Oak Parker Pat Cannon has long immersed himself in the architecture and history of Oak Park and the greater Chicago area. From volunteering at the Frank Lloyd Wright Home and Studio to teaming up with photographer James Caulfield on six books that cover architecture, Cannon has been active in the community for decades.
The pandemic didn’t put a stop to the prolific writer’s work. Much of his new book, “At Home in Chicago: A Living History of Domestic Architecture,” was compiled while COVID-19 was wreaking havoc on the work lives of many. For Cannon, the pandemic’s biggest work challenge was shipping related. Delays pushed the arrival of the books and the publication date back by a few months.
Published at the end of 2021, the book covers more than 50 of the Chicago area’s most striking homes over the 184-year history of the city. Featured homes include ones built before the Chicago Fire of 1871, Gilded Age mansions, Depression-era apartments, mid-century modern houses and contemporary homes.
Cannon says he started with some of the oldest surviving buildings in Chicago that date to the 1830s and moved decade by decade. The only criterion for inclusion was that the house had to still be in existence.
When it came to making the final selection of homes to feature, Cannon says he and Caulfield started with a very long list.
“For whatever reason, some homeowners say no to having their homes featured,” Cannon said. “We ended up photographing more homes than we can include, then winnow it down from there.”
Cannon says the earliest residences featured are log cabins.
“They tend to be owned by park districts or historical societies,” he said. “The cabin in Norwood Park is the oldest in the city. It was built in the 1830s then added onto.”
There are few homes predating the Chicago Fire in the city proper, but outlying areas like Geneva and Hyde Park offer representation from the 1850s and 1860s.
Having already dedicated entire books to the work of Frank Lloyd Wright, Cannon said he tried not to include too many Wright designs here, but it’s hard to cover the history of Chicago domestic architecture without a few Wright inclusions. The Winslow House in River Forest, the Avery Coonley Estate in Riverside and the Heurtley House in Oak Park are all featured.
Another Oak Park home included is the John Seaman House on Grove Avenue. Built in 1894, the Queen Anne-style home was designed by Fiddelke and Ellis at a cost of $17,000. The original owner was a barrel maker, and the interior reflects the use of many different kinds of woodwork. The home is considered one of the most intact, original Victorians in Oak Park.
Cannon notes that the original homeowner’s career often informed the design of historic homes in Chicago. One of his favorites in the book is the Wacker House in Chicago’s Lincoln Park neighborhood. Built for Frederick Wacker in 1872, the house reflected the wealth of the immigrant family.
“The elder Wacker came from Germany and worked in the malt and brewery business,” Cannon said. “His son was in the grain business and worked with Daniel Burnham to lay out the city. The house is an elaborate Italianate cottage with a lot of ornamental woodwork. It’s been restored beautifully. It’s quite stunning. It gives you an idea of how people lived in that era.”
The Beeson House, designed by Frederick Schock in 1891 and located in the Austin neighborhood of Chicago, is also included in the book. A designated Chicago landmark, the home is one of four Schock-designed homes in the neighborhood. Cannon states that Schock also designed the Austin State Bank and Austin High School.
The Dvorak Bungalow in Berwyn is one of a pair of matching bungalows in the 6900 block of Riverside Drive built just before the Depression in 1929 for Joseph Dvorak and his friend James Cech.
Cannon notes that Dvorak was a music store owner in Berwyn, and he and Cech were Czech immigrants who helped build up Berwyn. The bungalow was designed by Charles Vedra.
While the older homes are fascinating for the history of the building methods and original owners, Cannon says that some of the newer houses featured are interesting due to the technology involved.
“There’s a net-zero house that we included,” Cannon said. “A big trend now is to make houses off the grid. You see some people doing this with older homes, too, when they add geothermal systems.”
While their sixth book might have just hit the market, Cannon and Caufield are already working on their next project, which sticks close to home for the author.
In 2011, the duo covered Oak Park’s Unity Temple. With the completion of its restoration in 2017, Cannon says that he and Caulfield are now at work on a revised book that will cover the renovation.