1932 California
1932 California

1932 N. California

The Humboldt Park Residence Association

In the early 1870s, German-born banker Henry Greenebaum and his investors formed the Humboldt Park Residence Association and bought up 80 acres of cornfield farmland bounded by North, California, Armitage and Humboldt just north of Humboldt Park. Greenebaum was a popular leader in the German Jewish community: a businessman, philanthropist, 6th Ward alderman and member of the West Chicago Park Commission which built and opened Humboldt Park in 1869. Greenebaum obtained a commitment from the Atlantic & Pacific Railroad to add a commuter station on the Bloomingdale freight line (now the 606) at California to serve the new neighborhood by four trains a day connection to workplaces in downtown Chicago.

Humboldt Park Residence Association

Section of tall classified ad announcing Humbold Park Residence Association, June 17, 1872

Investors who bought shares in the Humboldt Park Residence Association were allowed to bid on lots in the subdivision at auction. The organization invested profits from the sales in street improvements and offered cash prizes to landowners who built houses soon on the lots to encourage home owners rather than real estate speculators. Greenebaum built and sold four houses on North Ave across from the park to start the project. Membership in the residence association offered more than the typical subdivision of privately-owned houses: it supported monthly concerts by the Humboldt Park Literary and Musician's Union and other social activities typical of a more upscale neighborhood.

Humboldt Park Residence Association

Though Greenebaum's bank collapsed in 1877, lots in the subdivision continued to sell with financing by other lenders such as the nearby John J. Rumpf Bank at 1624 N. California. By 1890 the 80 acres were largely filled in with residences built a variety of small contractors.

Carpenter Tyko Torkelson purchased the empty lot at 1930 N. California in September 1885 for $550. Two months later he purchased the lot next door at 1932 for the same price. Tyko had immigrated from Norway four years earlier at age 28 with his wife Anna and young children, as well as his brother and sister and her husband and daughter. Brother Bertel and brother-in-law Severin Imsland worked as carpenters as well. Perhaps they had spent the past four years apprenticing with other builders to learn the methods of balloon-frame construction which were developed in Chicago. Now the brothers and brother-in-law struck out on their own to build and sell houses. Whether they worked together or independently with their own work crews is not easy to determine, as they purchased and sold each property individually.

Property sales listed in the newspaper show how quickly the carpenters built the houses. On June 10, 1885, Severin purchased the empty lot at 1912 N. Francisco for $500. On August 31st, he sold the lot with a completed house on it to laborer William Briggs for $1,600. In December he purchased the empty lot at 1934 N. California just north of Tyko's two properties. About six months later he sold the property with a completed 2-story house to Lars Pedersen. Tyko had finished the house at 1932 N. California about a month earlier and sold it for $1,650 to the Humboldt Park Residence Association which would apparently act as a broker for the property.

Altogether Tyko, Bertel and Severin built a dozen or more workers cottages and a half-dozen frame 2-flats in the nearby area within about five years:

2121 N. Mozart - Bertel Torkelson - 1882 - 2-flat where Bertel & wife Mary and family lived until about 1890

1918 N. Francisco - Severin Imsland - 1885 - workers cottage, moved to back of lot in 1895

1912 Francisco

1912 N. Francisco

1912 N. Francisco - Severin Imsland - 1885 - workers cottage, sold to laborer William Briggs for $1,600

1910 N. Francisco - Severin Imsland - 1885 - workers cottage (demolished 2012)

1844 N. Richmond - Tyko Torkelson - 1885 - frame 2-flat

1846 N. Richmond - Tyko Torkelson - 1885 - workers cottage, sold to painter Stephen Lude for $1,500

1848 N. Richmond - Tyko Torkelson - 1885 - workers cottage

1850 N. Richmond - Tyko Torkelson - 1885 - workers cottage

1906 N. California - Tyko Torkelson - 1885 - 2-story frame cottage sold to cabinetmaker Herman Brindleson (no longer extant)

1930 N. California - Tyko Torkelson - 1885 - workers cottage

1934 N. California - Severin Imsland - 1885 - frame 2-story single-family house

1923 N. Mozart - Severin Imsland - 1885 - workers cottage sold to cabinetmaker Adolf Killingstad

2650 W. Cortland - Tyko Torkelson - 1886 - workers cottage, sold to cabinetmaker William Christianson for $1,350 (no longer extant)

