My Chicago - #11 Lincoln Park
I've not taken you on a tour of Chicago for a while but let's put that right starting a few miles north of the city in a neighbourhood that shares it's name with the cities most famous park.
As recent as 40 years ago this neighbourhood with now some of the most expensive real estate in the country was run by Puerto Rican immigrant ganglords. Mind you back in the mid 1850's the land was first settled by Scottish, Irish and German immigrants, and following the beginnings of Chicago's largest park, which was previously a city cemetary, a construction boom ensued.
The Irish and Germans were renowned builders and new town houses stretched all the way up Fullerton and Clark Streets. The Germans also brought with them the beer-making trade opening more than two dozen breweries in the Old Town area alone, just south of Lincoln Park.
Then came the Great Chicago Fire
in 1871, forcing families north of the city the couple of miles to the sanctuary of Lincoln Park, which had more lax building codes. Post-fire reconstruct
ion, coinciding with a land rush, resulted in a population increase of over 10,000 people in Lincoln Park. Many frame houses were built because it was quick and cheap. Amazingly 60 percent of Lincoln Park's current structures were built between 1880 and 1904 and are still frame construction.
The lots of land are narrow in Lincoln Park and this was because of the cost of land even back in the late 1880's. The frame homes are now commonly known as tear-down's as families snap them up to knock them down and build huge new brick town homes in their place.
It is strange then that sometime after the war, the area changed dramatically. Families cashed in and moved out to new towns in the suburbs as the City of Chicago got taken over by crime and gangs.
Since the 1980's the lake, the park, the large family homes and one of the countries best zoo's encouraged regentrification and now Lincoln Park
is home both to young families and young people who share large houses converted to open spaced apartments. I in fact lived there for 6 months when I first moved here for the first 6 months of 2004, in part enticed by the charming tree-lined streets and the extensive train system.
Of course the area is named after it's 1,200 acre park (twice as big as New York's Central Park) which hugs Lake Michigan. Chicago city leaders began plans for what was then Lake Park in 1864. Lake Park was to be built on 120 acres of swampland. A ten mile ditch was dug to drain the lowlands near the lake, creating the park's lagoons, still beautifully in evidence today. The park and therefore neighbourhood was renamed Lincoln Park after the assassination of President Lincoln in 1865, Chicago's favourite son.
Bordered by the Park to the East, North Avenue to the south, Diversey Parkway to the north and the diagonal Clybourn Avenue to the west, the area is a well known student hangout with DePaul University
at the centre of it, the largest Catholic university in the USA.
Certainly there are bars and cafe's you might want to avoid unless you are searching for college students drinking out of plastic beakers and screaming at the sport on the telly. However there are some great places to drink in Lincoln Park, namely
The Black Duck Tavern
, John Barleycorn
, Webster's Wine Bar
One of the cities, if not the countries best restaurant sits on Armitage Street, Charlie Trotter's
, named after the man himself. Otherwise you can eat anything here, but a couple of personal faves are Alinea
, North Pond
(above), Karyn's Raw
and my favourite Indian Hema's Kitchen
There are some great strolling streets in Lincoln Park. Armitage Avenue is stocked full of neat boutiques, as is Webster Avenue just north of there.
The stretch of Halsted Street between Armitage and Wrightwood Avenues is a cornucopia of delightful sto
res, cafes and bars. Lincoln Avenue dissects the neighbourhood, brushing Oz Park
, which has in it statues of the Tin Man (above), the Lion, the Scarecrow and Dorothy. The park is named in honour of Frank Baum, author of the Wizard of Oz, who lived in Chicago at the turn of the century, and is one of the liveliest streets in town as is Clark Street where art and history meets late night food stops.The Chicago Historical Society
(1601 N. Clark St), a worthwhile day trip on it's own is at one end, and at the other is the permanent hot dog stand called The Wiener Circle (2622 N Clark St). Make sure you are very drunk when visiting this well known local establishment bec
ause everyone else is. Oh, and don't order a chocolate milkshake, take it from me!
It is free to get into Lincoln Park Zoo
, only one of two in the country that is. The setting is beautiful and is home to 1,200 animals including gorillas, lions, bears and my son's favourite the reptiles. Also within the park is the Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum
, which opened in 1999 and is Chicago's home to learning for nature and sciences.
I'm never wholly sure about Lincoln Park. There are some beautiful streets, yet sometimes it reminds me of a college common room, one that serves lite beer that is, but then you have the wonderful park and the zoo and cities very own ocean, Lake Michigan with it's endless horizon.