North Lawndale


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North Lawndale
Posted by: Berwyn Frank (---.lightspeed.cicril.sbcglobal.net)
Date: April 10, 2010 01:06AM

I don't know if there is much interest here in North Lawndale, but I find the area to be historically and architecturally fascinating. I particularly find the area between Roosevelt Rd to 16th & Pulaski to Kostner extra fascinating. Many do not know this, but that particular area was once a Bohemian settlement known as Merigold (named after the original developer W. A. Merigold) or Novy Tabor (New Camp). Merigold is the quintessential 1890s-1910 era working class immigrant west side neighborhood. It is filled with a mix of frame cottages and brick two flats. There is also the usual sampling of graystone buildings that North Lawndale is known for, but not as many as other parts of the North Lawndale area. The area also has/had an unusually high number of corner stores and "middle of the block" small stores which I really find interesting.

Ethnically, North Lawndale as a whole started out in the 1890s as Bohemian and Irish. By World War One, the neighborhood was on its way to becoming the largest Jewish neighborhood in Chicago. A sizable number of Italians started to move in in the 1940s and 50s. In the 1950s African Americans started to move into the neighborhood, many of which were transplants from the southern United States, and by 1960 the neighborhood lost 90% of its white residents.

Unfortunately the entire North Lawndale neighborhood is EXTREMELY impoverished and basically in ruins. Many of the structures are no longer standing, having been lost to urban decay, fires, and the ravages of the 1950s-60s "contract selling" phenomenon that laid waste to many African American neighborhoods on Chicago's west and south sides. I have driven there to explore the area but it is VERY dicey. I am not one to be afraid of tough neighborhoods but this one is among Chicago's most crime ridden and dangerous. In the new millennium the neighborhood started to experience somewhat of a turn around with the building of new housing on the many vacant lots in the neighborhood, many of which are modern CHA low rise subsidized housing. The real estate collapse of the last couple of years has been devastating to the neighborhood and has set back any progress by many years. The area is plagued with high foreclosures and even more tear downs as a result. I drove through North Lawndale a couple of weeks ago and the area has an almost eerie feeling to it, kind of like a "post apocalyptic" atmosphere. There are MANY boarded up, burned out, and severely deteriorated buildings which are a result of what is going on in the economy and real estate market of 2010. The area is also one of the most dirty I have ever seen and seems to lack many of the basic city services that even the most poor Chicago neighborhoods receive.

On a more positive note there are still some known and unknown architectural jewels that survive. I will use this thread to highlight some of them.

The first is one of my absolute favorites. Located at 1525 S. Kedvale is the Czech freethinkers school Frantisek Palacky. This building was built in 1909 and was at sometime converted to a private residence with the ethnic change to the neighborhood. I have never seen any refrence to this building in any modern publications, history websites like this, flickr, photo bucket, etc. It has basically been lost to history. Its location has not helped much. For some reason, even many Czech organizations and historians in Chicago don't even know about it. Every time I mention the area or this building I usually get a blank stare.

Here is an image from a Czech publication in my collection dating to 1930. Notice that the modern photos show a front entrance has been added.











Edited 1 time(s). Last edit at 07/30/2011 11:36AM by Berwyn Frank.

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Re: North Lawndale
Posted by: Berwyn Frank (---.lightspeed.cicril.sbcglobal.net)
Date: April 10, 2010 01:27AM

Another surviving structure is the old Our Lady of Lourdes Bohemian Catholic church which was originally built in 1892 at the corner of 15th & Keeler. The structure was rebuilt and enlarged in the 1920s. Jews had become the overwhelming majority in the neighborhood by 1929, but according to the 1929 Polk directory online, the Merigold section of North Lawndale still had a sizable Bohemian population. It did not last too long after that so I do not know how a Catholic church faired out in a Jewish then African American neighborhood.



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Re: North Lawndale
Posted by: Artista (---.hsd1.il.comcast.net)
Date: April 10, 2010 07:23AM

Great contribution B'Frank ! I love it.

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Re: North Lawndale
Posted by: 222psm (---.br.br.cox.net)
Date: April 10, 2010 11:13AM

Once again, thank you Berwin Frank for sharing these little known facts. I love this site, I have learned so much here about Chicago. My father worked at the Hotpoint plant at 16th near Laramie back in the late 50's to late 60's and he told me back then he had to drive Roosevelt Rd from the east to get to and from work.

