In 1926, developer John Mills launched Westwood – an ambitious bungalow development in suburban Elmwood Park, due west of the Loop. Mills & Sons oversaw the construction of homes as well as the improvements to the entire holding, with streets, alleys and sidewalks all going in at the same time. In full swing by 1928, the Westwood development was one of the largest single developments the city had seen and would, when finished, include 1,332 homes and cover many blocks, with what is now known as Conti Parkway as its civic center.
The bungalows are handsome and solid – they look terrific over 80 years after their construction – but nothing new or groundbreaking for their time. Mills & Sons’ work would be just a larger-than-average notch in the Bungalow Belt were it not for an unusual decorative decision: these are, perhaps, Chicago’s only Sullivanesque bungalows.
The terra cotta trim was supplied by the Midland Terra Cotta Company (1), 105 W. Monroe in the Loop. Midland Terra Cotta made an entire line of Sullivan-inspired stock ornament. Their work wound up on quite a few of Chicago’s commercial buildings, though of course the Leiber-Miester was given no credit and, undoubtedly, no compensation. The intent was simply to make the buildings more “ornamental”, in the words of Midland’s own design drawings. Whereas Sullivan carefully integrated his ornament to enhance and reinforce the big idea of the building – developers just dropped it in because it looked nice.
And, well, doesn’t it?
Blocks of catalog ornament were used to accent window surrounds, the heads of arched basement windows, porch columns, and simple expanses of brick wall. The ornaments are a ubiquitous marker of John Mills’ Elmwood Park bungalows, clearly delineating the extent of his development.
Mills & Sons took pride in their work, touting the “colorful terra cotta trim” and high-quality face brick in their advertisements. Pride could not save them from the onset of the Great Depression, however, and the company went into receivership in 1932, based on a motion filed by the Hydraulic Press Brick company. The company survived, however, and would go on to build wartime housing further west in the early 1940s.
Note 1 – Chicago Tribune display ad, March 11, 1928 – Mills & Sons Westwood. The ad lists all the major suppliers of building components including brick, hardwood floors, fireplaces, door hardware and much more.