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Bricks into gems

Chicago's neighborhoods are filled with bungalows. Now they're getting their due.

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Chicago's bungalows are not associated with any specific architect, says Joseph Bigott, a professor of history at Purdue University Calumet and author of the book "From Cottage to Bungalow: Houses and the Working Class in Metropolitan Chicago.

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The bungalows incorporate characteristics from Frank Lloyd Wright's prairie-style homes, Victorian homes, and other styles, "scaled down to first-time buyers," according to Scott Sonoc, a Chicago architect and consultant to the bungalow association.

No cookie-cutter sameness

While Chicago bungalows may look similar from afar, each one has its own distinctive attributes. "You can stand on a block of bungalows and scan the street and get a sense of uniformity," Mr. Sonoc notes. "But then you can walk down that street and look at each building, and every single one will have its own unique details."

City officials are thinking about creating a historic district of bungalow homes. But they had more than history in mind when they launched their Historic Chicago Bungalow Initiative in the fall of 2000. Their goal was not just to help preserve the 80,000-some homes that remain, but to revitalize entire neighborhoods.

The bungalow initiative provides vouchers, matching grants, and tax breaks to those who want to rehab or upgrade their bungalows. Owners must follow design guidelines and have their homes registered as historic bungalows with the initiative in order to be eligible for such assistance. So far, 3,500 bungalows have been certified.

The city has been a facilitator in all this, coordinating with the state as well as banks and businesses to set up the grants. For instance, the Illinois Housing Development Authority offers grants of up to $5,000 to help pay for home improvements and repairs. Local banks are offering gifts equal to 4 percent of a buyer's mortgage that can be used for down payment and closing costs. There is potential for federal income-tax credits up to $2,000. And in conjunction with businesses such as Home Depot, $1,000 vouchers are offered for the purchase of energy-efficient appliances.

Faude and his wife took advantage of those financial incentives to replace the front windows in their home and have also attended seminars sponsored by the bungalow initiative, gaining an appreciation for the special character of their home and the role the bungalow played in the history of Chicago.

"We would never tear this place down, and if we move we'll look to sell it to someone who can appreciate it," he says.

The city has had to overcome some misconceptions about bungalows. They look small from the street and may be perceived as "old-fashioned or stodgy," Mr. Markowski says. "That's the effort today, to understand what you do have."

Will Taylor had no such misconceptions when he and his wife, Grace, were shopping for a home in the mid-1960s in the Auburn-Gresham neighborhood on the South Side, where bungalows are the main housing stock. He knew they were spacious and well built.

"You can't hear somebody talking in the back unless they're awfully loud," Mr. Taylor says as he sits in his ample living room on a recent afternoon. "The new homes, you can hear somebody sneeze in them."

Taylor, a retired postal employee, bought his brown brick bungalow for $18,500 and has made only minor cosmetic changes over the years. Every home on his block except for two is a bungalow. "You just don't find houses today that are built like these houses," he says.

That's almost a mantra among bungalow owners.

"It's not slick, it's substantial," Faude says. "In some respects, that's what Chicago's like.