History of Chicago Neighborhoods

How Chicago Neighborhoods Have Changed Throughout the Ages

North Side:

  • The North Side of Chicago is one of the most prominent community areas of Illinois.

  • It is located north and east of the Chicago River, just north of the central business district the Loop.

  • To its east is Lake Michigan and its northern boundary is the 19th-century city limit of Chicago

  • With in Northside is a particularly popular community, Lincoln Park, where people usually go for food or drinks.

  • In 1837, Chicago was incorporated as a city, and North Avenue, to the south of today’s Lincoln Park neighborhood, was established as its North Side.

  • Lincoln Park itself was a Chicago cemetery until the 1860s. In the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s, Lincoln Park became home to the first Puerto Rican immigrants to Chicago, but now the demographic has completely changed with only a small number of Puerto Rican residents after gentrification of the area in the 1960s.

  • Lincoln Part has become popular for college students (DePaul University is located in the neighborhood) and young people because of its new shops, eateries, and well kept streets.

Northwest Side:

  • Logan Square, Bucktown, Wicker Park, and Ukrainian Village make up the neighborhoods of Chicago’s northwest side.
  • Each neighborhood has had a history with roots in the Polish and German immigrant community that settled there in the mid to late 1800s and early 1900s.
  • During World War II, many Polish immigrants settled into what was called the “Polish Corridor” as displaced persons.
  • The 1960s, though, made way for the arrival of many more Puerto Rican, Cuban, and Mexican migrants after the gentrification of Lincoln Park. 
  • Wicker Park was the original home to the largest Latino gang of the 1970s, the Latin Kings.  The intersection of North, Milwaukee, and Damen became known as a corner filled with prostitution and drugs, and Wicker Park lost 11% of their population during this time.
  • But because of Wicker Park’s close proximity to the Blue line and transit system opportunities, by the early 2000s the area already attracted many young professionals and artists.  In a September 2012 Forbes article, Wicker Park was named the #4 hippest hipster neighborhood in the country.


  • The Loop is the popular name for the Chicago business district which is located south of the main stem of the Chicago River.
  • The Chicago Loop is the second largest commercial business district in the United States.
  • Because of the Chicago Fire in 1871, Chicago had to rebuild itself. But instead of just rebuilding the Chicago area, they created a magnificent town with historical architecture. 9 years after the fire, “The Loop” was created.
  •  It is believed that the term “loop” was created because of the cable car turning loops in the central business district that were constructed in 1882, bounded by Madison, Wabash, State and Lake. Other research has found that “the Loop” was not used as a proper noun until after the 1895–97 construction of the Union elevated railway loop.
  • The Loop created a transportation system that helped establish Chicago’s historic core in the development of the metropolis. All of the railroad depots were located at the edges of the central business district, creating a circle of stations around the heart of the city (The Loop).
  • The rise of the skyscraper in the 1880’s created a distinct character for the downtown district and established a skyline as the symbol for the entire city. Loop architecture has then since continued to be dominated by high-rises throughout history.

UIC Area:

  • The University of Illinois at Chicago falls within the boundaries of a hugely historic area in Chicago, and the area has become known as Little Italy.
  • The boundaries of Little Italy are Ashland Avenue being as far West as the area stretches, to Morgan Street on the East, being joined by Harrison Street on the North end and Roosevelt Road on the South end. Of the area, Taylor Street is the most prominent and historic street.
  • In the late 1800s and early 1900s, the Near West Side of Chicago was the destination for European immigrants. The Italian-American population peaked in Chicago in the late 19th and early 20th century, and the largest settlement was on Taylor Street.
  • From the 1930s through the 1950s, Little Italy was also labeled the “Hull House Neighborhood” because of the large majority of foreign-born immigrants residing within the area.
  • Today, Little Italy is primarily a restuarant district of multiple ethnicities that draws attention from many tourists, but there are still quite a few historic restaurants that have been around since the development of the neighborhood. The area had transformed from a resiential area of low-income to the restaurant district it is today largely in part because of UIC.
  • As well as having the benefit of being close to Little Italy, UIC has also been forunate to be close to the famous Greektown.
  • The first Greek people started living in Chicago around 1840. Around the 1900s Greeks spread to the Harrison, Blue Island, and Halsted areas of the city.
  • In the 1960’s, The Eisenhower expressway, as well as the University of Illinois at Chicago, were being in and around this area. Due to this, Greektown was forced to more north a few blocks.
  • During 1968, the famous gyros were introduced into Chicago’s Greektown and instantly became famous.
  • In 1970 to 1990, businesses and current restaurants starting opening throughout Greektown. This propelled the creation of the Taste of Greece summer festival, a celebration of food as well as Greek culture.
  • Today, Greektown is recongized by the city of Chicago as a historic place. Many old traditions still take place within it, given the repuation of being the most authentic place outside of Greece, when it comes to food and culture. It’s known to be worldwide attraction.

South Side:

  • The south side is a major part of the city of Chicago; it was originally defined as the entire city south of the main branch of the Chicago River. However, now it excludes the loop.
  • The side is very ethnic and varies greatly in income and other demographic measures.
  • The south side has been known for dangerous and high on crime yet the reality shows that this varies depending on the town and the class. The south side varied from affluent to middle to working class.
  • Some neighborhoods like Back of the Yards, Pullman and Bridgeport host many blue collar residents while Hyde Park, Kenwood and Beverly feature more affluent, middle and upper-middle class residents.
  • One neighborhood in particular that resides within the south side area is Pilsen, who in the late 19th century was inhabited by Czech immigrants who named the district after the fourth largest city in what is now the Czech Republic.
  • Many of the immigrants worked in the stockyards and the surrounding factories.
  • Beginning in the early 1970s, Pilsen became increasingly Mexican as people were forced to move when their former small enclave to the North of Pilsen was torn down to make way for the University of Illinois at Chicago.
  • The neighborhood continued to serve as port of entry for immigrants, both legal and undocumented.
  • The development of Pilsen grew significantly over the past decade and Eighteenth Street is an example with its lively walking district filled with many Mexican bakeries, restaurants, and groceries.
  • Pilsen is one of Chicago’s largest art districts including its The Mexican Fine Arts Center Museum.
  • Pilsen is also famous for its murals. The original murals in Pilsen along 16th Street started as a cooperative effort between Slavs and Mexicans when the neighborhood was undergoing change. If one looks closely, one finds that the  images in the murals  include storks, scenic European farms, and Lipizzaner Horses.

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