If you’re a DePaul student, faculty or staff member, you’re probably familiar with the row of townhouses that line Fullerton and Belden and separate the School of Music from the remainder of the Lincoln Park campus. They are recognizable by their distinct and uniform dark red brick exteriors. Today, the townhouses are commonly known as the McCormick Row House District, referring to the McCormick Theological Seminary that built them between 1884 and 1891 as faculty residences (“Wrought Iron Fence,” 8). However, the history of the Seminary Townhouse Association (STA), the group of residents who combined their connections and resources together to privately purchase the townhouses in 1975 in order to maintain the sense of community that had developed over the years, may be unknown to people new to DePaul University.
A donation of documents, photographs, and memorabilia from Liz Ware, a resident of one of the townhouses and the author of The Seminary Townhouses Stay and Within the Wrought Iron Fence, gives insight into the origins of the Seminary Townhouse Association and the unique method used to match buyers with townhouses. This material is being processed and will soon be available for researchers to use in the Library’s Special Collections and Archives.
In 1974, the McCormick Theological Seminary was facing a financial crisis; enrollment was low and maintenance had been deferred on many campus buildings. To alleviate these issues and unburden themselves of the townhouses which had become difficult and expensive to maintain, the decision was made to move the seminary campus to Hyde Park (“Wrought Iron Fence,” 32). But while the houses were in various stages of neglect, the community of townhouse occupants was flourishing. Many of the townhouses had mostly been rented out to families who had bonded with one another through ongoing neighborhood traditions; the annual “Wheel Parade” and “Lighthouse Parade,” and a bi-weekly food co-op (“Townhouses Stay”, 30). The thought of having to leave the neighborhood and the close relationships that had been created behind was unimaginable for many residents.
In an effort to preserve this environment, a group of residents organized with the hopes of purchasing all fifty-four townhouses plus the two freestanding homes and finding private owners for each of them. Taking on the responsibility for finding buyers was a complicated task and the group, now founded under the name Seminary Townhouse Association, needed a plan that would take into account a variety of factors and circumstances. There were residents who wanted to remain in their current homes, residents who wanted to stay in the neighborhood, but had plans of acquiring a different home, residents who wanted to leave the neighborhood entirely, and “outsiders” who wanted to join the neighborhood by purchasing a townhouse. What resulted was a unique game, part-lottery and part-draft, played on a Monopoly-like game board and called “STA-Put.”
“STA-Put” had two parts: the lottery, where numbers were randomly assigned to members to determine the order of turns for the second part of the game, the draft. The initial group of people who played the game were present occupants of the townhouses and became known as ‘charter members.’ During the draft, they could decide to purchase their current homes, select a different townhouse that hadn’t already been chosen, or decide to pass. The game was played in multiple rounds until twenty-seven of the fifty-six total homes had committed buyers. The remainder of the buyers were found from two groups of general members; “Group 1” and an alternate list. “Group 1” included those who had turned in their membership applications before December 23, 1974. The alternate list consisted of those who had turned in their membership applications after December 23, 1974, along with charter members and members of “Group 1” who had passed during their turn.
The sale of the property from McCormick to the Seminary Townhouse Association was finalized in June 1975 and the deeds were passed onto the new homeowners. In 1977, the houses were designated as a historic district under the name McCormick Row House District. Photographs from the 10th Anniversary celebration in 1985 show the strong community that the founders of STA wanted to preserve.
For those interested in learning more about the McCormick Theological Seminary, Seminary Townhouse Association, and DePaul in the Lincoln Park community contact Special Collections and Archives. https://libguides.depaul.edu/askspca
*Blog post inspired by a recent donation which is currently being processed by Ana Oberweiser, Special Collections and Archives Student Assistant, History of Art and Architecture (LAS ‘23).