BAPA History: The Historic Districts 

By Carol Flynn 

The Beverly Area Planning Association (BAPA) has been involved in many successful initiatives during its 75 years as a grassroots community organization. On the list of accomplishments is the establishment of the four historic districts in Beverly/Morgan Park.  

The historic districts mainly celebrate the architecture of the area. In an article from June 4, 1995, the Chicago Tribune described Beverly/Morgan Park as an “outdoor museum of architectural styles.” No individual house quite reaches “world-class landmark status,” according to the Tribune, but due to the variety of styles, “it is, rather, the collective visual richness of Beverly/ Morgan Park that makes these neighborhoods a treat to visit and a delight in which to live.”  

Those styles include Italianate, Georgian, Queen Anne, Tudor, Mediterranean, Prairie School, Chicago bungalow, and many more, making this community one of Chicago’s “architectural high points – both literally and figuratively,” according to the Tribune.   

The first district formed was the Ridge Historic District, approved in 1976. This district is listed on the National Register of Historic Places, which is operated by the National Park Service. It is one of the largest urban historic districts in the country. 

BAPA collaborated with the Ridge Historical Society (RHS) and Paul E. Sprague and associates to establish the Ridge Historic District. Sprague was the director of the Illinois Historic Structures Survey from 1971 to 1975. He and his staff worked with the state to develop historic districts, and they proposed that the Ridge area be considered.  

Staff and volunteers from the three groups drove the streets of Beverly/Morgan Park, identifying important properties and determining the boundaries of the district. According to Susan Karr of Sprague’s staff, who spearheaded the project, the section that was decided upon “provided a cohesiveness and continuity among the buildings,” although it was acknowledged that there were homes of historic value in other parts of the community as well.  

Sixty-two buildings were identified as “sites and structures of special significance” for inclusion on the application. Some were important for architectural significance, such as those designed by Frank Lloyd Wright, and some captured the history of the area, such as the Dr. William H. German House on Prospect Avenue, built for the village of Morgan Park’s first physician.  

Within a few years of establishing the national district, attention was turned to recognizing and protecting certain areas and structures as Chicago Landmark Districts, through the City of Chicago Landmarks Commission. In 1981, two districts were approved.  

The first is the Longwood Drive District, which includes the buildings on the 9800 to 11100 blocks of Longwood Drive, on the 10200 to 10700 blocks of Seeley Avenue, and on the cross streets. Many of Beverly/Morgan Park’s prominent buildings, from architecture and historic perspectives, are on these blocks, including the area’s most recognized landmark, the Givins Beverly Castle.  

The second is the Walter Burley Griffin Place District on the 1600 to 1800 blocks of West 104th Place. This district contains the largest concentration of Prairie School-style houses in Chicago, many of which were designed by architect Walter Burley Griffin. The exteriors show Griffin’s distinctive approach, a rustic appearance of wood trim against stucco walls, with each house having distinctive features in their siding, roofs, and porches. The houses were built between 1910 and 1917.  

All of the buildings in the Chicago Landmark Districts are also in the Ridge Historic District, but the city’s recognition confers more protection for a structure. Alteration and demolition permits for buildings with Chicago Landmark status undergo review and approval by the Landmarks Commission.  

The third Chicago Landmark District, established in 1995, is the Beverly/Morgan Park Railroad Stations District. Included in this district are five existing train stations along the Metra Rock Island commuter line at 91st, 95th, 99th, 107th, and 111th Streets, built between 1889 and 1945. This is considered a “thematic-style” district, that is, the buildings are connected to each other by their common purpose, not geographical closeness.  

The train stations share the scale, materials, and style of architecture of the surrounding residential buildings. Interest in saving them started in 1976 when the 91st Street station needed restoration. Railroad consultants recommended that it would be cheaper to build a new station in colonial style than to restore the old one. In stepped Paul E. Sprague once again, who pointed out that George Washington wasn’t connected to developing the Ridge.  

“These are fine, picturesque buildings which can become attractive visual elements in the urban landscape if properly restored,” wrote Sprague, as quoted in the Chicago Tribune; “To tear down these living reminders of our genuine past and replace them with phony colonial imitations of a past that never existed here smacks of delusions worthy only of the Disney World mentality.” 

The 91st Street station was saved, and the state even found money to help restore the buildings. That the stations were contributing structures to the Ridge Historic District worked in their favor.  

Buying into a historic district isn’t for everyone, as some owners and developers don’t want to deal with the rules and restrictions that govern historic properties. However, the Beverly/Morgan Park community owes its charm and uniqueness to the variety of architecture styles and the way the residential areas were laid out more than 100 years ago.  

BAPA’s mission is to sustain and enhance Beverly Hills/Morgan Park as the “Village in the City” and the historic districts were established to help preserve that ambience. The BAPA website (bapa.org/outreach/historic-district/) includes resources to help owners of historic properties. 

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