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Table of Contents > Chapter 10

Grand Boulevard — Washington Park (continued)

Fully three-fifths of Chicago's black residents lived in Grand Boulevard and Washington Park in 1930, and both neighborhoods continued to increase in population during the next twenty years. The subdivision of apartments into kitchenettes contributed to overcrowding in the area, and these conversions seriously affected the quality of neighborhood life. While the east section of Grand Boulevard retained its prestige as a black "Gold Coast," the western edge of the neighborhood, especially along Federal Street, continued to deteriorate (See Fig. 1). The situation in Washington Park was much the same. Although the apartments nearest the park were of fairly recent origin, illegal conversions had turned much of the neighborhood into little more than a rooming-house district.

Just as Grand Boulevard and Washington Park felt the effects of black Southern migration during World War I, the area continued to attract newcomers from the Deep South during World War II. By 1950 nearly 175,000 black people lived in these twin communities, an incredible density for a district without highrises. As white neighborhoods on Chicago's South Side changed racially in the 1950s, the market for black homeowners expanded. The exodus of middle-class black families from Grand Boulevard and Washington Park had important consequences for the stability of this part of the South Side. While many families returned to the area for worship on Sunday, local businesses did not command the same loyalties as churches. The district's public schools also were affected. Du Sable High School at 4934 S. Wabash Avenue had been the pride of the black community since its opening in 1935. By the late 1950s, however, the school was losing many of its best students to newly integrated high schools located further south in the city.

Redevelopment in Grand Boulevard-Washington Park occurred in the form of two public improvement programs, the Robert Taylor Homes and the Dan Ryan Expressway. Over the years housing surveys had documented deteriorated conditions in the Federal Street corridor, and it came as no surprise to residents that city planners described their homes as "slum and blighted." In the 1950s the Chicago Housing Authority inaugurated a new policy of building high-rise public housing projects. These elevator buildings soon replaced vast stretches of single-family dwellings, apartments, and businesses in the city's original Black Belt. In 1958, for example, eight high-rises of the Stateway Gardens project were completed in the area bounded by 35th, State Street, Pershing (39th), and the Rock Island railroad tracks. Two years later construction began on the Robert Taylor Homes, now recognized as the world's largest public housing project.

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Figure 1: Frame houses, 3903-5 S. Federal. »

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