East Side National Register

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Site Description

Joliet (1970) population: 76,006, the seat of Will County, lies about 40 miles southwest of Chicago. Covering nearly 26 square miles, the city is situated along the Des Plaines River, with the oldest sections of the city lying north of the junction of that river and Hickory Creek.

The Joliet East Side Historic District occupies approximately a 100-acre site directly southeast of the city’s central business district and adjacent to the Union Station Depot and the Will County Courthouse. Roughly bounded by Washington Street, Union Street, Hickory Creek, Fourth Avenue, and Eastern Avenue, the district invariably displays the picturesque texture of a once well-to-do neighborhood. The boundaries were determined on the basis of historical development and visual cohesion. On the north, elevated tracks along Washington Street form a physical boundary that separates the district from the central business district. The presence of vacant property, dilapidated structures, and recent construction adjacent to the elevated railroad tracks on the west validates a boundary drawn along the western property lines of residences fronting Eastern Avenue . Beyond these tracks to the west, and to the east south of the districts are predominantly residential neighborhoods which developed after 1900, principally after World War I. The homes in these areas are typically more modest in design and scale than those found in the district, and generally lack the district’s interesting architectural detailing. In addition to the difference in housing styles and settlement, the areas adjacent to the western and southern boundaries accommodate inconsistent land uses. Numerous abandoned commercial structures, a large manufacturing plant, and a low-rise public housing project all lie just outside the district’s boundaries.

Within the district there exists the great diversity of architectural styles prevalent during the Victorian era. Although the district contains structures dating from the early 1850’s, the majority of buildings were constructed between 1870 and 1900. The richness of details, sensitive use of building materials, and contrasting forms among structures weave the cohesive fabric of a virtually intact 19th-century neighborhood.

Land use within the district is chiefly residential. Several architecturally distinguished churches, a school, and an 1880 commercial row are among the exceptional uses that continue to serve neighborhood residents. Recent construction is negligible. There is no federal property and no industrial land use within the district.

Density in the district is moderate throughout, but somewhat lower north of First Avenue along Eastern Avenue and Richards Street, where the largest homes and lots are located. Elsewhere, street setbacks and lateral spacing of buildings are virtually uniform and always adequate. Vegetation is abundant; moderately large trees and scattered shrubs contribute significantly to the streetscape. Virtually all the residences are single-family detached dwellings and the great majority are 2-1/2 stories high. Although Joliet limestone, Illinois sandstone, and brick are utilized, frame construction is dominant.

The street pattern of the district is that of a rectangular grid aligned along the major coordinates, with the exception of Eastern Avenue, the first street to be laid out in the area. It makes a diagonal cut to the northeast between Fourth Avenue and Washington Street . Typically, structures on corner lots front the north-south streets.

Of the approximately 290 structures in the East Side Historic District, 37 have been evaluated as possessing “primary architectural and/or historical significance." One residence, the Jacob A. Henry Mansion, was listed on the National Register in 1978. Additionally, 14 structures have been evaluated as “contributing structures” of noteworthy architectural value to the district. The remaining structures serve as background, all of sufficient quality to form a good setting for their more illustrious neighbors. It is unfortunate, however, that among the background structures, once of a uniformly high quality, there are many that have suffered the ravages of modernization and inappropriate siding materials. Of the nine intrusions within the district, three are ranch-style residences dating from the 1960’s, and six are buildings of nonconforming use, such as gas stations and second-hand stores. These numbers are actually inconsequential, as large sections of the district are completely intrusion-free.

The majority of the structures in the East Side Historic District are not easily stylistically categorized; most homes bear the mark of a popular style somewhat compromised by the needs and taste of the original owner. A good many of the homes are modified and simply-massed vernacular adaptations of the Queen Anne style (#’s 2,14,19,25,28,41,50). Styles prevalent in Illinois from the 1860’s to 1910 are well represented in the district, and in addition to the Queen Anne, they include: Second Empire (#’s3,4); Italianate (#’s1,8,10,33,36,38); and Georgian Revival(#’s11,20,23,34). Only numerically less significant are a number of other types: Victorian Gothic/Collegiate Gothic (#’s6, 37,44); Romanesque Revival (#’s16,30); Prairie School (#’s13,48); and Mission /Spanish Colonial Revival(#’s31,46). Classical Revival details are applied on all types of homes, often in the form of elaborate column-lined porches (#’s9, 21,23,29,33,36,38,43). The district’s vernacular nature is furthered by the repetition of a “vernacular cottage” style throughout the district. Thus, modest, two-story residences are distinguished by Greek Revival window details and a single steeply-pitched gable (#’s22, 47,49).