Monday, June 6, 2011

Western Avenue Series

Mile 9: 58th-50th 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 of Western Avenue traverses the Gage Park neighborhood, one of Chicago official community area.  I found an interesting outline of the neighborhood's history on The Encyclopedia of Chicago website.  The entry about Gage Park revels that its story begins with German farmers who settled there in the 1840s.  In the early part of the 20th century the extension of the electric trolley system to Western and Kedzie contributed to a building boom in the area.

While Protestants tended to settle in Chicago Lawn, Roman Catholics settled in Gage Park.  By 1920 there were 13,692 people in Gage Park, mostly Bohemian and Polish, and mostly employees of the Union Stock Yard. The community supported three movie theaters, including the Colony, which was built in 1925 in classical Gothic style at 5842 South Kedzie. Slavic immigrants were lured to the area as national churches were created.  Bordered on three sides by railroads, Gage Park attracted employers, including Central Steel and Wire Company, Royal Crown Bottling Company, and World's Finest Chocolate.

In the 1960s, the Marquette Park–Gage Park area became a center of testing for open housing for African Americans.  In the 1970s and 1980s, several neighborhood organizations were formed to stabilize the area and to ease racial tensions: the Southwest Community Congress sought to improve race relations with bordering neighborhoods, whereas the Southwest Parish and Neighborhood Federation sought to curb real-estate blockbusting tactics and to maintain middle-class stability in the community. 

Have you visited the Gage Park neighborhood?
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