This is the first part of a Storied Chicago feature called "Pictures of Home." See the information below if you would like to share an image of your Chicagoland home.
Car culture reshaped nearly everything about American life in the first half of the twentieth century. From 1900 to 1930, the auto industry went from barely existent to putting 27 million cars on the road.
The most dramatic impact was on the way Americans lived: As car ownership became common, people didn’t need to live near streetcar or subway lines to get around, and suburbs developed on the outskirts of urban centers, featuring single-family homes, large yards, and subdivisions marked by curvilinear streets rather than the grid system favored by many cities.
Through the mid-century years—and the economic boom following World War II—the flight from the cities by much of the middle class dramatically reshaped neighborhoods in large cities like Chicago. In the 1990s, as Chicago began investing in its urban core—and building amenities like Millennium Park to make itself more attractive for business investment—urban neighborhoods would be reshaped again, as the process of gentrification made many of the same neighborhoods that had been abandoned in the suburban rush more attractive to young professionals.
One constant through the shifts in patterns of housing development has been the meaning of homes. Owning one has long been at the heart of “the American dream.” In the myth, at least, houses represent a certain freedom and independence. And there is also a mysterious dimension at the heart of their appeal, which the novelist Richard Ford once touched on in an interview with Fresh Air’s Terry Gross in 2014, talking about his book Let Me Be Frank:
Half of my young, teenage years I spent living in a hotel . . . people living in rooms and dying in rooms and doing bizarre and wonderfully scandalous things in rooms. Opposed to what my father, who died when I was 16, wanted more than anything, which was to have a house, to own a house, to live in the suburbs, to have that sort of serenity, that stability, that assurance that it would be there when he came back on the weekends. He was a traveling salesman. So for me, houses are full of drama because they're always supposed by the chaos that’s constantly sort of inflicting itself on us. [He and my mother] were married 15 years before I was born. They basically lived in their car, while he traveled with his job, for the 15 years of their life. They never owned a house. And then when I came along, then that was the excuse to buy a house. I think it was the happiest thing that he ever did in his life. So for me, houses have almost iconic status. I've lived in lots of houses. I've owned a few houses. I love looking at houses because it’s shelter. I wrote it in "The Sportswriter"—a house is where you look out the window and see the world. And a house is where you’ll die. A house is where you'll get divorced. A house is where you’ll have your most sacred and most profane experiences. Houses for me are critical to my experience. And I guess I thought probably critical to many Americans' experiences. I mean, you know, the housing crisis which we're apparently out of—are we? The housing crisis was all about people needing and wanting and desiring and demanding houses.
What does your home mean to you?
We are asking Chicagoans from all walks of life to share a picture of their home and describe what it means to them. The images will be featured in a blog post on StoriedChicago.com and linked to the Storied Chicago Facebook page.
If you would like to share, please email firstname.lastname@example.org:
1. Your favorite, most evocative picture of home—from the past or present, inside or outside, full of people, pets, or empty.
2. Tell us what the picture is of, when it is from, and which neighborhood or suburb it is located in.
3. Write a short description (~100 words) of what the picture means to you. What memories or feelings does it stir in you?
4. Tell us how you'd like to be identified. (Anonymous is ok.)
Photos by Charles W. Cushman, Indiana University Archives