McCormick Row House District - Phase Two
by: chicago designslinger
[McCormick Row Houses - Phase Two (1889-1891) A.M.F. Colton & Son, architects /Image & Artwork: chicago designslinger]
At the 1888-89 annual meeting of the Board of Trustees of the McCormick Theological Seminary the treasurer's financial report indicated that the endowment's return on investment wasn't doing very well. Funds would have to be generated to keep the north side Chicago school campus in operation for future generations, and the trustees decided to return to a funding scheme that they had devised when they found themselves in a similar situation seven years earlier.
[McCormick Row Houses - Phase Two, 840-58, 841-59 W. Chalmers Place, Chicago /Image & Artwork: chicago designslinger]
In 1881 the annual 10% that the endowment's investments had been garnering in interest was dropping due to market forces beyond the trustees control. In the hopes of generating a more dependable, reliable, and potentially controllable rate of return the trustees decided to use some of the school's vacant land and build income producing housing. The plan worked. Rental income gave the school a fairly stable 10% return and helped stem the tide of red ink, but as the costs of operations and providing scholarships increased, the rental income couldn't keep pace. If rents were to be increased to a rate high enough to help and continue covering increased expenses, the townhouses would most likely have sat empty since they'd be way overpriced for the neighborhood. So the board voted to secure a $100,000 mortgage at 5% for five years on the five acres of their twenty acre property where the existing townhouses stood. Then with cash in hand, they planned to construct two new rows of conjoined housing - eight on one side and seven on the other - on a vacant slice of land that sat in between the existing line-up of houses along Fullerton and Belden Avenues. They hired the designer of the previous housing groups architect A.M.F. Colton to draw-up the plans, whose son Samuel was now working alongside his father.
[McCormick Row Houses - Phase Two, Sheffield National Historic District, Chicago /Image & Artwork: chicago designslinger]
Up until 1886 the McCormick Theological Seminary had been known as the Presbyterian Theological Seminary of the Northwest. But since reaper king Cyrus McCormick and his wife Nettie were the primary funders of the school, the name was changed after Cyrus's death in 1884 in honor of their benefactor. Nettie, post Cyrus, kept up the pace of giving. As the school erected more classroom and dormitory buildings Nettie was there with her checkbook in hand to make up for the shortfalls. In 1888 when the bank loan came through for the townhouse construction, Nettie endowed a new professorial chair along with even more cash to build the new instructor a free-standing house next door to the one of the planned rows. She apparently made it known that from her point-of-view the new cluster of housing would look most attractive if built around a garden courtyard, much like the once sought after Groveland Park residential community built by Illinois Senator Stephen A. Douglas in the late 1850s. And when your primary benefactress speaks, you listen.
[McCormick Row Houses - Phase Two, McCormick Row House Landmark District, Chicago /Image & Artwork: chicago designslinger]
A narrow oval roadway was laid around a small park fronted by two rows of housing whose dark brown, brick facades were very different from Colton's previous work on the site. The homes were a little more generous in terms of square footage, and because of their semi-private park location a much sought after housing option. Once the first fifteen were completed in January 1890, another three followed. The little courtyard street was dubbed Chalmers Place, which, according to Leroy J. Halsey a McCormick professor and school historian, was "an appropriate Presbyterian name." The school's investment in housing continued to provide a cost-defraying income until the early 1970s when the seminary made the decision to move from their 110-year-old home on Chicago's north side to the city's Hyde Park neighborhood on the south side. In 1975 the Chalmers Place cluster, along with the remaining row of houses on Belden and Fullerton, were purchased by a group of renters who formed the Seminary Townhouse Association. The preserved and restored group of Colton-designed homes now sit engulfed by campus of DePaul University and swarms of students.