North Lawndale, Chicago
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|Community Area 29 - North Lawndale|
Location within the city of Chicago
|• Total||3.20 sq mi (8.29 km2)|
|• Density||11,000/sq mi (4,300/km2)|
|Time zone||CST (UTC-6)|
|• Summer (DST)||CDT (UTC-5)|
|ZIP Codes||parts of 60608, 60623 and 60624|
|Median household income||$25,797|
|Source: U.S. Census, Record Information Services|
|This section needs additional citations for verification. (April 2009)|
||This article may be in need of reorganization to comply with Wikipedia's layout guidelines. (November 2010)|
Once part of Cicero Township in 1869, the eastern section of North Lawndale to Pulaski Road was annexed to Chicago by an act of the state legislature. Thereafter, streets were platted and drainage ditches were installed between Western (2400 west) and Pulaski Road (4000 west). The name "Lawndale" was supplied by Millard and Decker, a real estate firm which subdivided the area in 1870. In 1871, after the Great Chicago Fire, the McCormick Reaper Company (later International Harvester) constructed and occupied a new large plant in the South Lawndale neighborhood. As a result, many plant workers moved to eastern North Lawndale. The remaining area west of Crawford Avenue was annexed in 1889 by a resolution of the Cook County Commissioners.
By 1890 North Lawndale was beginning to be heavily populated by Bohemian immigrants from the Austro-Hungarian Empire. The section most populated by the Czechs was the area from Crawford (Pulaski) west, and from 12th St. (Roosevelt Rd.) to 16th St. Real estate firm W.A. Merigold & Co. was the chief developer of that part of the community, which resulted in the name "Merigold" being associated with the neighborhood. Czech institutions popped up in Merigold, beginning in 1890 with the Slovanska Lipa/Sokol Tabor (Czech fraternal & gymnastic organization) at 13th & Karlov.
In 1892 the Bohemian Catholic Church, Our Lady of Lourdes, was established at the corner of 15th & Keeler. In 1909 the Czech Freethinkers School, Frantisek Palacky, was built at 1525 S. Kedvale. The Merigold neighborhood was also known as Novy Tabor (New Camp) by the Czech immigrants who settled there. The premier Czech institution, established in 1912, was the Ceska Beseda (Bohemian Club) at 3659 W. Douglas Blvd. This club was attended by Chicago's Czech elite, as well as the visiting Czech elite of the rest of the United States and Czechoslovakia.
It was the place for its members to celebrate and enjoy literature, drama, and music by the most renowned and talented Czech artists. The ethnic Bohemians spread throughout the rest of the North Lawndale neighborhood; they were the original owners of many of the beautiful greystone buildings that graced the picturesque streets of the neighborhood. Many of the elite members of the Bohemian community resided in the vicinity of the 1800 and 1900 blocks of South Millard Avenue.
These men of wealth, as well as the rest of the Czech residents of North Lawndale, were strongly committed to their neighborhood, and were involved in civic affairs. Anton Dvořák Public Elementary School at 3615 W. 16th St. was named after the revered 19th-century Czech composer. Several members of the North Lawndale Czech community occupied positions in city as well as county government. In the post-World War I years, the Czechs began leaving the neighborhood for newer housing in the western suburbs of Cicero, Berwyn, Riverside, and Brookfield.
By the 1920s many of the Czechs were gone, and Jews became the majority ethnic group of the neighborhood after having left the crowded confines of the Maxwell Street ghetto. North Lawndale later became known as being the largest Jewish settlement in the City of Chicago, with 25% of the city's Jewish population.
From about 1918 to 1955, Jews, overwhelmingly of Russian and Eastern European origin, dominated the neighborhood, starting in North Lawndale and moving northward as they became more prosperous. In the 1950s, blacks migrated into the area from the South Side and from southern states. Unscrupulous real-estate dealers all but evacuated the white population by using blockbusting and scare tactics related to the change in ethnicity. In a span of about ten years, the white population of North Lawndale dropped from 99% to less than 9%, but the number of total residents increased.
According to the Steans Family Foundation, in the decades following the 1960s
- there were a series of economic and social disasters... Riots followed the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr., in 1968, destroying many of the stores along Roosevelt Road and accelerating a decline that led to a loss of 75% of the businesses in the community by 1970. Industries closed: International Harvester in 1969, Sears (partially in 1974 and completely by 1987), Zenith and Sunbeam in the 1970s, Western Electric in the 1980s. By 1970 African Americans who could also left North Lawndale, beginning a precipitous population decline that continues to this day.
