urban_renewal (2007-15)

Three cheers for diversity in Parkridge

1710 Washington Ave.

Cookie-cutter Nation

by Matt Edens

Years ago, back in the days before everyone had cell phones, I remember a maddening afternoon driving around one of those mid-'80s subdivisions off Middlebrook. I don't remember exactly where I was, nor did I know then. Didn't matter, since I was supposedly dropping off a friend at his sister's house. Trouble was, he didn't know exactly where he was either, having only been there once before.

He'd forgotten the address, and the subdivision street names all followed the same theme, so that was little help either. Worse, we quickly realized that the entire subdivision was the same three houses over and over. Sure, the plans of some were flipped, so that they mirrored one another, and a few either had the dormered bonus room over the garage, or didn't, but it was the same three houses over and over. If I recall, we had to find a pay phone for my friend to call his sister.

The same sort of repetition repeats itself in suburban subdivisions all across the country, particularly in low to mid-priced "production" subdivisions. In the pricier developments, the homes may not be duplicates of one another, but all the homes on a given lane, drive or court will typically only vary from one another by a few degrees. They'll all be roughly 1800-sq.-ft. vinyl ranchers with a one-car garage or, two stories and 3,000-sq.-ft. with brick on the front and vinyl wrapped around with a two-car garage, or 5,000-square-foot all-brick McMansions with a three-car garage and optional club membership--whatever fits the development's particular "price point."

Now, I can't really criticize the carbon-copy house plans, seeing as I once lived in a 100-year old home in Parkridge whose plan was once marketed across the country via mail order. Indeed, while I've never come across a duplicate of our old house, several others on the street, Washington Avenue, have twins across the country--including some that no longer stand. "Rosemont", the second house George Barber built for himself in Parkridge, was torn down in the early '80s, but there's a double in the small town of Eutaw, Ala. (It recently sold on eBay.)

But if you drive down Washington Avenue, you'll notice quite a few bungalows and small Queen Anne cottages mixed in among the big Victorians. This roughly 1,300-sq.-ft. bungalow at 1710 Washington, for instance, is tucked between two George Barber-designed Victorians twice its size. Diversity is what Parkridge is all about: the people, the architecture, the redevelopment. Some homes have been stunningly restored. Some, like this one, are still fixer-uppers.

Peel off the vinyl, put those porch posts back, and pull up the carpet inside over the hardwood (the interior also features French doors and a living-room fireplace flanked by bookcases, a standard Arts and Crafts detail) and you've got a historic home every bit as beautiful as any big, fussy Victorian. Or, since this place is in pretty solid shape as is, you can simply get a modest home at a modest price.

1710 Washington Ave.