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Table of Contents > Chapter 10

Grand Boulevard — Washington Park

In few Chicago neighborhoods has ethnic succession been more dramatic than in the Grand Boulevard-Washington Park area on Chicago's South Side. Between 1890 and 1920 thousands of native-born Protestants, German Jews, and Irish Catholics lived in the territory bounded by 39th Street, Cottage Grove Avenue, 63rd Street, and Wentworth Avenue. By 1930 Grand Boulevard and Washington Park formed the heart of Chicago's black community, and they remained the city's premier black neighborhoods throughout the 1950s.

In the past thirty years, the exodus of middle-class black families has left its mark on Grand Boulevard and Washington Park. Whereas these two neighborhoods once included a cross section of Chicago's black community, they now contain a population that is overwhelmingly poor, with few resources. Many of black Chicago's pioneer businesses, clubs, and churches have vanished, and the growing number of vacant lots testifies to the area's demise as a residential district. Like other parts of the city, the Grand Boulevard-Washington Park district has become the "old neighborhood" for thousands of black Chicagoans.

The history of this South Side area is linked to Washington Park, which was laid out in 1873 according to the designs of the famous landscape architect, Frederick Law Olmsted. In its early years, the park was located outside the city proper and was accessible only by private carriages. With its landscaped gardens and its meadows, Washington Park embodied the suburban ideal of leisure. The opening of the Washington Park Club in 1884 at 61st and South Park Avenue further enhanced the district's reputation as an exclusive area. For an initiation fee of $150, members could enjoy "all the advantages of a country club." But the club's main attraction was its racetrack. Each June thousands of spectators gathered from all parts of the city for the running of the American Derby, an event which continued from 1884 to 1905.

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Map of Grand Boulevard - Washington Park. »

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