The poverty resulting from the loss of thousands of jobs due to restructuring of industries from the 1960s to the 1980s meant that money was not available for property maintenance. Houses were abandoned and thousands of structures were leveled during this time. Much land sat vacant until the building and real estate boom of the 2000s. Due to these factors, the total neighborhood population dropped from 124,937 in 1960 to 41,768 by 2000.
Lawndale was the base of the Vice Lords, a street gang that in the late 1960s worked as a positive force for their neighborhood. They set up community centers and organized politically, but this transformation proved short-lived. The gang became involved in drugs and other illicit actions.
Jonathan Kozol devotes a chapter of Savage Inequalities: Children in America's Schools (1991) to North Lawndale. He notes that a local resident called it "an industrial slum without the industry." At the time, it had "one bank, one supermarket, 48 state lottery agents ... and 99 licensed bars." According to the 1980 census, 58 percent of men and women 17 and older had no jobs.
In 1986 the Steans Family Foundation was founded to concentrate on grantmaking and programs in North Lawndale. It works "in partnership with local residents and institutions to build and enhance the North Lawndale community".
In the 1990s, the foundation noted signs of revitalization, "including a new shopping plaza and some new housing" associated with Homan Square, stabilization of the declining population, and a rise in new residents, mostly Hispanic. They constituted 4.5% of the population.
According to Charles Leeks, director of NHS, North Lawndale has the greatest concentration of greystones in the city. In late 2004, the City of Chicago enacted "The Historic Chicago Greystone Initiative" to promote the preservation of the neighborhood's greystone structures.
Contract Buyers League
The Contract Buyers League (CBL) was a grassroots organization formed in 1968 by residents of the North Lawndale community. Assisted by Jack MacNamara, a Jesuit seminarian, and twelve white college students based at Presentation Roman Catholic Church, led by Msgr. Jack Egan, the CBL fought the discriminatory real estate practice known as “contract selling.”
Following WWII, Chicago’s South Side Black Belt had become increasingly overcrowded as African Americans moved from the South in the second wave of the Great Migration. Unable to attain decent and sanitary housing in white neighborhoods due to racially restrictive real estate covenants and mortgage redlining by the Federal Housing Administration (FHA), African Americans were confined to the South Side ghetto.
They finally began to move into new neighborhoods. In the 1950s-60s, real estate speculators exploited white homeowners’ fears on the West Side of plummeting real estate values due to neighborhoods that had transitions in ethnicity. Realtors went door-to-door to persuade white homeowners to sell because blacks were moving into the neighborhood. In neighborhoods they wished to exploit, “panic-peddling” speculators hired black men to drive beat-up cars with the music blaring and paid black women to push their babies in strollers. Speculators made enormous profits by convincing whites to sell their homes at well-below market value, then reselling to blacks at much higher than market value. Black homebuyers were subject to a “race tax,” as a property would typically be bought from a white homeowner for $10,000 and resold a week later to a black family for $25,000.
The FHA’s refusal to lend to blacks meant that they could only buy overpriced homes on contract. But, the title to a property bought on contract would not be transferred to the buyer until all contract payments had been made. Trapped in overwhelming debt, contract buyers were charged exorbitant fees for repairs to correct building code violations which speculators had concealed from them. In order to afford payments, contract buyers were forced to work two or three jobs, separating them from their families. Buyers who missed a single payment would be evicted with no right to recoup prior payments. Speculators would then resell the property to another black household under the same terms.
The process of “blockbusting” was a national phenomenon. But, the practice of contract selling reached its peak in North Lawndale, where an estimated 3,000 buildings were sold on contract. This contributed to the neighborhood’s population changing from 87% white in 1950 to 91% black in 1960.
Groups similar to the CBL formed in cities around the country to combat contract selling. The CBL was the most influentialin winning justice for exploited black homebuyers. The CBL renegotiated 400 contracts for its members, saving residents an estimated $25,000,000. The FHA finally responded to pressure from the CBL by reforming its discriminatory underwriting policies in order to lend to blacks.
