Chicago Workers Cottage Initiative


Cottages in South Chicago

The Chicago Workers Cottage Initiative completed a survey of workers cottages in the South Chicago neighborhood in the summer of 2022 with the assistance of students from the Historic Preservation Studio Chicago Studies Urbanism Lab at the University of Chicago and CWCI team members Mary Lu Seidel and Jack Rocha.

During our survey, we sat down with Sylvia Ortega, who has lived in South Chicago since the 1960s. First living with her parents and family in a workers cottage and then moving into a cottage 3-flat on the same block when she married and began raising a family of her own.

South Chicago

Sylvia recalls fondly the camaraderie and community that abounded when the steel mills were operational. Nighttime looked like daytime in The Bush when the steel mill furnaces roared and glowed, lighting up the nearby neighborhood. She joked that you could play volleyball in the middle of the night with no other lighting but that which came from the steel mills.

South Chicago

Sylvia's snapshots capture memories of kids playing in the backyard with the mills in the background, kids and family on streets lined with workers cottages large and small. We are grateful to Sylvia for sharing her family photos and stories of life in The Bush.

South Chicago

Photos courtesy Sylvia Ortega

We hope that bringing attention to the historic character of workers cottages will encourage homeowners to preserve the features which connect these houses to the past. In the coming months we hope to speak to neighborhood groups to share the findings of our survey and learn more about the unique history of McKinley Park's workers cottages.

Read more about the CWCI survey of South Chicago workers cottages

Logan Square Workers Cottage Walking Tour

Our first-ever free workers cottage walking tour in October was a great success. After an article about the event was published in Block Club, we added a third tour date to allow more people to attend. The three weekend tour days were blessed with beautiful fall weather just right for a neighborhood ramble.

Workers Cottage Walking Tour

CWCI team member Matt Bergstrom lead three tours of 20-some attendees on each weekend. The tours circled several blocks just north of Logan Square Boulevard with stops to talk about the development and history of cottages in the neighborhood, with stories of some colorful residents who lived in these houses long ago.

For those of you who were not able to attend, we will offer the tour again next year. Stay posted to a future issue of the Cottage News for the future tour dates.

McKinley Park Cottages Presentation

The Chicago Workers Cottage Initiative spoke at the McKinley Park Development Council monthly meeting in November. We presented an overview of the spring survey of workers cottages in McKinley Park conducted by School of the Art Institute grad students. It was our first chance to present our findings to a public audience and spotlight what makes the historic cottages in this neighborhood unique and worthy of preservation.

McKinley Pk Dev Council Meeting

One goal of the presentation was to gather feedback from neighbors and homeowners about the specific housing needs in their area through a printed and online survey. The meeting was followed by informal discussion with neighbors about their homes and experiences.

If you live in a workers cottage in the McKinley Park area, please take a moment to share your thoughts with us on how to help workers cottages and improve housing in the neighborhood.

Fall Farewell

The Chicago Workers Cottage Initiative bids a fond adieu to these houses which were home to Chicago families for 120 years or more, but were recently demolished. Without knowing more specific details about each property, we might suppose that some of the houses in these photos may have been in disrepair or justified replacement, but our research has shown that the majority of workers cottages demolished are in good shape and are torn down simply for economic reasons. Most of the houses pictured will be replaced by larger single family homes or luxury condominiums which are far less affordable than the houses they replaced.

Fall 2022 Teardowns

Images from Cook County Assessors Office via Chicago Cityscape

Houses in the News

Sociologist David Schalliol After Demolition photo essay shows the stark differences between teardowns on the North and South Sides of Chicago. Block Club explains the background of the project

The compelling documentary Southeast: A City Within A City tells the history of the challenges facing the South Chicago neighborhood through film, song and story-telling. Support the filmmakers to complete the film and bring it to a wider audience!

Help the Chicago Workers Cottage Initiative

Cottage Video

Do you have experience editing video? The Chicago Workers Cottage Initiative could use your help editing footage into a short video documentary for our website! Please contact us if you are able to lend a hand.

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