Project creator B. Elizabeth Mina installing corner bead for a new arch she and her husband built at the bottom of their second floor steps, fall, 2020, after taking down a door from the dining room of her 1939 English Tudor in Gladstone Park.
This Gladstone Park Photo Website is very much a COVID project. Created by B. Elizabeth Mina during the pandemic lockdowns of 2020 and 2021, the idea was to document the distinct vintage architectural house styles of her community in photographs.
Mina figured it was about time her far-flung northwest Chicago community with all its attributes got the respect it deserved. Just north of — and thus excluded from — the city’s officially-defined Bungalow Belt, it gets little recognition for the hundreds of brick bungalows that were built within its limits. But more significantly, Gladstone Park gets virtually no acknowledgement in its role of showcasing perhaps the greatest number of English Tudor Revival homes in the city. And then again, the neighborhood is also home to a large and unique collection of Dutch Colonial Revivals built by Germans immigrating to the area from Russia’s Volga River Valley.
Always an architecture aficionado, Mina could be found sketching house plans from the age of eight or nine for fun. That childhood hobby translated itself into buying a succession of ever larger fixer-upper homes as an adult that were transformed with extensive hands-on renovations and additions. Starting with her designs, her husband taught her the skills to frame, sheetrock, mud, tile, stain, wire, and otherwise implement her plans as they worked as a team. (Roofing was not a favorite job, but she did it.) After four such renovations, she achieved her dream when she designed their fifth home — a three-story North Carolina Coastal Victorian — from the ground up and had it built for them. But the couple had never owned a truly historic home before re-retiring back north and buying their 1939 English Tudor in Gladstone Park in 2018. That opened a whole new world.
Perhaps because vintage brick-and-limestone construction, three-piece baseboard woodwork, and glass block windows were new to her, Mina saw everything with fresh eyes. Studying the bungalows and English Tudor homes around her, she began taking photographs to document the many attractive and elaborate details of these modest yet beautifully practical houses. As she delved into the small variations of their architectural styles, she began to notice all their charming touches. Arched doors! Elaborate front porch columns! Window boxes! Ceramic medallion trim! Multicolored, textured brickwork!
As Mina got into it, the scope of her interest cascaded. Besides attempting to illustrate the diversity of single-family homes, she began photographing the many two- and three-flat buildings in the community along with other types of multifamily housing. Then, since she’d never lived in a community where people could walk to virtually everything, she expanded her horizons further. That’s when restaurants, stores, industry, schools, parks and churches came into play. Many other elements she’d never consciously taken note of before caught her attention and she documented everything she could in pictures.
As Mina progressed, she realized that if she were going to do right by a Gladstone Park photo website, she would have to add at least some textual explanation. So she wrote descriptions she thought would give viewers more context to what it’s like to live in the vintage houses of this proud community. Beyond factual information, the material presented is the author’s slant on life as she experiences it here and she does not apologize for it.
Breadth of the Project
Mina combed every street within the commonly-agreed-upon limits of Gladstone Park multiple times. Photographs of at least one home and sometimes as many as a dozen or more appear in the various architectural style categories from every one of the 49 streets in the community. While she attempted to find and depict a broad spectrum of examples of all single- and multi-family residential housing styles, selection was necessarily subjective.
Regrettably, some homes she would have liked to capture were made impossible by overgrown vegetation or motor vehicles continually obscuring the visual field. People’s Gas presented other problems with the company’s ongoing line replacements on many streets in the neighborhood blocking some homes with signs, cones, and equipment. Mina does not pretend every residential building of architectural value is contained here.
Likewise, there was no way the photographer could snap every notable commercial or industrial concern, so Mina tried to provide a broad representative range. In no way is any inclusion of a business an endorsement or any exclusion a judgment of its worth. A significant factor to what made the cut was accessibility. If, after making repeated visits to specific sites only to find cars or trucks consistently preventing clear shots, she had no choice but to preclude those places from her database.
For a more intimate look at the vibrant community of Gladstone Park, she created categories to delve deeper into the lives of its people. Sights and Sensations, Little Free Libraries, Folk & Yard Art, and Dibs — that quintessential Chicago tradition of saving one’s shoveled-out street parking place with castoffs — are some of these. Another link shows the dozens of wrought iron porch railing patterns Mina found throughout the neighborhood.
Because she did not want to deal with the ramifications of photographing individuals who might not want to be in web-published photographs, Mina made great efforts to do her work when people would be least likely to be out and about. This meant taking many pictures of businesses and parks, etc., at off-hours, often when they were closed or when weather wasn’t the best. The lack of cars at stores or restaurants does not mean their lots are not normally filled.
It was always Mina’s intention to mount her results online for anyone who wanted to freely view them. Although she has copyrighted her work, she encourages those interested in Gladstone Park, its architecture and community to pass along photos and information with attribution.
