Cabrini Green Was The North Town Neighborhood Before World War II
Now that the once sprawling and infamous Cabrini Green public housing project has vanished into the sands of time, developers are busy renaming the vacant patches of dirt and weeds that remain just south and west of the Old Town neighborhood.
Salivating over the last scraps of open land on the wealthy North Side, developers and their marketing people have decided to rebrand the neighborhood “NoCa” for North of Chicago Avenue.
We are talking about the former no-man’s land bounded roughly by Chicago Avenue, North Avenue, Larrabee and Halsted streets. The area, formerly known as Cabrini Green, is north of River North, the high-rise haven. It is west of the ritzy Gold Coast, South Old Town and not far from the Near North Side.
The NoCa movement no doubt was inspired by the creation of the hot “SoNo” district immediately to the west. A once gritty industrial neighborhood, SoNo is bounded by North, Division, Halsted and the North Branch of the Chicago River.
With the buzz for NoCa in the air, the “World’s Greatest Newspaper” asked its readership in late May to name the neighborhood. The Chicago Tribune received more than 100 name suggestions, some silly and fun, some stupid, others straight from out of town or off the planet. New monikers included: Cabriniville, Gautreaux Town, Corruptionville, Urbanview, Chatown, East Goose, Chiboom, Yuptown, and Newbrini.
There also were a few sensible choices such as West Old Town, River East, Old Town South, and Northtown. Of course, the best choice for the area name would be the historically correct “North Town,” which is what the neighborhood was called before World War II. The origin of the name was derived from North Chicago Township, which today is listed on every real estate tax bill for property owners in the neighborhood.
Growing up six decades ago on Halsted Street just north of North Avenue—only two or three blocks north of Cabrini Green—this writer has had first-hand experience on the impact of a giant public housing development on the surrounding neighborhood.
During the late 1940s and early 1950s the European design concept of Cabrini Green seemed like a progressive way of dealing with the problem of affordable housing.
Obviously, the cramped urban high-rise was the affordable solution to warehousing America’s poor. But it was an inhumane solution, experts now say, with 20-20 hindsight. The social and cultural implications of Cabrini Green were vast for the white, Hispanic and black children growing up in the neighborhood. Elementary schools such as Newberry, at Willow and Burling streets, were grossly overcrowded.
The factory neighborhood of Lincoln Park was launched on the long road to trendiness and affluence in 1956, when the Community Conservation Board designated the vast majority of the area for urban renewal.
In the early 1960s, urban renewal started to displace many of the older ethnic residents, and set the stage for gentrification.
By the year 2000, Cabrini Green was in transition. With gentrification in full swing, the era of concentrated public housing on the Near North Side was over, and the new concept of “mixed-income communities” was in vogue. Much of the new construction was built on city-owned land with 99-year ground leases.
On the western edge of Cabrini Green, a landmark $65-million “mixed-income” housing community was launched on seven acres at Halsted and Evergreen streets. Co-developers Hal Lichterman and Peter Holston asked their media consultant—a former Chicago Sun-Times real estate editor—to come up with a name for the new community. “North Town Village” was the choice.
The planned 261 residential units included rental apartments, condominiums, stacked duplexes, coach houses and townhomes. Recreational facilities and a nearby commercial district were also part of the Near North Redevelopment Initiative, according to Kenard Corp. and Holsten Real Estate Development Corp.
The innovative North Town Village was the first development of its kind in Chicago.
Kenard and Holsten’s successful mixed-income housing plan for North Town Village called for half of the housing to be market-rate units, while 20 percent would be affordable rental and “for sale” units. The remaining 30 percent were developed as public housing replacement units and dispersed throughout the project.
“It’s clear that the there is a huge demand for vibrant, accessible and mixed-income housing in the North Town community, which fits in snugly with the Old Town and Lincoln Park neighborhoods,” said the late Lichterman in 2001. Fifteen years later, North Town Village is a key residential anchor in a neighborhood, and as a result the area around it should be named North Town in its honor.
The development has served as a model community for several other innovative mixed-income developments on the South Side, including Oakwood Shores and Jazz On The Boulevard, which replaced downtrodden public housing projects.
Don DeBat is co-author of “Escaping Condo Jail,” the ultimate survival guide for condominium living. For more information, visit www.escapingcondojail.com.