Endangered Edgewater

Vol. XIV No. 4 - FALL/WINTER 2003-4

Editor’s note: Since this was published a number of homes identified in the article have been lost.  These will be noted.

The Edgewater community faces a threat to its historic architecture because of the continuing demolition of the single family homes that comprise the last remnant of the original Edgewater development from 1885-1889.

Edgewater as a community came to be because of the plans of John Lewis Cochran, who purchased the vacant land along the shoreline from Foster Avenue to Devon. Mr. Cochran planned a suburb and saw to it that there was a train station built at Bryn Mawr and then later at Granville. He provided amenities like sidewalks, trees in the parkways and even electric power.

He hired architects, first J. Lyman Silsbee and then George Washington Maher, to build model homes for prospective buyers. He maintained sales offices downtown and in the Guild Hall which he built at the corner of Winthrop and Bryn Mawr. He advertised his beautiful suburb which he named Edgewater.

In the original development of 1885, between Foster and Bryn Mawr, there are few remaining original homes. The four properties on the 5400 block of Winthrop are an example of how his development changed and accommodated various styles of housing. Rather than having everything alike, John L. Cochran seems to have worked from a different premises: one that allowed for small but elegant homes like the one at 5416 Winthrop next to the larger and more gracious home at 5422 Winthrop. Understanding the interest in investment, he even allowed for the side-by-side town homes at 5430-32. He may have reasoned that if you wanted to invest in the community this type of town home, built in 1892, could be both a lovely place to live and a good investment. Later, in Lakewood Balmoral and in Edgewater Glen, he commissioned more of these duplex buildings.  Note: the house at 5416 Winthrop was demolished.  A vacant lot remains.

Many other large homes once stood in this area, including some that had 100 feet of frontage. Most of these oldest homes are gone now but two early examples still remain at 5332 N. Winthrop (1893) and 5520 Winthrop (1908). Without these few homes from the original Edgewater the history of the community will be lost. After the turn of the century the type of housing built in the area changed to two-flats like the row on the 1000 blocks of Berwyn (1901) and Balmoral (1908).

It is true about history and memory that it is always tied to objects and, in the case of a community, to its architecture. Seeing the homes in a walk of a neighborhood brings to mind the question of how the earliest streets looked and felt. Did people sit out on their porches? Was the arrival of the afternoon train an important daily event with people walking from the train station to their homes? How did the neighbors socialize?

Although Cochran worked hard at selling the community, he still had many lots available in 1901 when he allowed some two-flats to be built on Berwyn. He had already given away land to groups who wanted to establish churches. He gave the land for the Epworth Methodist Church at Berwyn and Kenmore and also the land for the Church of the Atonement at Ardmore and Kenmore. Another church, Edgewater Presbyterian, hired George Washington Maher to build a church at Bryn Mawr and Kenmore.

Consider Cochran’s 1st addition to Edgewater in 1887, which followed on the heels of the original development. Cochran took out the permit for 5822 Winthrop in 1895. This home exhibits many design elements that George Washington Maher was known for, but only Cochran’s name appears on the permit. On that same block across the street is one of a pair of homes that were built side by side on a large lot that was subdivided. Each was a 2-1/2 story single family home on half of a larger lot. From the street these looked like town homes and the remaining house at 5857 gives evidence of Cochran’s flexibility in trying to complete his development, allowing two houses to be built so close together.

On the 5800 block of Kenmore some single family homes were built on large lots. But there were empty lots between them so that in the early 1900’s, when builders were specializing in two-flats, these were added to the blocks. The single family homes are gone but the two-flats and three-flats remain. Hidden among them is one single family town home. Also in this addition to Edgewater are two remaining single family homes on Sheridan Road. These homes were built later (1910-1920) and somehow survived the demolitions in the 1960’s. Of added interest in this section of Edgewater is the Stickney School building at 1054 Hollywood and the J.E.O. Pridmore building on Kenmore at 5733. J.E.O. Pridmore designed several important buildings in Edgewater, one called the Manor House on Bryn Mawr in 1908 and one called the Beaconsfield at Kenmore and Hollywood. These are later additions to the streetscape of Edgewater and show how the multi-unit buildings were built to incorporate the quality standards that Cochran had established.

