Getting to Know the Historic Districts of Chicago

Many Chicago neighborhoods have a penchant for new development, but not everything is about replacing the old with the new. The city has more than 50 landmark districts, carefully preserved pieces of the city’s past.

These areas, some comprising entire neighborhoods and others just a few short blocks, are notable for architecture from greats like Frank Lloyd Wright and Mies van der Rohe. While dating back years into the past, these monuments to the city’s growth serve as a unique piece of modern Chicago. Meet a few of the city’s distinctive historic districts.

Alta Vista Terrace District — Lakeview

House in the Alta Vista Terrace District
Alta Vista Terrace District

Alta Vista Terrace District sits on the 3800 block of North Alta Vista Terrace in Lakeview. The district’s townhomes date back to the early 1900s and the area has been a Chicago landmark since 1971. Alta Vista Terrace, also known as “A Street of Forty Doors,” was developed by Samuel Eberly Gross. The homes’ designs were inspired by classical London architecture.

While the historic district may have a quaint aesthetic, its residents are never far from the action of the neighborhood. Alta Vista Terrace is just a few blocks north of Wrigleyville and its landmark baseball stadium. It’s also south of the busy Irving Park Road. The current listing price for a home on North Alta Vista Terrace is $800,000, according to Neighborhoods.com.

Bissell Street District — Lincoln Park

Bissell Street District
Thshriver / Bissell Street District / CC BY-SA 3.0

Lincoln Park is well-known for its luxury brick homes. Among those enviable homes are the 20 buildings that make up the Bissell Street District.

Architect Iver C. Zarbell designed the buildings on the 2100 block of North Bissell Street as a single development. As a result the stretch of Bissell Street between Webster and West Dickens avenues has a more uniform look than a lot of the city’s blocks. The homes are a mix of three-, six-, and nine-flats.

Bissell Street District is on the western side of Lincoln Park, closer to the DePaul University Campus than Lake Michigan and Lincoln Park Zoo. Within walking distance of the district, you’ll find a cluster of tasty restaurants including Jam ‘n Honey, Homeslice, Holy Taco, and Devil Dawgs on Sheffield. Plus, the whimsical Oz Park is a couple blocks east.

Bryn Mawr Avenue Historic District — Edgewater

Bryn Mawr Avenue Historic District at Night
Bryn Mawr Historic District at Night / Micki L. Katz / CC BY-SA 4.0

The Bryn Mawr Avenue Historic District is inextricably linked to the powder pink exterior of the Edgewater Beach Apartments, visible from Hollywood Beach (officially known as Osterman Beach). The 20-story building, dating back to 1928, is one of the most striking buildings in Edgewater. Bryn Mawr Avenue Historic District—the area around the pretty in pink building—was officially designed a National Register Historic District in 1995.

Even with its prime lakefront location, Edgewater offers homebuyers affordability. The median home sale price in the neighborhood is the low $200s, and the housing stock here includes affordable condos with lake views.

Greenwood Row House District — Hyde Park

Homes in Hyde Park

The University of Chicago campus gives Hyde Park a dignified air that can be found in many of its grand homes. The Greenwood Row House District is a collection of 20 brick row houses (the even numbers of 5200 through 5244 S. Greenwood Ave.) that popped up not long after the establishment of the university in 1892. Samuel Eberly Gross, the same developer behind the Alta Vista Terrace District, was the driving force behind the building of these now historic homes. Expect to see Classical Revival style in the Greenwood Row House District.

This historic district is not far from the green swaths of Washington Park and Jackson Park. The median home price in Hyde Park is in the low $200s. But, like most Chicago neighborhoods, Hyde Park welcomes a wide variety of budgets; Greenwood Row House District was designed with affluence in mind.

Motor Row — Near South Side

Motor Row / Andrew Jameson / CC BY-SA 3.0

Motor Row stretches along a section of South Michigan Avenue on the Near South Side. In a departure from the other historic districts covered here, Motor Row comes from industrial rather than residential roots. The name that stands today is a reference to the area’s once-booming automobile industry. The area was made a historic district in 2000, and today it’s on the rise.

Developers are interested in getting their name on Motor Row, located near McCormick Place. The historic district could get its rebirth as a new entertainment center. A new event space came to the area in 2017, and craft beer company Motor Row Brewing is pouring drinks. Plus, as the Sun-Times reports, two former Chicago Bears players are looking to open a coworking space and social club in the historic district.

The Villa

 Intersection of Waveland and Springfield Avenues / Thshriver / CC BY-SA 3.0

The Villa is a neighborhood unto itself. This small triangle of space sandwiched between Avondale and Irving Park feels more like a subdivision than an urban neighborhood.

The entrance to the neighborhood is marked by stone pillars and green medians divide the quiet streets. The Villa was built to be made solely of single-family homes; there are no condos or other multi-unit buildings. While you walk the streets of The Villa, you’ll come across various architectural styles—Prairie, Tudor, and Craftsman. The Chicago architecture and lush yards of many of the homes make a stroll down The Villa’s peaceful streets well worth it. For any curious homebuyers, the median sale price in The Villa is in the high $600s.

While the neighborhood feels like a small suburban oasis, its location offers ample urban accessibility. A short walk will take commuters to the Addison Blue Line station and out to the restaurants and shops of Irving Park and Avondale.

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