Produced and edited by Candace Kuzmarski
Irving Park is a community area located on Chicago’s Northwest Side. It is bounded by the Chicago River on the east, the Milwaukee Road railroad tracks on the west, Addison Street on the south and Montrose Avenue on the north, west of Pulaski Road stretching to encompass the region between Belmont Avenue on the south and, roughly, Leland Avenue on the north.
Old Irving Park, bounded by Montrose Avenue, Pulaski Road, Addison Street and Cicero Avenue, has a variety of housing stock, with Queen Anne, Victorian, and Italianate homes, a few farmhouses and numerous bungalows.
The CTA Blue Line runs through this neighborhood, with stops at Addison, Irving Park/Pulaski, and Montrose.
Irving Park’s development begins in 1843 when Major Noble purchased a 160-acre tract of land from Christopher J. Ward, upon which Noble established a farm. The boundaries of that farm today would be Montrose Avenue to the north, Irving Park Road to the South, Pulaski Avenue to the east and Kostner Street to the West. Major Noble’s house on the East side of Elston just south of Montrose doubled as the Buckthorn Tavern, serving travelers coming to and from the city of Chicago along the North West Plank Road (Elston). After many years of successful farming Noble sold the farm and retired to McHenry County. Four men from New York, Charles T. Race, John S. Brown, Adelbert E Brown and John Wheeler, purchased the farm in 1869 for $20,000. Shortly thereafter they purchased an additional 80-acre tract immediately south of the Noble farm from John Gray for $25,000. This parcel, bounded by Irving Park on the north, Grace on the south, Pulaski on the east and Kostner on the west was part of his original 320-acre farm. The intention of the men was to continue farming, but after seeing the success of suburban communities which had recently opened for settlement, they decided to subdivide their land and create an exclusive settlement, seven miles from the city.
An agreement was reached with the Chicago and Northwestern Railroad allowing their trains to stop in Irving Park if the developers would build a station. This was done, and this station, still at the same location, continues to serve neighborhood residents today. The original name chosen for the new suburb was “Irvington” after the author Washington Irving, but it was discovered that another town in Illinois had already used the same name, so the name of Irving Park was adopted.
The original developers all built substantial mansions along Irving Park Boulevard between 1870 and 1874. All have since been razed, with the exception of the Steven A. Race mansion, which was moved at the turn of the century and now stands at 3945 N. Tripp. Another early home, built for Erastus Brown, father of John and Adalbert, also remains at 3812 N. Pulaski Road although greatly altered. The Great Chicago Fire of 1871, which was watched from the cupolas of several area homes, brought a new influx of residents who built many unique, but slightly less pretentious homes.
In 1872, the area’s first church, the Dutch Reformed Church and Society of Irving Park was constructed on the southeast corner of Keeler Avenue and Belle Plaine. It remained the only house of worship for thirteen years. The building was completely remodeled in 1908, according to plans by noted architect Elmer P. Jensen. By the turn of the century, congregations representing the Episcopalians, Methodists, Disciples of Christ, Catholics and Baptists had been established.
The 1880s found residents beginning to miss some of advantages they had left behind in the city, and in 1889 the community, along with the rest of Jefferson Township, was annexed to Chicago. Water piped to the area from Lake Michigan, and the establishments of a fire department and streetcar service along major streets were some of the improvements to occur during the first year after annexation.
Over 200 homes had been built in the original subdivision within the first twenty years. Several additions to Irving Park had greatly increased the original 240-acre suburb. Grayland, which was opened for settlement in 1874, extended West from Kostner to Cicero Avenue, between Irving Park and Addison. Subdivided by John Gray, the first Republican sheriff of Cook County, on a portion of his extensive farm, it grew around the Grayland station of the Milwaukee Road Railroad, which is still in active use today. Gray’s first home built in 1856 at 4362 W. Grace survives today in a remarkable state of preservation and is the oldest house in Irving Park. Gray later built a lavish mansion on the northwest corner of Milwaukee and Lowell to reflect his new-found wealth and it was a community showplace. Indoor plumbing with gold fixtures, exotic woods and expensive marbles highlighted his home. It was razed around the year 1915.
Three subdivisions east of Pulaski led to the development of the area in the late 1890s. West Walker is located between Montrose Avenue and Irving Park Road and is characterized by large single family homes in late Victorian, Foursquare and Revival styles. The area south of Irving Park Road was developed by Samuel Gross and was known as “Gross Boulevard addition to Irving Park”. The housing stock is similar to that of West Walker. The section between Addison and Avondale was developed as the “Villa addition to Irving Park” and contains many unique Craftsman and Bungalow style homes fronting on boulevard style streets. The Villa District, as it is known, is a Chicago Landmark district.
In 1910 the residents of Irving Park established their own park district and created eight local parks, the largest of which is Independence Park. Considered one of the finest landscaped neighborhood parks in the city for many years, Independence Park also served as the site of local 4th of July celebrations. This annual event features a parade down Irving Park Boulevard involving hundreds of children, athletic events, a band concert and an award winning display of fireworks.In 1933 the Irving Park District merged with the Chicago Park District. Irving Park continued to grow steadily during the first decades of the 20th century. Several large apartment buildings, featuring elaborate wrought-iron fencing, fountains and terra cotta details were constructed primarily north of Irving Park Boulevard. The depression and war years saw many of the larger homes converted into rooming houses and two family homes. The prosperity following the war was diminished when it was learned that the Northwest Expressway (Kennedy) would cut directly through the heart of Irving Park. This resulted in the displacement of many residents, and loss of many homes and businesses. During the 1960’s condominiums replaced several larger homes along Keystone, Kedvale and Keeler north of the expressway.
The early 1980s saw a rebirth for Irving Park as a wider audience discovered the beautiful homes and rich history of the area. The Irving Park Historical Society was formed in 1984, to help preserve the neighborhood’s heritage and its irreplaceable architecture, which has survived since the late 19th century. Since the society’s inception many homes have been restored and many more restorations are in progress. A survey by volunteers of the Irving Park Historical Society documented several hundred buildings in use which predate 1894, many dating as far back as the 1870s. Some remain intact while many have been modified or remodeled. Others retain just a hint of their former Victorian splendor.
* Irving Park Historical Society