Planned Communities, 1880s-1930s
Chicago boasts nationally significant examples of planned worker communities that predated the development of Chrysler Village. In the 1880s George Pullman took his railcar company to the south side of Chicago and built a permanent town to house his workers. In the twentieth century, Benjamin Rosenthal built Garden Homes as an attempt to provide quality housing for workers. Like Pullman and Garden Homes, Chrysler Village served as a planned permanent communities built to house laborers. The role of the federal government in the construction of Chrysler Village, however, signaled an important shift away from the corporate utopia model characterized by Pullman and the independent sponsorship of Garden Homes.
In 1942, after Chrysler announced the construction of the 100 million dollar Dodge-Chrysler defense plant on the south side of Chicago, federal and private entities worked together to provide housing for the estimated 30,000 men and women workers. Developers Joseph E. Merrion and F.J. Walsh received priorities for building quotas from the Federal Housing Administration to build the homes of Chrysler Village.
Located in the Clearing neighborhood, the 64-acre planned community included 700 housing units for defense workers in the form of single family homes, duplexes, and multi-unit row houses. The Dodge-Chrysler workers living in Chrysler Village were responsible for assembling engines for the B-29 “Superfortress,” a sophisticated bomber that proved critical to the United States Pacific campaigns during World War II. While independent investment companies financed Merrion and Walsh’s building, all loans were insured by the FHA. At the intersection of private and federal interests, Chrysler Village emerged as a distinct product of World War II construction in Chicago.
As an intentional community characterized by winding streets and affordable homes, Chrysler Village also emerged as a significant aberration in the landscape of wartime Chicago. It stands out from the grid system of Chicago and from the bungalow homes that characterize the surrounding neighborhood of Clearing. Furthermore, it remains one of the few housing projects completed during WWII due to building restrictions during that time. Unlike the other major planned worker community built during the war, Altgeld Gardens, Chrysler Village’s protective covenant restricted residents to white homeowners, representing the racial segregation that plagued Chicago housing throughout the twentieth century.
Post-WWII Planned Communities
Chrysler Village as a planned community also foreshadowed postwar housing developments in Chicago and the United States. The practice of private developers securing federal funding for low-cost homes in planned communities with winding, curvilinear roads came to define postwar suburban housing. The mass suburbanization of the fifties and sixties symbolized by developments like Levittown was predicated on lessons learned during World War II in the construction of developments like Chrysler Village.
Meanwhile, the transition from an industrial to a service economy coincided with changing demographics in Chrysler Village and Clearing. The Dodge-Chrysler Plant became Ford City Mall, and new generations of first-time homeowners moved into Chrysler Village as first and second generation European immigrants relocated to suburbs.
Chrysler Village Today
Chrysler Village retains the same street structure with Lawler Park in the middle of the development. It stands out within the grid system of Chicago and remains somewhat isolated from the surrounding Clearing neighborhood. It remains home to working-class residents and, since the 1990s, a strong Hispanic community.
All of the buildings within the district were built between 1942 to 1946 and retain a midcentury aesthetic in a vernacular minimal traditional architectural style with original materials of brick, wood, aluminum.
For more information on Chrysler Village and the Clearing neighborhood, visit or contact the Clear-Ridge Historical Society.