A Brief History of the Development of Edgewater: Decade by Decade

BC: Before Cochran

In 1848, Luxembourger residents like Nicholas Kransz came to Lakeview to start truck farms and greenhouses, with the most important crop being celery. The Kransz farmhouse at the northeast corner of Ridge and Clark, later known as the Seven Mile House, was used as a stopping point for travellers to and from the city center. Lakeview township (of which present day Edgewater was a part) was established in 1857 with housing consisting of a few cottages and small farms and orchards. As residents grew in numbers, there was a need for school, and in 1855 the Andersonville School was built at Foster Avenue and Clark Street. In May 1885 the first train began operations on the newly constructed Evanston branch of the Chicago, Milwaukee and St. Paul Railroad that ran through the area. The first train did not stop in Edgewater – but trains soon would.

1885-1889: Cochran’s Edgewater Is Born

In 1885, John Lewis Cochran purchased vacant land to build a subdivision called “Edgewater.” East of Broadway and bounded by Bryn Mawr and Foster, it was the first planned development to have paved streets, electric lighting, drainage system, street cleaning and tree trimming. In 1886, the first ten houses and a commercial building called the “Guild Hall” was built as well as a train station at Bryn Mawr to offer transportation from the city to the building sites. In 1889, Lake View was annexed by Chicago, even though Edgewater’s 300 residents voted NO to annexation. The extension of the Broadway and Clark streetcar lines in the 1890s sparked more residential single-family home construction.

1900-1909: New Century, New Community

Cochran’s ban on multi-unit complexes was challenged in 1902 and 1908 when a few residents attempted to build two-flat apartment buildings on the land next to their homes. There were court appearances and even the slogan “Fight the Flat,” but ultimately the ban was overturned. However, most of the single-family homes in Edgewater were built before 1910. In 1908, Cochran influenced the extension of the Northwestern Elevated Railroad from Wilson to Howard over the right of way of the old Chicago, Milwaukee & St. Paul Railroad. This line used the old railway stops of Bryn Mawr and Granville, and now made transportation in the community much more accessible. This caused increased migration to the community.

1910-1919: Glamour and More Come to Edgewater

Single-family home construction in Edgewater continued between 1910 and 1919 west of Broadway Avenue. East of Broadway, apartment complexes were replacing single family homes. Tall apartment buildings and flats constructed near the railroad, on Winthrop and Kenmore Avenues, accommodated the growing number of young people coming into the city. In 1916, the Edgewater Beach Hotel, a luxury hotel that attracted wealthy Chicagoans as well as celebrities, was built on the lakeshore. Also in 1916, architects Carpenter & Weldon designed the Winter Garden Ice Skating Rink – a huge building located at Broadway and Thorndale that had many uses throughout the years, and is now the Park District Facility known as the Broadway Armory. Many more schools, including Senn High School built in 1913, were constructed to accommodate the population growth.

1920-1929: “Highest and Best Use” of Edgewater

More hotel-style apartment buildings were built, including the Edgewater Beach Apartments in the late 1920s. In 1923 a new zoning ordinance made this and other forms of population density a part of the building code. Following "highest and best use," any block with apartment buildings was zoned to accommodate that construction. Construction peaked in 1926, with property values reaching their height in 1928, but the onset of the Great Depression halted most construction, reduced spending, and left many workers unemployed. The Edgewater Hospital, the first in the community, opened in 1929 with 90 beds, and was one of the last buildings to open before the period of financial upheaval.

1930-1939: Edgewater No More?

In the early 1930s, sociologists at the University of Chicago compiled a list of Chicago’s official Community Areas, but declared Edgewater to be part of Uptown – NOT its own community. In 1933 Chicago’s Lake Shore Drive was extended north and ended at Foster Avenue, bringing with it more people and more automobiles. Residents here faced space issues as well as increasing pollution. In 1937 St. Gregory High School was built adjacent to its parish, which had been established in 1904, but would be one of just a few construction projects during the Great Depression.

