Midcentury in Naperville September 2023

Midcentury in Naperville

 Wednesday, September 27, 7pm
Naperville Municipal Center, Meeting Room "B"

It was standing-room only at Naperville's Municipal Center recently when Naperville Preservation Inc. presented its architectural survey of two early post-World War II neighborhoods: the East Highlands and River Haven Estates.

Although adjacent to each other, the two early subdivisions are meeting different fates: Of 96 original River Haven homes, 86 percent remain intact.

However, more than half — 233 — of the original homes in the East Highlands have been demolished and replaced with much larger homes.

The past two years have seen 35 home demolitions.

Because these neighborhoods represent pivotal points in local history, Naperville Preservation Inc. commissioned surveys by Preservation Futures, a consulting firm based in Chicago.

After examining every home in the East Highlands, in 2022 the consultants presented their findings in a study entitled "A Midcentury Enclave at Risk: Moser (East) Highlands Survey Summary Report."

The consultants also surveyed River Haven in early 2023 and worked with Naperville Preservation Inc. to produce a similar survey.

While the Naperville City Council works to provide more affordable housing, the preservation consultants point to the East Highlands. "We know these buildings are viable, they're affordable housing," Elizabeth Blasius told an audience of approximately 100 people at the Wednesday, Sept. 27 presentation.          

Harold Moser, "a man of vision," as Naperville Preservation Inc. president Becky Simon told the group, started the East Highlands in 1954.

A Chicago Tribune ad from 1955 was headlined, "For Fine Homes, See Moser Highlands in Naperville," with prices — including lots — starting at $20,300.

River Haven Estates — located east of Washington Street, west of the DuPage River, and north of Gardner Road — commonly known as Edgewater, followed a decade later.

"In the post war building boom Harold had the idea of creating affordable housing in Naperville, which he felt was ideally positioned to grow," Simon told the group of approximately 100 people.

"The ordinary — the vernacular — is just as important as the exceptional, perhaps more so because these mid-century homes capture so much of the life of Naperville as it evolved from a farm town to a vibrant suburb."

Seeking to avoid monotony, Moser hired eight different builders.

"So you can see the difference between all these designs and how really lovely they are and how they are," Blasius said. "These buildings are part of American and Naperville history, and they are threatened."

The consultants started their field work in July of 2022, also meeting with Paul Lehman, Harold Moser's nephew and long-time business partner.

They found that, on average, the new houses in the East Highlands are approximately 3,000 square feet larger than the original homes, "But the lot lines don't change," according to Blasius.

The surviving East Highlands homes include 107 split levels and 92 ranches. Other styles include Cape Cods and raised ranches. The consultants also identified several homes as having "high levels of design excellence," including 643 Melody Lane, 848 Santa Maria and 48 Golden Larch Lane.

The survey was funded by grants from the City of Naperville, Landmarks Illinois, the Driehaus Foundation and Elizabeth Konopka. Copies of the printed survey books are donated to:

Naperville Preservation Inc. is selling copies of the surveys at cost: $50 for the East Highlands survey and $20 for River Haven Estates. To purchase a survey, contact Jane Burke, Vice President of Naperville Preservation, Inc.