Caton Street, Chicago
by: chicago designslinger
[2146, 2142, 2138 W. Caton Street (1891) Faber & Pagels, architects /Image & Artwork: chicago designslinger]
As the late 1880s moved toward the early 1890s, there was a triangular section in the Wicker Park neighborhood that sat as empty and free of structures as the original prairie landscape the surrounding built-up community had emerged from. There wasn't much undeveloped land left in the vicinity of northwest side neighborhood's six-cornered intersection of Damen, North & Milwaukee which was emerging as one of the city's major retail hubs, and the vacant triangle was ripe for development.
[Marius Kirkeby House, 2138 W. Caton Street, Chicago /Image & Artwork: chicago designslinger]
Leavitt Street, the long vertical side of the section of land, ran northward from North Avenue, the bottom horizontal side, to meet-up with the angle of Milwaukee Avenue. A street was cut through the center running east to west from Milwaukee to Leavitt and named Columbia. It was small, running only about 600 feet in length, very private feeling, and the perfect spot for 5 large single-family dwellings to be constructed for 4 of the city's emerging, upper-middle-class immigrant businessmen, all designed by the architectural duo of Faber & Pagels.
[Frederick Gehrke House, 2146 W. Caton Street, Chicago /Image & Artwork: chicago designslinger]
Wicker Park's first urban settlers were primarily Scandinavian in origin. There were a few Germans thrown in here and there, but immigrant Swedes, Danes and Norwegians made-up most of the surrounding community. Joining their fellow countrymen in the hood, Norwegian nationals Marius Kirkeby president of the Den Norske Klub built one house, Dr. Nels Nelson another, Ole A. Thorp built two, and to shake things up a bit, one was built for Prussian native Frederick Gehrke.
[Ole A. Thorpe House, 2156 W. Caton Street, Chicago /Image & Artwork: chicago designslinger]
In 1913 the city of Chicago renumbered their street grid and renamed a few streets to go along with the changes. Faber & Pagels little street of grand homes went from being called Columbia to Caton - named for Illinois Supreme Court Justice John Caton - and the numbers went from 38, 45, 51, 55 and 59 to 2138, 2142, 2146, 2152, and 2156. The biggest change however came in 1895 when the Metropolitan West Side Railroad built an elevated train track line right next door to Maruis Kirkeby's house, slicing through the eastern end of Columbia. In the mid-1970s, and decades of demographic changes in and around Caton Street, a group of new urban pioneers began to undertake an extensive - and costly - restoration and maintenance of Faber & Pagels sturdy masonry row of single family dwellings. And even though the CTA's elevated train cars still rattle through the neighborhood, because of the current owners efforts and investment, the tiny street still maintains its 19th century, picturesque qualities.