Prairie Avenue in Chicago

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Prairie Avenue is a north–south thoroughfare on the South Side of Chicago, which historically extended from 16th Street in the Near South Side community area of Chicago in Cook County, Illinois, United States, to the city's southern limits and beyond. The street has a rich history from its origins as a major trail for horseback riders and carriages. During the last three decades of the 19th century, a six-block section of the street served as the residence of many of Chicago's elite families and an additional four-block section was also known for grand homes. The upper six-block section includes part of the historic Prairie Avenue District, which was declared a Chicago Landmark and added to the National Register of Historic Places.

Several of Chicago's most important historical figures have lived on the street. This is especially true of the period of recovery from the Great Chicago Fire of 1871 when many of the most important families in the city moved to the street. Residents of the street have influenced the evolution of the city and have played prominent national and international roles. They have influenced the political history, the architecture, the culture, the economy, as well as the law and government of Chicago. The street has over time been influenced by the demographics of Chicago.

The importance of the street has declined, but it still has landmark buildings and is the backbone of an historic district. Preservation battles regarding various properties on the street have been notable with one having been chronicled on the front page of The New York Times. As of 2009, the street is being redeveloped to host valuable and important condominiums. Recently, developments have extended the street north to accommodate new high-rise condominiums, such as One Museum Park, along Roosevelt Road (12th Street). The redevelopment has extended the street so that it has prominent buildings bordering Grant Park with Prairie Avenue addresses.


Prairie Avenue once served as an Indian trail linking Fort Dearborn to Fort Wayne in Indiana and thus derived its name from the vast midwestern prairie land between the two endpoints. In the 1880s and 1890s, mansions for George Pullman, Marshall Field, John J. Glessner and Philip Armour anchored a neighborhood of over fifty mansions known as "Millionaire's Row". However, after Bertha Palmer, society wife of Potter Palmer, built the Palmer Mansion that anchored the Gold Coast along Lake Shore Drive, the elite residents began to move north. It was declared a Chicago Landmark on December 27, 1979, and added to the National Register of Historic Places on November 15, 1972. The historic district includes the 1800 and 1900-blocks of South Prairie, the 1800 block of South Indiana and 211 through 217 East Cullerton. Shortly after the Civil War, the city's wealthy residents settled on Prairie Avenue due to its proximity to the Loop less than a mile away and the fact that traveling there did not involve crossing the Chicago River. In 1870, Daniel Thompson erected the first large upper-Prairie Avenue home. Marshall Field followed in 1871 with a Richard Morris Hunt design. Prairie Avenue was the most posh Chicago address by the time of the Great Chicago Fire of 1871. The post-fire South Side of Chicago grew rapidly as all economic classes left the city's center. Many of Chicago's elite families settled along Prairie Avenue. By the 1870s and 1880s, Prairie Avenue was the location of elaborate houses between 16th Street and 22nd Street (now Cermak Road). In 1886, the urban elite, including George Pullman, Marshall Field, Philip Armour and John B. Sherman all owned family homes in this area that created an opulent Prairie Avenue streetscape reminiscent of European city streets;

A few of the mansions of the heyday still remain in the 1800-block including the National Historic landmark designated John J. Glessner House designed in 1886 by architect Henry H. Richardson for Glessner;

Marshall Field lived at 1905 South Prairie and purchased 1919 South Prairie for Marshall Field, Jr. It is believed that Solon Spencer Beman had contributed to the design of what is now known as the Marshall Field, Jr. Mansion. Then, Field hired Daniel Burnham to design extensions and additions to the property after purchasing it 1890. In 2007, the Commission on Chicago Landmarks announced the rehabilitation of the Marshall Field Jr. Mansion, which had been vacant for 40 years and which was renovated as six private residences, won a Preservation Award.

Today, Prairie Avenue has buildings indexed in the Chicago Historic Resources Survey in the Near South Side, Douglas, Grand Boulevard, Washington Park and Chatham community areas. Among the properties listed is a simple two-flat used by Al Capone in the 1920s at 7244 South Prairie in Greater Grand Crossing. Other current prominent addresses are the Kimball House at 1801 South Prairie (Near South Side), and 4919 South Prairie (Grand Boulevard).

The William Wallace Kimball House, which is a three-story turreted chateau, was designed by Solon Beman, who is best known for his work in the Pullman District of the Pullman community area.

In 2000, the Howard Van Doren Shaw-designed 1907 Georgian Revival Platt Luggage Building at 2301 South Prairie was the subject of preservation debates when McCormick Place attempted to tear it down to build a parking garage. The conflict, which was not settled before wreckers had knocked a hole in a corner of the building and which included protests and a petition to the Illinois Supreme Court, was described on the front page of The New York Times. Preservationists, including the Landmarks Preservation Council of Illinois and the National Trust for Historic Preservation, eventually dropped their appeals once the Metropolitan Pier and Exposition Authority committed to incorporating the original facade of the building into the exterior of the parking garage at an additional cost of $2.5 million to the project.

A book on the history of the street, entitled Chicago's Historic Prairie Avenue, was published on June 2, 2008, as part of Arcadia Publishing Co.'s Images of America series. William H. Tyre is the author. In 2006, the Prairie District Neighborhood Alliance, a non-profit organization, was formed to provide representation for thousands of South Loop residents, including the Prairie District, Central Station and Museum Park, Motor Row, the South Michigan Ave Corridor, as well as other areas of the Near South Side..


In 2003, the area redevelopment was well underway. Deindustrialization and urbanization had pushed out manufacturing. As a result, factories were generally demolished, or converted to loft apartment buildings. Some neglected mansions survive as restored or renovated properties in the historic district. and it will be second to the Trump World Tower in the United States. It will retain this title as tallest all-residential building in Chicago until the completion of the Chicago Spire.


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