Uptown is a diverse neighborhood located north of Chicago's downtown. As one of Chicago’s 77 community areas, Uptown has well defined boundaries. They are: Foster on the north; Lake Michigan on the east; Montrose (Ravenswood to Clark), and Irving Park (Clark to Lake Michigan) on the south; Ravenswood (Foster to Montrose), and Clark (Montrose to Irving Park) on the west. Uptown borders three community areas and Lake Michigan. To the north is Edgewater, to the west is Lincoln Square, and to the south is Lake View.
The historical, cultural, and commercial center of Uptown is Broadway, with Uptown Square at the center. In 1900, the Northwestern Elevated Railroad constructed its terminal near Montrose and Broadway (now part of the CTA Red Line). Uptown became a summer resort town for downtown dwellers, and derived its name from the Uptown Store, which was the commercial center for the community. For a time, all northbound trains from downtown ended in Uptown. From here Uptown became known as an entertainment destination. Charlie Chaplin, Gloria Swanson and other early film stars produced films at the Essanay Studios on Argyle Street. The Aragon Ballroom, Riviera Theater, Uptown Theatre, and Green Mill Jazz Club are all located within a half block of Lawrence and Broadway. Uptown is also home to one of Chicago's most celebrated final resting spots, Graceland Cemetery.
The Uptown neighborhood boundary once extended farther to the North, to Hollywood Avenue. Beginning at the turn of the 19th Century, just after the World's Columbian Exposition, the entire area had experienced a housing construction boom. In the mid 1920's, construction of large and luxurious entertainment venues resulted in many of the ornate and historic Uptown Square buildings which exist today. The craftsmanship and artistry of those Uptown Square buildings reflects the ornate pavilions of the Exposition.
For over a Century, Uptown has been a popular Chicago Entertainment District, which played a significant role in ushering in the Gilded Age, the Lyceum Movement, the Jazz Age, the Silent Film Era, the Swing Era, the Big Band Era, the Rock & Roll Era, has been a Movie Filming Location for over 480 movies, has ties to significant Spectator sport athletes and organizations, including the Chicago Blackhawks and three Olympic figure skaters, as well as Theater, Comedy club, Dance performers who later became nationally-famous, and even "The People's Music School," a needs-based, tuition-free music school for formal classical music training.
By the 1950s, the middle class was leaving Uptown for more distant suburbs, as commuter rail and elevated train lines were extended. Uptown's housing stock was aging, and old mansions were subdivided. Residential hotels which had housed wives of sailors attached to the Great Lakes Naval Station during World War II now served low-income migrants from the South and Appalachia. Uptown developed a reputation as "Hillbilly Heaven" during the 1950s and 1960s. The Council of the Southern Mountains, headquartered in Berea, Kentucky launched the Chicago Southern Center in 1963 in Uptown, with help from Chicago philanthropist W. Clement Stone. Chicago's anti-poverty program opened the Montrose Urban Progress Center. Students for a Democratic Society initiated a community organizing project, JOIN (Jobs or Income Now) in 1963. Large-scale urban renewal projects like Harry S. Truman College eliminated much low-cost housing, and the low-income Southern white residents dispersed. New waves of Asian, Hispanic, and African-American migrants moved into the remaining neighborhoods.
Latinos forced out from other near downtown and lakefront areas by urban renewal settled close to the border with Lakeview at Sheridan, near Irving Park. In 1975 Young Lords founder Jose (Cha-Cha) Jimenez joined with a broad coalition of whites, blacks and Latinos and ran unsuccessfully against Daley-sponsored Christopher Cohen. They still were able to garner 39% of the vote. His main campaign issue was housing corruption, which was then displacing Latinos and the poor from prime real estate areas of Chicago.
Most recently, since 2000, gentrification has spread north from neighboring Lakeview and south from Edgewater. Median condo prices jumped 69.1% from 2000-2005. In addition, the white population has jumped 10% since 2000 with the black population falling 12%.
Buena Park enjoys one of the most active neighborhood organizations in the city of Chicago, Buena Park Neighbors (BPN). Founded in 1997, Buena Park Neighbors is a 46th Ward neighborhood association of more than 200 residents, businesses, and not-for-profit organizations in the nationally registered Buena Park Historic District.
Today,many people assume that Buena Park is a "new name" given to this part of Uptown by developers trying to give the area a better name (like those trying to call Humboldt Park "West Bucktown"). In reality Robert A. Waller developed Buena Park starting in 1887 by subdividing his property. The original Waller home is now the site of St. Mary of the Lake church (built in 1917). Buena Park pre-dates the remainder of Uptown by a number of years.
"The Delectable Ballad of the Waller Lot" by Chicago poet Eugene Field:
Up yonder in Buena Park There is a famous spot, In legend and in history (Known as) the Waller lot.
In 1985, the Sheridan Park Historic District (a National Landmark District) was established to protect the unique single family and smaller multi-family architecture of the area. Some structures of Uptown Square were also added as contributing structures. In 2007, the Sheridan Park area along Dover Street was also registered as an historic district. Many of the homes along Dover are large single family homes from the early 1900's.
