A New Edgewater Mystery

Vol. XVI No. 1 - SPRING 2005

By: LeRoy Blommaert

In our last issue, we ran an article on Edgewater’s double houses. One of them was the building at 1619-21 W. Balmoral (just a few doors west of our museum). Imagine our surprise then when the owner, Freda Mkrtschjan, showed us an old photo of it (See figure 1). As you can see, it is a very substantial structure, but it is clearly very different from the structure that exists there today (See figure 2).

The 1905 Sanborn fire map clearly shows the structure as a double house (See figure 3). However, an earlier 1894 Sanborn fire map shows the outline of a single family structure that conforms to the structure seen in the figure 1 photograph (See figure 4). Note the various small structures surrounding it.

The 1887 (corrected to 1889) Rascher fire map, however, shows no dwellings on the property. In fact, none are shown for the entire subdivision. An examination of the title transfers after subdivision shows that a warrantee deed was issued September 10, 1888, conveying the four lots west of the alley (lots 41 through 44) from Grania M. Culver (a spinster) of the village of Glencoe to Charles Rascher for the price of $1,400. Since even a small architecturally-designed house was estimated to cost at least $2,000, we can be reasonably certain that the lots were unimproved and that the house pictured in figure 1 did not exist at the time of the transfer.

The first permit for the property issued by the City of Chicago was issued January 23, 1895 to Charles Rascher. It was for a single family home. It is interesting then - and baffling in light of the 1905 map - that the following advertisement appeared in the April 21, 1895 Chicago Daily Tribune: [739 was the old, pre 10/1/1909 house number.]

TO RENT - 739 BALMORAL - LAKE VIEW, one block west of Clark Street, electric cars or twenty minutes ride on Northwestern rd. from Summerdale depot, four new six room modern flats, bath, hot and cold water, electric light, furnace heat: rent $16 per month.

What to make of this at times conflicting data? Were it not for the 1894 map (figure 4), we could perhaps dismiss the early photograph (figure 1) as being from a different location. However, given the 1894 map, we have to conclude that the structure in the earlier photograph at one time existed where the structure represented in figure 2 now stands. The best explanation is that the earlier structure was erected sometime between September 1888 (when Rascher acquired the property) and October 1, 1889, when the City of Chicago first began to issue building permits in the newly annexed land of Edgewater, and that sometime after its construction and before January 23, 1895, it was destroyed by fire and the new four-flat structure built on the original foundation. If you look hard enough, you will see that though the superstructure is markedly different, the foundation looks the same. But we will probably never know for sure.