1932 N. California - Tyko Torkelson - 1886 - workers cottage, sold for $1,650

1944 N. California - Bertel Torkelson - 1886 - 2-story frame cottage sold for $1,850 (no longer extant)

1916 N. Francisco - Severin Imsland - 1886 - frame 2-flat, sold to stairbuilder Peter Dahl for $1,500

1921 N. Mozart - Severin Imsland - 1886 - workers cottage, sold to cabinetmaker John Roemisch for $1,350

1943 N. Richmond - Tyko Torkelson - 1887 - frame 2-flat

1948 N. California - Severin Imsland - 1887 - sold to machinist Axel Nordstrom (no longer extant)

1941 N. Richmond - Tyko Torkelson - 1888 - frame 2-flat, sold for $1,800

1950 N. Richmond - Tyko Torkelson - 1888 - workers cottage

1952 N. Richmond - Tyko Torkelson - 1888 - workers cottage, sold to clerk Robert Widerborg for $1,600

1848 N. Richmond - Tyko Torkelson - 1888 - workers cottage, sold to watchmaker Anton Michelsen for $1,500

1920 N. Mozart - Tyko Torkelson - 1888 - workers cottage, sold to laborer Martin Frederickson for $1,400

1918 Mozart

1918 N. Mozart

1918 N. Mozart - Bertel Torkelson - 1889 - workers cottage, sold for $2,000

1922 N. Mozart - Tyko Torkelson - 1889 - frame 2-flat

1924 N. Mozart - Tyko Torkelson - 1889 - frame 2-flat, sold for $1,900

1929 N. Francisco - Tyko Torkelson - 1889 - frame 2-flat sold to laborer William Nichols for $1,800

1919 N. Francisco - Bertel Torkelson - 1890 - workers cottage, sold for $2,600

1929 N. Richmond - Bertel Torkelson - 1893 - frame 2-flat, sold to machinist August Hillquist for $2,050

2826 W. Armitage - Bertel Torkelson - 1896 - 2-story frame store and apartment, sold to baker Anton Petersen for $7,000

2822 W. Armitage - Bertel Torkelson - 1899 - 2-story frame store and apartment, sold for $3,800 (no longer extant)

Most of the workers cottages are similar in appearance. We might suspect that they all originally shared the same floor plan and finishes so that the Torkelsons could build them efficiently and sell them at an economical price. Over the years many have been raised, enlarged or modified in ways that make it difficult nowadays to determine exactly how similar the houses may have once been to each other.

The Torkelson and Imsland cottage construction endeavor did not last long. Tyko Torkelson was living in the cottage at 1930 N. California when his wife Anna died of tuberculosis in 1889. A year later his 13-year-old daughter passed away. In 1891 a legal notice states that he had been declared insane and the house sold to support his care in an institution. When he died a year later at age 40 his three children were adopted by Bertel and a neighbor.

Severin Imsland appears to have suffered tragedy as well. His wife and daughter disappear from records in the mid 1890s. At some point he returned to Norway, remarried and started a new family. Bertel and his wife Mary adopted Tyko's son Ole and had a son of their own also named Ole. Bertel continued building houses and even a few small storefronts on Armitage Ave nearby. He passed away at age 53 in 1909.

1896 Sanborn map

Detail of 1896 Sanborn Fire Insurance map, showing three houses (numbers 1041-1047) built by Severin Imsland and Tyko Torkelson in 1885-1886

24-year-old John Frank purchased the house at 1932 N. California from the Humboldt Park Residence Association in May 1886. John worked as a pastry chef at a bakery. In the fall he married Amelia Kussman and the couple had a son named Elmer at the house in July 1891. During renovations of the house in 2013, a school book with young Elmer's signature on it was found inside a wall of the house:

Appletons School Reader

Appleton's Second School Reader signed by Elmer Frank, circa 1900

The Frank family lived at 1932 for over three decades. In the 1900 census the family had taken in a 28-year old German-born carpenter as a boarder to help pay the mortgage. When young Elmer grew older he worked as an electrician and later as an appraiser for an automobile dealership on Michigan Avenue, but he continued living with his parents. They all moved to Oak Park in 1921 where Elmer later married and had a child.

The Franks sold the house to Anna Thime in 1921. For about a decade, the new owners rented the property to tenants. In the 1930 census Anne Duitscher was living here for $40 a month rent. Anne had immigrated from Sweden at age 19 in 1913, married a Dutch man and had two children. Now she was divorced and supported herself as a cleaner in a dentist office. She sponsored her younger brothers Ernest, Fred and Arthur Samuelson to immigrate to America one by one in the 1920s. They all shared the house with Anne's grade-school children George and Mildred, as well as a boarder.

Arthur Samuelson

Arthur Samuelson 1934 passport photo

At some point the Thime family built a stairwell to the attic and finished the upstairs with two bedrooms and a bathroom to provide space for more residents. During remodelling in 2013 some of the removed drywall had a manufacturing date from the 1920s stamped on the back, dating the time of construction. In about 1932 the Thime family lived in the house rather than renting it, and the property remained in the family until 1994.

Perhaps because the house has not had too many owners over its 135+ years, much of the original interior remains intact. A rear addition was added with more kitchen and bathroom space, but the walls of the front rooms and bedrooms have only been minimally changed.

First Floor Second Floor


Floor plans and isometric cutaway by Jordan Vela

A decorative plaster rosette on the ceiling in the front parlor most likely dates from the house's construction. Wood trim around the doorway frames also appears to have been unchanged from when the rooms were built.


Living Room


Photos: Tom Vlodek

Though much of the history of the house remains undocumented and elusive, the preserved details and remnants of past residents provide interesting clues to the construction and past of this cottage.

By Marcy Marzuki & Matt Bergstrom

Have you found an interesting story about the history of your workers cottage? Please share with us!