Chicago Workers Cottage Initiative

Chicago Workers Cottage Initiative

What is The Chicago Workers Cottage Initiative?

Preservation Chicago is working in partnership with the Chicago Workers Cottage Initiative to celebrate this housing type in order to better preserve the unique features of these houses, protect them from demolition, and continue their use and reuse for the next century. 

Workers Cottages are highly endangered by development pressure.  Between 2006 and 2020, 192 Workers Cottages were demolished in Logan Square which represents 46% all all demolitions.

“There are currently as many as 60,000 workers cottages in Chicago. Most were built during Chicago’s dramatic expansion of population and area from the 1880s to 1910s. These modest houses were built for working class families and represent the origins of the “American Dream” of homeownership and the investment and pride of Chicago’s new immigrants.

“In many of Chicago’s neighborhoods undergoing redevelopment, these homes are increasingly targeted for demolition. Preserving workers cottages will retain the continuity of neighborhood history, scale, and character as well as stabilize affordable housing where housing costs are increasing.” Learn more at the Chicago Workers Cottage Initiative website

A Survey of Workers Cottages in Logan Square

“In spring 2021, The Chicago Workers Cottage Initiative partnered with Preservation Chicago and students from the Preservation Planning Studio class at the School of the Art Institute to conduct a field survey of residential buildings in Logan Square. Lead by professor Charlie Pipal, grad students London Hainsworth, David Klein, Angelica Ospina, Kesha Patel and Marian Thompson gathered information on the characteristics of workers cottages within the survey area. While the surveyors were looking to locate and identify the workers cottages, they also noted other buildings with historic character for future reference. Information on each building was recorded via smartphone using a parcel-mapping app.

“The pilot survey area contains roughly 16 blocks in a square bounded by Armitage – California – Fullerton – Western Avenues. The quarter-mile square area contains about 1225 properties in a mix of single-family houses, two/three-flats, larger multi-unit apartments and mixed-use commercial buildings. A large number of buildings date to the 1880s when the blocks were first subdivided and developed, a time when this area was just outside the city limits at Western Avenue.” Read more regarding the pilot survey and view the many graphs and charts at the Chicago Workers Cottage Initiative website.

Newspaper articles regarding the Chicago Workers Cottage Initiative. 

With Workers Cottages Vanishing In Logan Square And Other Neighborhoods, Preservationists Roll Out Plan To Save Them; Developers are tearing down workers cottages to make way for single-family homes and condos, a practice preservationists hope to stop with a project that launched this week, Mina Bloom, Block Club Chicago, 4/15/21

Group Aims to Save Chicago’s Worker’s Cottages, Starting in Logan Square, Tim Frisbie, Logan Squarist, 5/27/21

I want to save a historic Chicago home. I’m up against developers who would rather raze it; Chicago is losing its historic homes at an alarming rate. The city places few restrictions on developers with bulldozers and deep pockets, Betsy Mikel, Chicago Sun-Times Op-Ed, 6/10/21

What is a Workers Cottage?

“The Chicago workers cottage is a vernacular housing style built from the 1870s to 1910s as affordable housing for working and middle-class homeowners. The house features a narrow rectangular footprint to fit on a city lot and a simple gable (peaked) roof. Most are 1-1/2 stories tall, with an attic or smaller upper floor under the angle of the roof. Beyond the smallest “cottage-like” houses, there are a wide variety of sizes of these common houses which can provide challenges to identifying them as workers cottages.

“Wood-frame workers cottages were often been modified and enlarged in the years after they were built. Many were expanded by raising the entire building to add a basement or first floor beneath to install indoor plumbing or to add an extra apartment. Different building materials used on each floor and traces of modifications may provide clues to a building’s complex history. Other houses may have been originally built on raised foundations or with two full floors for two apartments.” Learn more at the Chicago Workers Cottage Initiative website.

A Short History of the Chicago Workers Cottage

“The workers cottage house type derives from earlier vernacular house styles in the Midwest. These simple gable-roofed dwellings were typically built with a central entrance on a side perpendicular to the roof orientation. In Chicago, this house style was adapted to fit the constrained urban space of a typical 25′ x 125′ Chicago city lot by turning the building and entry to face the street.

“A birds-eye-view map from 1868 shows hundreds of these simple gable-roofed frame houses crowding the streets on the north, south and southwest outskirts of the central business district. Though the outer areas of the map are not depicted in great detail, zooming in to the area of what is now Chicago & Wabash Avenues we can see several rows of 1½ and 2½ story frame houses interspersed among larger brick tenement apartments. Three years later all of the houses in this area would be destroyed in the Great Chicago Fire.” Learn more at the Chicago Workers Cottage Initiative website.

Additional resources and ways to get involved

  • Walk around your block and get to know the houses and your neighbors better
  • Get involved in community groups in your area
  • Join a local preservation organization such as Preservation Chicago or a neighborhood preservation group to stay informed
  • Write to your alderman to tell them how these houses are a benefit to your neighborhood and worth preserving
  • Find tips on renovating historic houses at the Chicago Bungalow Association
  • Talk to your neighbors about decreasing the zoning classification of your street to lower the financial incentives for demolition
  • Share photos and stories about your favorite workers cottages on social media
  • Join the Chicago Workers Cottage Initiative mailing list to learn more!