ENGLISH STYLE: Tudors, Georgians, Victorians

Row of Brick English Tudors

Before Ludwig Mies van der Rohe took downtown Chicago by storm with his stripped down modernist mid-century buildings, there were English Tudors in Gladstone Park in all their decorative frill.

In architecture, timing is everything. During the first three decades of the 20th Century, the Volga Germans had been busily constructing their iconic Dutch Colonials in the southern part of the community while homegrown developers were simultaneously building ever-so-popular Bungalows. But when English Tudors started trending in the 1930s and 1940s, there were still many vacant lots in the central and northern parts of Gladstone Park. So when homebuyers coming out of the Great Depression were hankering for the status and wealth associated with the fancier details of Tudor Revivals — revived in the sense they were reimagined to suit modern times — that’s what got built in the community in such great numbers.

Imitating the sturdy wood-timbered buildings of Medieval England with their massive stone foundations and thick masonry walls, English Tudors in Gladstone Park were reinterpreted in the typical Chicago way. Few retained the original dark wood half timber look over stucco. Instead, their façades were constructed of multi-colored brick, often in intricate patterns alternating with stone or ceramic accents. And rather than the typical narrow diamond- or rectangular-paned windows that kept a house dark inside, builders added imposing bay windows, sometimes under parapet roofs (flat structures with castle-like embellishments). Storybook models have fairytale features such as turrets, sweeping entries, and arched doors and windows. Fancier models have leaded art (stained glass) windows.

Perhaps the greatest practical appeal of the Tudors was their steeply-pitched roofs that provided more second story headroom than the 1-1/2 story hip-roofed bungalows that came before them. So even though many of the Tudors were built with two-bedroom main floor plans similar to those of bungalows, their taller roof profiles offered instant expansion room for additional bedrooms for growing families on their upper floors. Another advantage of the steep Tudor roofs was the fact that if a homeowner dormed out the roof on either or both sides of the house for more upper story headroom, it left the structural shape of the house’s streetscape view untouched, unlike that of bungalows whose lower slung hip roofs couldn’t hide such renovations.

Like on HGTV (Home & Garden TV), housing tastes then changed once more. After people in northwest Chicago got through the post WWII period of the late 1940s, they started to get tired of the Tudor’s emphasis on ornamentation and looked to more minimalist English-style Georgian Colonials. Architect T.C. Hughes expressed it well when he promoted the simple lines of the boxy Georgian Revivals as a cure for “jigsaw exteriors, overdone bungalows, and false gabled English” houses, according to Whet Moser in “The Undersung Hero of Chicago Architecture,” Chicago Magazine, Oct. 29, 2020.

Echoing the symmetry and proportion of ancient Greek and Roman architecture, the stately brick and stone Georgian house does not show up in as many numbers in Gladstone Park as the English Tudor that preceded it. Much of the community by then had already been built out, so Georgians were limited to areas where vacant lots still existed.

In reimagining the Georgian house for city-sized lots in Gladstone Park, builders chopped the width of typical designs in half, often relocating the front door that was originally in the center to one side. Once they had scrapped the English Colonial’s symmetry — perhaps its greatest hallmark — it was easy to disavow other traditional details such as big colonnaded porches. And instead of rectangular living room windows, many of them featured large bay windows of the type Chicagoans had gotten spoiled by with the English Tudors that had preceded them. They were not about to give up the additional light that they had depended upon to help them endure the long winters.

But it was structure of the Georgian floor plan that set that architectural style apart, ushering in a new way for families to live. Unlike the Dutch colonials, bungalows, and English Tudors built before them, its full two-story design located all bedrooms (and originally the only bath) upstairs. For the first time since the Victorian era, the main level of the house was reserved strictly for public rooms, isolating the bedchambers from view.

Which brings us back to the Victorians, the architectural style imported from mid- to late-1800s England when Queen Victoria ruled. They were the original houses of any substance built in Gladstone Park, thanks to the English who had been the first to settle in as homeowners in what had been Illinois’ Northwest Territory. But because there were few people of means living in our community 130 to 140 years ago when these homes were all the rage, only a handful of these ornate two- and three-story wood-framed houses with all their intricately-detailed porches, bays, and gingerbread trim were built. Of Gladstone Park’s Victorians that remain, it is noteworthy that at least two of them were built in the independent Town of Jefferson before Chicago brought it into the City along with 125 square miles of other outlying country villages in 1889.

Note that while most of the English Tudor, Georgian and Victorian style houses in Gladstone Park were built as single family dwellings, some have been converted into two- or three-flats financially structured as apartments, co-ops or condos. Since their status is often difficult to tell from the street, some multifamily homes may have inadvertently made it into this section instead of being more properly displayed in the Multifamily Architectural Styles photo section.

For more on how Gladstone Park’s standout stock of homes were built and serve to enhance residential life in the neighborhood, see Development and Vintage Home Living.

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