Steeped in history, Chicago's Near South Side is making history again as it becomes an exciting new neighborhood. Chicago's first residents saw the convenience of the Near South Side, building elegant townhouses along South Michigan Avenue.
The Great Chicago Fire skirted the area, and many displaced businesses found temporary homes in the South Loop. A little further south, Prairie Avenue became "Millionaire's Row," while other wealthy families were attracted to the leafy boulevards leading south to Washington Park.
Most of Chicago's railroads found their way into the city from the south, and the great train stations--Grand Central, LaSalle Street, Dearborn and Central--kept the South Loop bustling. A lusty vice district that grew up around the stations gave Chicago a notorious reputation until reformers shut it down in 1911.
Nearby, the sturdy lofts of Printing House Row housed the printers of millions of books and catalogs sent throughout the nation. Along South Michigan Avenue's "Motor Row," terra cotta showrooms with enormous windows were built to sell the new "horseless" carriages to the area's wealthy buyers.
The Near South Side has always welcomed Chicago visitors. Grand hotels faced Grant Park, and a dozen presidential candidates were nominated inside the old Coliseum at 15th and Wabash.
New lakefront parks were created on landfill in the 1920s, providing stunning sites for the Field Museum, Adler Planetarium, Shedd Aquarium, and Soldier Field.
The Century of Progress Exposition of 1933-34 brought the world to Chicago's lakefront even in the midst of the Great Depression. Since it opened in 1960, McCormick Place has become the nation's largest convention center, with another expansion under construction.
In the 20th Century, the neighborhood also welcomed tens of thousands of new Chicagoans: African-Americans who left the rural South in search of opportunity and freedom poured into the area.
By 1950, overcrowding and blight threatened the neighborhood, and the Near South Planning Board led such urban renewal efforts as Prairie Shores and Lake Meadows, and institutions like Illinois Institute of Technology, Michael Reese Hospital, and Mercy Hospital made new commitments to the neighborhood.
A different kind of renewal came to the South Loop beginning in 1977, as abandoned railyards and printing houses became the townhouses of Dearborn Park and the loft apartments of Printers Row.
As new developments spread to the south, everything from cold storage warehouses to hospitals were converted to apartments, while vacant railyards sprouted new townhouses and high-rise towers. The Near South Side has come roaring back to life, making history again.
Copyright 2008 Near South Planning Board. All Rights Reserved.
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