“Chicago, they say, is a city of neighborhoods. And the origins of those neighborhoods occupy a unique place among American cities – neither master-planned communities nor built on land controlled by old money. Much of Chicago is defined by its residential buildings, a beautiful mishmash of styles, sizes, and ages.
“In recent years, preservationists have started calling attention to a style of home known as workers cottages – an original form of affordable housing that’s facing down demolition.
“On a chilly April morning, a group of historic preservation students from the School of the Art Institute gathered in McKinley Park before heading out into the neighborhood to survey its workers cottages. They’re simple homes of four to six rooms with a gabled roof at the front of the house and an entrance off to one side – usually one story, sometimes two.
“Workers cottages are ubiquitous in Chicago, though they’re perhaps not as well known by name as their younger sibling, the bungalow.
“‘But once you start recognizing this type of house, you start seeing them all over the place. They’re interesting, the history of the families that lived in them – it wasn’t famous people or rich people. They were regular Chicagoans,’ said Matt Bergstrom, co-founder of the Chicago Workers Cottage Initiative.
“Bergstrom got interested in the cottages because he saw them being demolished all around his home in Logan Square – where the group launched its first survey with the help of Art Institute students and Preservation Chicago last year.
“‘When they’re knocked down and they’re being replaced by much bigger houses, it is really changing the character of a lot of neighborhoods,’ Bergstrom said.
“‘It’s important to recognize the significance of the workers cottage not only because of who they housed in the past, but who they can house now,” said Elizabeth Blasius of Preservation Futures. “There’s still such a potential for workers cottages to fulfill our housing needs today.’
“In many places where workers cottages are knocked down, the new homes are larger and more expensive – meaning preservation isn’t just about history, it’s about holding onto the city’s rapidly declining affordable housing.
“‘Chicago’s architecture is housing, because we have so much housing in Chicago. And housing, where people live, really resonates with Chicagoans,’ Blasius said.
“In McKinley Park, students found nearly a quarter of the four thousand-plus parcels they surveyed were workers cottages. There’s also a survey of cottages in South Chicago that’s set to wrap up soon. And, the initiative’s planning to tackle another part of town next spring.
“‘We hope to see that the houses are kept up, and that people value the houses, and that there’s a pride in living in a workers cottage, so why would you knock it down? It’s a great place to live,’ Bergstrom said. (Blumberg, WTTW Chicago, 5/12/22)