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Uptown in the News  

June 13/14, 2007
Pioneer Press
Today’s New Homes
Rich history of Uptown neighborhood spans more than a century

The Uptown neighborhood derived its name from Loren Miller who operated his “Uptown Store” at Leland and Broadway in 1905. The historic store on Broadway south of Lawrence is the former site of Goldblatt’s, now Border’s Books.

Uptown’s rich history dates back to before the turn of the century, when the suburban-like area was developed for upper-income residents seeking housing along the lakefront.

Originally, Uptown attracted residents looking to escape from Chicago’s highly populated and congested inner-city. Many new residents built large homes on large city lots.

Uptown is just off Lake Shore Drive, and transportation to downtown is minutes away. The CTA Red Line provides three stops in Uptown at Argyle, Lawrence, and Wilson. Because of its great public transportation, in the 1920s Uptown became the center for a bustling entertainment district centered around Broadway and Lawrence.

Today, many of those early venues are still in business, such as The Green Mill, the Riviera Theater and the Aragon Ballroom. Plans to restore the nearby Uptown Theater are in the works.

The Green Mill is considered one of the city’s premiere jazz clubs. It is housed in an old Prohibition-era speakeasy once run by Al Capone and is known as the place where comedian Joe E. Lewis got his throat slashed. The Green Mill also is known for its Sunday night poetry slams attracting hundreds of local bards each week.

In the 1920s, the Spanish-style Uptown and Riviera theaters lured moviegoers and the famed Aragon Ballroom ushered in the Big Band era. Built in 1926 at a cost of $1.75 million, the Aragon was designed to resemble a Moorish palace. Built in 1925 at a cost of $3 million, the Uptown Theater had a seating capacity of 4,300 people.

During this period, vaudevillian Bob Hope lived in the landmark Malden Towers apartment building at 4521 N. Malden, on the western edge of Uptown, and the neighborhood had its share of theater and motion-picture actors.

On Castlewood Terrace, in the Margate Park district, many of the large homes were built by film stars of the 1920s. Most worked at the nearby Essanay Film Studio at 1333 W. Argyle. Gloria Swanson, Douglas Fairbanks, Mary Pickford and Charlie Chaplin lived and worked in Margate Park before they moved to Hollywood.

After the booming 1920s, Uptown experienced an exodus of wealthy people during the Great Depression. As the community’s population grew in the 1930s, many single-family homes and small buildings were razed to make way for large apartment buildings.

The glamorous image of Uptown was shattered during the post-World War II housing shortage.

“After World War II, there was a housing crunch,” said 46th Ward Alderman Helen Shiller. Many of uptown’s large gracious apartment buildings were divided into smaller, more affordable units.

“The neighborhood has texture,” Shiller said “People displaced from all over the world came here.”

The inexpensive rents attracted a potpourri of low-income tenants—every ethnic group from Southern whites and American Indians to Chinese, African Americans and Southeast Asians. From the 1950s through the 1970s Uptown struggled through hard times.

Truman college opened in Uptown in 1976. “Truman college was built to serve this community,” Shiller said. “this continues to be a diverse area and it will continue to be that way. Uptown is the one place that had opened its arms to all people, the poor and indigent. There’s a dynamic here of people struggling to be better than they could be.”

Gentrification started many years ago, Shiller noted. The neighborhood began to rebound and see signs of revitalization in the late 1980s and early 1990s, a trend that is in full swing today. Real estate experts say the neighborhood’s relatively affordable housing prices and ethnic diversity are the premiere attractions.

“We hope diverse groups will help Uptown grow together. We need community building activity that involves everyone. People can live in a parallel universe,” Shiller said.

Depending on whom you talk to, Uptown’s premiere landmark neighborhood may be Sheridan Park, which is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. The 21-block historic district is bounded by Broadway, Clark, Lawrence and Montrose.

Sheridan Park’s housing stock is comprised of brick, stone, and terra-cotta-faced single-family homes, 3-flats and fortress-like 6-flats to 18-unit apartment buildings.

Over the years, this section of western Uptown managed to survive relatively unscathed. Many of the buildings still contain original wooden hutches, fireplaces, moldings and bookcases, a legacy of the turn of the century, when Sheridan Park attracted well-to-do residents of Germans, Celtic, Irish and Scandinavian origins.

These early architects thought Sheridan Park was a desirable neighborhood back then, and they built the best houses they knew how for themselves. Some of the architects who built apartment buildings of their own designs as investments included: Albert Hecht, Victor Rombault, William Nicholson, John Hulla and Raymond Gregori.

Nearby Graceland Cemetery on the southern border of Sheridan Park has become so famous that the Chicago Architectural Foundation offers regular tours. The historic cemetery was established in 1860 on land that originally stood outside city limits.

Historians say the cemetery with its Victorian monuments and sentimental epitaphs is the final resting place of many famous early Chicagoans, including early Chicago mayors, artists, and other prominent citizens. One of the most popular is the Getty mausoleum designed by Louis Sullivan.

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