He recalls the area was very rough back then, looks like it's ALOT worse now!
He also recalls the race riots, where a lot of the buildings were lost, near this area.

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Re: North Lawndale
Posted by: 222psm (---.br.br.cox.net)
Date: April 10, 2010 11:39AM

Keep those pictures coming, just please be careful in that area! It looks like you did not get out of your car!

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Re: North Lawndale
Posted by: Berwyn Frank (---.lightspeed.cicril.sbcglobal.net)
Date: April 10, 2010 12:07PM

222psm, yeah the neighborhood looks VERY bad now, poverty sure has done a number on it. I would recommend some of the more adventurous to take a look at it, but BE CAREFUL!

By the way 222psm, the Hotpoint plant employed many people back in the day. I was told by an older guy from Cicero that back in the 50s-60s you could not make it from 16th St. to Roosevelt Rd. on 54th Ave. and not find some kind of job. Those were the days......

The sign below hung on a fence near the old Hotpoint plant. It is big, about 3 1/2'-4' tall and VERY heavy. Some how some way, I am not saying how, it now resides in my basement!



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Re: North Lawndale
Posted by: Berwyn Frank (---.lightspeed.cicril.sbcglobal.net)
Date: April 10, 2010 12:29PM

222psm, good eye, I did take the pics from my car!

Here is the Hotpoint sign in my basement. I have been meaning to clean it up a bit and take the steel support piece that surrounds it off.



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Re: North Lawndale
Posted by: 222psm (---.br.br.cox.net)
Date: April 10, 2010 12:58PM

WOW, that is so cool, I'm going to show it to my dad, he's going to get a kick out of it. It will bring back some memories. Did the plant shut down?



Edited 2 time(s). Last edit at 04/10/2010 01:01PM by 222psm.

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Re: North Lawndale
Posted by: daveg (130.36.62.---)
Date: April 10, 2010 02:01PM

Thank you very much for the pictures Berwyn Frank. I remember the Hotpoint facility. Also remember a football stadium somewhere in that same vicintiy. Wonder if it's still there.

Thanks again.

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Re: North Lawndale
Posted by: Berwyn Frank (---.lightspeed.cicril.sbcglobal.net)
Date: April 10, 2010 03:42PM

222psm, yes the plant closed in 1990 I believe. There is some other company in the building.

Dave, could the football facility have been Cicero Stadium at 19th & Laramie?

Cicero Stadium

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Re: North Lawndale
Posted by: Berwyn Frank (---.lightspeed.cicril.sbcglobal.net)
Date: April 10, 2010 04:10PM

Back to North Lawndale.......

Probably the most beautiful street in North Lawndale is the 1600-1800-1900 blocks of Millard Ave. which run as one consecutive street. I don't know how many streets are like this in Chicago, but there are no breaks in this street in that area, it is just one long block. Look at Google maps to seee what I mean.

Millard Ave.

In the beginning, this street was home to the most wealthy segment of Lawndale's Bohemian population. Many of Millard Avenues residents were doctors, lawyers, business owners, politicians, and other professions of note. I mention this area in my book about South Lawndale because early on, this is where the wealthy Bohemians lived. I call the area "Bohemian Millionaires Row." Here is a real photo postcard image from my collection of Millard Ave. N. of Ogden taken from the Douglas Park El tracks circa 1908.



Here is another real photo postcard of Millard Ave. looking south near Ogden Ave. from my collection that I also used in my book. The view was taken from the west side of the 1800 block of Millard Ave. looking south towards Ogden Ave. The message on the back of the postcard is particularly interesting. When the original Lawndale subdivision was established by developers Millard and Decker, the area was initially populated by old "blue blooded" Anglo families. They did NOT like the Bohemian people that were moving into their neighborhood from Pilsen, Merigold, etc. The "Bohunks" were looked upon with distrust and prejudice. Here is an excerpt from my book where I comment on this postcard image.

This section of Millard Avenue was home to some of Lawndale's most prestigious Bohemian families. Although most were business owners, doctors, lawyers, and politicians, anti-Bohemian sentiment was still strong at this time. This post card was sent to New York in 1908. Clair writes to a friend, "North of us, not bad in looks, but mainly wealthy Bohemians. The great disadvantage of this district."



Like the rest of the neighborhood this street was later occupied by wealthy Jews. Eventually African Americans moved to this street and have kept this group of amazing gray stones and mansions remarkably preserved. There are only a few vacant lots. Millard Ave. is definitely worth a drive to check it out.



