Little Italy, Chicago

Little Italy, Chicago

Little Italy is located in the Near West Side community area of the city of Chicago, Illinois. It encompasses a 12 block stretch of Taylor Street east of Ashland Avenue and the streets to the north and south for several blocks in each direction. The neighborhood lies between the Illinois Medical District to the west and the University of Illinois at Chicago to the east. It is a neighborhood of strongly Italian influence. Taylor Street, was regarded as the port-of-call for the Italian American immigrants who found their way to Chicago, is widely known as being synonymous with Chicago's Little Italy.cite web|url=|title=Taylor Street Archives|accessdate=2008-09-17]

Little Italy never had a concentration of Italian-Americans that constituted a majority.cite web |author= Grinnell, Max |url= |publisher= Chicago Historical Society |title= "Encyclopedia of Chicago" "Little Italy" |accessdate=2007-02-07] Other ethnicities have always been present in the area known as "Little Italy."Binford, Henry C., "Multicentered Chicago", "The Encyclopedia of Chicago", p. 548-9, Eds. Grossman, James R., Keating, Ann Durkin, and Reiff, Janice L., 2004, The University of Chicago Press, ISBN 0-226-31015-9] Nonetheless, the neighborhood was given its name due to the strong influence of Italians and Italian culture on the neighborhood throughout the 19th and 20th century.

Though the Italian population declined throughout the late 20th century, many Italian restaurants and groceries remain in the formerly prominent Taylor Street corridor.Poe, Tracy N., "Foodways", "The Encyclopedia of Chicago", p. 308-9, Eds. Grossman, James R., Keating, Ann Durkin, and Reiff, Janice L., 2004, The University of Chicago Press, ISBN 0-226-31015-9] The neighborhood also hosts the National Italian American Sports Hall of Fame as well as the historic Roman Catholic churches Our Lady of Pompeii, Notre Dame de Chicago, and Holy Family .


To the 1940s

Italians began arriving in Chicago in the 1850s in small numbers. By 1880, there were 1,357 Italians in the city.Vecoli, Rodolph J., "Italians", "The Encyclopedia of Chicago", Eds. Grossman, James R., Keating, Ann Durkin, and Reiff, Janice L., 2004, The University of Chicago Press, ISBN 0-226-31015-9] By the 1920s, Italian cookery became one of the most popular ethnic cuisines in America, spawning many successful bakeries and restaurants—some of which prospered for generations and continue to influence the Chicago dining scene today. By 1927, Italians owned 500 grocery stores, 257 restaurants, 240 pastry shops, and numerous other food related businesses that were concentrated in the Italian neighborhoods. One success story is that of the Gonnella Baking Company, Chicago’s largest producer of Italian bread and rolls.Kraig, Bruce, "Food Processing", "The Encyclopedia of Chicago", p. 304, Eds. Grossman, James R., Keating, Ann Durkin, and Reiff, Janice L., 2004, The University of Chicago Press, ISBN 0-226-31015-9]

The immigration of Italians accelerated throughout the late 19th century and into the early 20th century. Chicago's foreign-born Italian population was 16,008 in 1900 and peaked at 73,960 in 1930. The largest area of settlement was the Taylor Street area, but there were also 20 other significant Italian enclaves throughout the city and suburbs.

Jane Addams labeled the community as "The Hull House Neighborhood." One of the first newspaper articles ever written about Hull House acknowledges the following invitation sent to the residents of the "Hull House Neighborhood." It begins with the following salutation: "Mio Carissimo Amicimo"...and is signed, Le Signorine, Jane Addams and Ellen Starr." [Chicago Tribune, May 1890] The Bethlehem-Howard Neighborhood Center Records further substantiate that, as early as the 1890s, the inner core of “The Hull House Neighborhood” was overwhelmingly Italians. If those were the demographics as early as the 1890s, the flight of fringe ethnic groups, which began after the turn of the century, suggests that virtually the entire community from the Chicago River on the east end on out to the western ends of what came to be known as “Little Italy”—from Roosevelt Road on the south to the Harrison Street delta on the north—were virtually all Italians. From the 1930s on through the 1940s and 50s, Little Italy, the inner core of the Hull House Neighborhood, was wall-to-wall Italian.

A 1987 Chicago Sun-Times article that refers to a picture of Hull House kids, taken on a summer day in 1924, depicts twenty young boys posing in the Dante School Yard on Forquer Street (now Arthington Street). The historic picture was taken by Wallace K. Kirkland Sr., Hull House Director, who later became a top photographer with "Life". The article lists the names of each of the young boys and describes all twenty boys as first generation Italian Americans…all with vowels at the end of their names. [cite web|url=|title=Meet the ` Hull House kids' |accessdate=2008-09-17|date=1987-04-05|publisher=Newsbank|work=Chicago Sun-Times|author=Cordts, Michael]

1940s to present

Following World War II, several developments hindered the cohesion of the community. The construction of the Eisenhower Expressway and the University of Illinois at Chicago Medical district forced many to move. The establishment of the Circle Campus of UIC in the 1960s by Mayor Richard J. Daley further dispersed the community. During the construction of the 100-acre UIC campus, 200 businesses and 800 homes were bulldozed in Little Italy, with 5,000 residents displaced.Leroux, Charles, "Cold Shoulder: UIC and its neighborhood are thriving but the two have yet to embrace", "Chicago Tribune", September 25, 1991.]

