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What's the Deal with that 'Brownstone'?

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One of our readers made an observation the other day— that there sure is a lot of recklessness in the use of the "Brownstone" label among property listings. We've noticed that too, with mild agitation, so we decided to dig into the matter a bit more. Have a tip, beef, or story idea? Send it to Curbed via the tipline!

Ever notice how the term "Brownstone" lacks a specificity in the Chicago real estate market? Of the 16 active or pending "Brownstone" listings conjured up in Redfin, only five are sure, honest-to-god Brownstones— clad in the singular from-the-earth sedimentary stone. The others are lucky to possess a brown tint. Brownstone is far more heavily concentrated in the East, where quarries in New Jersey and Connecticut (most of them closed) fed an insatiable appetite for the sandstone in the late 19th and into the early 20th century. Because of today's high-class associations, the 'brownstone' blanket has been stretched to accommodate new interpretations by the real estate industry. For instance, it's common to read 'brownstone' as synonymous with 'rowhouse'. Such offenses are far more prevalent in New York, but the same pattern applies here in Chi-town. Now, for some of the more curious claims:

4139 W Adams St
The Claim: "Just like deep dish pizza, this Brownstone is a true part of Chicago's history."
The Reality: Some of the city's most opulent homes (see the Gold Coast) are clad in brownstone. But, unlike deep dish pizza, Brownstones are not an integral part of Chicago's history. Greystones (limestones), yes. Brick bungalows, yes. Prairie homes, yes. Brick row homes, sure. The false marketing is rampant with this one. It also claims to be close to the Loop. You decide: The 4100 block of West Adams puts it about five miles out.

4126 S Berkeley Ave
The Claim: "Victorian Brownstone on the outside, but 100% brand new on the inside."
The Reality: We think the term best suited to sub in for 'brownstone' here would be 'rowhouse'. Yes, Brownstones can be rowhouses, and often are, but it doesn't quite work the other way around. This is brown brick, plain and simple. It's not even pseudo-brownstone— a brown-colored slurry mix used to patch up deteriorating brownstone or sometimes stand in for it entirely in the case of new-build.


3912 S Prairie Ave
The Skinny: "Potential for elegance! A Brownstone with 6 bedrooms, 3 fireplaces."
The Reality: Whether done consciously or not, advertising a Greystone as a Brownstone is wrong. Greystones are made of limestone or granite, and, though they may be of similar look and vintage to the first generation of brownstones here and in New York, they are not wearing the signature reddish-brown sandstone.

4938 W Congress Pkwy
The Claim: "Beautifully rehabbed Brownstone-Bungalow with an absolute family decor."
The Reality: Not many bungalows were cast in brownstone. So flags are up automatically. We are happy to see the Austin home has a pending sale, so maybe a little of that brownstone branding tipped the scales in its favor. Then again, it was priced at $51/sf.