In Ravenswood at 4636 N. Paulina, a green gingerbread Victorian built in 1886 faces demolition. Featuring unique bargeboard trim and carved wood window hoods, this is a unique and exceptional loss for Chicago’s historic housing stock.
A Diverse Block of Housing Stock: Because of its location several blocks away from the ‘L’ station, this block has long had a strong desirability factor. From large Victorians to brick/greystone 2/3 flats, to 1920s apartment buildings and mid-century modern apartments, the block is a good representative mix of Chicago housing stock in a single transect.
In most cases, the building replacing the previous one represented a step up in density, allowing more people to live with a half mile or so of the nearby train stations (CTA and Metra). For 4636 N. Paulina, permit records indicate this single-family home getting replaced by a two-flat. But increased density doesn’t always require demolition as a prerequisite.
Wasted Potential of Preservation and Adaptive Reuse: Unlike MLS listings with the phrase “the value is in the land,” the listing for 4636 N. Paulina describes the potential flexibility of use this in this historic home:
- “Flex space includes 5 bedrooms and 3 full baths, plus additional spaces for entertaining and expanding the kitchen and living space. Master has option of ensuite and basement has potential for complete 3rd level of living. Move right in, or create a modern floor plan in an historic home rich with character and history. 3 car garage, plus side drive w/ original storage shed.”
Before considering the adjacent side lot, the existing home could have easily been converted to a three family home. New construction on the side lot could have been another two-flat. The conversion and new construction could have provided 5 dwelling units with adequate parking, all within walking distance to multiple transit options.
Realized Result of Demolition-Luxury Residences: But instead of a multifamily conversion project, the result is what favors developer profit margins: high-end luxury residences.
Loss of a Living Transitional Style: 4636 N. Paulina is unique because of its combination of Gothic Revival-era wood trim and sharp hipped angles paired to a sprawling and asymmetrical layout more commonly associated with the Queen Anne style.
The county assessor lists the build date of 1891, but the home is actually dates to 1886, as seen in the property transfer announcement above. Subsequent newspaper records list Paulina Street as where Samuels lived, and an 1892 marriage announcement for Hugh Samuels and Mattie Monks lists the pre-1909 address (2699 Ravenswood) as their home. The confirmation of the build date explains the unusual combination of Gothic trim and sharp angles on a Queen Anne layout.
Looking to the Past for Potential: Despite its size and current use as a single-family home, 4636 N. Paulina spent much of its life as a rooming house. The 1892 marriage announcement shows a union between Hugh Samuels and Mattie Monks at 2699 N Ravenswood (today 4636 N. Ravenswood), but a funeral announcement in 1903 shows the burial of Elizabeth Samuels, apparently another wife of Hugh. Later records of Mattie Monks show deed transfers nearby in Ravenswood. Details of the tangled interpersonal history are unclear.
What is clear is that a few years after the death of Elizabeth Samuels, 4636 N. Paulina was converted into a rooming house. Classified advertisements from 1910 onward list furnished rooms for rent. While the historical precedent of furnished rooms for rent in a large house is uncommon today, it demonstrates clear potential for reuse as a multifamily dwelling.
Sadly that potential won’t be realized, and Ravenswood will lose a unique home instead.
Ravenswood to Lose One of a Kind Victorian, John Morris, Chicago Patterns, May 1, 2018, Link to full article with all photos and historic documentation.
Putting up a good front: Renovation an exterior can add character–and pay off when it’s time to sell, Darci Smith,Chicago Tribune, November 19, 2004