the winds of economic change had already begun to take its toll on the community. Even a designated ‘historic district’ is not insulated from the prickly needles that invariably surround a looming real estate bubble. Of the 16 properties that have sold on the boulevard since 2006, eight have been either short-sales or foreclosures and only one has netted more than $300,000. That particular sale was recorded in 2008 after less than 90 days on the market and it was not a distressed property.
Currently, there is a lone three-bedroom, two-bath red brick example listed (with a 10 day market time as of this writing). According to the MLS, it has newly sanded floors, updated mechanicals, and is occupied by a ‘long-time’ owner. Good news: it is not being offered as a distressed property. Not so good news: the asking price is $200,000 and will, more than likely, sell for a number far less than that.
Schorsch Irving Park Gardens Historic District
I know, it’s a mouthful but this is one of Chicago’s oldest ‘bungalow belt’ communities (also located on the North Side) with the first 16 houses constructed along Grace Avenue (6000 – 6100 W) in 1917. Development in the immediate area (the Dunning neighborhood) continued throughout the late teens and into the mid-1920s with several hundred similar homes being built during this same period in the neighboring tracts of Portage Park, Irving Park, and Belmont Cragin. Named after architect/builder Albert J. Schorsch, this area would experience much of the same economic highs and lows that befell most of the country’s working class burgs over the last 100 years but would ultimately stand strong and eventually receive its Historic District designation in 2004. It has been noted that Mr. Schorsch, along with urban contemporary, Ernest Newton Braucher, took special measures to include an array of arts-and-crafts elements into their housing designs, inspiring a block-by-block variance of architecture not found in other more homogeneous communities of the time.
Currently there are only five listed bungalows in the immediate area priced from $249,900 to $399,000. Over the past 12 months, 13 similar homes closed escrow ranging in price from $185,000 to a high of $387,500. The latter, situated on an oversized Chicago lot (33’ x 125’), was expanded to 2900 square feet of living space and upgraded with central air conditioning, a stainless steel kitchen, five bedrooms, two and one-half baths (and I’m guessing no simple commode and sink in that basement!).
Auburn Gresham Historic District
Developed predominately during the mid-1920s, this southwest Chicago neighborhood — straddling 76th Street between Ashland and Damen Avenues — is one of Chicago’s most recent recipients of landmark status becoming the tenth Bungalow Historic District to be listed on the National Register of Historic Places (2012). Unlike the districts mentioned previously (Wrightwood, Schorsch, Dunning, Portage Park, Belmont Cragin) where only a section of the neighborhood topography is designated ‘Landmark,’ it’s been reported that the entire community of AG received this status after every single bungalow in its boundaries was researched and documented.
Still, all things equal (which they rarely are), sale prices for similar housing inventory on the ‘South Side’ of the city continue to lag behind its North Side consorts, even in the best of times. And Auburn Gresham, historically designated or not, is a prime example of this unfortunate price point imbalance. There are currently 100 single family properties listed for sale in the neighborhood ranging in price from $18,500 to $179,900. And of those 100, exactly one-half are listed for $99,000 or less. The median price lies somewhere between $60,000 and $70,000. In the past 12 months, 139 properties have closed escrow and all but 41 were either short-sales or foreclosures. One poor but slightly humorous example on Lowe Avenue (8800 S) sold for a mere $2,500 with its MLS remarks reading “WAITING FOR YOUR PERSONAL UPDATES AND FINISHING TOUCHES! MAKE THIS YOUR DREAM HOME! FEATURING OVER 1100 SQUARE FEET! SOLD AS IS.” Two others exchanged hands for exactly one dollar ($1.00) plus back taxes and closing costs. I only wish I could post those pictures.
In summary, there are 77 official neighborhoods (including Portage Park) in the windy city and the beloved bungalow is represented in all but a handful of them. Be it historic, jumbo, or merely ‘big enough for two,’ this timeless housing icon has lined the streets and boulevards of Chicago for a hundred years. It’s the little black dress of single family houses; short, sweet, and always in fashion.
Geno Petro | CHICAGO REALTOR®