1940-1949: The Second World War and Post-War Years

With the onset of World War II, Edgewater citizens banded together: as many as 300 women in Edgewater gathered at the Edgewater Beach Hotel to knit, crochet, and sew garments and bandages for American soldiers. The dearth of new construction from 1930 to 1945, combined with population growth, led to a severe housing shortage at the end of the decade. A number of large houses were converted to rooming houses or split up into apartments, and many properties were allowed to deteriorate.

1950-1959: New Housing

By the 1950s, the housing shortage eased, as more developers built multi-unit complexes, and many residents sought homes in the suburbs of Chicago. Vacant stores and residential buildings in the area rose to 13 percent, twice the city-wide average. More ethnic groups arrived in Edgewater, including Japanese, Koreans, American Indians, Greeks, Cubans, Mexicans, and Puerto Ricans.

1960-1969: High-Rise Living in the City & Community Becomes Organized

In 1960, a group of residents created the Edgewater Community Council (ECC) to deal with the problems of unattractive and unsafe apartment housing in the Winthrop-Kenmore Corridor, the loss of single-family homes, neighborhood improvement and more. During the 1960s, a few high-rise apartment buildings appeared on Sheridan Road in Edgewater. These high rises were to replace most of the mansions that remained on Sheridan Road. The Edgewater Beach Hotel closed in December 1967. But the end of the decade saw the construction of the 4+1 apartment buildings begin.

1970-1979: Edgewater’s New Look

Between 1970 and 1979, immigrant groups increasing in Edgewater were the Vietnamese, Thais and other Asian nationalities, Russians, Middle Eastern, Greeks, African Americans and Native Americans. In 1973, the Chicago Public Library responded to resident demands and opened a branch in Edgewater. In 1976, the Swedish American Museum Center opened in Andersonville. It was founded by Kurt Mathiasson, a local restaurant owner who wanted to preserve the Swedish heritage of the community. Early in the decade the construction of 4+1 stopped due to changes in the zoning that made them no longer economically feasible. The changes were due to citizen protests in Edgewater and Lake View. However, for Edgewater the damage had been done.

1980-1989: The Return of Edgewater

In 1980, city government ratified the separation of Edgewater from Uptown by designating Edgewater as Community Area 77. By 1981, Edgewater became the most densely populated community in Chicago. In 1988, the Edgewater Historical Society was formed at a community meeting at the Edgewater Library to preserve and celebrate the rich history of the Edgewater community.

1990-1999: A Multi-Ethnic and Cultural Community

The 1990s brought a strong presence of Nigerians, Bosnians and Ethiopians, Assyrians, and more, and by the end of the decade much of Edgewater was foreign born: the 2000 census declared that the area west of Clark and north of Bryn Mawr was over 41% foreign born, and the area east of Broadway and north of Bryn Mawr was over 43% foreign born. One significant new group was the lesbian and gay community, and the Gerber/Hart Library, which focuses on LGBT issues, relocated to 1127 W. Granville in 1998. The LGBT residents in Edgewater are heavily concentrated in the East Andersonville neighborhood.

2000-2009: Celebrate Edgewater and a building boom

In October of 2002, the Edgewater Historical Society and Museum opened at 5358 N. Ashland Ave., in what had been an old firehouse of Company 79. In 2009, local artists and 33 children and young adults from Alternatives, Inc., a child and family agency in Chicago, built three mosaics on the underpasses of Lake Shore Drive on Bryn Mawr and Foster Avenues. Each are 3,200-square-foot bricolages, the largest direct-application mosaic in Chicago and one of the recent public art creations made by Native Americans. The decade also saw a boom in new construction – primarily 6 to 8 unit condo buildings – which replaced single family homes and two flats along Kenmore and Winthrop. West of Broadway where the zoning was lower, new construction usually represented new single family homes or three flats. The boom was short lived, however, coming to an almost abrupt end in 2009 as a result of the collapse of the real estate market and the recession.

– prepared by Grace Pekar and revised by Kathy Gemperle, 7/2010; revised by LeRoy Blommaert 1/2013