Getting to Know the Chicago Bungalow

What are the Chicagoland sights that instantly make you feel like you’re at home?

For many people, the gleaming, iconic skyscrapers of the Loop and River North are a welcoming picture. For others, it will be something smaller, like a glimpse of fully loaded Chicago-style hot dog, or catching a ballgame at Wrigley or Guaranteed Rate Field.

And for countless people, there’s nothing that says “Chicago” quite like passing by a row of the city’s familiar bungalow homes.

While you’ll find bungalow homes in other parts of the country, including California and Michigan, true Chicago-style bungalows are quite unique. They’re one of the city’s signature architectural styles and have played an enormous role in our region’s housing market for more than a century now.

So, what’s the story behind Chicago bungalows? What makes these houses unique, why did they spring up in the first place, and how did they come to be such a symbol of all things Chicagoland? Let’s explore the history — and the future — of these Chicago-area staples:

What Makes a Chicago Bungalow?

In Chicagoland, there’s a large area with a high concentration of bungalow houses known as the “bungalow belt,” but you’ll find these distinct homes in neighborhoods all across the city, and well into the suburbs.

It’s pretty easy to spot a Chicago bungalow. These structures are quickly recognizable thanks to their distinct look and layout.

Broadly speaking, a Chicago bungalow consists of one and a half stories, above a full basement level. Designed to sit on the city’s narrow lots, Chicago bungalows are famously longer than they are wide. Typically, classic Chicago bungalows feature low-pitched, hipped roofs with large overhangs. While the usual bungalow is brick, you’ll find these buildings come in many different shades, including red, brown, yellow, and orange. Generally, a Chicago bungalow will feature a large front-facing window, a wide staircase, and yard space in the front and rear, as well. Inside, you’ll find a thoughtfully divided space, including living and dining room areas meant for entertaining, finished off by unique flourishes like floor-to-ceiling built-ins.  

And while bungalows tend to stick to a familiar template, these houses come with many different features that help each individual home to stand out.

Like snowflakes, you’ll find that no two bungalows are exactly alike when you get up close. Some will come with distinct design details, such as ornate leaded glass windows and accents. Some will have a side entrance, while others will have an offset front entrance. The exterior of a bungalow could draw inspiration from Tudor-style houses, Mediterranean villas, or from Gothic-style architecture. Their facades can be incredibly ornate or relatively plain. Ultimately? These structures are as unique as the generations of Chicagoland residents who have called them home — and their story is just as rich.

The Roots of the Bungalow Boom

From a historical standpoint, the bungalow is notable because it marks a significant turning point in the growth and development of Chicagoland. The construction of the Chicago-style bungalow, and the gradual formation of the so-called “bungalow belt” arcing around the city, was a major stepping stone in helping to build the Chicagoland region as we know it today.

The bungalow originally began gaining popularity in the 1910s. During this period, Chicago was one of the fastest growing cities in the United States. The area gained more than 500,000 residents between 1910 and 1920 alone — and would add another 700,000 more by 1930.

As more people from across the country and around the world found their way to Chicago, the city grew to accommodate them. Over time, families began to move out of the denser parts of the city and headed out to the less populated areas, developing into the prairieland around Chicago and forming the rough outline of the “bungalow belt” as we know it today.

Bungalows offered the promise of affordable, adaptable space, including a yard, a powerful lure for the city’s burgeoning middle class. Developers bought up land and constructed row after row of bungalows over the decades from 1910 to 1940.

Coming with many different features and finishes, bungalows came to be seen as a reliable and accessible source of housing for people of all backgrounds, including city workers, firefighters and police officers, tradesmen, and even politicians.

The Chicago Bungalow Today

Broadly speaking, the bungalow building boom lasted from 1910-1940. Construction slowed and interest in these singular properties waned somewhat in the back half of the twentieth century.

Throughout the decades, though, the Chicago bungalow has remained a vital and vibrant part of the Chicagoland housing market.

Today, officials estimate that there are about 80,000 bungalows in Chicago, representing about one-third of the city’s housing stock. Over the last several years, the city and local interest groups have made it a point to protect and preserve these architectural gems, creating the Chicago Bungalow Association (CBA) in order to “equip homeowners with energy efficiency programs and educational resources to maintain, preserve, and adapt their Chicago bungalows and vintage homes, thereby strengthening the neighborhoods they anchor.”

As part of their efforts, the CBA has created 13 “Historic Bungalow Districts,” including such unique Chicagoland neighborhoods as Hermosa, Auburn Gresham, North Mayfair, West Chatham, South Shore, Brainerd, Portage Park, Talman West Ridge, Falconer, Rogers Park Manor, Wrightwood, South Park Manor, and Schorsch Irving Park Gardens.

And as the Chicago Tribune has noted, there has been a renewed interest in bungalow homes in recent years. Many buyers see these structures as an opportunity to purchase a true piece of Chicagoland history. Long-time Chicagoland residents and newcomers alike are attracted to bungalows because of their unique character, interesting vintage finishes, and artisan craftsmanship. What’s more, these practical homes come at many different price points, making them popular for all sorts of buyers, from developers looking to responsibly refurbish and update a piece of Chicago history, to young families entering the market for the first time.

Who Knows Chicagoland Real Estate Better Than the Company That Helped Shape It?

Long before the first bungalow or two-flat was built, Baird & Warner was on the forefront of Chicagoland’s real estate industry.

The company that would become Baird & Warner got its start in 1855. Since then, we’ve adapted and innovated to become the largest independent and locally owned real estate company in Chicagoland.

At every step of the way, we’ve never lost sight of what’s important. Our focus has always been on doing the right thing, while making the dream of home ownership easier for all. From helping rebuild after the Great Chicago Fire, to leading the fight for fair housing, to innovating the homebuying process with our industry-leading website, the Baird & Warner history is rich. But it’s where we are and what we stand for today that really matters.

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