Equipment & Processes
Mina used equipment she had on hand. Photographs were taken exclusively with an Olympus Camedia C-765 Ultra Zoom Digital Camera with optical viewfinder bought more than 10 years earlier. Making no claims about being anything more than an amateur, she snapped all pictures on Auto Setting with a resolution of 2288 x 1712 pixels. The 10x/14x optical zoom lens was employed only when necessary to focus in on an important element more closely. All shots were taken from the vantage point of public sidewalks or roads.
The challenges of capturing large and multi-storied buildings were manifold. She would have needed aerial shots to depict the full scope of Rufus M. Hitch Elementary School, which occupies an entire block. Glass reflection of windows was often unavoidable due to sun angles. Mottled shade cast from trees created other problems. Some houses had to be photographed from sharper angles than she would have liked to avoid large tree trunks or light poles. And with her position from the sidewalk or street, Mina was only too aware that the perspective of taller buildings would be distorted from having to tilt her camera up. It was her goal to capture the essence of what she was trying to illustrate, not compare her results to work a professional would produce.
The only manipulation Mina did beyond picture rotation and angular adjustment was occasional brightening and color enhancement to compensate for cloudy days. She relied on framing her shots in the field; no cropping was done. For better capture, some photos were taken vertically rather than horizontally, their aspect ratios showing up taller rather than wider.
Some snapshots were taken in the dead of winter, Mina shivering in her new fingerless photography gloves while changing camera batteries on the fly that died quickly from the bitter cold. The advantage to working throughout the winter was the ability to get access to views of structures through leafless trees. Other pictures show homes beautified by spring daffodils or fall asters.
She did not endeavor to update changes in the landscape of the community even as they occurred midstream. An example is the picture of the (several years closed) N. Milwaukee Prohibition Club whose signs came down a mere three weeks after she snapped them.
Expenses were minimal if the many hundreds of hours of walking, photographing, downloading, documenting, researching, and writing aren’t counted. She piggybacked on already existing website space and her house’s WiFi and electrical service. Admittedly not an artist and not well-versed in advanced Adobe functions, she produced the Main Page art with paper, pen, ruler, and scissors. All the scrap paper she needed for jotting down ideas and nuggets of research came from the backsides of junk mail. Part of the thrifty generation, she enthusiastically used free memo pads mailed from nonprofits (thanks, St. Jude’s). The only money she had to put out was for new camera batteries (and the photo gloves).
Likewise, Mina used a 2012 Macbook Pro laptop for all her work, downloading and digitizing her camera contents into Photos 2017. She used the 2011 version of Microsoft Word software, acquired when one was still able to purchase rather than lease it.
Photo Locational Information
While Mina went out of her way not to include street addresses of residential properties on her website in order to protect homeowner privacy, she was sometimes unable not to catch a street sign or other identifying element in her photos. She manually recorded locations for all photographs for purposes of research only. Because her camera predates GPS positioning, that information is not embedded in any of the images. Commercial establishments are named, also without addresses, but can be Googled for more information.
Because Mina didn’t want her text files to read like academic papers, she did not use formal footnotes, but cited authorship directly within the text when needed. Other than common knowledge, she consulted as much research as she could during the pandemic including materials from organizations such as Chicago Bungalow Foundation and Chicago Architecture Center. She also used many online sources like Chicago Historical Society’s The Electronic Encyclopedia of Chicago, a plethora of City of Chicago studies and plans, and newspapers including The Chicago Tribune and the hyperlocal Nadig Newspapers. Isolating meant no library visits, so she purchased books such as Streetwise Chicago: A History of Chicago Street Names by Don Hayner and Tom McNamee. Some information, particularly the historical section on diagonal streets and triangular lots, comes from her own original research as filtered through observation and experience.
For comments, questions and corrections, please contact Elizabeth Mina at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Mina would like to heartily thank her daughter, Susan Agrawal for helping design and create this website that makes sharing this in-depth view of Gladstone Park possible.
This website could never have come to fruition without the help of her husband Frederic, who was instrumental in taking notes and juggling equipment while accompanying the photographer on many of her walking expeditions. He also helped proof documents and offered constructive criticism.
B. Elizabeth Mina graduated with a BS in Education & Geography from Valparaiso University, Indiana, and an MS in Information Science from Rutgers, the State University of New Jersey. She has worked as an elementary school teacher, newspaper reporter, technical writer, software analyst, and librarian, in that order. In between doing rehab work with her husband on their vintage Gladstone Park home and going to violin concerts to hear her grandchildren, she freelance writes.
Curious to a fault, Mina is a font of questions and ideas. Since retirement she has conducted horticultural research in demonstration gardens, refinished vintage metal radiator covers, penned a book, embroidered birth samplers, and spent 35 days cruising the Mediterranean. She thinks too fast and talks too much. Sometimes she is clearly too enthusiastic for other people’s preferences. The written word has always been her passion.