NFT Chicago Southwest

Southwest

Essentials
The Southwest side comprises several communities steeped in Chicago's ethnic blue collar history, including a large Lithuanian population, Italians, Arab Americans, African Americans and the Irish. This cultural diversity has not come without conflict--Marquette Park was once a gathering spot for white supremacy groups. Today, the park is better known for its fishing pond, golf course, and occasional outbursts of gang violence. Southernmost in the southwest side, the Beverly and Morgan Park areas are chock-a-block with historic homes and civic pride.

Sundries/Entertainment
We're still lamenting the reform of the nation's largest, sloppiest St. Paddy's Day parade into a more wholesome day of family fun. If you're still looking to be reckless in this neck of the woods, the collection of neighborhood pubs dotting Western Avenue won't turn you away.

Beverly/Morgan Park
Beverly Hills, best known simply as Beverly, is the stronghold of Chicago's heralded "South Side Irish" community. An authentic medieval castle, baronial mansions, rolling hills, and plenty of pubs compose Chicago's Emerald Isle.See more.

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Once populated by Illinois and Potawatomi Indian tribes, Beverly became home to clans of Irish-American families after the Great Chicago Fire. Famous residents include Andrew Greeley, Brian Piccolo, George Wendt, the Schwinn Bicycle family, and decades of loyal Chicago civil servants. Proud and protective of their turf, these close-knit South Siders call Beverly and its sister community, Morgan Park, "the Ridge." The integrated neighborhood occupies the highest ground in Chicago, 30 to 60 feet above the rest of the city atop Blue Island Ridge. Although the Ridge is just 15 miles from the Loop, most North Siders only trek there for the South Side Irish Parade (www.southsideirishparade.org), which attracts hundreds of thousands of people each year around St. Patrick's Day.

And there is more to Beverly than green beer and craic. The Ridge Historic District is one of the country's largest urban areas on the National Register of Historic Places. Beverly and Morgan Park encompass four landmark districts including the Ridge Historic District, three Chicago Landmark Districts, and over 30 Prairie-style structures.

Architecture
Within approximately a nine-mile radius, from 87th Street to 115th Street and Prospect Avenue to Hoyne Avenue, one can view a vast collection of homes and public buildings representing American architectural styles developed between 1844 and World War II. The 109th block of Prospect Avenue, every inch of Longwood Drive, and the Victorian train stations at 91st Street, 95th Street, 99th Street, 107th Street, 111th Street, and 115th Street are all great Chicago landmarks. Walter Burley Griffin Place on W 104th Street has Chicago's largest concentration of Prairie School houses built between 1909 and 1913 by Griffin, a student of Frank Lloyd Wright and designer of the city of Canberra in Australia.

Beverly Area Planning Association (www.bapa.org) provides a good architectural map, plus events and shopping information for the district. History buffs and researchers should get in contact with the Ridge Historical Society (www.ridgehistoricalsociety.org), which hosts talks and events from time to time.

Culture & Events
The Beverly Arts Center is the epicenter of Ridge culture. The $8 million facility provides visual and performance art classes for all ages as well as events and festivals (2407 W 111th St, 773-445-3838; www.beverlyartcenter.org). Historic Ridge homes open their doors to the public in the fall for the annual Home Tour, Chicago's oldest such tour. Sites are chosen for their diverse architectural styles and historical significance. The Home Tour is organized by the Beverly Area Planning Association (www.bapa.org), and guided trolley tours are also offered for an additional fee.

Where to Eat
• Rainbow Cone, 9233 S Western Ave, 773-238-7075. Ice cream. People line up day and night in the summer.
• Top Notch Beefburger, 2116 W 95th St, 773-445-7218. Burgers really are top notch at this '50s-style grill.

Where to Drink
• Lanigan's Irish Pub, 3119 W 111th St, 773-233-4004. Live celtic music from time-to-time.
• Mrs. O'Leary's Dubliner, 10910 S Western Ave, 773-238-0784. Affectionately known as the Dubliner, this is one of the many Irish pubs lining Western Avenue.

