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Table of Contents > Chapter 10

Grand Boulevard — Washington Park (continued)

Chicago's relatively small black population of 44,000 in 1910 increased to nearly 250,000 by 1930. For years the outlines of the city's "Black Belt" had been sharply defined: 31st to 55th Streets along Federal and State. But new areas of black settlement were emerging. Indeed, the line of march for the 1923 Elks parade illustrated how the old Black Belt boundaries were being realigned. The parade began in the heart of the old black district at 35th and Prairie, proceeded south along State Street to 46th Street, then east to Grand Boulevard. Crowds of blacks gathered along the parade route to cheer the 10,000 marchers, and the Chicago Defender proudly noted that no parade had ever before marched on Grand Boulevard.

As the black population of Grand Boulevard increased, 47th Street between Indiana and St. Lawrence Avenues became the new black shopping district. By 1927, 47th and Grand Boulevard was the cultural and business hub of black Chicago, and the new Regal Theater dominated this intersection for the next forty-five years. Further proof that Grand Boulevard was the bon ton black neighborhood occurred in August 1929 with the opening of the Michigan Boulevard Garden Apartments (See Fig. 1). Philanthropist Julius Rosenwald contributed nearly $3 million toward the construction of these model apartments, which were all rented before the complex at 47th and Michigan was completed. The five-story walk-up known as The Rosenwald remained one of the most prestigious addresses in Grand Boulevard throughout the 1940s.

Whereas racial change in Grand Boulevard spanned a ten-year period between 1920 and 1930, the Washington Park neighborhood experienced a much swifter transformation from a white to a black community. Despite the fact that Washington Park developed later than Grand Boulevard, it did not remain a white stronghold. Although its population was half the size of Grand Boulevard's, Washington Park was composed mainly of apartment dwellers. Not only did thousands of white families move out of the area as soon as their leases expired, but many left even before blacks moved into their neighborhood.

In his famous trilogy Studs Lonigan, James T. Farrell recreated the world of 58th Street, and he dramatized the response of Irish families to the expansion of the South Side Black Belt. Farrell drew heavily upon his boyhood experiences in St. Anselm parish, and he accurately portrayed the confusion and fear of parishioners in the face of racial change (See Figs. 2 and 3). While a number of families in St. Anselm's moved to South Shore in the early 1920s, others hoped the construction of a new Gothic church on Michigan Avenue might keep the neighborhood white. St. Anselm's new church was dedicated in 1925, but within five years nearly all the white parishioners had moved away.

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Figure 1: The Michigan Boulevard Garden Apartments, 54 E. 47th Street, 1951.  »

Figure 2: St. Anselm Church, northeast corner 61st and Michigan, 1985.  »

Figure 3: Interior, St. Anselm's, late 1930s. »

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