The Research Center provides access to many resources for those researching architecture and building history.
Your House Has A History
This site provides step-by-step instructions on house history research and a guide to obtaining resources such as building permits, indexes and tract books, and construction reports. It is a good place to start any architecture and building history project.
Visitors to the Research Center can access information on Chicago building permits from 1872 to 1954 on microfilm. In addition, the Museum has created a database with information on building permits cited in the American Contractor magazine from 1898 through 1912.
Chicago Historic Resources Survey
Each section begins with a short history of the community, followed by a list of the significant properties identified in that area, searchable by building address. Each listing provides up to eight pieces of information, including: address, date of construction, architect, building style and type, survey ranking, landmark status, and identification number.
Address Conversion Guides
In 1909, the city of Chicago changed its street-numbering system for most of the city. In 1911, changes for the Loop area were made. Use the address conversion guide to find a building’s original address.
Street names also changed periodically throughout Chicago's history. The Museum’s street name changes document is based on a 1948 compilation with updates by Father John McNalis.
Criss-cross directories are Chicago directories organized by address.. They are useful for identifying previous owners or occupants. Consult the 1928-1929 Polk Directory online or visit the Research Center for directories from 1928, 1950, 1952, 1953, and 1978 to present. A searchable database of a selection of early city directories is available in the Research Center.
Elite Directory/Chicago Blue Book, 1876-1916
Available at the Research Center, the Elite Directory / Chicago Blue Book provides a city directory of socially prominent areas of Chicago. Entries are listed both alphabetically and by location.
Local newspaper files contain historical information about specific buildings, streets, and community areas. Consult the subscription databases for the Chicago Tribune, Historical Chicago Tribune and the Historical Chicago Defender .The Research Center also has an extensive collection of other Chicago newspapers on microfilm and in paper. Paper newspapers are usually stored off-site and require an advance appointment for viewing.
Fire Insurance Maps (Atlases), 1868 to 1951
Fire insurance maps provide block-by-block details of specific areas within Chicago. Information includes lot sizes, outlines of buildings, heights, and construction materials. Consult an electronic version of the Sanborn Fire Insurance Maps from 1894 to 1951 in the Research Center. Paper copies for earlier and later dates are available for some areas of the city.
Photographs can be helpful in providing a historic view of how a house has changed over time. Consult the self-serve ready-print file or the original collection of prints and photographs in the Research Center
The postcard collection also contains some photographic or illustrated views of buildings and streets.
Lists of building permits and, in some cases, other information relating to the architect or contractors appeared in several newspaper and magazine publications, which is helpful if you know the month and year the structure was built. Contact the Research Center for exact holdings of the following periodicals:
- The Economist, 1888-1929
- Inland Architect, 1883-1908
- Real Estate and Building Journal, 1872-1909
- Inter Ocean, 1872-1914
- The Chicago Tribune, 1872-1940
The Museum's online catalog, ARCHIE, may help you find information relating to your street, community, previous owners and occupants, or architect.
Search the catalog
Architectural Blueprints, Elevations, and Drawings
Inventories of the drawings and archives of Chicago architects and architectural firms held by the Museum are available in the Research Center. These inventories are organized by architect or firm name and are not searchable by building or date.