Oscar Johnson, Architect

Oscar Johnson

by Taylor Haran
The Man
Oscar Johnson was born in Sweden in November 1860. He arrived in New York City on June 21st 1880 on the ship “City of Richmond”. He first appears in Chicago in 1883, when he married a twenty-year-old Swedish woman, Mary Lundbach on March 15th. Together, they had five children, Oscar W (January 1884),Clarence (October 1885), Hilma (September 1889), Agnes (June 1891), and Elba (April 1900).
After their marriage in 1883, Oscar and Mary likely lived in a number of homes on Townsend Street, though it is difficult to tell for certain where they lived. They then moved into 1059 Nelson (1301 current) in 1898. They then moved into 1066 Seminary Avenue (3440 current) in 1900, before moving to 1050 Newport (1306 current) in 1902. From 1902-1907 Chicago city directories show Johnson moving between 1050 (1306 current), 1046 (1312 current), and 1042 (1316 current) Newport Avenue. Then, according to the American Contractor database, a permit was issued to Oscar Johnson on November 23rd 1907 for a building at 2494 Magnolia (5439 current), a brick two flat in today’s Lakewood Balmoral neighborhood. He designed the home himself, and in 1908 he and his family moved in. They lived there until Mary’s death in 1911. Oscar Johnson and his children then moved to 4901 North Central Park Avenue in 1912, and remained there until 1920. Finally, Johnson moved to 4937 North Talman in 1920, and remained there until his death at age 64 on May 16th 1925.

His Work

Oscar Johnson worked out of his home for the first few years of his career as an architect. His office for 1898-1899 was 1059 Nelson (1301 current), and in 1900 he moved to 1066 Seminary (3440 current). However, in 1901 he moved into an office at 1988 Clark (3605 current). He then moved around for a few years, moving to an office on the corner of Newport and Sheffield in 1902, and an office at 1860 North Clark (3429 current) in 1905. Finally, in 1906 Johnson’s office moved to 1119 (3408 current) Sheffield until 1922. He then moved to 4770 Lincoln Avenue, where he remained for the rest of his career. With the exception of his last office, his offices were all in the section of Lakeview with a large Swedish immigrant population.
Johnson built over 270 buildings throughout his career. According to the American Contractor database, he built 248 buildings in Chicago between 1898 and 1912, 48 of which were in Edgewater. He is also known to have built 25 other buildings in Edgewater after 1912, and likely many more throughout the city. Of these 73 Edgewater designs, 13 (about 18%) were on commercial streets.
A number of his commercial buildings also followed his typical schema, usually formed as two or three floor brick buildings, with a somewhat rectangular shape. One of the more notable of Johnson’s buildings was the Bu Brook Riding Academy at 2328-2332 Evanston Ave (5205-5209 Broadway current) built in 1908. It was one of Johnson’s five buildings on Evanston Avenue, and today is a CVS pharmacy store. Another of his buildings on Evanston Avenue was Newgold Pharmacy at 5456-5458 Evanston (Broadway current). Even Johnson’s commercial buildings were particularly well structured for small businesses, and blend well into Broadway currently. This location has maintained its progression of small businesses over the years, and is now a small Thai restaurant called Jin Thai.
Those of Johnson’s buildings on residential streets were usually relatively small. Most were only two floor buildings. Interestingly, Johnson’s work seems to have been contagious. Oftentimes when he was commissioned for a building, not long after he would be commissioned for many more in the same vicinity, leaving small stretches of streets designed by Johnson.