The Chicago Public Library offers access to the online scanned archives of the Chicago Tribune to all cardholders via ProQuest. We made use of our access to this treasure trove of information when researching our series on the history of renters’ rights and for our history of Moving Day. I recently had to renew my library card, which brought me back to the Trib archive but this time I wasn’t looking at the articles. Much like the Super Bowl, I was there for the ads, specifically the “For Rent” section of the classifieds.
News articles record the major events of history, but to find out about the daily lives of individuals the classified ads can sometimes be more important. Ads reflect the wants and needs of a given generation. Watching videos of old TV ads from the 1980s can be a real trip down memory lane for Gen X folks. But today I’ll be taking you back in time almost two centuries, starting with the earliest classifieds I could find, cherry picking through the decades before the fire in 1871. All ads included below are transcribed verbatim from the Tribune archive at ProQuest, including capitalization and abbreviations. Continue reading Classified History: Housing Ads in Chicago, 1849-1871
In January 2016, local Chicago newspapers ran the obituary of a Chicago landlord. His name was Jay Michael and he had died at the age of 34 after a long battle with non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. He had made his name by investing in unused real estate in struggling neighborhoods. In October 2018, local Chicago newspapers ran the obituary of another Chicago landlord. His name was Louis Wolf and he had died at the age of 94 after years of failing health. He had also made his name by investing in unused real estate in struggling neighborhoods.
Michael’s obituary contains words such as “brainchild,” “creative,” and “forward-thinking.” Wolf’s is peppered with more sinister terms: “cautionary,” “ruthless,” and always in the same sentence with his name, “notorious slumlord.”
Two famous figures in the local rental industry, of the same faith, race and gender, working in the same neighborhood. One, born into wealth in the 1980’s is praised as a hero, although not without his critics. The other, born into poverty in the 1920’s, is condemned as the “worst landlord in Chicago history,” but was also a proud grandfather who is remembered by those close to him as a quiet and kind mentor. What can we learn about being a landlord from the divide between the two? Continue reading Wolf and Jay: Two Landlords’ Approaches to a Troubled Neighborhood
Throughout history there have been any number of big ideas and discoveries that caused fundamental changes in human life worldwide. Nations have risen and fallen on the backs of these discoveries, from the wheel and the longbow to the airplane and nuclear fission. The Chicago apartment industry has also been visited by inventions that caused citywide changes to how we find, live in and leave rental housing. Today we’ll be looking at 10 of the most important of these innovations. Note that we will be skipping over some of the big ones that had a more global effect such as electricity and public transit. Rather we will be looking at far more specific moments in time that led to lasting changes in this particular industry.
1830: The Illinois-Michigan Canal
The Chicago as we know it starts here, with a federal grant from Congress to the state of Illinois to dig a canal between Lake Michigan and the Illinois River. The state created a commission, which thought that it would be a good idea to have a city at the east end of that canal. So the commission hired a fellow to plan out the city that would become Chicago, and told him to do it in the latest fashion, which was a grid style with blocks and, more importantly, alleys. Continue reading 10 Innovations That Changed the Chicago Apartment Industry in a Big Way
When a Chicago renter signs a lease or a lease renewal they usually receive a whole raft of additional disclosures. Lease packets in the modern era can include as much as 50 pages of disclosures about health issues ranging from radon to sprinkler systems to bedbugs. Back in the spring of 2016 we ran a long series on the history of one of those disclosures, the summary of the Chicago Residential Landlord-Tenant Ordinance. Today we will be discussing the history of another one, the lead-based paint disclosure.
Next to the CRLTO summary, lead-based paint disclosures are probably the most consistent inclusion in a Chicago lease packet. By federal law, they must be included with every lease and lease renewal in residential buildings constructed prior to 1978 with the exception of senior housing. Most renters will also be familiar with the booklet titled “Protect Your Family From Lead in Your Home,” which is published by the EPA in six languages and also must be included with every lease that requires a lead paint disclosure.
Benefits Outweighed Risks
Lead was known to cause severe health problems way back in the year 200 BCE. Descriptions of the effects of lead poisoning are found in medical texts dating back to the ancient Greeks, and reappear consistently from then on. Julius Caesar’s engineers advised against the use of lead pipes in the Roman aqueducts because of their harmful effects. But until the late 19th century, lead poisoning was common among heavy drinkers, painters, laborers, the military and high society women, all individuals who consistently and knowingly exposed themselves to high levels of the substance. Continue reading The History of the Lead-Based Paint Disclosure
A recent guest of mine in from out of town commented to me on the absence of trailer parks in the city. This remark brought to the forefront a topic that I’ve been meaning to discuss for some time.
Manufactured housing. Modular housing. Container homes. Mobile homes. They all have assorted differences but they have two things in common. The first is that they are constructed in factories somewhere other than the land they’re intended to occupy. The other is that they are very, very scarce on the ground in Chicago. In any other city a blog about rental housing would spend a whole lot of time talking about mobile home parks but we’ve barely touched on them at all because there’s really no overlap between mobile home renters and Chicago renters.
There is one mobile home park in Chicago. It’s located at 4000 E. 134th Street on the far south side smack up against the border of Indiana and it’s called Harbor Point Estates. There are plenty in the neighboring suburbs, though. In fact, one of the worst airplane crashes in Chicago history occurred in 1979 when a DC-10 taking off from O’Hare landed on a trailer park in Des Plaines, just a few miles from the airport.
The simple reason behind the absence of trailer parks in Chicago is something called “highest and best land use.” The more complicated reason is also “highest and best land use.” So of course we must explain things in more detail. Continue reading Why Are There No Mobile Home Parks in Chicago?