Tuesday, March 30, 2010

K-Town Today

Ned Kaufman, of Ned Kaufman PhD Professional Services in Heritage Conservation, and a professor at Pratt in New York, was in town today. He gave a lecture at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. Wanting to get out an about, Vince Michael of SAIC directed Ned my way. As I am always eager to show off Lawndale, I took Ned on a tour.

K-Town is always a priority on such tours. For those who don't know, there is an area on Chicago's westside where all the streets to the west of Pulaski Road begin with the letter "K"... Komensky, Karlov, Kedvale, Keeler, Tripp (don't ask), Kildare, Kolin, Kostner, etc., all the way to the city limits with the Town of Cicero. The 16 block area that is referred to here as K-Town is a rectangle bounded by Pulaski Road on the east, Cermak Road on the south, Kostner on the west, and Cullerton on the north. In many ways, this area has been the most stable in North Lawndale over the years, and is remarkably intact. That physical intactness as well as the interesting character of the residential architecture in the district is the basis for a National Register nomination for recognition of the area as an Historic District. This effort is being spearheaded by the National Trust for Historic Preservation, Neighborhood Housing Services of Chicago, Lawndale Historical and Cultural Society, and the residents of the K-Town district.

The district had been largely Bohemian from its earliest development in the latter part of the 19th century. African-Americans began to move into the area in the mid-to-late 1950s. The area is at least 95% African-American today. It is characterized by single-family homes, two-flats, and an occasional three-flat; there are no large apartment buildings in the district. Each couple of blocks presents a unique building style: single-family Greystones or shoe-box Greystones; two-flat Greystones; single-family buildings with brick facades; two-flats with brick facades; single family and two-flats on slabs, or without basements; and perhaps the most curious of all, tiny square brick single-families with "mother-in-law basements" that appear to be precursors to the Chicago Bungalow.

Monday, March 29, 2010

A Great Neighborhood...

North Lawndale is one of the more culturally complex and architecturally eccentric neighborhoods in Chicago. Since Chicago is renowned for its varied neighborhoods... Hyde Park, Lakeview, Back of the Yards, Kenwood-Oakland, Greek Town, Chinatown, Paseo Boricua (Humboldt Park), Buck Town, and so many others... to describe North Lawndale in these terms is really quite significant. It is a poor neighborhood in demographic terms; but, oh, it is ever so rich in cultural terms. Few places in Chicago, or indeed even in the country, can offer the narrative presented by North Lawndale. It is both famous and infamous; it has been studied, prodded and poked by the academies; it was infamously dubbed America's Millstone in a Pulitzer Prize winning way by the Chicago Tribune; it played a not so small role in the creation of the state of Israel; it taught the Titans of Industry how to get more production out of their workers; it helped create mass consumer markets; it hosted a King, and was almost burned to the ground in the wake of his assassination; it witnessed a Black Power movement; and now it is learning to celebrate its architectural heritage through the Historic Chicago Greystone Initiative.