A noteworthy minority within a minority on Argyle are the Bui Doi, those of mixed Vietnamese and American ancestry. Children of mixed unions had often suffered from discrimination in Vietnam, partly because of hostility to the US armed forces and partly because the women (the unions were almost always of Vietnamese women and American men) were seen as prostitutes. The most discriminated against were those of African American-Vietnamese parents. Uptown was a welcome relief for those who struggled with this oppression.
The neighborhood is centered by the Argyle stop on the CTA's Red Line.
This lakefront neighborhood is home to Margate Fieldhouse, a gym and fitness facility. The area around the fieldhouse is an official off-leash area in the city for dogs. Annual city permits are required for dogs using the areas.
The fieldhouse is also host to the Margate Playground, with 1400 square feet of playspace for children. Artists Jim Brenner, Corinne D. Peterson, Ginny Sykes, and Roman Villareal created a unique space reflecting the urban locale catering to children's interests and local fauna.
The Aragon Ballroom is located at the intersection of Lawrence and Winthrop Avenues, just adjacent to the Lawrence Red Line El stop.
The Uptown Theatre is currently closed and in a state of decay, but efforts have been made by Friends of the Uptown and other local groups to halt deterioration, restore and reopen the theater. Progress was stymied for years by various legal issues, including disputes by multiple mortgage holders and city liens. However, on August 18 2008, the Uptown Theatre was sold to Jam Productions Ltd, a Chicago-based music promoter. Jam Productions plans to restore the building and will seek development funds from the City of Chicago to help with this effort.
A 2006 documentary, Uptown: Portrait of a Palace, shows the interior of the theatre. It is also featured on the cover of the book The Chicago Movie Palaces of Balaban and Katz by David Balaban.
Argyle Street, from Sheridan to Broadway and spilling onto Broadway, features an exceptional selection of Chinese, Vietnamese, Thai, Laotian, French Vietnamese and Cambodian ethnic restaurants and bakeries. There are also many Asian groceries, shops and trading companies that sell unique Asian merchandise. This area is locally called by many different names, including New Chinatown, North Chinatown, Little Chinatown, Little Saigon, New Saigon, Little Cambodia, Vietnamese Town or Little Vietnam. The surrounding neighborhood, which has attracted Asian immigrants and refugees for the past several decades, is a unique and popular tourist destination. It is easily reached by the Argyle stop on the Red Line "El."
One block east of the Argyle "El" stop, at the corner of Argyle and Winthrop is The Roots of Argyle mural, a community-produced masterwork depicting 100 years of immigration and daily life on Argyle Street. The over 100 ft. painting was designed by community members and painted by world famous muralist Br. Mark Elder and his mural students from DePaul University.
Investors bought the Moulin Rouge Gardens property and spent one-million dollars to expand the facility. Opened in 1921, Mann's Million Dollar Rainbo Room, named after Fred Mann's wartime service in the U.S. Army's 42nd Infantry or "Rainbow" Division, was said to be the largest nightclub in America, featuring some of the biggest names in Vaudeville and musical entertainment. Larry Fine (actor) was performing there the night he was asked to join The Three Stooges. The Rainbo Room had a revolving stage to allow for continuous entertainment. There was table seating for 2,000 patrons and space on the dance floor for an additional 1,500. WMAQ radio, which was then WQJ and owned by the Rainbo and Calumet Baking Powder Company, broadcasted music of the Rainbo's performers as a form of promotion.
In 1927, during prohibition, it was converted to a major casino and sports venue, called the Rainbo Fronton.
In 1939, it became Mike Todd's Theater Cafe, which was a popular dinner theater. Tommy Sutton, the Theater Cafe's choreographer, went on to work with Cab Calloway, Duke Ellington and Nat King Cole, among others. It was also a venue for Championship Wrestling where, in 1955, the first women's tag team wrestling match was held.
In 1957, The Theater Cafe was converted to an ice skating rink, called Rainbo Arena, which was a practice rink for the Chicago Blackhawks including the year they won the 1961 Stanley Cup. The Rainbo Arena was also a training rink for several Olympic figure skaters, housed a pro bowling alley and the original Kinetic Playground music venue.
In the 1960s and thereafter, The Rainbo was a popular late night roller rink until it was torn down for a new housing development called Rainbo Village.
Chicago's Lincoln Park straddles Uptown—providing soccer and athletic fields, a segment of the Chicago lakefront bicycle/running path, Montrose Point Bird Sanctuary ("The Magic Hedge"), a sledding hill, Puptown Dog Park, Wilson Skatepark and Waveland (Marovitz) Golf Course to the south. Also in the Uptown portion of Lincoln Park is Montrose Beach, which includes a dog beach at its northern edge, and Montrose Harbor, a marina for local and transient boaters and home to the Chicago Corinthian Yacht Club.
Two separate parks, which may be considered inland extensions of the lakefront Lincoln Park, are located just west of Lake Shore Drive. Named Clarendon Park and Margate Park, each feature athletic fields, children's playgrounds and indoor sports facilities. Chase Park, located on the west side of Clark Street at Leland Avenue, has indoor and outdoor athletic facilities, as well as an outdoor pool and tennis courts.