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West Side

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West Side District's




Park Community

Humboldt Park Neighborhoods
Hermosa, Humboldt Park, Logan Square,

West Humboldt Park 

Humboldt Park Boat House


Humboldt Park Neighborhood
In 1869, area residents requested that the newly built park in their neighborhood be named for Prussian Friedrich Wilhelm Heinrich Alexander von Humboldt, a German writer famed for his five-volume work Cosmos: Draft of a Physical Description of the World. He was born in 1769, 100 years prior to the request, and was considered a scientist, explorer, naturalist, geographer, and celebrity as well as a writer. His one visit to the United States, however, did not include Chicago.

West Humboldt Park's name comes from neighboring Humboldt Park.



West Town

West Town Neighborhoods
Bucktown, East Ukrainian Village, Fulton River District, Goose Island, Humboldt Park, Logan Square, Noble Square, Polish Downtown, River West, Smith Park, Ukrainian Village, West Town, Wicker Park

Flat Irons Art Building in West Town


West Town Neighborhood
West Town's history is the story of settlers who were drawn to the area in the 1840s to work on laying new railway tracks or to begin positions in factories near the Chicago River. Since then, the area's different neighborhoods have attracted German, Scandinavian, Polish, Jewish, Italian, and Ukrainian residents; in fact, the last on that list has seen its heritage widely preserved in West Town through numerous churches, museums, and the Ukrainian Village. The name, West Town, may refer to Western Avenue, which was the city's western boundary at the time of its settlement,

Noble Square Neighborhood
Civic leaders Mark and John Noble were the inspiration for the neighborhood's name. The square that was built in the area was part of a controversial Department of Urban Renewal development that displaced many residents.

Polish Downtown Neighborhood
Polish Downtown is Chicago’s oldest Polish settlement and was the capital of American Polonia from the 1870s through the first half of the 20th Century. Nearly all Polish undertakings of any consequence in the U.S. during that time either started or were directed from this part of Chicago’s near northwest side.

Smith Park Neighborhood
In 1929 the neighborhood was named for 32nd Ward Alderman Joseph Higgins Smith, who was its alderman from 1914 to 1933.

Ukrainian Village Neighborhood
After the Great Chicago Fire, this area was mainly inhabited by German immigrants; and by the early 20th century, Russian, Ukrainian, and other European residents started to call the neighborhood home. By the end of WWI, it was primarily an enclave for Ukrainians. In 1983 Chicago Mayor Jane Byrne designated Ukrainian Village as an "official neighborhood," the first such location in Chicago to receive this honor.

Wicker Park Neighborhood
Brothers Charles and Joel Wicker owned a subdivision in Chicago, and in 1870 they gave a small area to the city for a park. It was sectioned off so cattle couldn't graze on the fertile land, and soon a neighborhood sprouted around the park and took its name from the men who donated the land.

Fulton River District and River West neighborhoods have long been known to Chicago residents as market districts and major arteries in the west side manufacturing corridor. Unfortunately, no information as to how their names originated could be found.

East Ukrainian Village's name comes from neighboring Ukrainian Village.




Austin Neighborhoods
Austin, Galewood, Hermosa, Lawndale, North Austin, South Austin, The Island, West Garfield Park, and West Humboldt Park

Austin Town Hall


Austin Neighborhood
Originally in the township of Cicero, the land, which bears his name, was acquired and subdivided by real estate mogul Henry W. Austin in 1866.   He held a great deal of power in that municipality, and its politicians brought major roads and elevated trains to the neighborhood. The other Cicero citizens objected and voted to expel Austin and have the neighborhood annexed into Chicago.

The Island Neighborhood
The Island is actually a metaphorical island. When the neighborhood was built, there were three rail lines that made up its north border. To the south and west are suburbs (Cicero and Oak Park, respectively), and to its east is an uninhabited factory area. Thus, it has no common border with another Chicago neighborhood and is set off by itself--thus, it's an island.

North Austin and South Austin neighborhoods take their names from their relationships to neighboring Austin.

Details on the neighborhood of West Humboldt Park will be found later in this series.



West Garfield Park

West Garfield Park Neighborhood
Lawndale and West Garfield Park


West Garfield Park Neighborhood
The park that this neighborhood is named after was originally called "Central Park" when it was built in 1869. After President James A. Garfield's assassination in 1881, the city changed the name; and the area to the east developed into East Garfield Park.

Details on the neighborhood of Lawndale will be found later in this series.



