Monday, May 23, 2011

Western Avenue Series

Mile 8: 66th-58th Street
This sketch is a part of my Western Avenue Series, through which I'll be making 24 watercolor paintings, one to document each mile of Western Avenue, in Chicago.  I started this project because while it is not considered to be among the most “beautiful” of Chicago’s streets, Western Avenue is a perfect place to document the humanness of Chicago, the positive and the negative. In the words of Stuart Dybek, "Western, with apologies to State Street, is a great street,  Unlike State, it is a street that goes to the interior, the heart of the city, as it glides and glows through a United Nations of neighborhoods."  Check back next Monday to see the painting completed based on this sketch.
This mile has a vitality which is similar to the portion of Western located just south.  There is a good deal more pedestrian traffic than I found in other portion of the avenue, as well as a large number of commercial businesses.  The neighborhood of Chicago Lawn is a descendent of the city of Chicago Lawn, which was in 1871 and annexed in 1889.  It was mostly farmland until the 1920s when the neighborhood saw a large population increase. In 1941, the National Biscuit Company (Nabisco) announced plans to build a huge bakery in Chicago Lawn. When completed, this was the largest bakery in one location in the world. 
The Lithuanian community has maintained a notable presence in the area by establishing a network of institutions that earned their community the label as the Lithuanian Gold Coast. Chicago's changing racial demographics had a profound impact on Chicago Lawn. In the 1960s most white residents had fled Englewood and West Englewood and Chicago Lawn became a target for civil rights groups' open housing marches. In 1966 a march led by Martin Luther King, Jr., into Marquette Park.  Violence also erupted in the neighborhood when Gage Park High School attempted to integrate after Brown v. Board of Education. The primary resistance to integration came from fear of declining property values by people who put their life savings into their homes and disruption of ethnic bonds, especially for the Lithuanians. Some Irish, Poles, and Lithuanians still remain, though most have moved further south and west.  By 1990, Blacks comprised 52.9% of the population, while Hispanic groups accounted for 35.1%.
How has the neighborhood where you live changed over time?
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