Where to Shop
• Bev Art Brewer and Winemaker Supply, 10033 S Western Ave, 773-233-7579. Everything you need to brew and bottle it yourself.
• Calabria Imports, 1905 W 103rd St, 773-396-5800. Imported Italian gourmet foodstuffs.
• Optimo Hat Co, 10215 S Western Ave, 773-238-2999. Custom made men's hats.




         



On Our Radar:

Posted By:  Elissa Pociask
Photo:  Elissa Pociask

Szalas
One tug on the rope outside Szalas springs open the giant wooden door to reveal a gregarious little Polish man in a white lace-down tunic. The inside of this lodge-like building is packed with taxidermied spoils of hunting, and tons of Polish kids wearing their Sunday best. A ten-foot water wheel spins over a pond of coy fish, separating the main dining hall from the bar where the boys gulp down their Okocim beers. Two spacious halls accommodate every-day diners and large parties feasting on potato pancakes, goulash, pierogi and more. It's friendly, it's loud, and it's oh so Polish.



Posted By:  Max Minor
Photo:  Max Minor

Veggie Bite
Located in vegetarian hotbed Bucktown/Wicker Park, newly opened vegan fast food joint Veggie Bite serves such exciting items as meatless burgers, tacos, and a kick-ass buffalo not-chicken sandwich. The place isn't cheap, and the service isn't great, but the food is terrific, and the idea of an entirely vegan fast food place is so exciting it's hard to blame the hippies who work there for taking their time. There has been some overheard grumbling in regards to the graphic nature of the vegan propaganda at Veggie Bite's counter, and the political undertones of the place may turn off some, but vegan-ism is by nature a political movement, so it's not surprising this place has something to say. If you're a vegetarian or a vegan, you have to try Veggie Bite.



Posted By:  Mark F. Armstrong
Photo: 

In 1967, an Illinois Bell switching station and a mid-20th century fast food eatery were leveled to make room for this haute art centerpiece for Chicago’s Far Southwest Side. Beverly Art Center’s initial opening provided consistently unifying space for several long-standing cultural institutions in Beverly/Morgan Park, ranging from the Vanderpoel Art Association Gallery to the Beverly Theater Guild. The then brand-spanking new center attracted high-profile endowments from the likes of real estate developer Artur Rubloff and the retailing Baer Family. Beverly Arts Center moved to its current home at one of the busiest intersections atop the ridge in 2002. Its new location is more cubic, stark, and is far less impressionist on the exterior than its predecessor. But the parking for 100 cars and interior space for a broader range of programs—including Greater Chicagoland’s only Irish film festival—make up for the deficiency in compelling post-postmodern wrapping.



Posted By:  Mark F. Armstrong
Photo:  Mark F. Armstrong

This half century-old parish describes itself as a Christian community instead of a mere temple. St. Walter’s architecture is an evolution from the post art moderne of the early 1950s, foreshadowing a style for churches built in the newly born Space Age. St. Walter’s ever evolving programming and activism is perhaps why it has survived slightly older parishes in the area, such as Holy Name of Mary on the northeastern end of the Morgan Park neighborhood, the oldest black parish from its founding in 1947 to its closing circa 2002. St. Walter’s Catholic community sponsors such programs as Scouting, a food pantry, an adopt-a-grandparent program, and an anti-abortion committee.



Posted By:  Mark F. Armstrong
Photo:  Mark F. Armstrong

This 18-acre emerald oasis in a relatively overdeveloped area was acquired in 1911 at the urging of citizens of the then village of Morgan Park. The property was immediately dubbed Western Avenue Park. Overseen by the Calumet Park District, a bath house was built and a swimming pool added 14 years later. Through the 1920s, the Morgan Park Women’s Club created a bird sanctuary and wild flower preserve on five undeveloped acres, although the rest of the park remained underdeveloped. Full-scale improvements began in 1930, with labor from Illinois’ Depression-era Unemployed United Relief Service removing hundreds of tons of discarded auto frames and concrete from the site, grading it, planting shrubbery, and building a field house. The park was renamed D.J. Kennedy Memorial Park, in honor of Dennis J. Kennedy (1871-1932), who sat on the Calumet Park Board of Commissioners from 1910 until his death and was its president for 20 years. Today, this semi-rustic example of urban reclamation is best known as the only Chicago Park District property featuring a Korean War Memorial, which was installed and dedicated in 1988.



