City of Chicago Building Permits - February 21, 1872 - June 30, 1954
A Guide to the Holdings of the UIC Library
Compiled by: Suzanne A. Klinger, Assistant Documents Librarian, April 1987
Adapted for the UIC University Library from a compilation by the Commission on Chicago Historical and Architecture Landmarks, 1986
Revised by: Marsha L. Selmer, March 1999
Graphics by: Lin Dou, March 1999
Web page rearranged by: Chieko Maene, August 2005
Copyright by the University Library, UIC, 1999
Building Permits are available at
Section on the 2nd floor.
Introduction | Geographic
Coverage | Search Strategy | Example
1 | Example 2 | Additional
Information | Reel Guide
The microfilm collection of Chicago Building Permits is composed of records dated from February 21, 1872 through June 30, 1954 and covers construction done within the city limits of Chicago for which permits were issued. The work may have been something as simple as the addition of a porch to a house or as major as completely new construction. The value of the permits is that in most cases descriptions of existing structures are given, as well as the costs of the projects, the names of owners and contractors, and in the later records, the architects involved. The collection is comprised of two parts: (1) the microfilmed "Ancient Permit File Cards," which serve as an "index" to the "Permit Ledgers," and (2) the "Permit Ledgers," which are microfilmed copies of the building permit ledger books from City Hall.
Note: Permits issued prior to October 8, 1871, were destroyed in the Chicago Fire of 1871. From October 1871 through February 1872, building permits were published in the Chicago newspapers.
Note: Please visit the Chicago Historical Society's research tool website also to make yourself familiar with basic research tools for house and architecture history in Chicago, http://www.chicagohs.org/Collections/tools.html#house. Their guide, Your House Has A History (PDF), is particulary an excellent help. Please also check this additional help resource section.
Geographic Coverage: Note
The boundaries of Chicago changed as areas were annexed to the city. For example, permits dated 1898 cover only those areas included within the city boundaries at that time. As areas were annexed to the city, they would then be included in the building permits. See the
map for the city's 1871 boundaries delineated on those of the modern city (image
left - graphic by UIC Dept. of Geography, Cartography Laboratory), and also this page from the Encyclopedia of Chicago (Map of Annexations and Additions to the City of Chicago). Formerly independent villages and towns, such as Hyde Park, Lake, and Lakeview, that were annexed in 1889, are listed separately prior to 1895.
1. Information needed to locate a permit
a. Street name
b. Building number
Changes in both street names and building numbers have occurred during
Chicago's history. In 1896 there were major street name
changes in Chicago with many of the duplicate street names eliminated. In
1909 the city underwent a complete address revision
when the intersection of State and Madison became the base point for
numbering. Begin your research by checking for any street
name and building number changes. Address changes may be indicated in the
microfilmed records, but for the most thorough
research it is best to check both the old and the new address.
Note: Pre-1910 building numbers can be converted to the new
numbering system by using an "address changer." A copy of this list
is available at the Documents/Map Information Desk, 3rd floor center, and also the PDF version of the same document is available from the Chicago Historical Society's website, http://www.chicagohs.org/Collections/tools.html#house
A record of Chicago street name changes is available at the Social
Science Division, Harold Washington Library Center, Chicago
Public Library (312/747-4600). Some name changes may also be researched
using the resources of the UIC Library's Map Section.
Consult the Map Librarian for assistance.
Another way to check an old street name is to see historical street maps. Luckily, in Chicago, we have this great website, where you can see historical maps of Chicago "L" (elevated) train system, starting from 1898 to present. Chicago-L.org - http://www.chicago-l.org/maps/route/index.html
2. Use the "Ancient Permit File Cards" index
Note: Permits issued between February 21, 1872 and July 20, 1875
are not indexed.
a. Search the street name and number for the building in
the "Ancient Permit File Cards" on microfilm using all possible name and
These "File Cards" serve as an index to the permits, but they are not
complete, some permits are known to be missing. Street names
are arranged alphabetically and in approximate building number order. All
numbers, whether "north" or "south" are interfiled in
numerical order. Streets such as South Chicago or South Park (now Martin
Luther King Dr.) are filed with the "S" and not the "C"
or "P" streets.
Note: Numbered streets from 14th to 138th are indexed on "File
Card" reels 123-138. (See Example 1, page 6)
b. Once you locate your building in the "File Cards," copy the
following information if it is listed: Book Number, Page
Number, Permit Number, and Date.
Notes: Permits listed as "sundry" in the "File Cards" are
not listed in the "Permit Ledgers."
Book and page numbers are only given from ca. 1911-1912 to 1954.
