My Great-Grandfather: A Bungalow Architect
Christine Kale Corcoran is the married mother of a second-grader and three teenagers, holds a position in the logistics industry, and runs her own skincare product business on the side. On top of all that, she has been researching her family history for the past 18 years and is in the process of putting together a hardcover book about her great-grandfather who was a prominent Chicago Bungalow architect. “I’m just a mom who likes to research her family history!” she said.
The book, which is almost done, tells the story of her great-grandparents, Andrew E. & Ulrika Olson Norman, and highlights Andrew’s early talents in woodcarving and his later talents in architectural design. Born in 1860 in Värmland, Sweden as the seventh child of nine, Andrew immigrated to Brooklyn, New York at the age of 20. He worked as a cabinetmaker, making use of the woodworking skills he developed as a young boy in Sweden. After six months, he made his way to Ishpeming, Michigan where he worked as a foreman in a furniture factory, and in his spare time, entered his woodcarvings into competitions—winning the top prize on at least two occasions. Ishpeming is also where he met Ulrika Olson, a native of Älvsborg (formerly Dalsland), Sweden. They were married two years later in 1882.
Chris described her book as “a tribute to the immigrant’s dream of freedom and opportunity during turn-of-the-century America.” In 1933, about a year before his death at the age of 74, Andrew E. Norman penned his memoirs entirely in Swedish in which he wrote: “We thank God for the good, even though it has, most of the time, been kind of little for us. But, if we would have been millionaires and the love had flown from us, how cold it would have been on this earth for [our] children and friends and for us.” Despite being nearly penniless at death, Andrew, with Ulrika at his side, lived a purposeful life. “When I visited his gravesite in Rosehill Cemetery,” Christine explained, “I was shocked to discover that he did not have a headstone or any grave marker of any kind! This fueled my resolve to bring him into the spotlight and to give credit where credit is due!”
Andrew, Ulrika, and their ten children moved to Chicago in 1887 where Andrew became a naturalized citizen and embarked on his architectural career. From 1900 to 1930, during the “Bungalow Boom” period in Chicago, Andrew designed and built hundreds of bungalows, larger homes, small apartment buildings, and general use buildings. Since both his office and his home (a Victorian house at 1754 West Granville Avenue) were located in Edgewater, most of the buildings he designed were on the north side of the city in areas such as Edgewater, Uptown, Norwood Park, and West Ridge.
His bungalow designs greatly vary, showing a lot of creativity and experimentation. Among them are “jumbo bungalows” like 1718 West Gregory Street built in 1925 in Edgewater, polygonal-front bungalows like 6524 North Artesian Avenue built in 1923 in West Ridge, and atypical front-gable bungalows like 2115 West Morse Avenue also built in 1923 in West Ridge.
At least two of the larger homes (or home additions) Norman designed are on the National Register of Historic Places: a 1902 foursquare at 2430 North Kedzie Avenue in Logan Square, and a 1908 foursquare at 6337 North Hermitage Avenue in Edgewater which he built an addition to in 1925. He even designed ten or so Lutheran churches including Ebenezer Swedish Lutheran (1650 West Foster Avenue) and Unity English Lutheran (1212 West Balmoral Avenue) in Edgewater, and Concordia Swedish Lutheran (3855 North Seeley Avenue) in North Center.
Before he decided to devote most of his time to his architectural career in 1900, Andrew received awards for several woodcarvings that were shown at the Chicago World’s Columbian Exposition in 1893 and at San Francisco’s California Midwinter Exposition in 1894. His masterpiece was “Landing of Columbus,” a piece that took over a year to intricately carve from a single piece of boxwood. It received the honor of being displayed in the Swedish pavilion at the Chicago World’s Columbian Exposition in 1893.
The carving—as well as countless other heirlooms such as medals, ribbons, blueprints, photographs, articles, and furniture—were preserved and passed down through Christine’s family. “Swedes were very good record-keepers,” Chris commented, “It did help that our family kept good records and heirlooms to connect with the re-search and stories.” When Chris began her research in 1998 during the infancy of family genealogy sites like Ancestry.com, she did most of her research by mailing out requests for copies of records and documents, and by visiting public and university libraries, LDS Family History Centers, the Newberry Library in Chicago, and even the National Archives in Washington, D.C. Research became much easier as Ancestry.com evolved. For those beginning to research their family history, Chris recommends starting there after talking with older generations in the family.
Chris’s book--“the culmination of an 18-year labor of love” as she called it--will be a compilation of biographies, historic photographs and documentation, and Andrew’s translated memoirs. “Originally, I had planned to just produce it for myself and my immediate family. After further thought, I plan to make it available to anyone else who wants to purchase a copy,” Chris said. About what her book means to her and her family, she said: “It’s important to me to be able to share this work with my children and to leave a legacy that they will be able to share with theirs. I’m also proud to be able to have honored our family this way and to share my work with aunts, uncles and cousins.”