Multifamily Architectural Styles

Brick & Stone 2-4 Flat c.1920

The good news about multifamily housing in Gladstone Park is that there is an embarrassment of riches when it comes to different choices at various prices. These range from rental apartments to two-flats to one floor of a two-story vintage house to senior suites. In addition, some investment-owned condos are rented out. The bad news is that so many people seek out these competitively-priced units in the community that they often get snapped up within a day or two of being advertised.

Is that because, in summary, gushes about rental housing in the greater Jefferson Park area including Gladstone Park by describing the location as a “….family-friendly neighborhood…[with] tree-lined streets, lush parks, and vast wooded areas [that provide it] with a pervasive sense of natural beauty [while at the same time] bustling Milwaukee Avenue features a slew of stores, restaurants and businesses…quick access of public transportation…and the landmark Copernicus Civic and Cultural Center [which] contributes an international flair…?” Perhaps.

Or do the attributes of Gladstone Park’s multifamily housing simply travel by way of mouth?

Whichever it is, prospective clients will find most rental units in the community are located in vintage buildings that, although they have in large part been thoroughly modernized, can’t help but ooze with character and charm. People new to the area who want to live and work in a major city like Chicago are often stunned to find that one- and sometimes two-bedroom units of this type are still available in Gladstone Park in 2021 for less than $1,000 a month. Of course, the pandemic at first drove prices down as people left urban areas in droves. But when things started returning to normal, prices went back up again and then some.

Small vintage apartment buildings, particularly in the southern and northern parts of the neighborhood closer to the commercial areas, often stand on corners where they anchor blocks of single-family homes. This ensures a comfortable intermix of housing choices on these streets with plenty of free street parking for tenants, almost all permit free. Although there are some larger vintage apartment buildings (including a few U-shaped courtyard buildings), most of these are no more than three stories in height with 12 or fewer apartments. All are small enough to be their own communities.

Newer apartment buildings tend to be located on Gladstone Park’s three main business corridors of N. Elston, N. Milwaukee, and N. Northwest Highway. The largest apartment complex in the neighborhood, although not a new one by any means, is the six-story 81-unit Senior Suites of Jefferson Park on N. Northwest Highway. This is by far the tallest building in the entire community with more than triple the total number of units than any other.

During the 1970s and 1980s when it was financially advantageous to do so, some multifamily properties were converted to (for-sale) condominiums, giving a different option to those who want to own their own property but without the same level of maintenance as they’d have with single-family houses. These are not only in former apartment buildings, but also in some two- to four-flats, including half-houses. Because some of these former apartments, two- or-four-flats or two-family houses are owned by investors, their units are sometimes found on the rental market. While owning a condo costs about the same as renting, resale values are not nearly as lucrative as those of single family homes.

The hottest multi-family properties are undoubtably the numerous two- to four-flats in Gladstone Park and prices have risen according to demand. Many of these are three-flats in vintage two-story structures with raised basements with a dwelling unit on each floor. While the majority of these two- to four-flats are located on major roads such as N. Central and N. Elston, some anchor corners of single-family blocks and others dot the neighborhood in unexpected places. Some of the two- to four-flats date back to the 1920s and 1930s, but the great majority in Gladstone Park were built from the 1950s to the 1970s in mid-century brick-and-stone construction with sleek lines, glass block windows, and flat-roofed, angled entrances. Regardless of how many flats they contain, they are all on their own lots with treed and flowered front yards and grassy backyards with patios, BBQs and room for dogs to run and children to play, one of the many reasons they are so popular. Residents who cannot afford to buy can have nearly the same kind of living experience renting one of these flats as owning their own home. It’s no wonder some move in and never leave, providing investors with a very stable rental basis.

Unlike elsewhere in the city where increasing economic pressure has led to the demolition of untold numbers of two- to four-flats for more lucrative development opportunities, Gladstone Park has been able to keep its large stock of two- and four-flats relatively healthy. But as investors have recently shown more interest in teardowns of the smaller buildings so that they can build bigger apartment housing for more return on the dollar, things are starting to change. While only a handful of multifamilies were built in Gladstone Park during the late 20th and early 21st Centuries, demand for rental units in the neighborhood is again increasing as developers send out feelers for upzoning with taller, denser apartment buildings. Even though there are still vacant and underutilized tracts of land on the community’s commercial corridors available for purchase for these purposes, the close-knit community retains a fierce opposition to such building plans if they are proposed for single family residential areas that clash with the character and values of Gladstone’s low-rise landscape. Residents also demand tenant parking be fully addressed, as they are not willing to give up the un-Chicago-like convenience they uniquely have with free (nonmetered), abundant street parking on unimpeded roadways.

Gladstone Park is well aware of the benefit of supporting its affordable two- and four-flats, the advantages of which are fully supported by research. DePaul University’s extensive housing studies before the pandemic revealed that 34% of rental units throughout Chicago that cost $900 or less a month were in two- to four-unit buildings, as discussed in Housing advocates push to preserve two-flats in Chicago by Elvia Malagón, Chicago Sun-Times, July 16, 2021. Not only have two-flats been identified as the most affordable units for renters, but they also have been pegged as a major entry point for first-time home buyers, as discussed by Adam Rubin of the Chicago Architectural Center in the article. People who would not otherwise have had the chance to move up into the world of homeownership can purchase a two-flat, living in one unit while renting out the other to pay for the mortgage. Buying such buildings are also key for allowing owners to build personal financial security through home equity, giving them a path in which to lift entire families as they pass the homes down as sources of intergenerational wealth. And they can do it all a heck of a lot cheaper in Gladstone Park.

Meanwhile, some older German-, American-, and English-style homes also offer two- to four-flat living, whether originally built as such or later converted to two or more units. From the street these are often indistinguishable from single-family houses except for the extra mailboxes on the porch.

The Gladstone Park community feels fortunate in being able to maintain a welcoming nature to residents of all income groups through its abundant affordable housing. Having perhaps more two- to four-flats than any other subcommunity of Chicago of its size has allowed the community to expand in diversity…at least for those willing to make the trek 10 to 11 miles north and west of the Loop. The Hispanic population of Jefferson Park (of which the community is a part) has grown from 11.1% in the year 2000 to 21.5% by 2010 to 24.7% by 2019 according to the community surveys the Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning issued in 2021. (The same study found 15.6% of households in the neighborhood had incomes under $25,000 with another 16.9% between $25,000 and $49,999.) Gladstone Park also embraces its traditional Polish immigrant population, as well as other groups from Eastern Europe. The community more recently welcomed the Chicago Mosque (in a former Lutheran Church) and the Chicago Yemsrach (Ethiopian) Evangelical Church in a former Methodist Church. So when developers try to get their big building proposals approved by politicians by promoting the false narrative that the community is against them because they’re discriminatory and don’t want affordable housing, Gladstonians find it disheartening.

When you look at the photographs of Gladstone Park’s wide variety of multifamily housing opportunities, you will notice that most of them were built during America’s boom years. There are many Dutch colonial houses, brick-and-stone 2/4 flats, and three-story apartment buildings, for example, from the Roaring 1920s when the American economy was flourishing. Many mid-century two- and four-flats were built during the 1950s and 1960s when times were also good.

When looking at the photos of multifamily offerings, check them out for similar architectural features as seen on single-family houses from the same time frame. Those built during the bungalow era also feature brick façades of intricate colors and patterns with limestone or ceramic ornamentation, clay tile roofs or flat ones with decorative parapet elements, arched doors, window boxes, and elliptical basement windows. Midcentury buildings tend to be sleeker with interesting blends of brick and fieldstone materials with glass block windows.

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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