Edited 7 time(s). Last edit at 07/30/2011 11:45AM by Berwyn Frank.

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Re: North Lawndale
Posted by: seod (---.hsd1.il.comcast.net)
Date: April 10, 2010 05:34PM

Berwyn Frank, Have you ever been in Vopats tavern (28th and Hamlin)?

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Re: North Lawndale
Posted by: Berwyn Frank (---.lightspeed.cicril.sbcglobal.net)
Date: April 10, 2010 05:47PM

No I have not. I think you mentioned this in another thread so I looked it up and it is at 2801 S. Hamlin. The place does not even look like a tavern. What type of pace is it?

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Re: North Lawndale
Posted by: Berwyn Frank (---.lightspeed.cicril.sbcglobal.net)
Date: April 10, 2010 06:11PM

In the top postcard image of Millard Ave. you will see the largest mansion on the block with a big turret that is third from left. This is a current photo of that home which is located at 1862 S. Millard Ave. In the postcard image below the first, the two closest houses you can see are first (right) 1858 S. Millard and one in is 1862 S. Millard. Although it is to small to see in this image (I can see it in my original), there is a sign on the front porch of 1862 S. Millard for the office of Dr. J.F. Chvatal. Dr. James Chvatal was born in Bohemia in 1865 and attended Rush Medical College where he graduated in 1893. He also served as a member of the Chicago Board of Education. Dr. Chvatal practiced medicine for 44 years in Chicago and finally Berwyn where he eventually moved and retired. He died in 1942 at 76 years old.



1858 S. Millard. The first home from the right in the second postcard image.





Edited 1 time(s). Last edit at 04/11/2010 01:29AM by Berwyn Frank.

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Re: North Lawndale
Posted by: daveg (130.36.62.---)
Date: April 10, 2010 07:21PM

Berwyn Frank Wrote:
-------------------------------------------------------
> 222psm, yes the plant closed in 1990 I believe.
> There is some other company in the building.
>
> Dave, could the football facility have been Cicero
> Stadium at 19th & Laramie?
>
> Cicero Stadium

Yes I believe that is the stadium, but I don't remember it being named Cicero Stadium back in the early 60s. Also remember Sunbeam in that neck of the woods too. Didn't mean to derail this thread, which is wonderful BTW.

Once again, much, OK all, of what I'm reading here I wasn't aware of. Millard was quite the street and some of the pictured houses that are still standing look surprisingly good.

Next time I'm close, I think I'll take a tour of Millard. Carefully though.



Edited 2 time(s). Last edit at 04/10/2010 07:45PM by daveg.

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Re: North Lawndale
Posted by: FranCarmen (---.hsd1.il.comcast.net)
Date: April 10, 2010 07:31PM

I just discovered this thread and it is wonderful. Thanks for so much interesting information and photos. Back to your very first post, where you talk about the "contract selling," I read an interesting book on that subject last fall by Beryl Satter. It was about her father, who owned one of the buildings on the West Side. Heart-breaking story and tried to fight against the prevailing contract system.

This is the book:
Family Properties

[francesarcher.com]

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Re: North Lawndale
Posted by: 222psm (---.br.br.cox.net)
Date: April 10, 2010 08:13PM

Thank you for those beautiful before and after pictures, I'm going to take a Google Street view tour. My father also told me RCA was in the area. Pardon my ignorance but what is "contract selling?"

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Re: North Lawndale
Posted by: Berwyn Frank (---.lightspeed.cicril.sbcglobal.net)
Date: April 11, 2010 12:52AM

Fran, I also read Satter's book. I knew a little about contract selling before I read her book but afterwards I really got a good handle of what it was truly about. I had a couple of complaints about the book though. One was that she kept calling the neighborhood where her fathers buildings were "Lawndale" but it was clearly West Garfield Park. One was on Congress and the other was on Jackson Blvd. off of Pulaski. The other complaint I have is she took a VERY liberal position on what had happened. There was very little if any mention of personal responsibility. Also, she did not mention that Hispanics in the 1960s also went through the same thing, but the difference was that most of them finished paying off their buildings and their neighborhoods stayed largely intact.

I knew I would eventually have to explain this so I will do my best to explain contract buying in simple terms, although it is VERY complicated. MANY people do not know what it was or have ever heard of it so don't feel bad 222psm.

