Chicago in 2011: 200 Neighborhoods, 7 days

If you’ve got that "been-there-done-that" feeling about Chicago, think again!

SAA has met in Chicago many times before, and anyone who’s been here knows downtown has more than enough to keep visitors occupied for a week. But when you come to SAA’s 75th Anniversary meeting, be sure to make time to explore some of the city’s neighborhoods. Chicago’s got more than 200 of them! Most are easy to get to — just hop on a bus or train. There’s no better glimpse into Chicago’s ethnic diversity, past and present, than a visit to one of the neighborhoods. You won’t find descriptions and suggestions for all 200 here, but these are good jumping-off points. Easily reached by train and perfect if you have a free afternoon.

Little Italy
Everybody knows about New York’s Little Italy. Boston’s got the North End and Philly has 9th Street. Chicago has an Italian neighborhood, too, and it’s clustered around Taylor Street, just south and west of the Loop. Although Italians have been spread all over the city since they started coming in the 19th century, Taylor Street has maintained a strong Italian tradition. The Chicago classic Italian beef sandwich was invented in Little Italy, and you can get the original at Al’s Beef (1079 West Taylor Street), still serving the neighborhood beefs and Italian sausages after 70 years. A few blocks east is Hull House (800 South Halsted), a settlement home run by Jane Addams at the turn of the century that aided the workingclass immigrant population in the neighborhood. The original building, a National Registered Historic Place, is a museum on the University of Illinois at Chicago campus. To get to UIC’s campus, take the Blue Line west (toward Forest Park) and exit at UIC/Halsted. Walking two blocks south will get you to Hull House. One block south of Hull House is Taylor Street. Take a right and head over to Little Italy.

At the turn of the 20th century, Czechs were settling a neighborhood on Chicago’s near west side. They called it “Plzen,” after a city in Bohemia, and today Chicagoans know it as Pilsen. Like many of Chicago’s neighborhoods, Pilsen has seen many immigrant waves come and go. The neighborhood is currently home to a large Hispanic population. One cultural highlight is the always-free National Museum of Mexican Art (1852 West 19th Street). The museum boasts paintings, textiles, photographs, and much more from ancient Mexico to the 21st century. Small gallery owners and artists recently have begun to move into East Pilsen lofts and storefronts, so make sure to stop by one of those if you can. Along 18th and 19th Streets, you’ll find vintage clothing and thrift stores, taquerías and panaderías, and large-scale murals. And check out the Czech-style architecture of Thalia Hall (121-1225 West 18th Street), an old theatre and community center. It’s no longer operational as a theatre, but the exterior of the building is still worth taking in if you happen to be strolling down 18th. Hop on the Pink Line from downtown and head west (toward 54/Cermak). Exit at 18th Street and you’ll be right in the middle of Pilsen.

Chicago neighborhoods will let you in on the hidden gems of the city. You won’t find an old rock mine right in the middle of downtown, but a visit to Bridgeport will take you to Stearns Quarry Park (2901 South Poplar Street), a former limestone quarry that was transformed into a 27-acre park just two years ago. The area around the quarry now features a fishing pond, trails and paths, and an athletic field. If you take a path up to the top of the hill, you can imagine what Illinois looked like when it was all prairie: tall grasses and shrubs. But turn to face the city and you’ll see a beautiful view of downtown. Bridgeport has seen waves of Irish, German, Lithuanian, and Polish immigrants since the 1840s, and more recently the neighborhood has become home to Chinese-Americans as well. Take the Orange Line (toward Midway) and exit at Halsted. Two blocks south on Halsted is one entrance to the old quarry.

Just a few blocks from Bridgeport is Chicago’s Chinatown. Pass under the Chinatown Gate and stroll down Wentworth Street to take in the restaurants (dim sum is a must for a weekend lunch), groceries, and tea and herb shops. You can’t miss it, but make sure you stop by the Pui Tak Center (2216 South Wentworth). It’s a Chicago landmark and an architectural beauty, renovated and restored in the ‘90s and ‘00s. The SAA conference is taking place in summer, fortunately, so hop on the Chicago Water Taxi for a trip down the Chicago River to Chinatown’s Ping Tom Memorial Park. Otherwise, the Red Line going south (toward 95th/Dan Ryan) will stop at Cermak/Chinatown.

Hyde Park
For fans of the World’s Columbian Exposition, take a trip to Hyde Park to visit the Midway Plaisance and Jackson Park, where the White City stood in 1893. Northwest of the Midway in Washington Park you’ll find the DuSable Museum of African American History, the nation’s first independent museum dedicated to the African American experience (740 East 56th Place). Hyde Park was a destination for many African Americans who migrated to Chicago after World War I, and the neighborhood has been home to Jesse Jackson, Mahalia Jackson, and someone else you may have heard of – Barack Obama.

In the heart of Hyde Park sits Frank Lloyd Wright’s Robie House (5757 South Woodlawn Avenue), a classic prairie-style home built in 1910. It’s a taste of Wright’s best work, with its art glass windows and dramatic eaves. You can wander on your own, or take a guided tour of the house and grounds. In fact, the entire neighborhood is great for a stroll to check out the architecture. And one of the most beautiful views of the city can be found at Promontory Point (55th Street, as far east as you can go before you are in Lake Michigan). Tons of buses go from downtown to Hyde Park. You can pick up the #6 right by the Hyatt Hotel and take it all the way down Lake Shore Drive to Jackson Park.

Chicago used to be home to more Swedes than any city outside of Stockholm. Toward the end of the 19th century they began drifting away from downtown to settle in other neighborhoods. The Swedish American Museum in Andersonville (5211 North Clark Street) offers a permanent exhibit on the immigration experience for Swedes in Chicago, a special exhibit that changes every few months, a children’s museum, and a shop. As long as you’re taking in all things Swedish, try one of the eateries on Andersonville’s main strip, such as Erickson’s Delicatessen, Swedish Bakery, and Svea, which offers traditional Swedish food. Of course, the neighborhood isn’t entirely Swedish anymore, and Clark Street has tons of other restaurants, too. So you can always grab a falafel, sushi, or slice of pizza if herring, meatballs, and lingonberries aren’t your thing! Take the Red Line north (toward Howard). Exit at Berwyn and walk a few blocks west to Clark St, the main strip of Andersonville. Just look for the water tower with the Swedish blue and yellow flag painted on it and you’ll know you’re in the right place.

— 2011 Host Committee

SAA Thanks the 2011 Host Committee Members for Their Hard Work and Enthusiasm!

  • Michael Bullington (Co-Chair)
    McDonald’s Corporation
  • Jane Kenamore (Co-Chair)
    Kenamore and Klinkow
  • Maija Anderson
    Oregon Health and Science University
  • Beverly Cook
    Chicago Public Library
  • Tamar Evangelestia-Dougherty
    University of Chicago
  • Linda Evans
    Chicago History Museum
  • Michael Flug
    Chicago Public Library
  • Valerie Harris
    University of Illinois at Chicago
  • Keith Helt
    Crown Family Philanthropies
  • Laura Mills
    Roosevelt University
  • Scott Pitol
    The Pampered Chef
  • Meg Romero
    Archdiocese of Chicago
  • Julie Snyder
    Shure Incorporated
  • Martin Tuohy
    National Archives and Records Administration
  • Susan Watson
    Kraft Foods, Inc.
  • Mary Woolever
    Art Institute of Chicago
  • Eric Jankowski (Intern)
Annual Meeting referenced: