The 8100 block of South Blackstone Avenue.
This summer, we were proud to successfully list our 15th Bungalow Historic District on the National Register of Historic Places. What does it mean to be a historic district? Great question. There are different kinds of historic districts designations, and they mean rather different things.
There are local designations and national designations. In Chicago, districts that have a local designation are called Chicago Landmark districts. Districts that are designated on a national level are listed in the National Register of Historic Places and referred to as "National Register districts." Individual buildings, monuments, and sites can also receive local and national historic designations, but for our purposes, we'll only be talking about districts. There are also additional levels of designation, but these are the two you hear about the vast majority of the time.
All of the Chicago Bungalow districts are listed in the National Register of Historic Places, which is a purely honorary designation that has some benefits without creating any barriers or restrictions. We have a Q&A section on the differences between National Register districts and local Chicago Landmark districts if you want to clear up some of the confusion that is often passed around through inaccurate stories in the media, community meetings, etc. We get that it can be easily confused, but the distinctions are significant, so it's worth a read!
Avalon Park Bungalows and History
Our latest National Register district is in Avalon Park, located on the southeast side of the city. The district is roughly bounded by E. 79th Street to the north, S. Harper Avenue to the east, E. 83rd street to the south, and S. Woodlawn Avenue to the west.
The area called Avalon Park was originally made up of a low-lying swamp on either side of what is now Stony Island Avenue. In the late 1880s, a section between 81st and 83rd Streets and Woodlawn and Dorchester Avenues was subdivided and nicknamed Pennytown, supposedly after a general store owner named Penny who sold homemade popcorn balls. This section makes up a large portion of the Avalon Park Bungalow Historic District.
The relative isolation of Avalon Park during these early years made it a convenient location for some industries and activities, but somewhat less desirable for developers. Local amenities included a contagious disease hospital and a garbage dump along 83rd Street. What is now the actual park in the area was then called Mud Lake, a popular spot for fishing and duck and rabbit hunting. Although the landscape discouraged early attempts at settlement, German and Irish railroad workers and mechanics employed in a nearby Pullman and Burnside decided to put down some roots in the northern section of town.
Annexation to Chicago happened in 1889, and by 1900, the 79th Street sewer was installed, the swamp was drained, and dwellings no longer needed to be built on top of posts(!). Shortly thereafter, gas lines, water mains, streets, and sidewalks made living considerably more pleasant, and the World's Columbian Exposition of 1893 helped stimulate some residential growth as well. During the first decade of the 20th century, numerous single-family homes came up, particularly between Stony Island and Cregier Avenues, 80th and 83rd Streets. At this point, community church members led an effort to change the name from Pennytown to something they felt was more inspiring. This effort was said to be led by a female pastor named Dr. Star, who in her younger years had been arrested in Pittsburgh for playing and singing in front of saloons, and who then went on to become a well-known temperance lecturer. It’s possible that the pastor came up with the name Avalon based on the Avalon suburb of Pittsburgh, from where she came, though most sources simply credit a desire to pay homage to the English Isle of Avalon, which while popcorn ball-less, is believed to be the burial place of King Arthur.
Between 1910 and 1918, brick Chicago bungalows began lining the streets of Avalon Park. In 1920, the population of Avalon Park was still under 3,000. Most of these residents were foreign-born, and about 10% were Swedish. Building continues steadily until around 1925 when many of the lots were already built on and construction slowed. Meanwhile, manufacturing had developed north of 87th Street along the railroad tracks and along South Chicago Avenue, making the area an island of single-family homes. By 1930, the population was three times what it was in 1920 at over 10,000. Many bungalows in the district were then inhabited by first- and second-generation Americans, their parents having emigrated from countries including Sweden, Ireland, Germany, Bohemia, Holland, Austria, Scotland, England, and Canada.
