My Childhood Home – The House

This is the house I grew up in. During our last trip to Chicago we made a point of going back to see it since I wanted to take some pictures of it and just to see if much had changed since we left. Other than some minor things like the trees getting bigger and the new owner doing some landscaping, very little had changed.

My Childhood Home

The building is a two-flat with a full basement and an attic. Both the basement and the attic were not really meant to be built-out, but we built out the attic. There is an entrance hall and stairway that leads to both floors while the back stairway accesses all four levels. Each flat has two bedrooms, a kitchen, bathroom, dining room, and living room. The only major ornament in each flat is a built in buffet in the dining room and an almost full height mantle with a large mirror in the living room. The front stairway and front porch also had very nice wood work in the columns, balustrade, and door. The length of the building is east-west and it is situated on the north side of a street so sunlight (through the trees) shown on the full length.

The house is close to a hundred years old. Poor soil or poor foundations made that no surface in the house was level. The foundation was cracked halfway along the length of the house and every floor sloped to the south. The back porch also had a severe slope away from the house. So the back stairs tended to pay tricks on the mind. This said, it was a sturdy house of solid construction.

We moved there when I was less than two years old so it is really the only place I’d known as home. We lived on the second floor and after grade school the attic was my domain. My father built it out so that my sister and I could have our own spaces. In truth this house was where my interest in the construction industry started. Working on projects around the house alongside my father piqued my interest in improving the spaces we lived in. I’ll elaborate on that soon in another post, but here is where it started. We worked on that attic space, building that back fence, the cover over the back door, along with many smaller projects. I also spent summers repainting the garage and the previous fence. And even removed some of the deteriorated garage roof.

The Back Door

We lived on the second floor, but the first floor saw many residents. My grandparents lived there up until I was in high school when they passed away. Then my aunt and uncle lived there, then at separate times the familys of two women my father worked with, then a women I knew in college and her friend, and finally my sister. My uncle’s construction company did some major work on the place including the new siding, a new garage roof, and a new roof on the house.

The built-out attic was an odd space. It was about 30 feet by 12 feet with the chimney passing right in the center of it. The side walls were only 3 feet high then they sloped up at 45 degrees to the ceiling which was at about 7 feet, though only 3 feet wide. So basically if you took the triangle shape of a roof and trimmed the corner, you would see the space it was. We installed two operable skylights that served very well both at venting and lighting the space. We also installed a ladder down to the floor below so that I wouldn’t have to go out on the unheated porch. It was quite a interesting space. It was up at the tree tops and you could actually see downtown. And at night all of the noises of the city could be heard from over the rooftops. You could hear the traffic, ambulances, airplanes passing directly overhead, and even the el train clanking over the tracks a half a mile away.

The basement was much like any other unfinished basement. We had a tool shed down there, a dark room, and a huge train table (10 feet by 5 feet). Then there was the laundry and the rest served as storage.

The Garage

The garage also served us well. We had a slightly extra large lot, so it was possible to fit a three car garage. That third space allowed much flexibility as you could imagine. We could put small cars, trailers, and many large less-used items in there.

Our backyard which was really our only outdoor private space was about 25 foot square. Not very big, but big enough for letting little kids run around without the worry of cars. It was the space that transformed the most over the years. At different times there were vegetable gardens, landscaped gardens, paved areas, a birch tree, a dog house, areas of grass, a sand box, stacks of bricks and pavers, and a raised deck.

On the front of the house there is a porch. When we were kids our grandmother would watch my sister and I. She would sit on the porch and braid clover flowers into necklaces while my sister and I ran down to the corner to collect them out of the grass for her. In later years, I only really sat out there to watch big storms pass by. Though my father and sister spent many evenings relaxing out there.

The Front Porch

Even the trees bring back memories. The silver maple by the alley and the Norway maple near the back door have always been there. But the other two silver maples were grown from seedlings of the large one. It is so odd to see them full grown now. The ash in front of the house was picked up for free by my mother downtown on arbor day back in the early 70’s. And the two pine trees were brought back from a trip up to the the north country of Wisconsin. All of them made mowing the lawn a major pain regardless of whether we had planter boxes around them or not. But I still definitely preferred that they were there.

Next Up: My Childhood Home – The Neighborhood

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~ by Frank on January 11, 2008.

4 Responses to “My Childhood Home – The House”

  1. What a coincidence, yesterday I went by the old place to take some video for the film we will be making about what would have been Grandma’s 100th birthday. The front porch is still in need of rebuilding.