It is in Cochran’s second addition to Edgewater where the largest and most substantial surviving single family homes are found. These were the kind of homes that Cochran expected to be built in his suburb. Today they best reflect his original vision. Quite a few of them can be properly characterized as mini-mansions.

There is the Colvin House at 5940 N. Sheridan, the home at 6008 [should be 6106] Kenmore that was built by architects Pond and Pond and the Max Eberhardt home at 6018 N. Kenmore. All of these are considered potential landmarks by the City of Chicago and rated orange on the Landmark survey. What the city of Chicago failed to research was the home at 6022 Kenmore, which was another George Washington Maher home built in 1897. This home was torn down by a developer, Tim Kerins, who knew of its history from our research. What was lost from the story of Edgewater can never be recovered.

The homes on the 6000 block of Kenmore form a cluster of three now that 6022 has been demolished (6018, 6023 and 6027).  [Note: 6027 was demolished in 2019.] Another set of homes are the two on the 6100 block of Winthrop. The home at 6117 N. Winthrop, built by architects Murphy and Camp and builder F.O. Johnson in 1903, is a fine example of a housing type that does not exist in all of the original developments of Edgewater. It is a beautiful home, livable and elegant. But to developer Jim Byrne, an Edgewater resident it is just "an old stucco house." He will demolish it and write his name in Edgewater history.

The brick home next door at 6121, built in 1908, is an endangered building now. It represents an upgrade in building materials that took place at the beginning of the 20th century with the rise of the middle class who wanted to live along the shoreline of Lake Michigan in Edgewater. The Prairie style influence is clearly visible in the horizontal emphasis on the facade and the wide overhanging eaves. [Both 6117 and 6123 were demolished.]

Other homes worthy of mention as representative of the earliest Edgewater development are the ones on the 6200 block of Winthrop. The home at 6233 N. Winthrop is one of the oldest in the area, built in 1893. Its facade, with wooden details and beautiful windows, indicates the early craftsmanship of the architects and builders. The home at 6212 Winthrop is another unique wooden structure with all of its original appointments, including a waiting room for the chauffeurs who brought guests to the home and waited there until the visit was over. This 4,000 square foot home was built in 1898 for the Pistroud family but later became the residence of someone from the Bowman Dairy family. On the 6300 block of Winthrop is yet another home from the early days of Edgewater. [Note: Both the home at 6212 and the one on the 6300 block have been demolished.  The house on the 6300 block was demolished by Loyola University in 2019.]

Another grouping of important homes on Kenmore include the homes at 6332 and 6338 Kenmore which were built in 1902 and 1904. The home at 6332 was the residence of architect E.P. Krause - this fact should have qualified it for listing on the City Landmark survey. The home at 6338 Kenmore is by architect Myron Church. [Both these homes were demolished by Loyola University.]

Standing alone is the home at 6350 N. Sheridan - the oldest home on Sheridan Road. Although is has been altered and neglected, it has retained its original turret and the look of a castle. [Note: Loyola purchased the "castle" home and changed it beyond recognition.]The home a 6200 Sheridan, owned by the Sacred Heart Academy, is one of the last remaining Sheridan Road mansions. It is remarkable in style and scale and was built in 1906 at a cost of $40,000 for the R.F. Conway family. And down the road just north of the Colvin house is a brick Queen Anne that was built in 1906 by the Dewitt Cretor family. [This home too has been demolished.] In the 5700 block of Sheridan there is one home remaining and on the 5600 block of Sheridan there is one home remaining.

What is to be lost?

Beautiful homes that are livable and elegant on tree lined streets with a cosmopolitan atmosphere. These homes are no longer the homes of the wealthy people who have long departed from Edgewater. The enterprising middle class has taken on the care of these structures that represent 110+ years of Edgewater history. The demolition of these homes is the demolition of our collective history and memory of the small town development that John Lewis Cochran and many of his friends brought to fruition before the City of Chicago took control of the area in 1889. In order to understand that history we need to see these homes on these neighborhood streets, see that they have survived where others have not and know that they are still standing because some individuals cared for them.