Unlike many other early city neighborhoods, the Villa was created by visionaries who were determined to give this distinctive enclave a certain beauty, sense of community and architectural integrity that would endure well into the future. They designed one of the city’s first planned urban developments, laying out streets divided by park-like medians, and putting into place strict covenants that governed density, land and building use, and architectural style.
The vision was born in 1896 when the family of Franklin and Henrietta Osburn bought the land bordered by Addison, Pulaski, Irving Park and Hamlin. In 1902, the Osburn family sold the property to Frederick Sanford and legendary Chicago developer Samuel Eberly (SE) Gross, who was responsible for building thousands of homes throughout Chicago. Gross re-platted the property and, no doubt influenced by the boulevards that were part of the beautification movement of the late 1800s, created one of the Villa’s distinguishing characteristics – green medians running down the middle of two of the neighborhood’s streets - Harding and Avers avenues. The property became known as the S.E. Gross Boulevard Addition to Irving Park.
Gross never built any homes in his Irving Park addition. A dispute over payment to the Osburn family culminated in the sale of the property at auction to the Osburn heirs who then sold it to mortgage broker Albert Haentz and builder Charles Wheeler. The firm of Haentz & Wheeler bought the property in June of 1907 and renamed it “Villa.”
But their purchase came with strings attached in the form of the covenants put in place by Henrietta Osburn. These covenants, along with SE Gross’s boulevards, are largely responsible for the way the Villa looks today. There were to be no commercial establishments within the bounds of the Villa, no multi-unit buildings and no flat roofs or front yard fences. Lots were to be 50 feet wide – twice the standard Chicago lot – and houses were to have consistent set-backs of 38 feet. No house was to be sold for less than $2,500. Most important, the Villa was to be a neighborhood that promised and delivered “light, air and beauty.”
Click on the icons below to see documents from early in the Villa's history.