Occupations in the neighborhood varied, and while many worked for the railroads doing construction or administrative jobs, other careers included: physician, dentist, real estate agent, banker, policeman, salesman, housekeeper, insurance agent, machinist, engineer, carpenter, stenographer, sheet metal worker, electrician, and many more. While young women still living with their families were sometimes clerks or bookkeepers, their mothers often did not work, possibly indicating the shifting roles of women at this time.
Brick Chicago bungalows, two-flats, and
multi-unit buildings dominated much of Avalon Park in the 1920s—a reflection of the city’s booming growth during the first three decades of the century and the need to construct affordable housing. The average cost to construct one of these brick bungalows was around $4,000-$8,000—those on the higher end were built in the mid- to late-1920s. Regardless of the year, this kind of construction was a great deal for developers, especially if they bought up several lots at a time and acted as their own contractor, as many did in Avalon Park.
The 8000 Block of South Kenwood Avenue & the 8000 block of South Kimbark Avenue.
The integration of Black residents began in the early 1960s and did not go altogether smoothly in Avalon Park, despite its neighboring community of Marynook. Marynook was built up in the 1950s and was seen as a model community in terms of integration with a goal of a 50/50 ration of Black and white homeowners. It's possible that its proximity and push to be welcoming to Black homeowners created even stronger reactions against the residents moving into Avalon Park at that time. Some of these conflicts showed up in the schools, and even churches that wished to remain segregated. Contrary to some narratives you may find in newspapers at the time, many of the Black residents who moved into Avalon Park during the 1960s, like their neighbors in Chatham, were middle-class doctors, lawyers, and business professionals. Avalon Park reached its peak population of 14,412 in 1970, and at this point 83% of the residents were African American. That number jumped to 96% by 1980. By the end of the century, Avalon Park's population dropped below its pre-1950 numbers to 11,147.
While Avalon Park has continued to lose some of its population—the 2020 data shows 9,458 residents—it has retained its middle-class character, with a majority of owner-occupied, detached, single-family homes (64%). The neighborhood is “highly walkable,” has jobs located in easily accessible/walkable areas, and has good access to public transportation and parkland, according to data published by the Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning in 2021. We are proud to have over 600 Chicago Bungalow Association members in this fabulous neighborhood.
A beautiful polygonal-bay bungalow at 8209 South Avalon is the last Chicago bungalow built in the district.
Some notable people who have lived in Avalon Park include:
Muhammad Ali (1942–2016), professional boxer, activist, entertainer, poet and philanthropist. He resided at 8500 South Jeffery Avenue for a time.
Lee Bey (b. 1965), well-known Chicago architecture critic and photographer, was raised in Avalon Park.
 Local Community Fact Book: Chicago Metropolitan Area. (Chicago: University of Chicago, 1963), p. 104-105.
www.chicagoparkdistrict.com/parks-facilities/avalon-park, accessed Oct 20, 2021.
 Encyclopedia of Chicago: Avalon Park, online  Local Community Fact Book: Chicago Metropolitan Area. (Chicago: University of Chicago, 1963), p. 104-105.  “Avalon Park, Once a Swamp, Comes of Age: ‘Suburb Island’ Shows High Income.” Chicago Daily Tribune; Feb 27, 1955, Pg. S4.  www.chicagoparkdistrict.com/parks-facilities/avalon-park, accessed Oct 20, 2021.
 1920 Census. Enumeration District 9-0553, accessed on Ancestry.com on March 1, 2022.
 Chicago Ancient Building Permits, accessed on microfilm at the Chicago History Museum, June-September 2021.
 Avalon Park: Community Data Snapshot. Chicago Community Area Series. Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning, August 2021 Release. (Accessed online March 15, 2022).
 Potter, Dave (April 1, 1969). "Clamp New Lid On Ali Clash With Muslims: Officials Won't Explain Why He Was Ousted". The Chicago Defender. p. 3.  Rodkin, Dennis (October 9, 2019). "An architecture writer's love letter to the South Side and the homes that tell its story". Crain's Chicago Business. Retrieved February 13, 2022.  "Meet Marcus." Citizens for Marcus C. Evans, Jr. Retrieved February 13, 2022.