This post is part of our ongoing study of Chicago’s defining building forms and the history of our communities written in buildings. Read about Chicago Bungalows, Worker Cottages, Courtyard Apartment Buildings, Residential Hotels, Greystone Flats, Four-Plus-One Apartments, Fire Cottages and Skyscrapers.
Should you choose to be a city dweller, close proximity to others comes with package. Even with a single family home on a generously grassy lot, a certain strain of cozy-with-your-neighbors is to be expected. There’s nothing like the coziness of the row home, however, with its side-by-side walls and singular connected structure stretching out along a Chicago street. You may have spotted several instances of the row house all around Chicago or perhaps famously featured in a particular beloved ’90s sitcom. Let’s dive in to the row homes that stand [closely] together throughout the world and of course– in Chicago.
THE HISTORY OF THE ROW HOME
The “great American melting pot” adage is most assuredly true, but it shouldn’t be limited to describing the assimilation of people. Since America become host to myriad ethnicities and backgrounds, a plethora of architectural styles followed suit. Taking from European influences came the row house, or often referenced as the “terraced house.” The row house is a structure similar looking to the townhouse, but placed in an [often] identical row with walls attached to its neighbors.
The houses became popular in urban spaces for density reasons in order to, you know, pack as many people together as possible — all the while staying stylish and comfortable of course. Because of this, the style of housing became incredibly popular in cities, also making it incredibly easy and more financially sound for builders to create homes since they were building several at the same time. Some key elements that make up a row home: they are made up of two stories, contain a traditional layout (living room in front followed by dining room and kitchen), they have side hallways, and they also lack a lawn or yard. Although the traditional form implies an analogous layout, various style influences like Italianate, Queen Anne, Georgian, and Victorian flaunt themselves around our streets, showcasing a singular type of redundancy that still stands out.
Having found much of its origins in working-class neighborhoods in England, for affordable housing reasons, many working-class people flocked to the row home for its home-like feel and the community it garnered. The first row homes in America were in Philadelphia, ranging from numerous homes for the working class and ornate, stylized structures for the middle – upper middle class.
Not all row houses, however, were made for working-class folk. Some of the first houses — like the Place des Vosges — were built in Paris and still stand today. Built by Henry IV throughout 1605-1612, these terrace houses located in Le Marais section of Paris were elegantly constructed and were incredibly fashionable for living in the 17th and 18th centuries. Likewise, numerous row homes here in San Francisco, Brooklyn, and our own Chicago maintain ornate embellishments and high real estate prices.
Essentially: the row house is home to both billionaires and public housing residents alike.
ROW HOMES IN CHICAGO
If you’re wanting to venture out and discover row homes in the wild, you’re in luck. Row homes are abundant in Chicago, found lining the streets of Lincoln Park, Lakeview, Old Town, Bucktown, the Pullman neighborhood, and more. This kind of dwelling became immensely popular in the city as it began to build up at a rapid rate at the turn of the 20th century. Certain Victorian and Italianate architectural details embolden many of the structures –even in their stacked-together-similarity–echoing the aesthetics of a booming Chicago in the Gilded Age.
Most often seen in the ever-changing Logan Square/Bucktown area are numerous pockets of contemporary row homes built with a modernist aesthetic in mind. The homes echo designs of Chicago past, still driven by the types of programs that can be incorporated on the building interior, a multi-family dwelling with common contemporary amenities and outdoor spaces like roof top decks. They express framed elements such as balconies and large, wide windows that direct views toward these singular aspects and break up the uniformity of the building in its entirety.
Move to the near north community for the latter 20th century history of the Cabrini-Green public housing complex. The area has been notoriously known for its dilapidated buildings (originally called “Little Hell” due to its close proximity to an oil refinery) and has faced tremendous challenges and changes throughout the years. Having originally constructed the Francis Cabrini row houses during World War II and then the William Green homes and high-rises during the ’50s and ’60s, the area subsequently tore down almost all of its dwellings save for the original row houses. The Chicago Housing Authority announced a new phase of construction that would offer mixed income housing to be rented at market rate.
PAINS, PLEASURES, FUTURES
Considering construction and design based on city density and efficiency, the traditional row home is obviously not for everyone. Pre-war homes (built 1890-1940) weren’t built with the best sound proofing and often plumbing issues that effect one tenant can leak over into a neighbors space. Essentially … it helps if you like your neighbors. Moreover, the lack of outdoor space and parking might be an issue for some. Many urban dwellers, however, not only enjoy but prefer residing in a row home due to its design and function, appreciating the architecture and the history that formulate its appeal. The homes supply that unique slice of the past so many Chicagoans adore and can also provide a lower price tag in a great neighborhood, around the corner from a one-lot mansion or townhouse. Moreover, the modern enclaves popping up in the Bucktown and Logan Square areas are modern residences people are flocking to not only for their own living benefits, but to contribute to the city (and environment) at large.
Surely while living within city limits, you’re bound to be in closer proximity to your neighbors vs. while swimming in suburban sprawl. Whether they’re above you, sharing back decks, or even on the next single family lot over, getting neighborly can seemingly never be lost on Chicagoans. But there’s something about the distinct, unique uniformity of the row home. With shared walls, roofs, and architecture comes a singular, informed unity that doesn’t just run across walls, but across lives.