Chicago Neighborhoods: North Lawndale

Plenty of history is packed into this West Side neighborhood. Former Israeli Prime Minister, Golda Meir, lived and worked here when it was Chicago’s largest Jewish community. Legendary musician, Benny Goodman, made his debut in a local theater. This was also the home base of Dr. Martin Luther King’s northern civil rights movement. The heart of North Lawndale beats today in Homan Square, whose residences, businesses and a high school and technology learning center were raised from the historic ruins of Sears Roebuck’s world headquarters.

Old Route 66 went right through North Lawndale on the way to Santa Monica. But aside from the small, brown “Historic Route 66” sign on Ogden Avenue and what’s left of a castle-shaped car wash at Ogden and Independence Avenue, it’s hard to tell the Mother Road was here.

By the late 1920s, when the Illinois section of Route 66 was completed, nearly 50,000 Jews lived in North Lawndale, Chicago’s largest Jewish community. That community has long scattered, but even 80-plus years later, it’s easy to tell they were here.

That’s not to say that North Lawndale is a neighborhood of the past. Douglas Park is here, one of Chicago’s handsomest green spaces. Whole blocks are composed of classic greystones, while pockets of new housing are cause for optimism.

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. lived here — briefly, but he was here, at an important time. Cobra Records may be forgotten, but it was here — again, briefly — but the music made in that studio helped make Chicago and “blues” inseparable to the world.


Benny Goodman Marker of Distinction

  • Historical Landmarks

The “King of Swing” and his clarinet led the 1930s craze for dance music. He and his bands combined the discipline of orchestral arrangements with the sparkle and spontaneity of jazz. Selected as a Chicago Tribute Marker of Distinction.

Free Admission | 1125 S Francisco Ave.

Castle Car Wash

  • Historical Landmarks

This shuttered car wash, designed to look like a castle, was part of the original Route 66. It is the last intact historic gas station structure on Route 66.

Free Admission | 3801 W. Ogden Ave.

Central Park Theater

  • Art & Architecture

Built in 1917 by architects Balaban and Katz as a theater for silent movies, the building design was reused for the Chicago, Uptown, and other theaters. Benny Goodman made his musical debut here.

Free Admission | 3535 W. Roosevelt Rd.

Chicago Honey Co-Op

  • Parks & Gardens

Approximately 60 hives in a former vacant lot make up this honey farm along with an organic vegetable garden. But it’s a working farm, so you have to make an appointment in order to tour the facility. Tours are $100 for up to 20 people.

3640 W Fillmore St.

Chicago Tribute Markers of Distinction

  • Other Attractions

Chicago Tribute Markers of Distinction commemorate notable Chicagoans by marking the places where they lived or worked. Since the program started in 1997, eighty markers have been placed across the city. This number will be increased to 100 markers placed by the end of 2009.

Free Admission | 78 E. Washington St. | 312.744.6630

Dinah Washington Marker of Distinction

  • Popular Attractions

This greystone is the former residence of Dinah Washington. Since this is still a private residence, visitors cannot see the inside but may view from the street. Selected as a Chicago Tribute Marker of Distinction.

Free Admission | 1518 S. Trumbull Ave.

Douglas Park

  • Parks & Gardens

In 1871, designer William Le Baron Jenney completed plans for the entire West Park System which included Douglas Park. Jenney’s engineering expertise was especially helpful for transforming Douglas Park’s poor natural site into parkland. He had sand and manure from the Chicago Stock Yards added to the marshy site. In the center of the landscape, Jenney created a picturesque lake. A small section of the park was formally opened in 1879. In 1895, members of several German turners’ clubs petitioned for an outdoor gymnasium in Douglas Park. The following year, this resulted in the construction of one of Chicago’s first public facilities with outdoor gymnasium, swimming pool, tennis courts, jogging path, meeting rooms and a golf course.

1401 S. Sacramento

Douglas Park Cultural and Community Center

  • Parks & Gardens

Named in honor of Stephen A. Douglas, this field house built in 1896 was one of Chicago’s first public facilities with outdoor gymnasium, swimming pool, and natatorium. It was landscaped in 1905 by Jens Jensen.

Free Admission | 1401 S. Sacramento Dr. | 773.762.2842

Former Apartment of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

  • Historical Landmarks

This empty lot is the site of the former residence of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in 1966 when he lived in North Lawndale. Though this building is gone, the church on whose steps he spoke is still at 3413 W. Douglas Blvd.

Free Admission | 1550 S. Hamlin Ave.

Former Residence of Golda Meir

  • Historical Landmarks

Former residence of Golda Meir, the first female prime minister of Israel. When she lived here in 1917, she worked at the neighborhood library and lectured at the Hebrew Theological College at Douglas & St Louis Avenues.

Free Admission | 1306 S. Lawndale Ave.

Former Studio of Cobra Records

  • Music

This building was formerly used as a recording studio for the local blues record company, Cobra Records, which launched the careers of Otis Rush, Magic Sam, Buddy Guy, and many others.

Free Admission | 2854 W. Roosevelt Rd.

Murphy Hill Art Gallery

  • Art & Architecture

The Murphy Hill Gallery is a huge (10,000 sq. ft.) gallery with rotating exhibitions, a permanent collection (including a complete history of North Lawndale) and a film theater.

Free Admission | 3333 W. Arthington St. | 773.324.5781

Sears, Roebuck and Company Administration Building

  • Historical Landmarks

Once headquarters for the largest mail-order and merchandise company in the country, the Sears, Roebuck and Company Administration Building is now an office building featuring a gallery, cafe and clothing boutique.

Free Admission | 3333 W. Arthington St. | 773.265.5195

Urban Art Retreat

  • Art & Architecture

African American art gallery and art classes for children, adults and special needs adults.

Free Admission | 1957 S. Spaulding Ave. | 773.542.9126


Covenant Bank – North Lawndale Farmers Market

  • Culinary Events,
  • Farmers Markets

This market will feature fresh fruits and vegetables, pastries, fresh baked breads, organic honey, and coffee.

Free Admission | 1111 S. Homan Ave. | 773.533.6900

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