East Garfield Park Community

East Garfield Park Neighborhoods
East Garfield Park, Fifth City, Homan Square, Lawndale, Near West Side, and West Town

Garfield Park Conservatory


East Garfield Park Neighborhood
As mentioned previously, East Garfield Park was named after President Garfield. Though annexed to Chicago in 1869, it wasn't until the Lake Street Elevated made its way into East Garfield Park in 1893 that commercial and residential development emerged on the scene.

Nearly twenty per cent of the neighborhood is managed by the Chicago Park District, with Garfield Park occupying the northwest corner of the neighborhood. The park is home to the Garfield Park Conservatory, one of the largest and most impressive conservatories in the United States.

Fifth City Neighborhood
According to Streetwise Chicago: A History of Chicago Street Names, a street originally called Colorado Avenue was renamed Fifth Street in an effort to boost residential and commercial development. The new name was meant to evoke the prestige of New York's flashiest shopping strip—a far cry from the modest bungalows, brownstones, and warehouses that defined the Chicago area. Peter T. Alter, an archivist at the Chicago History Museum, says the name switch happened around 1890, near the time Chicago beat out New York for the right to host the World's Columbian Exposition fair. The neighborhood became Fifth City thereafter.

Homan Square Neighborhood
Homan Square is the community development on the site of the original world headquarters of Sears, Roebuck and Company in the North Lawndale neighborhood. In the late 1980s, Ed Brennan, chairman of Sears—an original cornerstone of the community—decided to join forces with Mayor Daley and local real estate mogul Charlie Shaw, and they embarked on an ambitious plan to redevelop the site of Sears’ old headquarters as a residential, retail, and family services center to be known as Homan Square.




Near West Side

Near West Side Neighborhoods
Columbus Circle, Douglas Park, Fulton River District, Greektown, Illinois Medical District, Little Italy/University Village, Lawndale, Near West Side, South Loop, Tri-Taylor, West Loop Gate

Piazza DiMaggio, a Gift from the City of Chicago
to the Little Italy


Near West Side Neighborhood
The area's history goes back to 1851, when Chicago extended its municipal boundaries, and its name derives from its proximity to the Loop.

By the early 1920s, the Near West Side was home to more than 200,000 people, including some of the city's wealthiest residents. The neighborhood surrounding Union Park was called the "Bois de Boulogne of the West Side." Successive waves of immigrants brought changes in the area's ethic composition and began a slow decline. Urban renewal, expressway building, and housing project development accelerated disintegration and increased poverty among residents. Alex Kotlowitz's acclaimed book, There Are No Children Here, brought national attention to the grim realities of life for children and families in Near West Side housing projects.

Douglas Park Neighborhood
Stephen A. Douglas was a man full of spit and vinegar. He was a powerful lawyer and politician during the Civil War era and though he made a thunderous presence in the Senate, Douglas didn’t win the race for presidency. He had stiff competition—a man by the name of Abraham Lincoln—who happened to take the victory in the 1860 presidential election. Despite the loss, Douglas continued to be a straight-laced democrat working for the good of the people, not only in the Chicago vicinity but in the whole of the United States. It is for Douglas’ staunch patriotism and devotion to the betterment of society that this south side carries his name.

Greektown Neighborhood
Greek immigrants came to Chicago in the 1840s as ship captains and started selling food and opening restaurants in this Near West Side neighborhood. The Eisenhower Expressway displaced the community in the 1960s, but it regrouped a couple blocks north and retained the name "Greektown."

Illinois Medical District Neighborhood
The District had its start in the 1870s when Cook County Hospital--now called John H. Stroger, Jr. Hospital, Rush Medical College, and the College of Physicians and Surgeons were established on the Near West Side following the great Chicago Fire of 1871.

The district is also home to University of Illinois Medical Center, Rush University Medical Center, University of Illinois College of Medicine, UIC College of Pharmacy, Jesse Brown VA, The Neuropsychiatric Institute, Rothstein CORE Center, Chicago Lighthouse for the Blind & Visually Impaired, Illinois Forensic Science Center, Chicago Department of Public Health, and the Cook County Coroner's Office. (An appropriate name for the area, I'd say.)

Little Italy Neighborhood
This area (also known as University Village for the University of Illinois-Chicago) was once home to nearly all of Chicago's Italian immigrant population. Many ethnicities have resided on the stretch of streets along Taylor Street in either direction, but the strong Italian influence earned this area its moniker. Historic Roman Catholic churches stand as proud references to a time when the community grew between 1898 and 1911. Parishes may have fed the spiritual needs of Little Italy's population, but later parks and restaurants sprouted up to fulfill the desires of appetites and for meeting places.

