Spring Tour of Homes

Vol. XIII No. 1 - SPRING 2002

North Edgewater Beach
John Lewis Cochran’s 2nd Addition to Edgewater

By: Kathy Gemperle

The development of the suburb called Edgewater began in 1885 when John Lewis Cochran, a tobacco salesman from Philadelphia bought the land along the shores of Lake Michigan from what is now Foster Avenue to Bryn Mawr Avenue. The western boundary of this plot was an early road called Evanston Avenue (now Broadway) By 1886 he had seen to the construction of a train station at Bryn Mawr Avenue, on me ground level. This was a stop he persuaded the Chicago, Milwaukee and St. Paul RR to add so that he could provide transportation to his new suburb. Cochran also had built the Guild Hall at Winthrop Av. and Bryn Mawr Av. and the Edgewater Stables at Catalpa just west of the train tracks. Cochran hired Joseph Lyman Silsbee as the architect for his new suburb and began by building homes to attract people to the area. He advertised his suburb and it began to grow. However, some of his prospective customers did not appreciate the wooden shingle style of construction that Silsbee favored. Cochran fired Silsbee and hired George Washington Maher to design homes in his First Addition to Edgewater which extended north from Bryn Mawr to Just south of Thorndale.

In this area Cochran built a streetcar barn on Broadway which housed his Edgewater trolley. He built a power plant on Ardmore near Broadway.

The Second Addition to Edgewater began in 1889. This is the area of our Spring Tour of Homes. Cochran built a second train station for North Edgewater. As was his plan in the previous sections he had a few homes built and continued to advertise his “prettiest suburb” of Chicago with good transportation connections to downtown. The steam trains ran on the ground and stopped only a few times a day. The station master was also in charge of towering the crossing gate each time a train stopped. All of this changed when the “L” was opened in 1908 above the street level on the embankment.

It was part of J.L. Cochran’s original plan to build only single family homes in the area. One of the oldest still standing in the area is the home at 6233 N. Winthrop which was built in 1893, the year of the opening of the World’s Columbian Exhibition in Jackson Park. Because of the success of his development, some people who were attracted to the area began to have custom homes built. Few of these homes remain. The home at 6212 Winthrop built in 1898 is one of these.

After the turn of the century many large homes were built along Sheridan Road. The two in Berger Park and the red brick home owned by Sacred Heart at the corner of Granville and Sheridan are fine examples of these custom homes. The home owned by Sacred Heart was once the meeting place of the North End Women’s club. Each home has a unique architectural form which was called eclectic because it combined the elements of many historical styles. In 1910 The Book of the North Shore published photographs of many of those beautiful homes along Sheridan Road in Edgewater.

Interest in multi-unit buildings grew during the 1890s and the beginning of the new century. Despite Cochran’s plan and property covenant to allow only single family homes an owner of land in the area announced plans to build a multi-unit building in 1902. A judge ruled against the property owner and the single family homes were preserved. Since most of them were built on 50’ to 100’ lots there was plenty of empty space- Another lawsuit was filed in 1908 and Cochran joined with neighbors to defend the single family zoning to maintain his original plan. The North Edgewater Improvement Association raised $2500 to defend their neighborhood. Property owners who owned more than one lot were sent letters warning them that this area was planned for single family homes. The slogan for this group was “Fight the Flats” This was me beginning of the urbanization of Edgewater. It was compounded by increasing train traffic to the area and the construction of the EL in 1908.

Perhaps because of this lawsuit, the neighbors of the area had to organize. Once organized the social contact continued so a Chicago newspaper reported that the North Edgewater homeowners, sometimes called the North End, had plans for much bigger fireworks than the homeowners to the south for the celebration of the Fourth of July.

With the train stop Cochran had also planned for some commercial development along Granville Avenue which had once been called Grand Avenue. But by the 1920s there was increased interest in apartment or residential hotel development. The Edgewater Beach Hotel to the south has been built in 1916 and by 1921 a second building was under construction. Hotels were built on Bryn Mawr Avenue, both the Belle Shore and the Bryn Mawr Hotel. On Granville 1921 saw the construction of the Sovereign Hotel.

The construction of these and other apartment hotels in the 1920s changed forever the suburban atmosphere of the area. The hotels filled a market need for inexpensive housing for the young people who were moving into the City to take advantage of all the opportunities here. In 1923 the new Zoning Ordinance made this new density a part of the building code- Following the dictum “highest and best use” any block that had an apartment building on it was zoned to accommodate mat construction. Still a few blocks on Kenmore and Winthrop kept the low density zoning. The result was to place every single family home and two flat in jeopardy. In 1921 the owner of the land at Kenmore and Rosemont went to court with his plan to build a multi-unit apartment on the northeast corner. This time the court favored him - Cochran died in 1921 and so did not have to see this change take place. Only the Depression halted most construction throughout the city including the Edgewater flats.

But the Depression also had a negative effect on the beautiful single family homes. Owners no longer had the funds for the upkeep and management of these homes which required servants to run them. Their original owners grew older and often had to give them up or sell them for other uses. Some became nursing homes like the one at 6159 N. Kenmore. Others were willed to charitable groups like the red brick home owned by Sacred Heart Schools and others were offered to religious orders as housing for students attending Loyola University like the homes in Berger Park. A few became fraternity houses for Loyola students.

The first high rise along the lake was the El Lago at 6171 N. Sheridan in 1960s. It was built in the new modern style, a sharp contrast to the architectural detail of the older buildings in the area. On the two blocks west of Sheridan a low rise apartment building called the four plus one was being developed on the land of some of the older homes and six flats. The density increased dramatically. Where six families once lived now thirty to fifty units were rented with parking for some. During this era of demolition some stalwart owners stood firm and mourned the losses. On the 6100 block of Kenmore the Higgins mansion was torn down despite the efforts of Ken Nordine to purchase it and save it. The home at 6117 N. Winthrop went on the market and the Dougherty family next door bought it in order to save it. Eventually the construction of four plus ones was halted by the City Council but the changes had been made and the consequence was too many people living with too little in resources in too small a space. With so many smaller units on Kenmore and Winthrop the area became transient and the sense of neighborhood faltered,

In 1980 the Edgewater Community Council tackled the deteriorating housing problem with a grant from the Federal Government. It was called Operation Winthrop-Kenmore and it succeeded in improving the quality of housing to the benefit of all. It did not happen ail at once. It happened building by building, block by block. There were community organizations for single blocks and groups of blocks, There were education programs for building owners. There were seemingly unending trips to Housing Court by community volunteers, Progress was made and the area of North Edgewater is today a cosmopolitan mix of people and incomes, of high rises, condominiums, small apartments and unique single family homes. In 1997 the area along the shoreline from Foster Av. to Devon Av. joined together to become the Edgewater Beach neighborhood complete with banners.

The area of our tour celebrates those few homeowners who stood firm and refused to sell their homes and two flats for demolition. Each of them had a love and appreciation of community history. Though most of them have moved on they found others who have committed themselves to their preservation. They are welcoming our community to see these beautiful homes, the fruit of their personal preservation efforts. We must applaud them Paul Uhl and Barb Stanley, Rich Schumaker, Jim Struthers and Rand Ringgenberg, Michael Roper and Louise Molnar and the Sacred Heart Schools.