2002 - North Edgewater Beach

2002 Spring Tour of Homes
North Edgewater Beach
May 5, 2002

Editor’s note: To respect the privacy of the homeowners while making the historical information available for research, most names and street addresses have been removed from the online version of the "tour booklet." The original printed booklets are all available at the Edgewater Historical Society Museum.

Images and text for this online “tour booklet” were copied from the printed booklet. Copyright © 2002 Edgewater Historical Society.

For individual home descriptions, select an address at the left.

North Edgewater Beach

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. By 1886, he had seen to the construction of a train station at Bryn Mawr Avenue. This was a stop he persuaded the Chicago, Milwaukee and St. Paul Railroad to add so that he could provide transportation to his new suburb. He advertised them and the homes began to sell.

The Second Addition to Edgewater began in 1889. This is the area of our Spring Tour of Homes. The area extends from just south of Thorndale to Devon Avenue on the north and from the lakeshore to Broadway. Cochran built a second train station for North Edgewater 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. All of this changed when the "L" was opened in 1908 above the street level on the embankment. [Editor’s note: The elevation came later, starting in the teens and not completed until 1921-22.  Originally, it operated at ground level.]

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 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 attracted to the area began to have custom homes built. Few of those homes remain.

After the turn of the century, many large homes were built along Sheridan Road. 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 covenant was preserved. 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 the beginning of the urbanization of Edgewater and also of community organizing in Edgewater.

By the 1920s there was increased interest in apartment or residential hotel development. The Edgewater Beach Hotel to the south was built in 1916 and, by 1921, a second building was under construction. On Granville, 1922 saw the construction of the Sovereign Hotel. These and other apartment hotels changed forever the suburban atmosphere of the area. 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 that construction.

The result was to place every single family home and two-flat in jeopardy. In 1921, the owner of the land at the northeast corner of Kenmore and Rosemont went to court with his plan to build a multi-unit apartment. This time the court favored him. Cochran died in 1921 and 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 and often had to give them up or sell them for other uses such as nursing homes and housing for students attending Loyola University.

The first high rise along the lake was the El Lago at 6157 N. Sheridan, built in the 1960s. On the two streets 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. Where six families once lived, now 30 to 50 units were rented, with parking for only some of them.

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 constructions of the four-plus-one was halted by the City Council, but the changes had been made. 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. But, it did not happen all at once - it happened building by building and block by block. There were community organizations and education programs for building owners. There were 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 Avenue to Devon Avenue joined together to become the Edgewater Beach neighborhood, complete with banners.

Our tour celebrates those homeowners who stood firm, refusing to sell their homes and two-flats for demolition. Though most of them have now moved on, they found others who have committed themselves to the preservation. The new owners are welcoming our community to see these beautiful homes, the fruit of their personal preservation efforts. We must applaud them.