In the early 1900s, North Lawndale was home to Sears Roebuck and Company’s world headquarters, with 9,000 employees. The Ryerson steel plant, Western Electric’s Hawthorne Works, and several other manufacturing companies were also nearby. Developers built greystones to house employees of these large firms as plentiful jobs and rising income brought many into the middle class.
For several decades North Lawndale was home to the largest Jewish population in the world after New York and Warsaw. By mid-century most Jewish households had moved to the suburbs, replaced by African Americans moving from Chicago’s south and west sides and the southern United States to find good jobs.
Martin Luther King’s death in 1968 touched off four days of riots in the largely African-American community. The commercial destruction was devastating. Roosevelt Road, 16th Street and Ogden Avenue in North Lawndale lost most of their businesses. Soon manufacturing jobs began to disappear as companies relocated. In 15 years North Lawndale lost 80% of its manufacturing jobs. Sears relocated its headquarters to downtown. Housing deteriorated. Many greystones and other buildings were considered hazards to public safety and demolished.
New signs of life emerged in the late 1990’s. Beginning downtown and moving steadily west, Roosevelt Road turned from a blighted landscape into commercial, governmental and residential buildings and developments. The Chicago Park District spent time and money cleaning up Douglas Park, the most beautiful natural resource in North Lawndale. Real estate investors and new homeowners began to discover North Lawndale. Prices appreciated rapidly. But when the housing bubble burst in 2007, many investors walked away and homeowners with sub-prime mortgages lost their homes.
In 2014, prices are low. There is an opportunity to reclaim vacant, bank-owned greystones, renovate them moderately and attract stable owner-occupants. The combination of low purchase prices and cost-effective renovations will assure that buyers with moderate incomes will be able to afford these lovely buildings.
Greystone Preservation LLC is one positive force in the reclamation of North Lawndale’s historic greystones.
Please see note about resources providing background information for this page on the "Greystone Features" page.