sketchbook with plans

La Grange Park, IL: a beautiful place for a Joern Home

If you live in the La Grange, IL area, you surely know what a great community La Grange Park is.  Considered an affluent bedroom community, the people of La Grange Park are anything but closed off.  Involved and active, they have over 100 block parties each year.  And best of all, it has one of the most stable housing markets in the country, many of which are historic homes on national registries.  And if you are an architecture buff, you will love this town!  Victorians, bungalows, Arts and Crafts, Craftsman, and four squares are just a few of the types of homes you will find behind the trees lining the streets of La Grange Park.

But how many of these homes were built by the town’s own Charles E. Joern?  No one is 100% sure, but it is certainly a lot!  Around the time La Grange Park celebrated its 125th birthday (just last year), the Village decided to try to create a master registry of all the homes Charles e. Joern built.  The only problems was, no one knew how many there were.  Not even his son, Charles Joern, who still lives in La Grange Park in one of the homes his father built.  But let’s talk about the senior Joern, first.

trees in a forest in Illinois

Charles E. Joern, not just a builder

Charles E. Joern’s parents met on a boat on the way to the United States from Germany, and he was born in 1907.  A builder by trade, Joern’s father eventually moved on to build a real estate business in Chicago where he employed his sons.  Seeing what a lovely place La Grange Park was and sensing a great financial opportunity, Joern’s father built a home there and asked his son and his wife to move into it.  According to the Charles E. Joern’s son (of the same name), the idea was that the home would sell faster if someone was living there.  But the senior Joern and his wife never left that home.

Instead, Charles E. Joern turned his attention away from selling real estate to developing it in the 1930’s.  Village lore says that when the rest of the country was “hunkered down” during the Depression, Charles E. Joern was actively building the town.  And when the Edgewood subdivision opened up in 1939, Joern signed on to build most of the 150 homes.  After that, it was on to many more single family homes that Joern would draw and then bring to fruition.  Along the way, he also built many of the defining structures and landmarks of La Grange Park like the Village Market (which revitalized the town and put him in great demand as a consultant) and the Homestead Apartments (originally intended as a place for veterans returning home from the second World War and still owned by the Joern family).

Chicago skyline from lake

Skyscraper methodology, durable homes

So what, other than the sheer number of homes and structures makes Charles E. Joern’s building so special?  It’s the durability and the quality of materials.  If you own a “Joern Home” in La Grange Park, you know know it will probably still be standing long after you have gone.

Joern’s goal was to build durable, low-maintenance homes using stone principles from Europe.  He built homes in all different styles–from traditional to modern architecture, which is why we have so many different styles of homes in La Grange Park.  Joern was also influenced by the technology of skyscrapers, which was fairly new at the time and very exciting in nearby Chicago.  According to Chuck Joern, the son who still lives in a Joern home in La Grange Park,  “He built these houses with skyscraper construction.”  The National Real Estate Journal even named his methods “the Joern system.”  Using concrete and steel, Joern made all of the exterior walls load-bearing, and ran a large steel beam across the center of the roof from which he ran “junior I-beams” out to the other walls to support concrete.  Most of the rest of the material was cinder bricks and gypsum.  This made the homes very energy-efficient, as well, as they are naturally warm in the winter and cool in the summer.

Joern’s La Grange Park Legacy

As part of La Grange Park’s 125th anniversary last year, the son of Charles E. Joern gave a wonderful presentation at La Grange Park library, which fortunately for us, the high school film team filmed and edited.  In the presentation, the junior Joern explains that his father wasn’t a rich man who built homes as a hobby.  Instead, he fought hard for La Grange Park, often putting up his own money to buy land and materials and donating land, money, and trees to the Village so it would have places like Memorial Park and a good maternity center.  Charles E. Joern died at the young age of 51, in 1958, but his legacy lives on in Poet’s Corner, which his wife donated to the Village in memorial of his death.  So if you live in a Joern Home or think you might, contact the La Grange Area Historical Society to have your home added to the registry.

And if you are interested in living in a Joern Home in La Grange Park, connect with me for help finding one!

 

 

 

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