‘Chicago Tonight’ in your neighborhood: Old Town | Chicago News
Old Town is located in the Near North Side community of Chicago. It’s a historic neighborhood filled with Victorian-era buildings and stories of German immigrants who settled here in the 19th century.
The demographics have changed over time but retains a unique charm from its architecture to some classic comedy clubs.
The neighborhood was first home to Native American tribes and in the 1840s and 1850s Germans moved into the area and began farming.
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John Russick, Senior Vice President of Chicago History Museum says that Chicago has become more urban, its agricultural roots have begun to be pushed back.
“There were Germans here who had quite a bit of agricultural activity going on,” Russick said. “They were on the outskirts of town, so there were different organizational issues with forming that community at the time, but eventually property became really valuable, and farming isn’t the kind thing you’ll see spreading into city limits, so they moved as the overtime became more residential.
Due to German farmers and farmland, the Old Town was once nicknamed the “Cabbage Patch,” Russick added.
Brian Hicks, general manager of Zanies, said their comedy club has been making its mark for 44 years now. Big names like Jay Leno, Eddie Murphy and Dave Chappell have passed through their doors.
The pandemic has been difficult for businesses, but as city regulations ease, Hicks said it’s exciting to be hosting at full capacity again.
“This space is great because it’s not a huge club, but it’s the only comedy club left that started in the boom,” Hicks said. “It’s narrow. People who come to perform here love the space and everything is right in front of you and it’s a perfect go-to.
Amid rising crime in Chicago throughout the pandemic, some Old Town residents have expressed concern for their own neighborhood.
Aldus. Michele Smith (Ward 43), chair of the city council’s ethics committee, says her office is “proactive” in addressing such concerns.
“Public safety is the most important issue a city councilor can work on,” Smith said. “We actually have a security meeting with the Old Town Triangle Association next week to address people’s concerns. The result of our enormous civic involvement is that we have been very active in reducing our own crime here in the 43rd arrondissement.
Video: Watch our full interview with Aldus. Michele Smith
Over the years, new restaurants and shops have moved into the neighborhood, but there are still a few classic bars and restaurants that hold the essence of ‘old times’.
Brothers Frank and Tom Reda credit their late father for opening Topo Gigio Ristorante 33 years ago. When the restaurant opened, they say the hallway was a far cry from what it is today, and since then the neighborhood has become home to a much younger population.
“There were tons of vacant lots on that street,” Reda said. “It was a bit older clientele and the surrounding neighborhood was different. We had Cabrini-Green about half a mile away. Then there was the neighborhood on the north side. There were also a lot of hippies.
The Cabrini-Green housing project near Old Town has since been demolished by the Chicago Housing Authority. Some affordable housing projects remain, such as the Marshall Field Garden and Evergreen Terrace apartments.
Young people for a better futurea non-profit organization that seeks to meet the needs of underserved young people in the area, was formerly based in Englewood but moved to the Old Town four years ago.
They serve over 100 children who attend nearby schools. The program offers mentorship, community service and STEM support. Adem Aluka, executive director and founder of the organization, says one of his biggest challenges has been securing funds to help the low-income community.
“I would encourage more collaboration,” Aluka said. “If we are able to find ways to work together, it could make the process a lot easier and less difficult for a lot of people. We need more resources. Volunteers are great, but it takes resources to be able to empowering people. As I mentioned earlier, parents are busy working, how do you provide educational support to children when there is very little support?”
Located a few blocks from Youth For A Better Future is Saint Michael’s Church. It was one of seven buildings, including its walls and steeple, to survive the Great Chicago Fire and have remained a mainstay of the community all that time.
The community worked together to rebuild the structure of the church to what it is today.
the Old Town Triangle Association helped preserve Old Town as a designated historic district to preserve homes built after the Chicago Fire. Scott Early is past president and life member of the neighborhood association.
“In the triangle neighborhood of Old Town… There’s a congregation of architectural history, like much of Chicago, contained within the single pocket of the triangle neighborhood,” Early said.
Video: Watch our full interview with Scott Early
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