    Many years ago, I went down to city hall to research the actual age of the building and was not able to find the actial occupancy permit but did see title transfers which were dated in 1896 thus the house is over 110 years old. It is still in need of replacement of the front porch. I was always conscious of retaining the same architectural intergrity of the house as best we could. Not changing the appearance just to save money, hence we never upgraded the porch as the cost of the round wood pillars would have been very expensive. Sure, low cost plastic formed pillars are available and we probably would have done that had we stayed there. The vinyl siding looks good but again it was not the wood clapbord original nor was the asphalt shingle roof versus the original cedar shingle roof. Some times you need to compromise just to make the house functional when repairs are needed.

    It actually was a low cost house when originally constructed with at least one( next door) and possibly many more constructed like it in the city.

    It served it’s purpose, keep the rain off our heads, warm in the winter and room to spend outside or on the front porch during rain storms. We really enjoyed watching those storms from the safety of tht porch.

    We have great memories of our lives there. Truly the best ones of my life, with the growing family and loving parents so close. You just do not see that anymore, with generations living so close. I think it was a great environment for developing children to have that multi-generational exposure as I am sure you and your sister will agree. You both are the mature open minded people you are today because of it.

    Some day, someone will buy the place as a tear down and build one of the new brick four story condo developments but we will always hold close the days we spent in that small cockeyed building.

  2. […] in Montreal Observations, Memoirs, and Opinion « My Childhood Home – The House Home – Our Neighborhood January 13, 2008 In the previous post I talked about the house I […]

  3. Coincidence? Yes. Dad dropped some photo boxes by over the holiday and I went Saturday to return them to their proper storage place. While in the neighborhood I went over to “the house” and peaked into the backyard to see how much the new owners have changed it.

    Just then two women, dressed and carrying gifts, walked up and asked if we could be helped. I explained that I grew up in the house and was just looking to see what changed. Two broad smiles crossed their faces. One lady said it was her birthday and her friend who lived here was giving her a party. They invited me in to look around. I hesitated but knew that I would kick myself later for passing up a chance to go inside.

    The entryway was exactly the same but they replaced the basement door with a new one (probably doesn’t slam shut now). Everything about the first floor landing was exactly the same (except for the belongings of the new resident, of course). The landing midway between the floors had a carpet, coat rack and chest to make a nice entryway to the upstairs. The telltale sloped stairs were there except that they were still slightly corrected with the brace Dad put in before the sale.

    It was so wierd to walk into the 2nd floor apartment. Even though their stuff was there it really felt like coming home. They changed a lot but when I think about it they are only minor changes – wall color, new kitchen cabinets, and furnishings. But it really is still the old place.

    I couldn’t believe how small my bedroom looked. It seemed absolutely tiny. The bathroom was still the same – same blue tile on the wall, claw foot tub, and black and white checkered tile floor. I told her not to strip the door of paint because Nike tore up the door and it’s all wood puddy under there. She was grateful for the info.

    They took out the accessway to the attic and put new drywall in the ceiling. They also took out the hutch but the mantle mirror (always my favorite piece) is still there. I was glad to see they didn’t paint over any of the naturally stained trim.

    They were very nice for letting us peak inside so we left quickly so not to intrude on their party. All the women were very friendly. It was a nice unexpected trip down memory lane. I was just going to write to you about it so I think something made all of us think of the same place at the same time.

    I’ve done research on the house itself. The building itself was built in 1899 by an Irish man (can’t remember his name right now). There were about 3-4 different families that owned the building before us. One of them was the Anna and Peter Schmitt family and they lived there a long time like we did. I was always curious about how the house changed over that 100 year time span. I’d see a paint chip come off the wall and think, huh, this room used to be pink, or green, or blue. I wonder what they thought of the house when they drove by and wondered who lived inside – just as we do now.

  4. I’ve been planning to write this post since we visited it in August, but never really found the time. Another person on Flickr posted some shots of the factories and it kinda got me to finish them up.

    I’m surprised that I didn’t think that the siding from the seventies was not the original. Makes me wonder about the exterior of the foundations now also.

    Of course if I had the money, I’d buy it and seriously rehab it probably spending more than it’s actually worth. Granted that there were functional issues like the configuration of the kitchen could not be helped. I suppose I went into architecture because I wanted to “fix” the problems with the house.

    Nance: It’s funny that your room (which was previously ours) has always been a frame of reference for me. It was 11 feet by 10 feet but I think it seemed even smaller because of the high ceiling. The bathroom was also ridiculously small at 6 feet by 6 feet. I wonder if I still have the measurements I took of it way back when.

    BTW, the access hole was plugged up before the house was sold. Although I’m a bit sad they took out the hutch, the settlement of the house racked it enough that the doors had trouble opening.

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