What's Up in Uptown - A Walking Tour of the Neighborhood

Owners #43 Karen Jacobs and #55 Sofia Jouravel recently joined a walking tour of the Uptown neighborhood on a lovely Sunday afternoon. Our guide was Patti Swanson, who runs Chicago for Chicagoans, a pay-what-you-can walking tour service that partners with residents and neighborhood organizations to share their history with others. For the Uptown tour, Patti partnered with Vitaliy Vladimirov of Uptown United.

Uptown Walking Tour

Covering about two hours and wandering across city blocks that covered Uptown's famed Jazz Age district, the lakeshore, and a huge diversity of residential, commercial and community centers, we learned about the people and events that have given Uptown its unique and diverse character. Some fun facts:

* Broadway Avenue was originally named Evanston Avenue, but the name was changed in 1913 as part of an effort to market Uptown as an entertainment destination that could compete with...well, you know. 

* It was only in 1980 that Edgewater broke away from Uptown and became its own designated Chicago community area. Uptown still includes an extraordinarily diverse collection of neighborhoods, including Sheridan Park, Buena Park, Castlewood Terrace, Margate Park, Little Vietnam and the Uptown Entertainment district.

* Essanay Studios in Uptown was a pioneering silent film studio (films starring Charlie Chaplin, among others) until Chicago's weather and the rising popularity of Westerns pushed the industry ever-westward.

* The homes of Studs Terkel and (for a short while) George R. R. Martin were in Uptown.

* The Argyle street district, running eastward from under the El tracks, was once a Jewish enclave (and you can still see signs of this on certain buildings...). After the fall of Saigon in 1975, the area brought an influx of South East Asian refugees and took on its current pan-Asian commercial character.

* During and immediately after WWII, tens of thousands of Appalachians migrated to Chicago as the coal mining industry modernized and jobs became scarce. Affordable housing drew them to Uptown, and while there are few signs of it now, even through the 1970's the area supported a distinct Southern, rural subculture. Other waves of migrants and immigrant communities have also been part of Uptown's history and development.

* Not coincidentally, Uptown has a deep history of activism, especially around racial and economic justice issues. Grassroots organizer Peggy Terry fought passionately for racial equality and was an early proponent of what we now might call "intersectionality," the concept that poverty, racism and sexism can be understood as interdependent and not independent struggles. Radical organizers including the (white, largely Appalachian migrant) Young Patriots Organization, the Black Panther Party and the (Latino) Young Lords Organization in the 1960's worked together to push for a "Hank Williams Village" cooperative community in Uptown and even first coined the moniker "Rainbow Coalition." This name was later co-opted by Jesse Jackson's Rainbow/PUSH Coalition; the urban planning vision was co-opted in quite a different way as Mayor Richard J. Daley and other interests established Truman College in that location, instead. Today, activism still plays a huge role in Uptown's development and community organizing, especially around issues of affordable housing and preserving the neighborhood's extraordinary multicultural diversity.



"Patti and Vitaliy did a such a wonderful job of making the social and architectural history of Uptown come alive," says Karen. "It was fascinating to learn about the role played by the original train station - which eventually became the site of the Gerber Building and hopefully will soon become the site of Chicago Market - both in creating and responding to social changes in the neighborhood. I'm even more excited about the possibilities of our co-op becoming part of the story!"

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