Uptown in Chicago
Uptown is one of Chicago’s 77 community areas. Uptown has well defined boundaries. They are: Foster on the north; Lake Michigan on the east; Montrose (Ravenswood to Clark), and Irving Park (Clark to Lake Michigan) on the south; Ravenswood (Foster to Montrose), and Clark (Montrose to Irving Park) on the west. Uptown borders three community areas and Lake Michigan. To the north is Edgewater, to the west is Lincoln Square, and to the south is Lake View.
The historical, cultural, and commercial center of Uptown is Broadway, with Uptown Square at the center. In 1900, the Northwestern Elevated Railroad constructed its terminal near Montrose and Broadway (now part of the CTA Red Line). Uptown became a summer resort town for downtown dwellers, and derived its name from the Uptown Store, which was the commercial center for the community. For a time, all northbound trains from downtown ended in Uptown. From here Uptown became known as an entertainment destination. Charlie Chaplin, Gloria Swanson and other early film stars produced films at the Essanay Studios on Argyle Street. The Aragon Ballroom, Riviera Theater, Uptown Theatre, and Green Mill Jazz Club are all located within a half block of Lawrence and Broadway. Uptown is also home to one of Chicago's most celebrated final resting spots, Graceland Cemetery.
The Uptown neighborhood boundary once extended farther to the North, to Hollywood Avenue. Beginning at the turn of the 20th Century, just after the World's Columbian Exposition, the entire area had experienced a housing construction boom. In the mid 1920s, construction of large and luxurious entertainment venues resulted in many of the ornate and historic Uptown Square buildings which exist today. The craftsmanship and artistry of those Uptown Square buildings reflects the ornate pavilions of the Exposition.
For over a century, Uptown has been a popular Chicago entertainment district, which played a significant role in ushering in the Gilded Age, the Lyceum Movement, the jazz age, the silent film era, the swing era, the big band era, the rock and roll era, has been a filming location for over 480 movies, has ties to significant spectator sport athletes and organizations, including the Chicago Blackhawks and three Olympic figure skaters, as well as theater, comedy clubs, dance performers who later became nationally famous, and even "The People's Music School," a needs-based, tuition-free music school for formal classical music training.
By the 1950s, the middle class was leaving Uptown for more distant suburbs, as commuter rail and elevated train lines were extended. Uptown's housing stock was aging, and old mansions were subdivided. Residential hotels which had housed wives of sailors attached to the Great Lakes Naval Station during World War II now served low-income migrants from the South and Appalachia. Uptown developed a reputation as "Hillbilly Heaven" during the 1950s and 1960s. The Council of the Southern Mountains, headquartered in Berea, Kentucky launched the Chicago Southern Center in 1963 in Uptown, with help from Chicago philanthropist W. Clement Stone. Chicago's anti-poverty program opened the Montrose Urban Progress Center. Students for a Democratic Society initiated a community organizing project, JOIN (Jobs or Income Now) in 1963. Large-scale urban renewal projects like Harry S. Truman College eliminated much low-cost housing, and the low-income Southern white residents dispersed. New waves of Asian, Hispanic, and African-American migrants moved into the remaining neighborhoods.
Latinos forced out from other near downtown and lakefront areas by urban renewal settled close to the border with Lakeview at Sheridan, near Irving Park. In 1975 Young Lords founder Jose (Cha-Cha) Jimenez joined with a broad coalition of whites, blacks and Latinos and ran unsuccessfully against Daley-sponsored Christopher Cohen. They still were able to garner 39% of the vote. His main campaign issue was housing corruption, which was then displacing Latinos and the poor from prime real estate areas of Chicago.
Most recently, since 2000, gentrification has spread north from neighboring Lakeview and south from Edgewater. Median condo prices jumped 69.1% from 2000-2005.
Buena Park is a neighborhood bounded by Montrose Avenue, Irving Park Road, Graceland Cemetery and Lake Shore Drive. The core of the neighborhood is very suburban with driveways and spacious lots. It is in sharp contrast to the skyscrapers that populate the area around it. It can be accessed from the Sheridan stop on the CTA's Red Line.
Today, many people assume that Buena Park is a "new name" given to this part of Uptown by developers trying to give the area a better name (like those trying to call Humboldt Park "West Bucktown"). In reality, Robert A. Waller developed Buena Park starting in 1887 by subdividing his property. The original Waller home is now the site of St. Mary of the Lake church (built in 1917). Buena Park pre-dates the remainder of Uptown by a number of years. Buena Park is also home to one of the most active neighborhood organizations in Chicago: Buena Park Neighbors.
"The Delectable Ballad of the Waller Lot" by Chicago poet Eugene Field:
Up yonder in Buena Park There is a famous spot, In legend and in history (Known as) the Waller lot.
