Lee Diamond loves bungalows. Not only does he sell them as owner of highly rated Big Shoulders Realty, he’s owned two, including his current home where he lives with his wife, two children and a “Noah’s Ark” of animals.
“I’m a big believer in buying a house with good bones,” he says. “It’s really hard to find something sturdier than a bungalow.”
Many cities lay claim to their own style of bungalow, but in Chicago they endure by the tens of thousands
in an area known as the Bungalow Belt. Stretching from Edison Park in the northwest down to South Chicago
on the shores of Lake Michigan, it’s a swath that was fueled by the expansion of streetcar lines and an influx of immigrants wanting to live closer to factory jobs in what was then the outskirts of Chicago.
Today, bungalows are celebrated as a Chicago
treasure and supported by a city-sponsored restoration and preservation program.
That heritage is one of the reasons Laura Singer and her husband, Sean Bradley, chose a Portage Park bungalow as their first home.
“I like the sense of history and it feels very sturdy and strong, and I like the brick front,” Singer says. “We don’t have a desire to move to the suburbs.”
Ten years ago, however, first-time homebuyers like Singer and Bradley too often looked to the suburbs, says Cathy Reed, membership coordinator for the Historic Chicago Bungalow Association. The homes were one-third of the Chicago housing stock, but “people were not looking at bungalows as a first-time home-buying option,” she says.
In 2000, Mayor Richard M. Daley, who grew up in a Bridgeport bungalow with six siblings, his parents and grandparents, launched the Historic Chicago Bungalow Initiative and its accompanying nonprofit association to reverse the decline and historically inappropriate remodeling of bungalows.
The program has certified 10,000 bungalows so far. Certification is free, but the house must retain its original brick streetfront, one-and-a-half story construction and other basic features. Certification also includes access to a variety of loans and grants from sources that include state and regional government agencies. The money can be used for renovation, maintenance or mortgage assistance, depending on the grant.
Reed estimates Chicago has
about 80,000 bungalows, with maybe 10,000 that are uncertifiable because homeowners have added a second story or replaced the face brick with new brick or siding.
“We can safely say there are 70,000 certifiable bungalows in the city and we’ve only touched 10,000,” she says. “We’ve got quite a few to go.”
What is a bungalow?
According to the Historic Chicago Bungalow Association, it is a house built between 1910 and 1940 with sturdy brick construction, a roofline perpendicular to the street, one and one-half stories, detailed windows and stonework, and sheltered entrances.
Compared with other urban Chicago housing styles, Diamond says the bungalow makes the best use of the typical lot size for that era — 25 feet wide by 150 feet deep.
“They generally have a full basement, a full first floor and an attic,” he says. “It’s the greatest possible use of space without eating up all the green space on your property. You still have
room for a lawn or garden.”
Singer — who hasn’t sought certification — says friends comment on how much room she has. “When you look at the front
of the house, you think it’s going
to be really small,” she says. “But
we have three full stories of space.”
Energy efficiency is the bungalow’s weak point, Diamond says. Unless it’s been updated, a bungalow may have little insulation.
“They didn’t know as much about system efficiency,” he says.
Through its Green Bungalow Block program, however, the association helps homeowners update their bungalows by creating a model “green home” with modern insulation and HVAC systems in a specified block and then giving grants to the people in that block to upgrade their homes. The EnergySavers Blocks program similarly distributes money to residents, community groups and block clubs for efficiency upgrades.
Now, the association has
no money for new applicants
for any programs.
“We don’t know when it
will arrive and when it arrives
we get it out the door to people,” says Mary Ellen Guest, association executive director.
The existing grant money is going to homeowners who have been on a waiting list for several years.
“We are getting almost
a million dollars out the door in
the next few months,” she says.
Because of the delay between applying for and receiving a grant, the association is eliminating the waiting list and in the future will distribute grants on a first-come, first-served basis, she says.
Homeowners must apply each year for the new round of grants. She expects multiple grants later this
year and says the best way to find
out about them is to sign up for
the association’s e-mail newsletter
Despite the homes’ energy
efficiency challenges, Diamond
says bungalows are still a smart buy with prices ranging from $100,000 to $700,000 depending on location, size and condition.
Singer and Bradley bought their bungalow 13 years ago, before the mayor started his initiative, and say it’s been a good investment.
“We could have bought in a
much pricier neighborhood and been stressed out,” she says. “Our house
is reasonable and modest and allows us to do other things in our life.”