Washington Park, Chicago (neighborhood)

Washington Park (Chicago, Illinois)
Community Area 40 - Washington Park

Location within the city of Chicago

  • Washington Park

ZIP Code parts of 60609, 60615, 60621, 60637
Area 3.83 km² (1.48 mi²)
Population (2000)
14,146 (down 27.18% from 1990)
3,690.4 /km²
Demographics White
Median income $15,160
Source: U.S. Census, Record Information Services

Washington Park is a well-defined community area (and neighborhood) on the South Side of Chicago in Cook County, Illinois, USA. It includes the 372 acre (1.5 km²) park named Washington Park, stretching east-west from Cottage Grove Avenue to the Dan Ryan Expressway, and north-south from 63rd Street to 51st. The park is the proposed site of the Olympic Stadium in Chicago's bid to host the 2016 Summer Olympics. Half of the neighborhood's lots are vacant, reflecting the fact that Washington Park is one of the poorest in Chicago, with a median household income of only $15,000 per year, As of the turn of the century nearly half of the residents lived below the poverty level.


In the mid to late 19th century, a large number of Irish and German railroad workers and meatpackers made Washington Park home. There was a sprinkling of African American residents in the working-class district south of Garfield Boulevard/55th Street. Affluent American-born European Americans settled the wide north-south avenues that provided a direct route into the Loop 7 miles to the north. Cable cars, The Chicago 'L' and wide boulevards contributed to late 19th century prosperity. The wide avenues, especially Grand Boulevard (now named Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Drive), provided popular locations for mansions and grand apartments built by many wealthy Chicagoans.

Changing demographics

A turn-of-the-century apartment construction boom allowed the expansion of Chicago's African American ghetto southward, and the original inhabitants mostly left the area. The transition was rapid and marked with conflicts such as the Race Riot of 1919. Some white Protestants left to form an exclusive residential community in the South Shore community area. In 1906 they formed the South Shore Country Club, which excluded Blacks and Jews from membership.

The area rapidly changed from European American to African-American in the 1920s. By 1930, the population was only 7.8% white. By 1960, the population was 0.5% white. From 1950 to 2000 the total population of the neighborhood declined from 57,000 to 14,146. This population decline is partly due to initiatives of the Chicago Land Clearance Commission, who acted under the 1955 Amendment to the Blighted Areas Redevelopment Act, which empowered redevelopment authorities that have acquired land by condemnation or otherwise to redevelop such lands for non-residential uses. A good example of the Land Clearing commission activities is the Lake Meadows Park to the north Washington Park. The failure of the evolution of industry and commerce in the community, the above mentioned white flight and land redevelopment for non-residential use combined lead to population decline.

Religion and worship are cornerstones of the South Side communities. The nearby hub of Bronzeville at 47th and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Drive (known as King Drive and formerly Grand Boulevard) was a cultural center of the rising ghetto that fostered a cultural identity. In keeping with the racial transformation, the cultural and religious institutions, including those of Irish Catholics, Greek Orthodoxy and the Jewish faith, converted to African American institutions. The DuSable Museum of African American History, founded in 1961, moved to Washington Park in 1973. It is a Washington Park landmark and one of the largest African American museums in the country.

The neighborhood once contained many public housing complexes including about a third of the nations largest, the Robert Taylor Homes. The Taylor homes have been demolished because of the socioeconomic problems that they perpetuated. The area has minimal industry or commerce at the current time. However, there is hope that the prospects of the Chicago 2016 Olympic bid will change the lack of commerce. As part of the plan, the Olympic Stadium would seat 95,000 initially for the games, and would later be converted into a 10,000-seat below-ground arena for track-and-field and cultural events after the Olympics. It would be built in Washington Park for a cost estimated to be at least $300-400 million. The plan faces diverse opposition among which are those that note Washington Park's listing on the National Register of Historic Places cannot survive this Olympic plan.

In literature

James T. Farrell's Studs Lonigan trilogy is set in Washington Park.

In Richard Wright's novel Native Son, Bigger Thomas drives the drunken Jan Erlone and Mary Dalton around Washington Park, as the two embrace.

See also


External links

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