K-Town is a nickname for an area in North Lawndale between Pulaski Road and Cicero Avenue in which the names of many north-south avenues begin with the letter K (Karlov, Kedvale, Keeler, Kenneth, Kilbourn, Kildare, Kolin, Kolmar, Komensky, Kostner, Kilpatrick, Kenton, Knox, and Keating). The pattern is a historical relic of a 1913 street-naming proposal, by which streets were to be systematically named according to their distance from the Illinois-Indiana border; K, the eleventh letter, was to be assigned to streets within the eleventh mile, counting west from the state line. K-Town is one of the few places where the plan was implemented. The portion of K-Town bounded by W. Cullerton St, W. Cermak Rd, S. Kostner Ave, and S. Pulaski Rd was listed as a historic district on the National Register of Historic Places on September 9, 2010.
John W. Fountain wrote in his 2005 memoir:
- "K-Town is a city within a city, a fifteen-minute drive from downtown Chicago's skyscrapers... I used to joke that the "K" stood for "kill." I was only half-joking... it had developed a reputation for being one of the rougher places in the city.... K-Town is where my grandfather... and all the other black folk that flocked to the West Side during the mid-to-late-1950s bought proud brick houses on tree-lined streets with crackless cement sidewalks...."
The site of the former Sears headquarters was redeveloped beginning in 1988 as Homan Square. The development has included new construction of owned and rental mixed-income housing; adaptive reuse and restoration of historic properties for use as community center, school, and other facilities; a new community pool and recreation center; and associated retail. Homan Square is often used as an example of the revitalization of North Lawndale.
Government and infrastructure
Notable natives and residents
- Martin Luther King Jr., civil rights leader, lived at 1550 S. Hamlin Ave. in 1966 while campaigning against housing discrimination
- Danny K. Davis, U.S. Representative, former executive director of the Greater Lawndale Conservation Commission
- Clyde Ross, co-founder of the Contract Buyers League
- Golda Meir, Israeli prime minister, briefly lived at 1306 S. Lawndale Avenue in 1917 while working at the Lawndale Branch Library
- Julius Rosenwald, co-founder and president of Sears, Roebuck & Co.
- Benny Goodman, clarinetist nicknamed the "King of Swing," grew up at 1125 S. Francisco Avenue
- Dinah Washington, "Queen of the Blues," lived at 1518 S. Trumbull Avenue
- Howlin' Wolf, blues mucisian, lived on the 3300 block of W. Flournoy Street
- Ramsey Lewis, jazz composer
- Twista, rapper
- Mickey Johnson, basketball player
- Kevin Garnett, basketball player
- Darryl Stingley, football player for the New England Patriots
- Isiah Thomas, basketball player for the Detroit Pistons
- Marques Sullivan, football player, grew up at 1818 S. Kedzie Avenue
- Paral, Rob. "Chicago Demographics Dara". Retrieved 12 June 2012.
- Paral, Rob. "Chicago Census Data". Retrieved 7 October 2012.
- Steans Family Foundation, Chicago, 2009. Retrieved on 2010-05-11.
- Paral, Rob. "Chicago Community Areas Historical Data". Retrieved 2 September 2012.
- Jonathan Kozol (1991): Savage Inequalities: Children in America's Schools, Crown, ISBN 0-517-58221-X
- Although these long streets extend beyond the bounds of North Lawndale, published sources identify the name K-Town as referring specifically to an area of North Lawndale, i.e. the area through which these streets pass.
- John W. Fountain (2005): True Vine: A Young Black Man's Journey of Faith, Hope, and Clarity. Public Affairs, ISBN 1-58648-285-8;
- "Post Office Location - OTIS GRANT COLLINS". United States Postal Service. Retrieved April 17, 2009.
- "Golda Meir’s Home in Chicago". Uncovered & Rediscovered | Stories of Jewish Chicago. Spertus Institute. Retrieved 6 October 2013.
- Official City of Chicago North Lawndale Community Map
- North Lawndale: Profile of an Illinois Workforce Advantage Target Area. Parisa Arash, Office of the Governor, State of Illinois
- Chicago Park District
- K-Town, entry in the Chicago Historical Society's Electronic Encyclopedia of Chicago
- North Lawndale History Steans Family Foundation website.
- Homan Square Homan Square website.
||Austin, Chicago||West Garfield Park, Chicago||East Garfield Park, Chicago|
|Cicero, Illinois||Near West Side, Chicago|
|South Lawndale, Chicago||Lower West Side, Chicago|