The chain of events leading to the development of Irving Park began in 1843 when Major Noble purchased a 160-acre tract of land from Christopher L. Ward, upon which Noble established a farm. The boundaries of that farm today would be Montrose to the north, Irving Park to the south, Pulaski to the east and Kostner to the west. Major Noble’s house on the east side of Elston just south of Montrose doubled as the Blackthorn Tavern, serving travelers coming to and from the City of Chicago along the North West Plank Road (Elston). After many years of successful farming, Noble sold the farm and retired to McHenry County. Four men from New York – Charles T. Race, John S. Brown, Adelbert E. Brown and John Wheeler – purchased the farm in 1869 for $20,000.
Shortly thereafter, they purchased an additional 80-acre tract immediately south of the Noble farm from John Gray for $25,000. This parcel, bounded by Irving Park Road on the north, Grace on the south, Pulaski to the east and Kostner to the west, was part of his original 320 acre farm. The intention of the men was to continue farming, but after seeing the success of suburban communities which had recently opened for settlement, they decided to subdivide their land and create an exclusive suburb seven miles from the city.
An agreement was reached with the Chicago & North Western Railroad allowing their trains to stop in Irving Park if the developers would build a station. This was done and the station, still at the same location, continues to serve neighborhood residents today. The original name chosen for the suburb was “Irvington” after author Washington Irving, but it was discovered that another town in Illinois had already used the name, so the name “Irving Park” was adopted.
The original developers built substantial mansions along Irving Park Boulevard between 1870 and 1874. All have since been razed, with the exception of the Stephen A. Race mansion, which was moved at the turn of the century and now stands at 3945 N. Tripp. Another early home, built for Erastus Brown, father of John and Adelbert, also remains at 3812 N. Pulaski, although greatly altered. The Chicago fire of 1871, which was watched from the cupolas of several area homes, brought an influx of new residents who built many unique but slightly less pretentious homes.
In 1872, the area’s first church, the Dutch Reformed Church and Society of Irving Park, was constructed on the southeast corner of Keeler and Belle Plaine. It remained the only house of worship for 13 years. The building was completely remodeled in 1908, according to the plans by noted architect Elmer C. Jensen. By the turn of the 20th century, congregations representing the Episcopalian, Methodists, Disciples of Christ, Catholics and Baptists had been established.
The 1880’s found residents beginning to miss some of the advantages they had left behind in the city and in 1889, the community, along with the rest of Jefferson Township, was annexed to Chicago. Water piped to the area from Lake Michigan, the establishments of a Fire Department and streetcar service along major streets were some of the improvements to occur during the first years after annexation.
Over 200 homes had been built in the original subdivision within the first 20 years. Several additions to Irving Park had greatly increased the 240 acre-suburb. Grayland, which was opened for settlement in 1874, extended west from Kostner to Cicero, between Irving Park and Addison. Subdivided by John Gray, the first Republican Sheriff of Cook County, on a portion of his extensive farm, it grew around the Grayland station of the Milwaukee Road Railroad, which is still in active use today. Gray’s first home built in 1856 at 4362 W. Grace survives today in a remarkable state of preservation and is the oldest house in Irving Park. Gray later built a house on the northwest corner of Milwaukee and Lowell to reflect his newfound wealth, and it was a community showplace. Indoor plumbing with gold fixtures, exotic woods and expensive marbles highlighted his home. It was razed about 1915.
Three subdivisions east of Pulaski led to the development of the area in the late 1890’s. West Walker is located between Irving Park Road and Montrose and is characterized by large single family homes in late Victorian, Foursquare and Revival styles. The area south of Irving Park Road was developed by Samuel Gross and was known as the “Gross Boulevard Addition to Irving Park.” The housing stock is similar to that of West Walker. The section between Addison and Avondale was developed as the “Villa Addition to Irving Park” and is comprised of many unique Craftsman and Bungalow style homes fronting on boulevard style streets. The Villa is an official Chicago Landmark District.
In 1910, the residents of Irving Park established their own park district and created eight local parks, the largest of which is Independence Park. Considered one of the finest landscaped neighborhood parks in the City for many years, Independence Park also served as the site of local Fourth of July celebrations. This annual event featured a parade down Irving Park Boulevard involving hundreds of children, athletic events, a band concert and an award-winning display of fireworks. In 1933, the Irving Park Park District merged with the Chicago Park District. Irving Park continued to grow steadily during the first decades of the twentieth century. Several large apartment buildings featuring elaborate wrought iron fencing, fountains and terra cotta details were constructed primarily north of Irving Park Boulevard.
The Depression and war years saw many of the larger homes converted into rooming houses and two-family homes. The prosperity following the war was diminished when it was learned the Northwest (Kennedy) Expressway would cut directly through the heart of Irving Park. This resulted in the displacement of many residents and loss of many homes and businesses. During the 1960’s, apartment buildings replaced several larger homes along Keystone, Kedvale and Keeler north of the expressway.
The early 1980’s saw a rebirth for Irving Park as a wider audience discovered the beautiful homes and rich history of the area. The Irving Park Historical Society was formed in 1984 to help preserve this heritage and the irreplaceable architecture which had survived since the earliest days of our history. Since that time, many homes have been restored and many more restorations are in progress. Many of the homes built in the 1870’s and 1880’s survive today. A survey by volunteers of the Irving Park Historical Society documented several hundred buildings in use which predate 1894. Some remain intact, some have been slightly modified and others retain just a hint of their former Victorian splendor.
The combined efforts of the residents of Old Irving Park are helping to return our community to its original glory and to what has been referred to as “a suburb within the city”.
— courtesy of the Irving Park Historical Society.