Sheridan Park is a neighborhood bounded by Lawrence Avenue on the north, Clark on the west, Montrose on the south and Broadway on the east. It is mostly residential, containing six-flats, single family homes, and courtyard apartment buildings. There is a growing business district along Wilson Avenue, which bisects Sheridan Park from Broadway to Clark. Truman College, one of the City Colleges of Chicago, is also located in Sheridan Park. The neighborhood can be accessed from either the Wilson or Lawrence stop on the CTA's Red Line.
In 1985, the Sheridan Park Historic District (a National Landmark District) was established to protect the unique single family and smaller multi-family architecture of the area. Some structures of Uptown Square were also added as contributing structures. In 2007, the Sheridan Park area along Dover Street was also registered as an historic district. Many of the homes along Dover are large single family homes from the early 1900s.
This neighborhood is mostly populated by residents who had Vietnamese and Cambodian nationality. However, many, if not most, were from ethnic Chinese minorities and, for that reason, became refugees during the Sino-Vietnamese war of the late 1970s. In the span of a few city blocks, Little Vietnam boasts half a dozen Asian grocery stores as well as more than a dozen Vietnamese, Thai, Laotian, and Chinese restaurants. The neighborhood should not be confused with Old Chinatown, which is in the Armour Square community area on the South Side of the city.
A noteworthy minority within a minority on Argyle are the Bui Doi, those of mixed Vietnamese and American ancestry. Children of mixed unions had often suffered from discrimination in Vietnam, partly because of hostility to the US armed forces and partly because the women (the unions were almost always of Vietnamese women and American men) were seen as prostitutes. The most discriminated against were those of African American-Vietnamese parents. Uptown was a welcome relief for those who struggled with this oppression.
The neighborhood is centered by the Argyle stop on the CTA's Red Line.
Margate Park forms the eastern border of Uptown and Edgewater, nested between the recently revitalized strip of new construction on Sheridan Rd. and the pleasantries of the Lincoln Park northern reaches. Its tree-lined streets, historic mansions, and gilded mid-rises reflect the area's development in the bustle of Uptown Chicago's burgeoning entertainment industry in the early 1900s. The diverse housing also includes ornate, terra-cotta clad hotels, immortalized in movies as Chicago Gangster Era apartment hotels. Some of these 1920s Jazz Age hotels have been since been converted to SROs in the area to provide transitional and supportive housing, adding to the tremendously diverse population of the area.
This lakefront neighborhood is home to Margate Fieldhouse, a gym and fitness facility. The area around the fieldhouse is an official off-leash area in the city for dogs. Annual city permits are required for dogs using the areas.
The fieldhouse is also host to the Margate Playground, with 1400 sqft of playspace for children. Artists Jim Brenner, Corinne D. Peterson, Ginny Sykes, and Roman Villareal created a unique space reflecting the urban locale catering to children's interests and local fauna.
Andersonville Terrace (North Uptown)
This area of Uptown has been identified as many different names over the years. Its borders are Lawrence to the south, Broadway to the East, Clark to the west, and Foster to the north. Andersonville Terrace, or SOFO (South of Foster) are names often given to the area by those who wish to identify more closely with the part of the neighborhood that borders Andersonville. However, the area is rich in Uptown history, claiming Essanay Studios, The Green Mill, a 1930s US Post Office, and the Uptown Theater as major landmarks.
Uptown Entertainment District
Historically a very popular tourist destination, the Uptown Entertainment District is home to various music venues, nightclubs, restaurants and shops. The Uptown Entertainment District is now experiencing a revival, with new restaurants and shops opening every year. Uptown Square, at the center of the Uptown Entertainment District, was designated as a National Historic District on the National Register of Historic Places in 2000. Uptown is also a stop for Chicago Gangster tours, with many locations tied to infamous gangsters such as John Dillinger, Al Capone, Machine Gun Jack McGurn, Roger "The Terrible" Touhy and others.
The Annoyance Theatre
The Aragon Ballroom is still a very popular music venue. During the 1920s and 1930s, most of the nation's well-known jazz groups played the Aragon. Live radio broadcasts from the Aragon helped promote the Aragon's entertainers throughout the Midwest and beyond. Hotels quickly sprang up in the Uptown area, and it became a mecca for young adults who visited Chicago to dance to the Big Bands of the 1940s and 1950s. Frank Sinatra, Tommy Dorsey, Glenn Miller, Benny Goodman, Duke Ellington, Lawrence Welk, Guy Lombardo, Wayne King and other famous bandleaders often played there. In decades to follow, a very diverse selection of "big name" groups have performed, including The Rolling Stones, U2, The Smiths, The Doors, Snoop Dogg, Green Day, The Kinks, The Smashing Pumpkins, Dr. John, B.B. King, Uriah Heep, Metallica, Tommy Bolin, Black Sabbath, The Clash, Tangerine Dream, Slayer, Motörhead, Nirvana, The Ramones and many others.
