East Village Landmark District – An end to the destruction of a community

On January 11, 2006, after more than 2 years of study, 18 official meetingeast-villages, and countless hours of sometimes contentious community debate, the City Council granted Landmark designation to the last remaining historic blocks left in the East Village.

Preservation Chicago listed the East Village neighborhood on its 7 Most Threatened Buildings list for 2003, bringing attention to an issue that had been building for years, but had reached a boiling point in early 2003.

Dating from before the Great Fire of 1871, East Village, located on Chicago’s near west side, served as a port of entry for the waves of European immigrants who flooded in to Chicago during the late 19th century and early 20th Centuries. Hispanics and Polish refugees of WWII followed mid-century. Unfortunately, the neighborhood began a slow decline that reached its nadir in the 1970’s as businesses closed up, crime flourished, and residents fled to the suburbs.

But starting in the mid-1990’s East Village began to experience an explosive redevelopment boom. It began predictably as vacant lots and ramshackle frame cottages began to disappear. Many longtime residents were happy to see these dilapidated and often structurally unsound structures go. As the pace of redevelopment quickened and as property values began to rise, the unthinkable became commonplace: the demolition of charmingly detailed brick cottages and two flats. Compounding the problem was the perception that the new construction was over-scaled, out of character with the existing architecture, and in many cases poorly constructed.

In the fall of 2002, the oldest house in the neighborhood, and one of the oldest houses in the city, was demolished. Built in 1858, thirteen years before the Great Chicago Fire, the loss of the Huntley House was for many the final straw. Discussion of a more comprehensive preservation plan for the neighborhood began in earnest following the demolition. Development issues greatly influenced the 2003 1st Ward aldermanic race, which ultimately led to the election of Manny Flores, who vowed to find a solution to the problems of East Village.

With Preservation Chicago playing an advisory role during the entire process, the final Landmark District encompasses 4 distinct clusters of historic buildings, a map made necessary by the frenzied pace of demolition and redevelopment.

However, the creation of the East Village Landmark District was ultimately accomplished through the steady leadership and unwavering determination of Alderman Manny Flores and the support he received from the community residents who worked to see it preserved.