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Historic Illinois

Chicago's Garden Homes District, Clark County auto dealership, 1909 Bloomington church featured

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[APRIL 30, 2005]  SPRINGFIELD -- Chicago's Garden Homes District, the Clatfelter Auto Dealership in the Clark County community of West Union and records that preserve the memory of a demolished 1909 Bloomington church are featured in the latest issue of Historic Illinois, a publication of the Illinois Historic Preservation Agency.

The cover article features Chicago's Garden Homes District. Tucked away in Chicago's Chatham neighborhood on the city's far South Side is a unique piece of history: a cohesive ensemble of modest homes built in 1919 and 1920 as the city's first subsidized housing project. The Garden Homes subdivision was an innovative attempt by a group of Chicago philanthropists to provide workingmen with homes at prices they could afford. Benefactors who helped subsidize the project firmly believed that homeownership would encourage people to become more efficient workers and better citizens, thereby decreasing opportunities for labor unrest.

The Garden Homes represent an important chapter in the state's social history. The largely intact picturesque gathering of brick cottages and stucco-clad double-houses was listed in the National Register of Historic Places in February 2005. With the cohesive appearance, uniform setbacks and unusually large lots, the Chicago Garden Homes Historic District stands out from the city's predominant residential building stock.

The article was written by Jean Guarino Clark, an architectural historian who developed the Garden Homes District National Register nomination.

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The well-remembered Clatfelter Chevrolet dealership and repair garage in the Clark County community of West Union is the subject of an article written by Keith A. Sculle, head of research and education for the Illinois Historic Preservation Agency.

Dale Clatfelter was a self-taught mechanic who returned on disability from the Navy in World War II and opened a dealership in his hometown in 1949. An unusual circumstance helped him select the exact location. In 1941 a strong wind destroyed the Methodist church that had occupied the site since 1912. The church never reopened, but its foundation became an excellent shop floor because it proved easier to heat and cool than a floor built at grade. Customers drove their vehicles a few feet below ground to the former church foundation floor for service.

Clatfelter kept his small-town business operating by maintaining a small-town atmosphere, where people were just as welcome to come in and talk as they were to drop by for service. The business closed in 1981 when, due to demands placed on the dealership by General Motors, Clatfelter was no longer able to acquire the inventory his customers wanted.

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Bloomington's First Church of Christ, Scientist, no longer exists. Built between 1908 and 1909, the classical revival-style building seated 650, and its copper dome made it instantly recognizable.

Although the structure is no longer there, a federal program administered in Illinois by the Illinois Historic Preservation Agency makes this church and many other long-gone buildings in the state accessible to current and future generations. The Historic American Buildings Survey/Historic American Engineering Record program established the standards for documenting historic structures that are to be demolished or substantially altered as a result of projects involving state or federal funds, permits, or licensing.

The article in Historic Illinois, written by Andrew Heckenkamp of the Illinois Historic Preservation Agency, describes the federal documentation program and uses the First Church of Christ, Scientist, as one example of the detailed historical information maintained for future reference.

Historic Illinois is a bimonthly publication that features historically significant sites in Illinois. Subscriptions are $10 per year, which includes six issues of Historic Illinois and one full-color Historic Illinois calendar.

For more information, call (217) 524-6045, visit or write to Historic Illinois, Illinois Historic Preservation Agency, 1 Old State Capitol Plaza, Springfield, IL 62701-1507.

[Illinois Historic Preservation Agency news release]


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