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Gapers Block published from April 22, 2003 to Jan. 1, 2016. The site will remain up in archive form. Please visit Third Coast Review, a new site by several GB alumni.
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Thursday, April 18

Gapers Block

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Q: Do you know the story of how Ogden Avenue got closed off through Lincoln Park?

Believe it or not, the part of the Lincoln Park area known as Old Town was not always the gentrified, high-rent neighborhood it is today.

Old Town is described roughly as the area between North Avenue, Clark Street and Ogden Avenue, and the neighborhood can trace its history to the mid-19th century when German immigrants were the first to build in the area.

After the Germans, other immigrants followed until the Great Chicago Fire of 1871 destroyed many of the wooden structures in the neighborhood. Residents, however, quickly rebuilt. For several decades afterwards, Old Town retain its character as a community of working-class families, with the addition of a line of stately homes owned by Chicago's wealthy elite lining Lincoln Park.

But in the early part of the 20th century, particularly during the Depression, the neighborhood experienced a period of decline. Homes and buildings became neglected and rundown, until, by the end of World war II, residents became concerned their own vibrant community was destined to become a slum.

In 1948 they formed the Old Town Triangle Association (OTTA), an organization dedicated to improving the community. Throughout the 1950s, OTTA sought to conserve the historic character of the neighborhood while also encouraging redevelopment and the elimination of deteriorating buildings. The organization also joined forces with other local community groups to create the Lincoln Park Conservation Association (LPCA), which would work to preserve the entire Lincoln Park area.

But urban renewal in Old Town did not begin in earnest until the 1960s, when the city, working with the LPCA, drafted what was called the General Neighborhood Renewal Plan (GNRP). The first phase of the GNRP, known as Project 1, called for the closing of Ogden Avenue through Old Town. The belief, according to OTTA officials at the time, was that Ogden Avenue was "obsolete as a traffic artery," and the street could be "put to other, more important uses." One of these uses included the construction of the Midwest Buddhist Temple at 435 W. Menomonee St.

In addition to the closing of Ogden Avenue, the urban renewal of Old Town also resulted in the demolition of hundreds of buildings and the "relocation" of hundreds of families, single residents and businesses. In 1977 the neighborhood's renewal efforts were rewarded when the city named the Old Town Triangle district a Chicago landmark.

On the other hand, the effects of urban renewal in Old Town may have worked a little too well. The original idea was to try to protect the working-class, family-friendly character of the neighborhood. Urban renewal, however, pushed out many of those families and attracted a new kind of resident to Old Town--the young urban professional. What the future now holds for Old Town is anybody's guess.

Additional Resources

For more on the story of urban renewal in Old Town, be sure to visit "Urban Renewal in Lincoln Park's Old Town Triangle Neighborhood," a website created as part of an independent study project by students at DePaul University.

Old Town Triangle Association
The official website of the community organization.


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About the Author(s)

Alice Maggio is a Chicago librarian. She welcomes questions and topic suggestions for her column at . She may not reply to every query, but you may be contacted if your question is selected for the column.

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