History group archives get home at Schurz HS


For the second time in 15 years, the archives of the Irving Park Historical Society are being stored in a city landmark building.

Earlier this year the society’s files, pictures and artifacts were moved from a church to the library at Schurz High School, 3601 N. Milwaukee Ave., a 104-year-old landmark building with a Prairie-style facade that was designed by Dwight Perkins. Many of the society’s documents and pictures are in display cases in the library, while the rest are being kept in a storage area.

The society operated in another landmark building, the Whistle Stop Inn, 4200 W. Irving Park Road, from 2000 to 2005. The society had a museum at the 150-year-old Whistle Stop Inn that was open on some weekends, but the landlord eventually found a paying tenant, and the society moved to Irving Park United Methodist Church, 3801 N. Keeler Ave.

Longtime society board member Rich Lang said that having the archives at the school will help bring better awareness of the culture and heritage of the neighborhood to students. Lang said that the society plans to discuss with school officials ways in which it can achieve that goal, such as sponsoring a student essay contest on the history of the area.

The society also is changing from being an independent nonprofit organization to becoming a committee of the Old Irving Park Association, Lang said. The society was formed in 1984, a year after the neighborhood association was formed, and both groups were created in part over concerns about changes in the housing stock of the area.

Many area homes in the area were demolished in the 1950s due to the construction of the Kennedy Expressway, and in the 1980s there were concerns that building the proposed "Crosstown Expressway" along Cicero Avenue corridor would have the same effect, association president Anna Sobor said. In addition, larger residential lots were being subdivided, and some of the older buildings in the neighborhood were being torn down and replaced with new ones, Sobor said.

Sobor said that the society was created to promote preservation of the historic and architecturally significant buildings in the area. She said that while Old Irving Park is known for its Victorian homes, it has range of architectural styles.

Sobor said that she hopes that the association can provide resources to the society that will revive the "house walk" tours and the "century" plaque program that it once sponsored. Under the program, the owners of homes that were at least 100 years old could apply for a bronze plaque that would serve as an historical marker on the house.

As a committee of the association, the society will be able to present articles in the association’s monthly newsletter, which is distributed to about 700 homes. "We can offer access to our communications network to get volunteers," Sobor said.

Over the years the society has relied on donations from residents and their heirs to build up its archives. Lang said that one of the most important donations was the collection of Dr. Theodore Bacmeister.

Bacmeister, who died in 1941, took many photographs, and he also documented the pictures loaned to him by his patients and neighbors, according to the society. The society has a picture of Bacmeister shoveling snow in front of his house in the 4000 block of North Kedvale Avenue.

Society volunteers have documented hundreds of local buildings which predate 1894, and many of those buildings have been restored.

By the 1870s the neighborhood was considered an exclusive suburb, with a row of mansions along Irving Park Road that are now all gone except for the 1874 Stephen Race House, a city landmark at 3945 N. Tripp Ave. built by one of the founders of Old Irving Park, according to the society.