The decline of North Lawndale was not a quick overnight thing. Even before African Americans moved into the area the neighborhood was becoming run down or "blighted." The housing stock was old and majority of the buildings were rentals that were owned by absentee landlords. That is where the "weak spots" developed. At first a small trickle of African Americans moved into the fringe areas of the neighborhood in the early 1950s. Unscrupulous real estate men decided to take advantage of the situation by "block busting" an area once a black person moved onto a street. They would knock at the door of a white home owner and tell them that they needed to sell their property as soon as possible before its value went into the toilet because of their new neighbors. Lets say for example that fair market value of this building was $10,000, the object was for the real estate man to buy it for $8,000.

Now, here is where it gets interesting. In the 1950s and 1960s African Americans could not walk into a traditional bank and borrow money to buy a property in a white neighborhood. There were restrictive covenants and such which made it impossible so blacks stayed in the area on the south side known as the "black belt." They were able to obtain financing for homes/buildings in the black belt by African American owned banks or lending institutions, or banks that specialized in loans to African Americans. Traditional banks viewed African Americans as a "risk" and therefore would not lend money to them. With so many African Americans coming from the south during the great migration of the 1950s the black areas on the south side were bursting at the seams. With very few options available, black perspective home buyers sought out the "contract seller." So now you have this real estate man/contract seller that just bought a building worth $10,000 for $8,000. The black perspective homeowner would go to that contract seller and inquire about one of their properties for sale. The contract seller would show them a property and inform them it would cost $15,000. They were also told that they needled a $3,000 down payment to be able to purchase the building. So now you have an $8,000 investment that the real estate man now "owns" for $5,000. They would draw up a contract for the balance of $12,000 in which the black homeowner would have to pay back with interest. Since the black home owner had just bought this building for way over market value they now had a lot higher then usual monthly payments. Many of these homeowners could barely afford to make the payments so they neglected maintinence that the buildings required. This is what caused the physical rapid decay of these properties and overall neighborhoods.

Now if I have not yet confused you enough, let me make this even more complicated. Let's say that the homeowner could no longer afford to make the monthly payments on the property. The contract usually had draconian measures to deal with non payment. You are a month or two late, you are out on the street. You just lost your down payment and place to live and the contract seller has reassumed ownership of the building. Now he has just made as a profit your original down payment and several months or years of the homeowners monthly payments. In many cases he has gotten all of his original investment of $8,000 back, or even more, and now gets to start all over again with the next person that buys that same exact property. Here is where it gets even more rough. The next buyer has just bought in most cases an extremely physically distressed property that the last person had neglected maintaining. That is what brought an end to many of these properties. A few times of selling the same building over and over and it becomes so blighted that the city tears it down. Now imagine this. Many of those contract sellers owned HUNDREDS of properties that they did this over and over with. This is why THOUSANDS of buildings no longer stand in these areas.

The web gets even more twisted. In most cases, the money that the contract sellers used to purchase these properties in the first place was obtained in an open line of credit with a bank the contract seller had an "in" with. In many cases there was no collateral with these loans. So you have a contract seller using a banks money to make MILLIONS off of a pretty twisted situation. If the banks would have just loaned the money directly to the black home buyer much of this could have been avoided. The bank would have ended up making more money in the long run doing legitimate loans, and the home owner would have bought a property and financed it with a legit bank at a legit price. Add to this that this whole process was LEGAL and supported by many politicians, bankers, and other community leaders. In the long run this absolutely DEVASTATED entire communities. Legislation was passed in the 1970s which pretty much brought an end to this practice.

There is MUCH more to this and I just covered some of the highlights. I know I could be long winded, so I don't bore you any further, by the Family Properties book. It is an overall educational read and a must for any serious Chicago Historian.

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Re: North Lawndale
Posted by: 222psm (---.br.br.cox.net)
Date: April 11, 2010 08:40PM

Thank you for explaining Berwyn Frank, and you did not bore me. That explains very well why certain parts of Chicago are so devastated. That and the riots in Lawndale really did a number on this neighborhood. I read some where on line that a lot of the buildings that were destroyed during the riots were never rebuilt.

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Re: North Lawndale
Posted by: Berwyn Frank (---.lightspeed.cicril.sbcglobal.net)
Date: April 12, 2010 02:23PM

Here is another interesting comparrison. This real photo postcard of the Millard Ave. Presbyterian Church dates to circa 1908. The church is located just north of Ogden on Millard Ave. at the south end of that very long block I described above.



Here is a photo I took of it in 2008, 100 years later. It is now the Harmony Baptist Church.



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