"Chicago" by Carl Sandburg

Hog Butcher for the World,
Tool Maker, Stacker of Wheat,
Player with Railroads and the Nation's Freight Handler;
Stormy, husky, brawling,
City of the Big Shoulders

-excerpt from the poem "Chicago" by Carl Sandburg (1916)

Chicago Skyline

Chicago Skyline
The Chicago Skyline from a Near West Side highrise

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Irving Park

The Breakdown
Classy homes along Irving Park Road
An overview: Irving Park means more as a street to many Chicagoans than as a neighborhood.  Those unfamiliar with the neighborhood probably don’t realize that it’s safe, historic, and diverse.  They also don’t realize that it offers restaurants, bars, and music venues that rival those in any other Chicago neighborhood.  What this quiet part of the Second City lacks in quantity, it makes up for in quality.

Irving Park can technically be broken up into a few smaller neighborhoods.  The western half is often referred to as “Old Irving Park”.  Sometimes Mayfair and Kilbourn Park are considered parts of the Irving Park community area as well.  There is a tiny historic section called “The Villa”, a triangle of hundred-year old homesteads.  An explanation of The Villa is shown below.

The boundaries: The boundaries of the Irving Park community area are somewhat erratic, so it’s probably best to refer to the map at the bottom of the page.  Generally though, they are Montrose to the north, Addison to the south, the Chicago River to the east, and the Milwaukee District-North railroad tracks to the west.  As you head further west in the community area, the northern boundary becomes Lawrence and the southern boundary becomes Belmont.

Tree-covered public space divides several of the
boulevards that run through the Villa District
Population make-up: The Irving Park community area has seen a gradual decrease in population since 2000.  Between the 2000 census and the 2010 census, only one of Irving Park's fifteen census tracts actually grew in population, and even that (the area around Kilbourn Park) only grew by 0.3%.

The 2010 population of the Irving Park community area was 53,359, a decrease of 9% from its 2010 census count of 58,643.  The racial breakdown of the neighborhood is 45.8% Hispanic, 41.7% white, 6.9% Asian, and 3.2% black.

A brief history: The Irving Park area was originally intended to be a farming settlement.  However, realizing the value of the land due its proximity to downtown Chicago, Charles T. Race decided it was an opportunity better suited for residential development.  Originally an upscale suburb of Chicago, it was annexed into the City in 1889.  The community area reached a population of over 65,000 in the 1930, sparked by immigration, particularly from Eastern Europeans in the preceding decade.  Over the years, Irving Park has become most well known for its historic residential area, the Villa District, a small residential triangle of land still predominantly featuring bungalows nearly one hundred years old.  The Villa’s borders are essentially Pulaski Road to the west, Addison Street to the south, and the Kennedy Expressway (I-90/94) to the northeast.

Commerce mixing with residential at Kimball & Elston
Today Irving Park is often known as a safe, sleepy, middle-class residential neighborhood.  However, it offers a surprising amount of amenities in terms of dining and nightlife, notably Arun’s, a Chicago institution since the mid-80s and still considered one of the nation’s very best Thai restaurants.  Recent decades have seen an influx of Hispanics into the neighborhood, as well as in bordering Albany Park and Avondale.

Getting there: The “L” is a more-than-serviceable option.  The Blue Line has three stops in the neighborhood: Montrose, Irving Park, and Addison.

If travelling by bus, your best east-west bets are: Montrose (78), Irving Park (80), and Addison (152).  You can also take Lawrence (81) to the far northwest corner and Belmont (77) to the far southwest corner of the neighborhood.  Going north-south you can take Pulaski (53), Kimball (82), and California (52).  Also, the Milwaukee bus (56) goes through a northwest-southeast sliver of the neighborhood.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

North Center/St. Ben's

The Breakdown
Beautiful autumn day in North Center
An overview: North Center.  It’s like Lake View without the drama…well, and the lake.  In all seriousness though, North Center is that neighborhood every North-Sider has been to often without realizing what neighborhood they’re in.  What’s here is a bevy of restaurants and taverns located within one of the City’s safest, most pleasant areas.

The North Center community area encompasses four neighborhoods.  We’ve already covered the southern half, which is Roscoe Village and Hamlin Park.  You can read about our experience here.  This entry will cover the northern half, which covers the eponymous North Center neighborhood, and the smaller St. Ben’s.

It's not quite Trajan's Column but it'll do

The boundaries: The boundaries of the North Center (sometimes spelled "Northcenter") neighborhood are Montrose Avenue to the north, Addison Street to the south, Ravenswood Avenue to the east, and the Chicago River to the west.  The St. Ben’s is a mostly residential neighborhood encompassed within the larger North Center neighborhood.  Named after St. Benedict’s Catholic Church (2215 W. Irving Park Road), its borders are Irving Park Road to the north, Addison Street to the south, Damen Avenue to the east, and Western Avenue to the west.

Population make-up: Between 2000 and 2010, the population of the North Center community area basically stayed the same, losing only 28 residents over that 10-year period.  The 2010 population count for the entire community is 31,867.

The population of the North Center/St. Ben’s neighborhood itself has increased since 2000, now at approximately 16,317, a 1.5% increase over the past decade.  The racial breakdown of the neighborhood is 78.6% white, 12.5% Hispanic, 5.3% Asian, and 1.7% black.

St. Benedict Parish (background)
is one of North Center's icons
A brief history: North Center really began to grow just after the Chicago Fire in 1871.  Demand for brick housing was supplied in the area, giving the neighborhood the nickname “Bricktown”.  Meanwhile, immigrants flooded into the area to work in the industrial plants along Ravenswood Avenue, notably Germans whose imprint is still left today in many of the restaurants and taverns along the neighborhood’s major corridors.  North Center was also home to a very famous amusement park, Riverview, which was open from 1904-1967.

From the 1940s through the 1990s, the neighborhood saw a drop in population, which has stabilized in the past couple decades thanks in part to an influx of Asians and Hispanics.  Today it is a pleasant mix of young professionals and families living in single-family homes and brick two-flats.  Eclectic shops, diverse restaurants, and trendy bars make North Center enticing to those who are looking for an accessible neighborhood filled with amenities without the density found in the Lake Michigan-bordered neighborhoods.

Getting there: By “L” you have three options, all via the Brown Line: Montrose, Irving Park, and Addison.  All three will leave you on the eastern portion of North Center, but the neighborhood isn’t so wide that you can’t transfer to a bus and get where you need to be in about 10-15 minutes.  Sorry bout the double-negative there.

By bus, going north-south: Western (49) and Damen (50).  Going northwest-southeast: Lincoln (11).  If going east-west: Montrose (78), Irving Park (80), and Addison (152).