That was 18 years and a good number of to-do lists ago. For their recent remodeling and renovation work, the Robbins turned to the Historic Chicago Bungalow Initiative and the services of an architect. The initiative's guidelines and information about Chicago bungalow characteristics was invaluable, she said, seated at the working island in her newly-expanded kitchen.
She would. Robbins, a Realtor with Koenig & Strey GMAC Real Estate, is acutely aware of the finite number of residential properties in North Park. "There are not a lot of active sales [for single-family homes] going on," she said about the bungalows, Victorians and frame homes in the area.
Just before Thanksgiving, one of her condominium listings sold at $155,000 -- a two-bedroom in a four-unit building on Kimball Avenue. "A typical two bed/two bath condo in North Park lists between $155,000 and $300,000," she said.
"The community is stable." Robbins says of the area. "The universities [ North Park University and Northeastern Illinois University provide a nice mix and vitality."
North Park University was founded in 1891 by the Swedish Evangelical Covenant Church and opened its current campus, at Kedzie and Foster Avenues, in 1894. The denominational offices and the North Park Theological Seminary are adjacent to the university campus.
The neighborhood's Swedish legacy continues today as a stop at the upscale Sweden Shop, which sells authentic Swedish housewares, clothing and books, or popular Tre Kronor Restaurant attests. These local landmarks are on opposite sides of Spaulding at the Foster intersection. Diners often browse at the Sweden Shop while waiting for a table at Tre Kronor. Some locals refer to the shop as the restaurant's "waiting room."
Tre Kronor's popularity wasn't lost on celebrity chef Guy Fieri who hosts the Food Network's "Diners, Drive-ins and Dives," which tours the country looking for interesting local eateries. Fieri taped Tre Kronor for a "Global Grub" roundup that aired in August. In 2008, Check Please!, a restaurant review program from Chicago's PBS station, WTTW-11, lauded the restaurant's kitchen and friendly service.
WTTW and The Good Counsel Province of the Felician Sisters are headquartered in North Park, which is bordered by the North Shore Channel on the east, the North Branch of the Chicago River and Foster Avenue on the south, Cicero Avenue on the west and Devon Avenue on the north.
North Park is part of the 60625 zip code, which is recognized as one of the most diverse areas in the country. According to 2000 census figures, about 38 percent of North Parkers are foreign-born. Koreans, Middle Easterners, Eastern Europeans and Latinos are the latest newcomers to join second- and third-generation Swedish-Americans in the middle-class, family-oriented neighborhood.
Families living in the area are close to many of the city's best schools. Northside College Preparatory High School, which is one of the top secondary schools in the state, is on North Kedzie.
"It is a diverse area," Robbins said. "I have great neighbors and North Park is still affordable."
The closest El stop is the Brown Line at the Kimball station in Albany Park. Some North Parkers leave their car at Ravenswood and Lawrence to take the Union Pacific North Metra. Other commuters head south on Kedzie to pick up Interstate Highways 90/94.
The Chicago Police Department Clear Path Web site reports 26 incidents of crime within North Park between Nov. 27 and Dec. 10, including 14 thefts, four burglaries, six motor-vehicle thefts and two robberies.
Several low-rise flats serve as housing for students and working singles. Couples who like the neighborhood often rent until a house becomes available, according to Robbins. The majority of homes in North Park are single-family and owner-occupied.
One such owner is Anne Klosinski, who left her condo on Marine Drive for a classic Chicago bungalow in North Park.
Klosinski sits on the board of directors for the Hollywood-North Park Community Association, which has been serving the area for more than 55 years. The HNPCA has no official clout (a la covenants for the neighborhood) but does present a formidable front when necessary, she says.
At times, the group works with the city on projects from tree planting to signage and other times with neighbors organizing a community-wide yard sale.
Klosinski likes the local ethnic restaurants and cultural events in this area of Chicago. Some of her favorite restaurants include Tre Kronor, Midori Japanese Restaurant, and Merla's Kitchen. There is a new chocolate cafe on Foster Avenue called Beijo de Chocolat, which serves crepes on Saturdays and offers chocolate and wine tastings.
The Jewel Box Jazz Series at NEIU heads Klosinski's not-to-miss list that also includes concerts in 48-acre Legion Park or movies under the stars at Peterson Park, both part of the Chicago Park District.
The jewel of community greenspace is the North Park Nature Center, part of a 46-acre forest preserve within the North Park Village complex, at the southeast corner of Peterson and Pulaski. The nature preserve boasts 2.5 miles of trails that wind through woodlands, wetlands, prairie and savannas. Deer are plentiful and often leave the safe environs of the preserve to feed in the rest of the neighborhood.
The city's only waterfall is in North Park. A hidden gem, the 4-foot cascade is located at the confluence of the North Branch of the Chicago River and the North Shore Channel.
The diversity of the area is important to Klosinski, who smiles at the sounds of college students singing their way back to the campuses after an evening in Hollywood-area bars as much as the laughter of neighborhood children playing outside.
"Visiting over the fence is not uncommon [in North Park]," she says. "It's the kind of area where you can ask a neighbor for a cup of sugar."