Tuesday, August 20, 2013

An Essay About Andersonville and Edgewater

(This is an article I wrote way back in the year 2000 for an Intranet Web site at my former job. I figure there's no sense in letting it sit on my hard drive, so here it is. Anyway, I'm happy to promote my neighborhood any way I can - it's a great place to live. -CE)

The neighborhoods of Edgewater and Andersonville are located in what is known as the “Far North” region of Chicago. The rough boundaries of these communities are Ravenswood Avenue on the West, Loyola University on the North, Chicago’s Uptown neighborhood on the South, and Lake Michigan on the East.

The name Edgewater originated with developer J.L.Cochran, who began creating a small town here in 1880. Once upon a time it used to be one on the tonier neighborhoods in Chicago, especially during the 1940s and ‘50s. Wealthy businesspeople and tourists took up residence along the beach in sprawling lakefront mansions and high-rises, an arrangement that allowed them to be part of Chicago without the hassles of being “in the city.”

Today a few of the original structures remain, but most of them have been torn down or converted into regular apartment buildings. After economically bottoming out in the 1970s, only recently have younger professionals started to move back into the area. (Actually, since I wrote this article the neighborhood has gone through a huge condo building boom, followed by the bust we are all experiencing now. -CE)

Occupying the western half of Edgewater, there is a strong Swedish imprint on the neighborhood of Andersonville, and you can find lots of flags proclaiming this heritage from porches and storefronts throughout the area. Depending on who you talk to, the name came from the Andersonville School, which took its name from a Reverend Anderson, whose church was a hub for recent Scandinavian arrivals around 1900. Another story goes that a local farmer and landowner named John Anderson christened the area with his family name in the 1850s.

According to the most recent census, Edgewater (along with Rogers Park) is the most diverse neighborhood in Chicago, both ethnically and economically. Just about every ethnic group has immigrated through the area at one time or another and left some sort of influence - take a walk around the neighborhood and you will find a little bit of everything. (I wrote this article based on the 2000 census, and I'm happy to say not much has changed since then. -CE)

The business corridors of Clark Street and Broadway bookend a beautiful residential area of single family houses, small apartment buildings, schools, churches, mosques, and synagogues. The relatively low rents allow musicians, avant-garde theater groups, and stores offering one-of-a-kind pottery, antiques, and other decorative arts to thrive.

Swedish bakeries share the same turf with African bookstores, Japanese sushi bars, American diners, and some of the best Middle Eastern restaurants in the city (including the legendary Reza’s on Clark). (Since 2000, rents have gone up and the down-market artists and lesbians who used to live here have migrated west and south to West Town. There is still a large gay presence in the area, but young hetero families are now more prevalent than ever, and there has sometimes been tension with local businesses. -CE)

If you get the chance, definitely check out Pasteur on Broadway for some excellent Vietnamese gourmet food. If you’re just looking for a good cup of joe there are some excellent coffee houses (such as CafĂ© Boost on Clark and Willow on Winthrop) to unwind, read a book, or people watch. (Pasteur and Boost are both gone now. But there are still plenty of places to check out. A few at the top of my list are Metropolis Coffee Company, Hopleaf, Charlie's Ale House, and the Starbucks at Berwyn and Clark -CE).

Besides its diversity, what I also like about the neighborhood is the location. Getting downtown is not difficult - the CTA Red Line shoots right up the spine of the neighborhood. Proximity to Lake Shore Drive makes for easy travel to south to downtown or north to Evanston if you have a car. When the weather gets warm, Hollywood and Thorndale beaches are a 10 minute walk away.

Chicago’s neighborhoods have always been fluid in their makeup, and Edgewater is no exception. If someone wanted a front row, real-time view of change, this is the place. Ever since I moved here about three years ago (in 1998 -CE.) the whole area has been in the midst of a noticeable makeover. People are rehabbing a lot of the great old architecture from yesteryear or building new condos.

The big retail chains (Dominick’s, Jewel-Osco, Starbucks) have set up new shops or renovated their formerly sketchy-looking properties. Funky boutique stores have popped up in empty storefronts. The neighborhoods are currently experiencing the same transformative push that turned Wicker Park and Wrigleyville into enclaves for the monied professional. Whether that’s good or bad, you be the judge.

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