The Oakton Historic District lies tucked within a grid of busy streets, which draw traffic – and attention – from the cozy south Evanston neighborhood.
Bounded by Oakton Street, Howard Street, Asbury Avenue and Ridge Avenue, the historic district is a “hidden gem,” and remains unexplored by many community members, said Eden Juron Pearlman, Executive Director at the Evanston History Center.
That’s why the history center selected the neighborhood for the 2022 edition of its annual Mother’s Day Walk, a popular 47-year-old tradition and the organization’s biggest fundraiser.
“The idea was to do something totally different and we’ve never, ever been over there,” Pearlman said.
The walk launched on Mother’s Day weekend, but community members are invited to tour the area on their own time, and purchase an informational booklet on the history center’s website to learn more about the historic district.
In the past, the annual walk involved a tour of the inside of several private homes. This was a great opportunity to learn about the architecture, history, furnishing and decorating of other people’s homes, Pearlman said.
However, the pandemic forced the history center to pivot, and in the last couple of years, organizers have held a House Walk-by, in which community members examine the exterior of houses with a specific theme or located in a specific area.
The last couple of pandemic House Walk-by’s toured areas already frequently featured by the history center, and this year, organizers really wanted to highlight an area that hasn’t received that same attention, Pearlman said.
The Oakton district is interesting because drivers are unlikely to pass through it while traveling to their final destination, Pearlman said.
That’s because train tracks cut through the area, making it inefficient for North-South travel, she said. Drivers are much more likely to find themselves on the busier streets that border the neighborhood, she added.
According to the history center’s booklet, the Oakton district consists of 336 buildings, the majority of which were built in the 1920s. These homes are a bit newer than many of the homes in other historic districts that were built prior to the turn of 20th century, Pearlman said.
Most of these homes are bungalows, a housing style based on a British Colonial adaptation of an Indian design, according to the booklet.
The Oakton district features different types of bungalows, including Craftsman-style bungalows, created for a warmer climate; Chicago-style bungalows, created for a colder climate; and Tudor-style bungalows, or the “Old English” style.
Other architectural styles displayed in the neighborhood include Tudor, Tudor Revival, Dutch Colonial Revival, Art Deco, Modern and Italian Renaissance.
“There’s a real concentration of architecturally interesting homes,” said Pearlman. “And there are funny stories about the architects and developers, and how the neighborhood was kind of formed.”
The booklet dives into the history of several local landmarks, including Oakton Elementary School, and the architects who designed these buildings. It also details the history of street names and some of its first settlers.
For many Evanston families, the history center’s house walk has become a staple Mother’s Day activity, Pearlman said.
“We’re desperate to get back to be in people’s houses, but in the meantime, we want interesting offerings,” she said. “This is our major fundraiser of the year, so we need people’s support.”