Part of the Italian-American population of the neighborhood was displaced in the 1960s and 70s by the construction of UIC's east campus. The university is the source of the newer name for the area.

West Loop Gate Neighborhood
West Loop Gate, now known simply as the West Loop, was christened by famous Chicago planner and architect, Daniel Burnham in 1909. His Chicago Master Plan envisioned the area east of Ashland as the “gateway from the west into the Loop.” Ultimately, the area became known as West Loop Gate.

In the 1800s, immigrants of mixed backgrounds, many from Eastern Europe and Russia came looking for work and began settling in the region. Still, the West Loop remained a relatively industrial place. It wasn't until Greektown was founded later in the century that commercial sites and eventually residential housing started to rise in the vicinity.

Unfortunately, historical details of the Columbus Circle neighborhood could not be confirmed, but the use of the name "Columbus" in Chicago usually refers to Christopher Columbus.

Details of the neighborhood of South Loop will be found later in this series.



North Lawndale

North Lawndale Neighborhoods
Douglas Park, Homan Square, Little Village, and North Lawndale/Lawndale

Original Sear's Tower & Complex in Lawndale


North Lawndale Neighborhood (also known simply as "Lawndale")
Shortly after Cicero was incorporated into Chicago in 1869, Alden C. Millard and Edwin J. Decker quit their stationery business to develop real estate in this new area. They chose the name Lawndale and pumped money into the neighborhood by building a hotel, shops, and housing. The two men were, unfortunately, bankrupt by 1876.

Details on the neighborhood of Little Village will be found later in this series.



South Lawndale

South Lawndale Neighborhoods
Little Village/South Lawndale
Marshall Square  

South Lawndale (AKA Little Village) Street Scene


South Lawndale/Little Village Neighborhood
The area was originally settled by Irish and Eastern European immigrants after the Great Chicago Fire sent the population of Chicago fleeing to the outlying countryside. Jobs created by industrial development also attracted residents to the South Lawndale area including many Polish immigrants, who were escaping the ravages of war-torn Europe. In the '50s a large contingent of Mexican immigrants moved to Pilsen in search of work, but later many were forced to relocate to Lawndale when the University of Illinois Chicago’s campus was built. Eventually, a significant group with Mexican roots inspired a split from the rest of Lawndale and created an independent and viable neighborhood all its own--like a little Mexican village, a Villita or Little Village.

Marshall Square Neighborhood
Marshall Square is a neighborhood in the South Lawndale Community that was named for the square formed by Marshall Boulevard, 24th Boulevard, Cermak Road, and California Avenue. According to the Chicago Public Library Marshall Square Branch web page, James A. Marshall, for whom Marshall Boulevard was named, came to Chicago in 1832, opened a dancing school, and served as secretary of the Chicago Real Estate Board.



Lower West Side

Lower West Side Neighborhoods
Douglas Park, East Pilsen, Heart of Chicago, Heart of Italy, Illinois Medical District, Little Village, Pilsen, South Loop

Pilsen Historic District

Pilsen Neighborhood
Manufacturing jobs brought thousands of immigrants to this area in the 1870s. Many were Czechs, and they came to call the area "Plze" after the second largest city in West Bohemia. The name soon morphed into Pilsen, which endured.

Despite beginning with a solid European population (including a large Bohemian community), present-day Pilsen is predominately a Mexican-American neighborhood; in fact it's the largest Mexican area in Chicago. The migration of Mexican families to this section of Chicago started during World War I, and by the middle of the twentieth century they were the dominant cultural group. Now, Pilsen is known for its proud Latino heritage, vivid outdoor murals, and authentic Mexican cuisine.

Heart of Chicago Neighborhood
Residents of the Heart of Chicago neighborhood enjoy "Pasta Row," a group of Italian restaurants that line Oakley Avenue and the border it shares with the Heart of Italy neighborhood. I guess the neighborhood is called Heart of Chicago because Chicagoans, like the rest of the world, love Italian food!

Heart of Italy Neighborhood
The Heart of Italy neighborhood is part of Heart of Chicago, which in turn, is part of the Lower West Side community. Heart of Italy is perhaps a neighborhood or perhaps just a co-branding effort on the part of the half dozen Italian restaurants that constitute much of what's left of the Italian community. This area is, obviously, known for its food; but shouldn't be confused with the Little Italy neighborhood, which is more a celebration of Italian culture.

East Pilsen's name comes from neighboring Pilsen.