By the end of the 20th century, Little Italy was one of many formerly high-profile elements of the city’s geography that had become a mere shadow of itself.Binford, Henry C., "Multicentered Chicago", "The Encyclopedia of Chicago", p. 552, Eds. Grossman, James R., Keating, Ann Durkin, and Reiff, Janice L., 2004, The University of Chicago Press, ISBN 0-226-31015-9] Few long-time residents are left in the community. Census data for the Taylor Street Little Italy tract showed only 1,280 people reporting Italian as their primary ancestry in 1990. In 2000, the number was 1,018.Paolini, Matthew and Craig Tiede, "Economic upswing in Little Italy comes with a price" [ Medill News Service] . December 1, 2005.] However, Chicago’s foodways continue to rely on their roots in the intimate neighborhood cuisines, including cuisine from the surviving Italian restaurants in the formerly prominent Taylor Street corridor.

Recent gentrification

Rents in the area have risen in the past few decades due to an influx of condominiums, townhouses, and the proximity of Little Italy to UIC and the Loop. An example of this gentrification: in the 1990 census, no homes in the Little Italy sample area were reported to be worth more than $400,000. By contrast, according to the 2000 census, 62 homes were reportedly worth more than $500,000, and 13 of those were worth at least $1 million..


Two of the more significant landmarks of Little Italy were the Catholic churches of Our Lady of Pompeii and Holy Guardian Angel founded by Mother Cabrini. Holy Guardian Angel was the first Italian congregation in Chicago. The parish was established in 1898, and the church was built on Arthington Street in 1899. Due to the burgeoning population, a second major Italian church, Our Lady of Pompeii, was founded in 1911. [Candeloro, Dominic Lawrence "Chicago's Italians: Immigrants, Ethnics, Americans" p. 24] The Holy Guardian Angel Church was razed for the construction of the expressway system.cite web|url=||year=2006|accessdate=2007-04-19|author=Candeloro, Dominic|title=chicago's italiansimmigrants, ethnics, achievers, 1850-1985 - part 2] The Our Lady of Pompeii Church is now a the Shrine of Our Lady of Pompeii.

Hull House, Jane Addams' settlement house known for its social and educational programs was also located within the Little Italy area.

In recent years, the National Italian American Sports Hall of Fame (founded in 1977 in Elmwood Park, Illinois) was relocated to a new building in Little Italy.

Other "Little Italies" in Chicago

Several other areas in Chicago had significant Italian populations aside from Taylor Street, which has popularly been known as Chicago's "Little Italy."

Little Sicily or "Little Hell"

In the 22nd Ward on the city's Near North Side, a Sicilian enclave known alternately as "Little Sicily" and "Little Hell" was established in an area formerly populated by Scandinavians.Seligman, Amanda, "Cabrini-Green", "The Encyclopedia of Chicago", Eds. Grossman, James R., Keating, Ann Durkin, and Reiff, Janice L., 2004, The University of Chicago Press, ISBN 0-226-31015-9] It was considered the most colorful Italian neighborhood,cite web|url=||year=2006|accessdate=2007-04-19|author=Candeloro, Dominic|title=chicago's italiansimmigrants, ethnics, achievers, 1850-1985 - part 1] and was home to 20,000 Italians by 1920. However, the neighborhood no longer exists today due to the construction of the Cabrini-Green public housing projects on the site during and after WWII. By the mid 1960s, the rising violent crime rate and other social problems that came as a result of the housing projects caused an exodus of many of the original inhabitants of the area.

"Heart of Italy"

On the city's South Side, a community centered on 24th and Oakley called "Heart of Italy" or "Little Tuscany" is composed mostly of Northern Italian immigrants. This neighborhood is home to the yearly Festa Pasta Vino, an Italian food and wine festival that claims to be "Chicago’s largest celebration of Italian culture".cite web |author= |url= |publisher= |title= Chicago's Festa Pasta Vino |accessdate=2007-02-08]


External links

* [ Taylor Street Archives; UIC: Flawed History]

Further reading

*cite book |last=Nelli |first=Humbert |authorlink= |coauthors= |title=Italians in Chicago, 1880-1930: A Study in Ethnic Mobility |year=1973 |publisher=Oxford University Press |location= |isbn= 0195016742
*cite book |last=Catrambone |first=Kathy |authorlink= |coauthors= Ellen Shubart|title=Taylor Street: Chicago's Little Italy |year=2007 |publisher=Arcadia Publishing |location= |isbn=0738551074

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