One of Logan Square’s most distinctive housing styles, the worker’s cottage, may soon become an endangered species.
The small and attractive gable-roofed buildings were constructed by the thousands in Chicago from the 1850s to the late 1910s as affordable working-class housing. While they are still a relatively common sight in the neighborhood today, the homes have increasingly succumbed to demolition in recent years in favor of taller, wider single-family homes, advocates say.
For Tom Vlodek, who moved into a worker’s cottage in Logan Square 10 years ago, that didn’t sit right.
“It’s so sad to see these things go,” he said, noting both the loss of relatively affordable single-family homes and the larger impact on the neighborhood’s historic character. He said he’s seen eight cottages torn down in just the four blocks immediately around his home in recent years.
Last month, Vlodek and fellow preservationist Matt Bergstrom launched a new organization, the Chicago Workers Cottage Initiative, to help elevate and protect these architecturally significant homes, starting in Logan Square. As a first step, the group has partnered with Preservation Chicago and the School of the Art Institute of Chicago (SAIC) to survey the neighborhood’s remaining worker’s cottages, document their condition and evaluate potential demolition threats.
“We have a remarkable legacy with these worker’s cottages,” said Ward Miller, executive director of Preservation Chicago. “We are honored to be working on this campaign to elevate these homes and ensure greater protection.”
Added initiative co-founder Matt Bergstrom, “Logan Square alone has had some of the highest numbers of teardowns of any neighborhoods in Chicago for the past few years, and most of these have been worker’s cottages. Knowing more about the surviving cottages in the neighborhood and then throughout Chicago will help us come up with strategies for protecting them.”
Students at SAIC have already completed the first phase of the project, which involved walking the streets in a pilot area of Logan Square and inputting data via a mobile app. According to Vlodek, the students counted nearly 400 worker’s cottages just within this test area, which was bounded by Fullerton Avenue to the north, Armitage Avenue to the south, Western Avenue to the east and California Avenue to the west, according to Block Club Chicago.
Vlodek compared the findings to a core sample, and said the group now wants to expand its efforts to test in other neighborhoods, such as Ukrainian Village and Pilsen. Eventually, the goal is to map the entire city, he said. Chicago Workers Cottage Initiative plans to use these findings to raise awareness about the important role worker’s cottages play in the city’s urban fabric and to develop and advocate for policy and programs to support the preservation and restoration of these structures.
“The city needed them in 1870, and the city still needs affordable single-family homes today,” said Vlodek.
Featured image: Tom Vlodek.