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Naperville’s midcentury modern homes to be cataloged before they’re bulldozed for larger houses – Chicago Tribune

Bob Brislan’s single-story house on Prairie Avenue and other midcentury modern homes like it are becoming a vanishing commodity in Naperville.

Smaller homes like his are being torn down in the East Highlands to make way for multistory behemoths worth in excess of $1 million.

Brislan said he’s like to see more of them preserved.

A Naperville preservation group is planning to catalog remaining homes in the neighborhood built in the 1950s before they all disappear.

Naperville Preservation Inc. received $3,000 from the city’s Special Events and Cultural Amenities program and $2,000 from Landmarks Illinois’ Barbara C. and Thomas E. Donnelley II Preservation Fund.

Jane Ory Burke, a Naperville Preservation director, said the two grants will help the group hire consultant Preservation Futures to conduct a survey in late summer or early fall to determine how many of the roughly 500 original midcentury modern houses are left in the neighborhood formerly known as Moser Highlands.

She said large lots, mature trees and winding roads make the East Highlands popular for taking down the old and putting up larger new houses, Burke said.

“There’s a tremendous amount of teardowns there, and we’re really hoping to capture information and images about the remaining houses as quickly as we can before they all go away,” Burke said.

But before Naperville Preservation can hire the consultant, she said, the group will need to raise at least $3,000 more for the survey, plus additional money to cover the establishment of a database of the homes and marketing materials.

The neighborhood is roughly bounded by Prairie Avenue on the north, Burr Oak Park on the south, Columbia Street on the east and the DuPage River on the west.

“It’s very, very interesting because the very first plats, the first areas of the East Highlands, Highland Avenue wasn’t even there,” Burke said. “That road where Highland (Elementary) School is, which we think of as pretty a main street, wasn’t even there before the subdivision. It’s one of those things where the road evolved as the subdivision evolved.”

The neighborhood is significant, she said, because it was one of the first major residential developments from Harold Moser, who would set the standard for future subdivisions in the city.

“How it was done is one of the contributing factors to the way housing has been handled in Naperville since then,” Burke said.

For example, Moser included donations of land for schools and parks, something Naperville later championed and which has become the gold standard for communities throughout the country, she said.

While Moser bought the land and developed the Moser Highlands, a series of builders constructed the homes.

“Midcentury modern vernacular housing is really a variety of houses, but all of them have the same period and are really illustrative of how life was evolving right then after the war,” Burke said.

The most famous of the builders was Don Tosi, who became known in Naperville for his custom homes with a contemporary flair and trademark orange front doors.

According to advertising at the time, homes there started at $19,900, including lots.

“Housewives immediately fall in love with it because everything needed for convenient family living is already here: schools, churches, recreational areas, well-planned streets and all city utilities,” a circular published in the Chicago Daily News in May 1961 reads.

The ad went on to say, “Husbands are quick to note the transportation facilities such as fast, frequent air conditioned commuter trains, major highways, west tollroad and proximity to O’Hare and Midway airports.”

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