The Aragon Ballroom is located at the intersection of Lawrence and Winthrop Avenues, just adjacent to the Lawrence Red Line 'L' stop.
The Riviera Theater, also a popular music venue, was once a Jazz Age movie palace which featured live jazz performances with the movies. In the 1970s, the seats were removed on the main floor and it was converted to a concert venue.
The Uptown Theatre is a large, ornate movie palace with almost 4,500 seats. The largest in Chicago, this architectural gem is on several Landmark Registers. The Uptown Theatre was designed by famous movie palace architects, Rapp and Rapp, who also designed the Chicago Theatre in the Chicago Loop. It was managed by the Balaban and Katz Company.
The Uptown Theatre is currently closed and in a state of decay, but efforts have been made by Friends of the Uptown and other local groups to halt deterioration, restore and reopen the theater. Progress was stymied for years by various legal issues, including disputes by multiple mortgage holders and city liens. However, on August 18, 2008, the Uptown Theatre was sold to Jam Productions Ltd, a Chicago-based music promoter. Jam Productions plans to restore the building and will seek development funds from the City of Chicago to help with this effort.
A 2006 documentary, , shows the interior of the theatre. It is also featured on the cover of the book The Chicago Movie Palaces of Balaban and Katz by David Balaban.
Green Mill Jazz Club
The Green Mill Jazz Club is located at 4802 N. Broadway in Chicago, on the site of a much bigger Green Mill Gardens complex, which was an outdoor music gardens fashioned after The Moulin Rouge Gardens in Paris. It was a sunken gardens area, surrounded by a wall and featured nightly entertainment during the summer months. It also featured a dining room which was later converted to the Green Mill Cocktail Lounge during construction of the Uptown Theatre on the former site of the outdoor music gardens. The club was once owned by "Machine Gun" Jack McGurn, a right-hand man of Al Capone, who was a regular patron at The Green Mill. The 1957 movie The Joker Is Wild is based on the life of a regular performer at the Green Mill, Joe E. Lewis. Starring Frank Sinatra, the movie is the story about how Lewis tried to leave his gig at the Green Mill and was attacked and left for dead in his apartment. Lewis survived and continued his successful career in California. The Green Mill Jazz Club still hosts top jazz performers. Patricia Barber, internationally acclaimed jazz performer, plays there most Monday nights, as she has for the past 15 + years. In 2008, Kurt Elling was a regularly featured performer with his current band. The Green Mill also hosts a weekly Poetry Slam. Poet Marc Smith is credited for developing the Poetry Slam, and still hosts the weekly events at the Green Mill.
Argyle Street Asian restaurants and shops
Argyle Street, from Sheridan to Broadway and spilling onto Broadway, features Chinese, Vietnamese, Thai, Laotian, French Vietnamese and Cambodian ethnic restaurants and bakeries. There are also many Asian groceries, shops and trading companies that sell unique Asian merchandise. This area is locally called by many different names, including New Chinatown, North Chinatown, Little Chinatown, Little Saigon, New Saigon, Little Cambodia, Vietnamese Town or Little Vietnam. The surrounding neighborhood, which has attracted Asian immigrants and refugees for the past several decades, is listed on the National Register of Historic Places as the West Argyle Street Historic District. It is easily reached by the Argyle stop on the Red Line 'L.'
One block east of the Argyle 'L' stop, at the corner of Argyle and Winthrop is The Roots of Argyle mural, a community-produced masterwork depicting 100 years of immigration and daily life on Argyle Street. The over 100 ft. painting was designed by community members and painted by world famous muralist Br. Mark Elder and his mural students from DePaul University.
The Rainbo, at 4812 N. Clark, was purchased in 2002 and torn down to make way for a new condo and townhouse development. At one point, however, it was a very popular outdoor music garden, fashioned after the Moulin Rouge Gardens in Paris, which is the original namesake for what was then called "Moulin Rouge Gardens."
Investors bought the Moulin Rouge Gardens property and spent one-million dollars to expand the facility. Opened in 1921, Mann's Million Dollar Rainbo Room, named after Fred Mann's wartime service in the U.S. Army's 42nd Infantry or "Rainbow" Division, was said to be the largest nightclub in America, featuring some of the biggest names in Vaudeville and musical entertainment. Larry Fine (actor) was performing there the night he was asked to join The Three Stooges. The Rainbo Room had a revolving stage to allow for continuous entertainment. There was table seating for 2,000 patrons and space on the dance floor for an additional 1,500. Until 1927, WMAQ radio shared the 670 kilohertz frequency with station WQJ, which was owned by the Rainbo and Calumet Baking Powder Company; it broadcast music of the Rainbo's performers as a form of promotion.
