Remembering the Rise of West Lincoln Park!

Remembering the Rise of West Lincoln Park!

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Can you think of a Chicago neighborhood that started out as three sleepy parallel streets, each street uninterrupted by stops signs for a full quarter mile?  That is now home to an ex-race car driver?  That is bordered on one end with a High School and on the other end with an Elementary School?  That has one of the biggest single family homes in central Chicago?


Here’s a clue that should give it away! – that is home to a politically connected family that has hosted multiple Presidents at the house on the left on their visits to Chicago?




Yes, I am talking about the elegant addresses of Howe Street, Orchard Street, and Burling Street, running from Willow on the South to Armitage on the North.  These streets form the Western edge of what some call the Lincoln Central neighborhood of Lincoln Park.


The area started out with a majority of wooden frame homes, but in the last 15 to 20 years the trend is to go with ornate Limestone facades and increasingly ornate and elegant Italian design touches on homes that span 2, 3, and even 4 or more city lots!


Going way back, one can think of a few of the pioneers that led upscale rehab efforts to go farther and farther West from the Lake.  At the Southern end of the area you had Sam’s Liquors encamped at the corner of Halsted and North.  Does anyone remember when it was sort of “daring” to go out to Sam’s?


The Old Town School of Folk Music on Armitage was an early pioneer West of Halsted, the restaurant O Sole Mio along Armitage drew people to take a look, and of course when Steppenwolf decided on Halsted instead of River North for its new home the deal was practically sealed.


Here’s the Upscale Rehab Cookbook in a nutshell.  Let’s use 1916 and 1920 N. Burling as an example.  1920 N. Burling was rehabbed from a run down old frame cottage to an elegant, enlarged 4 bedroom home by a craftsmanlike owner who put in hand carved moldings and artistic mosaics of different colored woods in the hardwood floors. 

It sold for around $520,000 in 1991 or so.  At the time its neighbor to the South, 1916 Burling, had multiple apartments but the wind basically howled through the numerous ‘leaks’ in the walls and ceilings in the Winter.  Wouldn’t you know there was a fire at 1916 which made the home even more unlivable than it had been before.


Then along came Metzler/Hull, one of the first construction firms to enter the market for tearing down the frame houses and putting up four and five story urban mansions.  They wrote the early book on upscale Lincoln Park homes, and have built some of the most magnificent homes in town! 


Metzler/Hull bought the land and burned-out shell of 1916 Burling and then worked with the owners of 1920 to get a sign off on entryway easements so that the new home they planned for 1916 could be almost five feet wider than the normal zoning, giving 1916’s new Hospital Executive owner a larger home for entertaining than the old zoning would allow.

Being a little new at the game, (remember this was back in the ‘old’ days of 1992!), Metzler-Hull failed to realize that the heavy teardown machinery and excavation of 1916 Burling would expose the old turn-of-the-century flagstone foundation of 1920 Burling, and after thousands of dollars worth of tuckpointing and shoring up the 1920 neighbor’s foundation it was finally set straight again.  To say the least about the migratory rats who fled from 1916 and found a new home under 1920!

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Looking at 1920 Burling, a new set of owners came in and made even more improvements, then a another new set of owners came in.  But with prices for land skyrocketing in West Lincoln Park, even a nicely crafted frame house became less valuable than the lot on which it sat, another common occurrence in the heady days of the late 90’s and early 2000’s.  Up went the offer, down went 1920, mosaics and all, to be replaced by a new, beautifully built urban mansion.



Elsewhere along Burling a Software Executive built on 3 lots, a woman essentially living by herself built on 5 lots, and in penultimate fashion an Insurance executive has topped them all, building on six full lots, shown below.


We all joined in the fun!  A certain hard-working Real Estate Agent (that would be me!) listed two huge homes around 2004 in the 1800 block of Burling that seemed ill-fated from the start – a fellow agent was Tasered and robbed during a showing in one of them and a transformer on a utility pole exploded and set the telephone pole and back porches of several other homes on fire during an Open House cocktail party at the other!

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The old dollar-per-dog hot dog stand at Armitage and Burling is now an upscale Italian beef place, old smoke-filled Nick’s Tavern at Armitage and Halsted is now the slick Marqee Lounge, and one can pretty much count on one hand the number of old frame homes still remaining along all three streets!

I’m not saying that progress is bad, the new homes are truly stately and beautiful.  It will be interesting to see whether the trend towards larger homes continues as market conditions improve!


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  • Great post. Most of my friends think I'm making it up when I tell them that what is today the desired Lincoln Park neighborhood was considered no-mans-land in the late 70s and early 80s.

  • I'm all for progress, but a lot of these "mansions" are crap monstrosities. I personally miss the character of the old neighborhood. It's like class and taste went out the window with these new places.

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