Squat and square with a sloped roof, off-center entrance, wide windows and brick facade, the Chicago-style bungalow has been the heart and hearth of the city’s working class since it first popped up in the 1910s.

Now, it’s under siege: The Battle of Bungalow Belt has begun.

Leading the charge for developers is Adam Barrera, who runs Welcome Home Chicago Properties. He’s been buying up bungalows, slapping a second story on them and selling them to aging hipsters looking for life outside Wicker Park.

The Historic Chicago Bungalow Association is working to quell his conquest: The association is incensed — its word, not ours — by Barrera and other developers’ assault on the neighborhoods on the city’s North, Northwest, South and Southwest sides that the group aims to preserve.

The clash started when the association received an invitation to one of Barrera’s rehab trolley tours. After seeing his garish second stories, dubbed “pop tops” by critics, the HCBA’s deputy director took to the group’s Facebook page on June 10. “On behalf of the 16,000 members of the Historic Chicago Bungalow Association,” the post says, “DO NOT support the work of Welcome Home Chicago Properties.”

Presto! A social media campaign to #StopThePop was born.

The HCBA can’t actually do anything to stop them, so it is angling to educate developers, contractors and homeowners about how to properly add on to bungalows. Barrera’s hefty second floors, the association argues, are swallowing up the stocky structure of the bungalows and ruining the streetscape. Some of the additions have been painted with bold colors, and developers have ignored all the period-appropriate modifications the association recommends in its free, 27-page bungalow design guidebook.

Bungalow lovers have gotten creative with their insults toward Barrera’s homes, calling them “Lego blocks,” “hideous” and “frankenhomes.”

One commenter simply said, “Ugh no.”

Even Barrera admits that “sometimes it doesn’t come out the way I wanted.” But he was quick to point out that people are buying the rehabs regardless.

Barrera said that he often buys abandoned or foreclosed homes and then flips them, adding more room to appeal to downtown millennials looking for affordable space and quiet streets. A few homeowners in the bungalow belt have added pop tops to their own homes in the quest for bigger bedrooms at a lower price.

HCBA Executive Director Mary Ellen Guest concedes that there isn’t much her organization can do to stop pop tops from cropping up on bungalows. Some areas have limited protections under National Register Historic Districts, but there isn’t any legal recourse to stop the ugly elsewhere. The #StopThePop campaign is more bark than bite.

“We’re not the bungalow police,” Guest told us. “We encourage people to do whatever they want with their homes.”

Her only stipulation is that additions should be “sensible.” Second floor additions should be set 20 feet back from the front of the house, for example, so they don’t interfere with the look of the classic bungalow dormers and sloped roofs from the street.

One commenter on the HCBA Facebook page summed the issue up nicely: “I am saddened when I see bungalow butchery, but one can’t enforce good taste.” Bingo.

Beauty is in the eye of the mortgage holder. Clearly there are buyers who find the pop-tops charming. Or practical. Or something. 

 

 

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