Tuesday, October 27

The Backstory (To blog, or not to blog, that is the question...)

Welcome to the Grove Avenue Bungalow.

I suppose I have two purposes for writing this blog. One is to add to the small but growing Internet knowledgebase of period home restoration. Here I can tell the story of how, with no previous experience, I managed to fix the place up without burning it down.

The other purpose is purely personal: keeping score, one project at a time.

So how did we arrive here?

Growing up, I'd always lived in modern houses. My childhood home was a three bedroom-two bath ranch style dwelling with sheetrock walls and carpeted concrete slab floors (they don't have basements where I grew up). It was built in 1969, and my parents bought it almost new that same year for around $20,000.

Here's a recent photo:

Ain't Google Street View grand? But that paint job is hideous.
The house definitely did not look like that when I lived there.

I lived in that house from a time before I can remember until I left for college. The house was nice enough, but it was relatively modern, and it had little character. My mother's beige carpets and bland danish modern furniture also did little to distinguish the interior.

Sometime during my teens, I discovered that old homes could be really neat places to live. I was introduced to this idea by This Old House on PBS. I'm not quite sure why, but I fell in love with the show and its depictions of the renovations of period homes. I still remember one particular series of episodes where they chronicled the restoration of an old house in Arizona that was built in the thirties. I think it may have been a southwestern prairie style bungalow, and it was a lovely home. At any rate, the seeds were planted, and from then on I always thought it would be neat to fix up and live in an old house.

After college, I lived in Atlanta. Atlanta has been referred to as the City in the Park, and it's a beautiful town. There are trees everywhere (except for Cobb County, which should be renamed Asphalt County, but that's another story).

The skyline of midtown Atlanta, taken from a vantage point in Piedmont Park.

Until I lived in Atlanta, I'd never seen a house whose lanscape incorporated most of the original forest.

A house I once stayed in, photo courtesy of Google Street View. Built in the seventies,
this residence is in a middle class subdivision in Sandy Springs.

For someone used to standard issue suburban lawns, this house was pretty impressive. In summer, you can hardly see your neighbors for the leaves on the trees.

In Atlanta, I lived in a series of apartments. One of the interesting things about that city is that if you ask around, it's very hard to find anyone who was actually born there. That's because most of the city's growth is recent. There's a lot of suburban sprawl comprised of subdivisions that were extruded overnight, vast apartment combines, and cookie cutter mini mansions. So everyone is from somewhere else, everyone lives in the suburbs, and while there are some nice old houses, the supply of them is rather small. They are mostly located in expensive old growth neighborhoods, and there are there are far fewer of them than in Chicago, where I live now.

Which brings me to the present. I came to Chicago for work a decade ago, and after an initial three year stay in an apartment complex, Tory and I decided it was time to stop wasting money on rent. So we spent six months looking around and checked out several houses, from stately old four-squares on the west side of Aurora to squat brick boxes built in the fifties in the heart of Oak Lawn. Finally, we found a bungalow in Berwyn and it was love at first site.

Berwyn is widely known for having the largest collection of Chicago-style bungalows in the nation.
Thousands of them were built during the 1920's and 30's as quality, affordable housing
for the middle class, and this is a purpose they still serve today.

Berwyn is an elevated train ride away from the heart of Chicago. Founded in 1908, the whole city is full of old prewar houses built on quiet, tree lined streets.

An early map of Berwyn, exact date unknown, but I'd assume it's from the turn of the century.
My house would be in the upper right hand corner, one street above Oak Park Avenue
and just to the left of 16th Street, but it hasn't yet been built.

We bought the Grove Avenue Bungalow eight years ago, and now I am finally starting to get serious about fixing it. So starts the blog. Read along with me, and see how I do.

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