The Historic Chicago Greystone: A User's Guide for Renovating and Maintaining Your Home

By Griffiths, William Allen | Journal of the Illinois State Historical Society, Summer 2009 | Go to article overview

The Historic Chicago Greystone: A User's Guide for Renovating and Maintaining Your Home


Griffiths, William Allen, Journal of the Illinois State Historical Society


The Historic Chicago Greystone: A User's Guide for Renovating and Maintaining your Home. Eds. Dan Wheeler, James Wheaton, Tasneem A. Chowdhury. (Chicago: UIC City Design Center, 2008. Pp. 108. Illus. glossary. Paper $21.95.)

The Historic Chicago Greystone is a coffee table book for aspiring and actual Greystone homeowners. Apart from aspirants and owners, one can hardly see a wider authence for this book, which is unfortunate as it is beautifully presented and organized. In fact, the book is a celebration of some of the 100+ year-old architecture of Chicago and a refreshing celebration of the potential for urban renewal in a "throw-away society." That it also creates the potential for other municipalities to see the opportunity for re-making their communities is just one of the lessons of this book.

The Greystone was, and is, "the simple brick box, with a limestone façade, to give it more dignity and presence along the street, "nothing more than a set of worker's cottages, somewhat expanded in size, piled one on top of the other to form a multi-storey building." These buildings were erected between the Chicago World Fair of 1893 and World War I and were rented to Chicago's working class and their families. One would question as to why building owners would build these extremely solid structures for Chicago's workers and, here, it is explained that "financial security and upward economic mobility" followed the "rental income" and over time "real estate appreciation. . . increased their (the owner's) net worth." (p.8) It gives an answer but not the initial motivation for such granthose and luxurious, for the time, construction.

Split thematically, The Historic Chicago Greystone takes us from the dilapidated image of the building through investigation into the various means of renovation to a photograph of the completed building, but it does not end there. Assessments of the potential building includes the "maintainer," "fixer-upper," "rehabber," and "total gut." Once the level of necessary work has been determined, the editors take us through many of the eventualities of the remodeling illustrating their commentary with clear layout and isometric drawings and photographs. We are taken on a journey through the physical rehab process: façade, opening up masonry walls, roofing, foundations, mechanical, electrical, and plumbing systems. Little, if any, of the actual refurbishment is left out, including ideas for the front and rear yards. …

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