The three-flat is an iconic building in Chicago: just look down any street between the Loop and the suburbs, and chances are you’ll see one. For today’s post I am excited to collaborate with local artist Phil Thompson of Capehorn Illustration (check out more of his Chicago work here and his Instagram here). His illustrations of Chicago three-flats from three different neighborhoods perfectly encapsulate this classic building type and I hope you enjoy them as much as I do! But first, some details on the classic Chicago building.
So what is a three-flat and why are they so popular?
The two-flat and three-flat buildings are apartments on a more intimate scale: they feature two or three apartments, generally one per floor. They are inextricably linked to Chicago’s immigrant population in the early 20th century. A two-flat or three-flat was a stepping stone towards the American Dream–in Chicago, a step away from tenement living and a step towards a single-family bungalow with a modest lawn. Immigrants could work towards owning these buildings and profit off of the rental income from the extra unit.
How do you recognize a three-flat?
Of course there are the three floors but there are other distinct features, as well. These two-flats and three-flats date generally to 1900-1918, are of brick or stone construction, and are in the Italianate style. Often there is a projecting bay and a decorative cornice, and the door can be found at one side of the front facade.
Next time you’re in Chicago, keep your eye out for two-flats and three-flats. Like brownstones in Brooklyn, they are iconic to the area. The Chicago Architecture Foundation estimates that there are more than 76,000 2-flats in Chicago, so chances are good you’ll see one… or several!
Sources and further reading:
Check out Capehorn Illustration!
The Chicago Architecture Foundation has a great article on Two- and Three-flats. Also check out The tale of the Chicago two-flat (includes a podcast episode if listening is more your thing!).
Also see The Tale of the Two-Flat on WBEZ (P.S. Curious City is the best. Definitely have a listen if you’re interested in Chicago culture, history, and architecture).
You can read more about the Chicago bungalow here.
9 thoughts on “The Classic Chicago Three-Flat”
Right?! Glad you like it, too. These pieces capture Chicago architecture so well.
Fabulous — I knew none of this. Thank you for continuing my architectural education, Susie.
Hooray! I’m glad to hear it. I’m always learning new things, myself, as I explore around for my blog!
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My dad and grandmother were Estonian refugees to America and lived in a two-flat. Good memories of that place in Ravenswood Manor.
Wow, very cool history. Thanks for sharing! I am pretty new to this architectural type, being from the west coast, but it’s so quintessential to Chicago and the connected history and stories.
[…] 2. The Classic Chicago Three-Flat […]
This is great.
I’m trying to find architectural drawings/floor plans for a 3-flat in Rogers Park. Would anyone be able to direct me to a source?
There are a lot of good Graystone resources out there! You might try reaching out to the City of Chicago, I am not sure if they have records of floorpans with building permits. Also this may be a good resource: https://issuu.com/nhsgreystoneandvintage/docs/final_book_layout_w_cover?e=25186956/47417044