Letter prefixes on permit numbers in the "File Cards" have no
3. Searching for dates from ca. 1872 to ca. 1911-1912
a. Use the Book Number to identify the reel number
needed. (See Reel Guide to Permit Ledgers, page 11)
During this time period there are no Book Numbers given in the
"File Cards." (See Example 2, page 9) Because the geographical
arrangement of these early permits is not consistent you may need to be
creative and try a variety of approaches. What you think to
be North, or South, or Northwest, or Southwest may be different from the
way in which the permits were arranged. For example,
if you choose the reel for North, but are unable to locate your building,
try the next logical area, such as the Northwest.
Note: The boundaries of Hyde Park, Lakeview, etc. are those in
use at the time the permits were issued and are larger than the
Chicago Community Areas that use those names today. (See the map, page
17). For other historical boundary information see the
Map of Chicago Showing Growth of the City by Annexations and
Accretions(G4104 .C6F1 1983 .C6) located in the Map Section.
4. Searching for dates after ca. 1911-1912
a. Use the Book Number to identify the reel number needed. (See
Reel Guide to Permit Ledgers, page 11)
b. If no Book Number is listed:
1) remember that "sundry" permits are not listed in the "Permit
2) there may be permits that were not completely indexed,
3) you may try to locate the permit by following the instructions in
step 3 above. [This is practical through ca. 1939; after that date
permits were no longer divided by location and were interfiled citywide.
See the Reel Guide to Permit Ledgers for details.]
5. Use the "Permit Ledgers" on microfilm
a. Retrieve the Reel identified in the steps above.
b. If a Page Number was identified, go directly to that page.
Note: Many of the "Permit Ledger" Reels contain more than one
ledger book. For example, both Book 15 and Book 16 are on
Reel 24. Be sure you are looking in the correct Book number.
For further assistance please consult a Librarian at the
Documents/Map Information Desk.
Example 1 - permits prior to ca. 1911-1912
Cottage Grove Ave. 5559 South through Cullom Ave. 5948 West - sample
card from the "Ancient Permit File Cards" microfilm, reel 24.
1. Note the permit number and date, as well as both building numbers.
2. Check the Reel Guide
to identify the appropriate reel number. It is probably on the South & North
that covers 1904-1908.
3. See the following for examples from the Permit Ledger books.
Following is an example of the first page of the double-page entry from the Permit Ledger Books.
The record of the building permit numbered 10646, that was issued for 294-296 Cullom Avenue on October 29, 1907, appears on line 10.
(Source: Permit Ledgers - South & North July 1904 through December
1906, 1907 through 1908) Note: There is more than one book on each reel of
(Click the image above to enlarge)
Following is an example of the second page of the double-page entry from the
Permit Ledger books. See line 10 for the continuation of permit number 10646.
(Click the image above to enlarge)
Example 2 - permits after ca. 1911-1912
Pacific Avenue 3436 North through Paulina Street 608 South - sample
card from the "Ancient Permit File Cards" microfilm, reel 86.
1. Note the permit number, book number, page number, and date.
2. Check the Reel Guide.
Book 53 is on Reel 42.
2. Check Reel 42, page 63.
3. See the following page for example from the Permit Ledger books.
Following is the record of the building permit numbered 60077, that was issued
for 514 S. Paulina St. on May 13, 1942. (Source: Permit Ledger Book 53, page 63,
Reel 42). Note: There is more than one book on each reel of microfilm.
(Click the image above to enlarge)
This listing is not comprehensive. It represents a sampling of the supplemental material that is available. Please consult the librarians at the Documents/Map Information Desk for assistance.
ON ORDER (coming soon to the UIC Library)
Szucs, Loretto Dennis, Chicago and Cook County: A Guide to Research
A comprehensive guide for the Chicago historical researchers. If you do historical research in Chicago/Cook County a lot, you may want to purchase this book: ISBN: 0916489620
F548.25 .D86 2005
Dummelle, Grace, Finding Your Chicago Ancestors: A Beginners Guide to Family History in the City of Chicago
Another comprehensive guide for the Chicago historical researchers. If you do historical research in Chicago a lot, you may want to purchase this book: ISBN: 1893121259
ILL/CHI PW1.1: (year) Documents
Chicago Department of Public Works. Annual Report. 1862- .
Early years of this report contain information on the extension of utilities, streets, etc. into various areas of the city.
HD 268 C4H6 1933a & 1970 (reprint)
Hoyt, Homer. One Hundred Years of Land Values in Chicago.
A study of the fluctuations in Chicago land values.
JS 13 C4e (Latest in Documents)
Journal of Proceedings of City Council of Chicago. 1866- .
Contains information on city ordinances and issues that affect planning, development, etc.
HD 268 C4O5 (Latest in Reference)
Olcott's Land Values (title varies) 1925- (annual)
Information on land values and zoning districts for Chicago and Cook County.
One way to check an old street name is to see old historical street maps. Luckily, in Chicago, we have this website, where you can see historical maps of Chicago "L" (elevated) train system starting from 1898 to present.
G4104 C6 1904 B55
Blanchard's Map of Chicago with the New Street Names. 1904.
Shows street car lines and street numbers in even hundreds.