Posted By:  Mark F. Armstrong
Photo:  Mark F. Armstrong

This century-old limestone gem is seven years older than the Chicago Cultural Center downtown at Randolph Street and Michigan Avenue, which was the main Chicago public library branch until the mid-1970s. Walker Branch was donated to Morgan Park in 1890. The opening of the city’s larger regional branches in the 1970s dramatically shortened Walker Branch’s late evening hours and diminished community programs that once characterized the branch when it was the only game around for miles. And while it’s not the quietest Chicago library branch today, it’s among the handsomest in its turreted gothic style.



Posted By:  Mark F. Armstrong
Photo:  Mark F. Armstrong

The Plaza Shopping Center
Colloquially known as “Everblack,” a reference to the bulk of its clientele, few appreciate the shopping revolution created when the late developer Arthur Rubicon conceived it in the mid-1950s as the first shopping mall of its kind in the Midwest—enclosed and pedestrian friendly. Gradually, through the early 1980s, shoppers began abandoning their traditional neighborhood shopping districts to bask in the emerging southwest suburban sprawl. The Plaza established itself as 95 percent of the tax base for the village of Evergreen Park. The facility provided a cool respite for families in the days before central air conditioning was a common household feature. By the mid-1980s, the Plaza became a victim of the revolution it started, with shoppers flocking to more gilded suburban malls slightly west and much farther south. Yet, the residents of Greater Morgan put up a spirited battle to save the Plaza, fighting the establishment of a Walmart that had leveled its star-studded neighbors in the Drury Lane Theater and Martinique. Today, the Plaza’s urban ma-and-pa establishments and newer anchor store chains coexist peacefully alongside senior citizens who use the mall as a meeting place and exercise course.



Posted By:  Mark F. Armstrong
Photo:  Noel Henderson-James

Mr Peabody Records
Everything about Mr. Peabody Records is a walk into the glorious past. When a record store was like the neighborhood drug store slinging burgers and mixing malt shakes, and not the assembly line McDonald’s of music retailing today. The store is located in the Beverly Woods Shopping Mall, a strip mall with an early suburban dawning space-age-style of architecture along the historic Dixie Highway. The storefront’s display window is covered with vinyl 12-inch and 45-rpm records as well as the store’s logo, an all-too-hip brother wearing sunglasses with an afro-pick stuck in his piled tendrils. Inside, the walls that aren’t autographed are decorated with vintage albums, from classic rap to an LP of the original stage production of South Pacific. Instead of using antiseptic listening stations, thirtysomething owners Mike Cole and Mark Grusane and their associate Rob McKay let you check out cuts at the front register DJ booth—for all to hear. Mr. Peabody has commanded DJ visits from the world over after opening barely a year ago, including at least two from Kool Herc and one each from Yoshi and Spinna. Following a model of the some enterprising ma-and-pa stores from the ‘50s and ‘60s, Mr. Peabody also operates a record label, MPR Recording, and a distribution arm, MRP Distribution, with links in Canada, Europe, and Asia.



Posted By:  Mark F. Armstrong
Photo:  Noel Henderson-James

Givens' Irish Castle
In 1886, real estate promoter and novelist Robert G. Givens built a three-story mansion at 103rd Street and Longwood Drive, the two most exclusive streets on Chicago’s Far Southwest Side at the time. Designed after an ivy-covered castle in Ireland, Givens’ mansion cost $80,000 to build because of the limestone hauled in by oxcart from Joliet. Local legend suggests that Givens built the mansion for his wife, who was living in their native Ireland at the time, and that he chose the Ridge location because it most resembled the Irish countryside. Other splendid mansions began to spring up along Longwood Drive and the community became known as Beverly Hills, 18 years before the name sprung up on maps for an exclusive incorporated subdivision in Los Angeles County. Givens’ wife reportedly died before seeing her castle, but her ghost is said to walk up the hill from 103rd Street to the castle entrance on Longwood Drive. Beverly Unitarian Church bought the Irish castle in 1942 and now rents it out for parties, weddings, receptions, banquets, and seminars when the church isn’t using the space for services, organizations, and classes.




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