The End of History

While we know change is actually the default setting of the universe, and we appreciate the economic complexities of restoration and development, there’s no getting away from the gut punch that happens every time we see these forces collide in our neighborhood.

We’ve been exploring this lately here on the blog as a witness to the coming changes at the corner of NE 30 and Skidmore. We’ve lived here almost 30 years and have walked by that house hundreds, maybe thousands of times. But we’ve never lived there, and don’t know anyone who has. It’s not part of our personal story, per se.

We’ve wondered what it might be like, or how objective we could be, if it was a place integral to our family history. If we thought of each demolition in this way, would it become more impactful? Would there be another set of calculations to make that could lead to other options?

We had an inkling of that this week when we learned one of the iconic homes from our family history, a modest Queen Anne bungalow on Diversey Avenue on Chicago’s north side where our father was born, has been demolished and replaced with a condominium. We wrote about the Diversey house here on AH some time back when we asked you to share a picture and story about your favorite house. Here it is, from one of the hundreds of pictures taken during earlier days:

1038 Diversey Parkway, Chicago. Taken about 1918.

1038 Diversey Parkway, Chicago (on the left). Taken about 1918.


Here’s the visual on this recent change, thanks to Google streetview. It’s the blue house on the right.




We won’t go into detail about how many stories and memories went down with those two houses. Dad was born there, delivered by the doctor who lived next door. Neighborhood picnics were held in the backyard. First day of school pictures on the front steps. Photos of uncles coming and going from the Great War. That house anchored the family as it grew, and it showed in the pictures that flowed from that experience.

During our own growing up years in the Chicago area, decades after the house passed from the family’s hands, whenever we were anywhere near, Dad always took us by, told a story, fed our imaginations with a sense of times past. Maybe our visits and the house’s presence in stories and pictures helped Dad stay oriented in his own family landscape. That’s the thing about our old houses: they become a kind of navigational aid for a family in its journey from past to present to future. After Dad died, we made the pilgrimage back on our own, the pictures of the uncles, the big snow, the sled on the porch burned into our hearts.

That’s where the gut punch comes from. Today, it’s all erased: not a single clue about those houses, those lives.

Clearly, we can’t “save” every old house or building. Our communities are growing and changing and a new infrastructure, informed by the past, is necessary for the city of the future. But we have to find a better way, to build on our strengths and on our past rather than erasing all traces.


6 responses

  1. Hi Doug:

    In case I didn’t tell you, I am trying to garner a consensus among my siblings to legally and permanently protect the double lot / side yard at the old homestead so that it can’t be subdivided and built on after the Rooneys leave after what I estimate will be 65 years.

    With two new homes now in the former park-like backyard of the old Miller house on Alameda Terrace (it had walking paths, a huge lawn and a fountain), my folks’ place is one of the few left in the immediate neighborhood with acreage. That would be an interesting blog post – the Big Yard Houses.

    I’m going to reach out to the owner of the old Miller house (3251 Alameda Terrace) to make sure he knows that he has a sub-basement accessed through a secret door that I believe was built for hiding Prohibition booze. If he doesn’t know it’s there, I will show him in December when I’m in town.

    Take care.


  2. Pingback: So Passes the Glory of the World | A Town Square

  3. Hi Doug;

    My husband and I lived on Fremont at 32nd for 18 years and I also worked on the Alameda newsletter briefly as well. When we both were retired we downsized in the Autumn of 2013 to the East Columbia neighborhood, which we love. The Children’s Arboretum park is right behind our house which very few people in the city know about…but is well used by those of us who live here.

    But I’m really writing to you regarding your story about the home you grew up in in Chicago on Diversey. I was born and raised in Chicago from 1950 to 1975 when I moved to the west coast. We lived in the North side of Chicago in the Humbolt Park neighborhood. Our house was at 1346 N. Avers Ave., 60651 and it still stands. Since I was the youngest in a family of five, I lived there the shortest time, but still have fond memories of home. Anyway your story touched me because I’m going back next month in mid-May for my High School’s (Providence H.S.) 50th Reunion and I’m so excited to get back to my hometown. I’m sorry they took down your former home on Diversey, but you have pictures and memories and that is a good thing. I just wanted to share with someone who also use to live in Chicago. I think people from Chicago are amazing people and you are certainly a good example. Thanks for all you do…I think your work is so important.

  4. Doug,
    So awesome that I found your article. It was just last week I thought I hadn’t been by my old house that I loved and missed. 1038 W. Diversey. Late to seeing that sweet little home gone. I was deeply saddened, the stained glass window, tiled fireplace – I fought the termites, hand sanded the oak staircase(came out fantastic) new kitchen, vamped bedrooms, finished basement and rec. room etc. Still bothers me! I feel Somewhat responsible, to have let all that came before me And my time just erased. . I agree that some consideration should be given to cherishing our history, not always plough under.
    Thanks for the early picture of the house (1918), very cool. When I bought the house in 1990, it was powder blue w/white trim. In the 10 yrs I was there I kept it that same color. My boys were born there and the noise of Diversey lulled them to sleep Numerous gatherings and people watching on the front steps. I wish we would’ve kept, now that all the kids are college age, I’d love to move back. Fond memories of a great home.
    Thanks for sharing
    Keith Yavitt

    • Hello Keith. What a small world it is. I have many more photos of the house I would be glad to share, and would welcome hearing more about your experience there in the 1990s. The house was a kind of place of pilgrimage for us. Please do get in touch with my by e-mail:

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