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CAC’s Jen Masengarb partnered with WBEZ’s Curious City to research this story in response to a question submitted by curious citizens. Listen to the broadcast.

Many older U.S. cities have a signature kind of building. In Philadelphia, it’s distinctive row houses. In Brooklyn, it’s the brownstone.

What about Chicago? Beyond the soaring steel and glass skyscrapers of downtown, you’ll find the humble wood, brick and stone that make up our neighborhood homes. The real workhorse of Chicago’s built environment is the modest, ubiquitous (yet fascinating) two-flat. Two-flats, along with their larger cousins the four-flat and six-flat, make up more than 30 percent of our city’s housing stock. 

You know the typical building: two stories—with an apartment unit on each floor—usually with bay windows greeting the street through of a facade of brick or greystone. Most were built between 1900 and 1920.

“Our design No. 144 is a two-family flat designed for a money making proposition. Anyone wanting a comfortable home and at the same time a good income on the investment will do well to consider this proposition.” 

– 1915 Book of House Plans


Read the full article with photos and historic ads to learn more about the Czech immigrants who financed, built and lived in many of Chicago’s two-flats on the city’s west side.