In 1927, during prohibition, it was converted to a major casino and sports venue, called the Rainbo Fronton.
In 1934, during the Chicago World's Fair (A Century of Progress), it became French Casino. The French Casino is where John Dillinger spent his birthday, June 22, 1934, a month before he was shot.
In 1939, it became Mike Todd's Theater Cafe, which was a popular dinner theater. Tommy Sutton, the Theater Cafe's choreographer, went on to work with Cab Calloway, Duke Ellington and Nat King Cole, among others. It was also a venue for Championship Wrestling where, in 1955, the first women's tag team wrestling match was held.
In 1957, The Theater Cafe was converted to an ice skating rink, called Rainbo Arena, which was a practice rink for the Chicago Blackhawks including the year they won the 1961 Stanley Cup. The Rainbo Arena was also a training rink for several Olympic figure skaters, housed a pro bowling alley and the original Kinetic Playground music venue.
In the 1960s and thereafter, The Rainbo was a popular late night roller rink until it was torn down for a new housing development called Rainbo Village. When the building was being demolished in 2003, an assortment of human bones and tennis shoes were discovered in what had been the building's basement. How the bones and shoes ended up there has remained unresolved.
The Arcadia Ballroom, at 4444 N. Broadway was one of the first Dance Halls in Chicago. Promoter Paddy Harmon, who later developed Dreamland Ballroom and the Chicago Stadium, found that black jazz bands were popular with the Arcadia Ballroom late night crowds. It was one of the few places on the north side of Chicago which would book black jazz bands in the 1920s and 1930s, the other being the Green Mill Jazz Club. The building was destroyed in a fire in the 1950s.
The 5100 Club, at 5100 N. Broadway Avenue, was a nightclub that hosted comedy performances before the advent of television. One regular headliner was Danny Thomas, who was discovered there by the head of the William Morris Agency. Danny would later go on to star in movies and in "Make Room For Daddy", one of the longest running sitcoms in American Television history.
Parks, Beaches and Boating
Chicago's Lincoln Park straddles Uptown—providing soccer and athletic fields, a segment of the Chicago lakefront bicycle/running path, Montrose Point Bird Sanctuary ("The Magic Hedge"), a sledding hill, Puptown Dog Park, Wilson Skatepark and Waveland (Marovitz) Golf Course to the south. Also in the Uptown portion of Lincoln Park is Montrose Beach, which includes a dog beach at its northern edge, and Montrose Harbor, a marina for local and transient boaters and home to the Chicago Corinthian Yacht Club.
Two parks, which are inland parts of lakefront Lincoln Park, are located just west of Lake Shore Drive. Called Clarenden Park and Margate Park, each feature athletic fields, children's playgrounds and indoor sports facilities. Chase Park, located on the west side of Clark Street at Leland Avenue, has indoor and outdoor athletic facilities, as well as an outdoor pool and tennis courts.
- Chicago Lakeshore Hospital
- Thorek Hospital and Medical Center
- Louis A. Weiss Memorial Hospital
- U.S. Public Health Hospital
- Argyle Medical Center
- American Islamic College
- Uplift School
- Brenneman Elementary School
- Disney Elementary Magnet School
- Goudy Elementary School
- John T. McCutcheon Elementary School
- Our Lady of Lourdes Elementary School
- St. Augustine College
- St. Mary of the Lake Elementary School
- St. Thomas of Canterbury Elementary School
- Stewart Elementary School
- Stockton Elementary School
- Harry S Truman College
- Bernard Zell Anshe Emet Day School
In southwestern Uptown is historic Graceland Cemetery. Visitors here can find the elaborate tombs of Chicago's famed dead. Because some of Chicago's famous architects designed memorials and are buried here, the Chicago Architecture Foundation offers several walking tours of the cemetery during the spring, summer, and fall.
In 2008 a group of residents sued the City of Chicago over its designation of the Wilson Yards lot as a TIF district.
In December 2009, a Chicago Tribune story reported on the problem facing eastern sections of Uptown where several nursing homes clustered in the area house the mentally ill, including felons. Many of these residents have committed a variety of serious crimes including murder, and 11 nursing homes in the area house 318 convicted felons and 1350 mentally ill people.
References and notes
- Official City of Chicago Uptown Community Map
- Lakeside Community Development Corporation
- Business Partners- The Chamber for Uptown
- Uptown Chicago Commission
- Buena Park Neighbors
- Magnolia Malden Neighbors
- Compass Rose Cultural Crossroads Collection of articles, some of which relate to Uptown history
- Uptown History Blog Blog with images from Uptown's past.
- Uptown Update News and Commentary from the 46th Ward of Chicago
- SeeClickFix Report non-emergency issues in the Uptown neighborhood