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The mix of contemporary and classic structures that now define Race Avenue in West Town  Photo: Ian Spula

Race Avenue Is the Hottest Block in West Town

Developers have been targeting this short block near Damen for years. Now it’s full of high-end contemporary homes for sale among the handsome older structures.

Race Avenue is no good as a thoroughfare. It runs a total of seven blocks east-west in West Town and Ukrainian Village, and gets severed three times in a mile.

These sorts of city streets aren’t always the healthiest, but in two busy and highly desirable neighborhoods a different symptom emerges: exclusivity. There were inklings of upscale contemporary housing descending on a particularly calm couple of blocks of Race between Wood and Damen going back to the late-1990s. Now, that short stretch is proven ground for luxury single-family construction.

The unchallenged queen of the block is the “Brick-Weave” House at 1922 W Race, by star architect Jeanne Gang. A mass-produced modern aesthetic had already been established here by the time Brick-Weave arrived in 2008, but this sublime work carried the torch for another wave of post-recession development.

Monolithic chunks of new-builds have come to Ohio and Erie Streets near Damen Avenue (as I write, low-rise apartment construction is filling up two parcels that, until the winter, were a union’s headquarters and parking lot). But here on Race it’s more about lot-by-lot customization. Two local developers are most active on the 1800 and 1900 blocks: DenMax Corp. and Sustainabuild LLC.

DenMax is pre-selling glossy four-bedroom homes at 1841, 1843, and 1845 W Race, which are almost finished, and has erected a total of six on the 1800 block alone. Its undeveloped holdings directly across the street are likely to be positioned for somewhat larger and pricier homes in order to preserve profit margin. This is a direct result of the ever-increasing price of lots in West Town and Ukrainian Village, says KoenigRubloff broker and exclusive DenMax agent Ivona Kutermankiewicz, up 10-15% in the last year and now seldom under $250,000.

These homes are hitting the right notes for affluent urbane buyers: transparency to the street; 13-foot ceilings; a kitchen designed as social hub; inset lighting; lower level media room; and outdoor decks. The price point will soon rise above the mid-$800s, but Kutermankiewicz couldn’t say by how much. In 2012, she declared to this mag that a citywide shortage of $700,000 and $800,000 homes was prompting DenMax to target that segment. There may still be a shortage there, but “unless you’re building on a tiny lot, these days it’s hard to stay that low east of Logan Square.”

Of course, these blocks of Race Avenue are no blank canvas for loud modernism. There are plenty of handsome older structures—a few brick 3-flats and lots of workers cottages—the finer (and luckier) of which will live on. Some will perish, with land prices what they are and demand for luxury housing soaring near Chicago and Damen—newly anchored by a Mariano’s market and brimming with boutiques and good restaurants. Teardown of smaller homes is part of the back-story of new construction that already exists along Race and neighboring streets. North Clybourn Group broker Staci Slattery expects the trend to accelerate, in part because “some cottage owners will consider cashing out.” Then there’s the sobering truth that others will buckle under rising assessments.

Slattery is representing some of Sustainabuild’s work on Race, and stresses that, while adjoining vacant lots aren’t as available to incoming developers, “there’s always more developable land than people assume.” DenMax gobbled up the largest vacancies along Race, some of which were the result of burn-downs over the years. But Sustainabuild is also throwing up side-by-side homes four-bedroom homes at 1911, 1913, and 1915 W Race—all under contract to sell. The shallow lots, at 95 feet, attract this large luxury infill that trades yard for deck—with a pattern of slapping decks on all available surfaces. And the smaller lots open up semi-reasonable pricing: starting in the $600,000s and low-$700,000s a few years back and now hiking into the $800,000s. “The most neglected blocks become the best blocks,” muses Kutermankiewicz.

Prefer something that’s been on the block more than a few weeks? Check out this listing for an eight-year-old 4,000-square-foot house, hitting the market on March 24 for $999,900.

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