August 28, 2012

The Other McCormickville: Lincoln Park’s Seminary Townhouses

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917-921 W. Fullerton Avenue. Photo courtesy Seminary Townhouse Association.

Ah, Lincoln Park. Here, leafy trees offer dappled shade to quaint, historic residential buildings aligned in cozy, shoulder-to-shoulder rows. It is one of the most lovingly—and fiercely, considering the number of preservation organizations concentrated here, and if tales of town hall meetings-turned-shouting matches are believed—preserved neighborhoods in Chicago.

Tucked inside the wider Sheffield Historic District is the McCormick Row House District, established in 1977 and consisting of a number of rowhouses that originally served as student housing for McCormick Theological Seminary. That Presbyterian institution, formerly Indiana Theological Seminary, earned its new name (and plenty of funding) in the years after Cyrus McCormick gave an initial $100,000 in 1859 to entice it to move from Hanover to Chicago. The student housing units were built between 1884 and 1892 on Fullerton, Chalmers, and Belden, the rent going to supplement the institution’s endowment after Cyrus’s death in 1884.

844-858 W. Belden Avenue
844-858 W. Belden Avenue. Courtesy Seminary Townhouse Association.

Sketch of McCormick Theological Seminary campus
Sketch showing several institutional buildings on McCormick Theological Seminary’s Lincoln Park campus. Beginning with the third building from the left, going left to right: McCormick Hall, Ewing Hall, Chapel, and Fowler Hall. Courtesy Seminary Townhouse Association.

In 1975, the seminary moved to Hyde Park. The newly-formed Seminary Townhouse Association, which is still alive and well in Lincoln Park today, purchased the surviving rowhouses and began converting them for private family and individual use. These residences are easily recognizable today; they are clad in red brick and three stories tall, with clean, simple lines, arched doorways and windows, and hints of the then-trendy Queen Anne style. 

901-913 W. Fullerton Ave.
901-913 W. Fullerton Avenue. Courtesy Seminary Townhouse Association.

Not only are these historic properties of Lincoln Park preserved as individual relics of Chicago’s Gilded Age, but they exercise a rare command over the rest of the neighborhood. Rather than standing out, occasional and anachronistic, among modern-day skyscrapers, the Seminary townhouses actually have enough traction, thanks to their advocates, to dictate the design of new buildings nearby. Take DePaul University, which bought McCormick Theological Seminary’s vacated 20 acres in 1976-7. DePaul built a new art museum last year on 935 W. Fullerton, practically adjacent to the El tracks. Stretching east of the museum, from 927 down to 833 W. Fullerton, is the greatest unbroken line of those McCormick Seminary townhouses. As you can see from the photos, DePaul Art Museum—which is, behind its chameleonesque façade, a state-of-the-art LEED-Silver building by Antunovich Associates—has been dressed up to match: red brick, three stories, arched doorways and windows. Architect Joe Antunovich, when I interviewed him for a different story about DePaul Art Museum, talked about designing “in a way that’s compatible with the surrounding area.” The building suggests the contemporary, “while being respectful to its historic neighbors.” His firm has plenty of experience in putting that respect for history to work—in McCormickville proper (i.e. River North), Joe and his team were the lead architects for, respectively, the Ransom Cable House, Samuel M. Nickerson Mansion/Driehaus Museum, John B. Murphy Auditorium, and McCormick Double House restoration projects.

DePaul Art Museum, designed to blend with nearby McCormick Seminary townhouses
DePaul Art Museum, completed in 2011 on 935 W. Fullerton Avenue, just west of a long line of Seminary townhouses. Courtesy Antunovich Associates.

DePaul Art Museum, designed to blend with nearby McCormick Seminary townhouses
Curved brick and glass feature on DePaul Art Museum’s front exterior, which imitates the curved entrances to the Seminary townhouses. Courtesy Antunovich Associates.

So next time you’re waiting at the Fullerton stop on the Brown or Red CTA lines, hop off, head east, and take in the long, red-bricked view of yet another Gilded Age neighborhood defined by Chicago’s McCormick family.


—Lindsey Howald Patton

A few links for further reading:
Within the Wrought Iron Fence: The Hidden Heritage of McCormick Theological Seminary
“The Unshakable Museum,” Green Building and Design, 2012. 
Antunovich Associates, Antunovich.com
McCormick Theological Seminary, McCormick.edu
Seminary Townhouse Association, www.stahomes.net

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