|Origins||Settled by Paul Cornell in 1853 and annexed in 1889|
61st Street to 63rd Street on the north, 79th Street on the south, Kenwood Avenue to Kimball Avenue to South Chicago Avenue on the east, Lasalle Street to Wentworth Avenue to Yale Avenue to Harvard Avenue to Stewart Avenue to Eggleston Avenue to Wallace Street on the west (western boundary resembles the shape of a staircase)
Greater Grand Crossing was settled and developed based upon tragedy which is the foreshadowing of the later suffering that was to come later.
In the year 1853 a major train accident happened that killed 18 passengers and injured 40 others at the spot of where 75th Street and Chicago Avenue presently intersect. This occurred because Roswell B. Mason (pictured) ordered the laying of tracks for the Illinois Central Railroad right over the rail line of the Lake Shore & Michigan Southern tracks. He had this done secretly and the lack of communication caused two trains moving along these lines to collide in a deadly crash. What is ironic is Mason became a Mayor in Chicago years later despite this incompetent decision. One good that came of this accident was the fact that the trains needed to slow down at this “Greater Grand Crossing” intersection which made the area more favorable for settlement now that a train stopped here.
The area was all swamps and prairies; however, in 1855 Paul Cornell found the area favorable and bought several acres to develop a subdivision in order to create a community here. English, Irish and Scottish immigrants were the first to buy up tracts of land in this area known as “Cornell” then later changed to “Grand Crossing.”
In the 1890s German immigrants moved into the Brookline section of the neighborhood and starting in the year 1893 when the Columbian Exposition came to nearby Woodlawn several more migrated to Greater Grand Crossing and many more homes and apartment buildings were constructed in the community.
After the World’s Columbian Exposition Chicagoans were hungry for more fairs and entertainment, then in 1905 Morris and Joseph Beifeld were eager to build an amusement park at the present day intersection of 63rd Street and Martin Luther King Drive. The area was a prairie area with not much housing development which made the land ideal to place this amusement park. The name given to this park was “White City” and it was a very large park that offered burlesque shows, the first water ride in history, several games, freak shows, food stands, the park had it all including a game called the “African Dip” which was a game where patrons would pay to throw objects at the head an African American man, needless to say the game was extremely racist and highly inhumane but at this time it was seen as funny. African American men were allowed to work at the park in such booths as the African Dip; however, they were not allowed to enter the park for fun. White City only charged 10 cents a person for entry which would have been great cheap entertainment for the struggling black community in nearby Bronzeville, but blacks were not allowed, only allowed to be degraded in the African Dip game. White City stayed in operation for 28 years and was noticeable by its giant “Electric Tower” (pictured) that modeled after the Eiffel Tower in Paris, France. The tower could be seen as far north as the far north side of the city as its night time glow echoed across the sky.
In the year 1933 White City closed its doors due to the hardships of the Great Depression Era, not only that African Americans began to settle in the neighborhood much to the objections of the white community that now consisted of newly arrived Italian and Swedish decent. The African American population remained very small during the 1930s and 1940s decades.
In the year 1948 restrictive racial covenants were ruled as unconstitutional by the U.S. Supreme court and this brought about a larger influx of African Americans to the community.
In the 1950s decade white flight became rapid as African Americans seeking an escape from the urban black ghettos sought a better middle class life here, but block busting tactics from crooked real estate agents, the closing of several white owned businesses, redlining, disinvestment and slum lord landlords and deterioration devalued the neighborhood. Many of the earlier African Americans that settled in the neighborhood were actual home owners which were a positive thing; however, slum lords renting run down apartments and houses brought the area into a state of disrepair. The “Black Belt” was then extended down State Street into this neighborhood from 61st Street to 71st Street, making Greater Grand Crossing the final part of the black belt according to some sources.
In the year 1946 the amusement park White City was sold to the Chicago Housing Authority; however, the White City Roller Rink was still open and still did not allow blacks to enter, this caused many black residents to protest outside the rink and many fights between blacks and whites would break out near the rink. In the year 1946 the rink was sued over racial discrimination by the Congress of Racial Equality right after the rest of the land was sold to CHA. As of 1946 the rink now changed hands to become the “Park City Rink” in order to shed the old racist roots of White City and it now had to allow all races to skate there until it closed down in 1958 and that brought the end to the electric tower that was originally built for White City.
Beginning in 1950 the Parkway Gardens public housing project was built over the same exact lands the White City Park once stood between 63rd Street to 66th Street and Martin Luther King Drive to Calumet Avenue. The grounds that once housed a very racist amusement park for whites were now the site of public housing for poor blacks, which is very ironic.
In the 1960s decade white residents had completely fled the neighborhood and black street gangs from other neighborhoods took over such as Black P Stones, Black Disciples and Gangster Disciples. The neighborhood soon fell victim to drugs and violence and the 1970s, 1980s, 1990s decade saw little hope for this community as it continued a downward spiral into a worse slum.
The projects became extremely violent by the 1970s as the CHA and police began to neglect the complex leaving drugs, guns and gangs to take over as the buildings deteriorated. West side gangs moved in like the New Breeds, Black Souls and Vice Lords in the 1980s adding more to the gang violence.
In the year 2007 some hope came to the community when Theaster Gates rehabbed multiple buildings as art centers, despite his efforts the community still remains in a high state of extreme poverty, gang violence and drugs. There are also several shuttered homes and many have been abandoned for several years. Greater Grand Crossing is indeed one of the more blighted neighborhoods of Chicago as many larger homes and even mansion have long been vacated.
This neighborhood is known to be one of the more violent gangs in Chicago. In the 2010s decade the Parkway Gardens projects were renovated.
All images below are photos of buildings taken when they were vacant. All photos below are courtesy of Google Maps.