That Western Avenue is the longest street in the city, extending all the way from the northern city-boundary to its southern counterpart, is fairly widely known and I would guess that it must be one of the longer city streets in all the world. Given its central location, it forms a north-south axis that crosses all three of the major interstate highways that serve Chicago and so it functions as a crucial artery in the city's traffic patterns, a rÃ´le which seems to be reflected in the presence of so many car dealerships and auto repair shops along virtually its entire length. But in between all of the car lots and muffler shops, one sees on this great avenue an amazing array of reflections of the history and current ethnic complexity of the city. Western Avenue is at once a Mexican street, an African-American street, a Polish street, a Puerto Rican street, a Pakistani street, a Korean street, an Irish street, a German street and an Italian street. And that list is likely incomplete.
Like New York, Chicago once had a sufficiently large Italian population that it had not just one but several sizeable Italian neighbourhoods. On the northside, in the area where the Cabrini-Green projects were later built, was a predominantly Sicilian neighbourhood known as 'Little Hell', of which to my knowledge nothing remains. Over on the near northwest side, in West Town on Grand around Racine and Ogden, there is a now much diminished yet still quite visible Italian presence, which includes a number of restaurants and shops. Further west on Grand, around the intersections of Grand and Huron with Western Avenue is another and particularly little known Italian neighbourhood, primarily to the west of Western but represented on that street by a couple of funeral homes and other Italian-owned businesses. About four miles directly to the south of this enclave, down in the Heart of Chicago neighbourhood, on the east side of Western and more especially on Oakley, is the well-known northern Italian community with its cluster of restaurants.
The largest of the old Italian areas in Chicago was the one centred on and thus generally referred to as 'Taylor Street'. Back at the height of its expansion, this 'neighbourhood' -- really more an amalgam of many contiguous, smaller neighbourhoods -- extended across a narrow but long band between Harrison and Taylor running from around Halsted in the east all the way out past Western and, according to one older resident of the area, on to California and even Sacramento. That was in the 1920's and 30's and 40's, before the socioeconomic and demographic changes that came on the heels of World War II and, perhaps more importantly, the Near West Removals that were initiated under the auspices of Richard Daley Senior. Already in the 1940's, some of the Taylor Street Italians had started to move out of the Near West for places further west, such as the area around Grand and Harlem, and as they moved out, Mexicans began to move into parts of the Taylor Street corridor. Then, with the 'Removals', that is, the series of massive building projects of the highway circle, the University of Illinois Circle campus, the development of the Illinois Medical District, and the building of low-income housing projects, the core of the Taylor Street neighbourhood was swept away, with the displaced Italian population again heading westward to the Harlem Avenue area and beyond to the western and northwestern suburbs. Many of the Mexicans of Taylor Street moved a little ways south to the already strongly Mexican Pilsen neighbourhood.
Ultimately remaining of the Italian Taylor Street corridor are just two small enclaves which frame the intervening medical district, both of which have seen some rough times in recent decades but now are on the upswing. Indeed, the eastern enclave, which stretches from Morgan to Ashland and is now commonly referred to as 'Taylor Street' or even 'Little Italy', has a thriving and still expanding (through increasingly less Italian) cluster of restaurants, as well as an expanding and ever more valuable real estate market: houses in the neighbourhood which sell for well more than a half and now even well more than a whole million dollars are increasingly common. Though a certain noteworthy portion of the old Italian population of the area still resides there, the neighbourhood can hardly still be considered an overwhelmingly Italian one, despite all the restaurants that seem to indicate that. But it is to a certain degree still an Italian neighbourhood and the presence of some Italian businesses such the salumeria, Conte di Savoia, Chiarugi's hardware store, and Scafuri's bakery, even if a good measure of their customers live elsewhere, bears witness to that fact.
To the west of 'Taylor Street' and the medical centre is, of course, more of Taylor Street and the other enclave that continues to have direct ties to the old, massive Italian neighbourhood that once stretched across Chicago?s Near West. This somewhat isolated area, as product of forced removals that took place under old man Daley, had no traditional name and so was given in more recent years the appellation, perhaps by inventive real estate agents, 'Tri-Taylor', which is intended to denote the triangle based on the commercial stretch of Taylor Street and formed by Harrison, Ogden and Western.
Nice article. There are several areas left out tho.
I am in an area that had an old Italian neighborhoord. The remnats are a few restraunts. As I walk down the street I sometimes come across old coner groceries, now closed down, with signs such as "Fresh Italian sausages", etc. Near chinatown Armour, Square, Bridgeport is an area that used to be an Italian neighborhood also, and there are a few skeletal vestiges left behind. I have even seen a St. Josephs club i think somewhere near 26th and canal? Maybe. I also know outside of the city are/were great Italian neighborhoods. Most of my Italian family lived in Chicago Heights, IL and the towns encompassing arround it. Even though my family has moved to NW IN, they still go to the heights for sausage. They love their sausage... Every year i see so many little Italian enclaves pop up in the suburban sprawl also, like arround 148th and Wolf in Orland Park, there is an area with italian dining and groceries and pizza. Tinly Park has a nice Italian grocery. Where my parents moved to in NW Indiana there are several ladies who run Italian groceries. Eventhough our city neighborhoods are not as vibrat as they used to be there is a sence of heritage in the suburbs.
All i need now is to find a grocery arround that sell Belte alla pesca Thanks for the nice article
I just read a book that might be interesting. It's called "Rosa: The Life of an Italian Immigrant" by Marie Hall Ets. It was published a long time ago, I think 1970. But I got it on ebay. It is a wonderful book! It tells the story of Rosa who came from Lombardy to Missouri than to Chicago where she lived many years and died in 1943. In it she talks a lot about the areas of Chicago in which she lived. I highly recommend it.
Searching for surnames Ignazio, Graziano, Trella, Del Principe, Biani, Subrizi, Della Valle
I am looking for members of the old Chicago Italian Families that lived there in the thirties and forties. My father whose nickname was Buddy was raised around the old neighborhoods. Demetros mostly raised him and my grandmother took to her grave information on my father. His given name was Joe. My grandmother was also married to Russo. Several figures were in my dad's life, it is important to me and my brother find out what was so important that my grandmother would take information to her grave and not at least tell her own son. I do have some information about her and the surrounding circumstances..I need to find someone who can really help me.
In your post you mention vaguely what you are looking for but if you like, you can start a new post and try to outline your specific research needs and we can try to help you.
Start with the basics...names, birth dates, siblings, spouses etc and we can try to direct you. We can help provide facts as best as are available on the net and perhaps from there you can make contact with someone who may be familiar with your family.
Good luck and let us know if you wish to pursue this.
Wow - great article. Thanks for sharing. As a Chicago Italian American, it makes me sad to go down to Taylor St. now. The Italian Ethnic charm is gone. Not even Mario's Italian lemonade is the same! Last time I went to the Church of my Grandparents there (now a shrine) Our Lady of Pompeii I was shocked to see a high rise condo built there.
Don't forget the old Italian neighborhoods of Cicero, Elmwood Park and Melrose Park.
No - I was going to attend services there and saw the new high rise condos a few blacks away. Our Lady of Pompeii is still there. In fact they keep "upgrading" it. They must be doing well. They put new doors on the shire a few years ago that must have cost a small fortune - they are magnificent! I have pictures somewhere. Carved metal doors with scenes on them - they were imported from Italy.