WBEZ | West Garfield Park http://www.wbez.org/tags/west-garfield-park Latest from WBEZ Chicago Public Radio en West Garfield Park, past and present http://www.wbez.org/blogs/john-r-schmidt/2013-06/west-garfield-park-past-and-present-107658 <p><p>In 1869 the West Side Park Board created three major parks.&nbsp;One of them, Central Park, was later renamed Garfield Park.&nbsp;The neighborhood immediately west of this park is Community Area 26&ndash;West Garfield Park (WGP).</p><p>Settlement here began in the 1840s, when a plank road was laid along the line of Lake Street.&nbsp;Chicago&rsquo;s first railroad came through the area in 1848.&nbsp;The railroad became the Chicago &amp; North Western, and later built&nbsp;train shops&nbsp;near today&rsquo;s Keeler Avenue.</p><div class="image-insert-image "><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://www.wbez.org/system/files/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/06-17--01--Madison%20%40%20Pulaski-b%20%282013%29.JPG" title="The heart of West Garfield Park--Madison and Pulaski" /></div><p>But it was the park that really got the community going.&nbsp;New construction sprang up in the area around it.&nbsp;There were single family homes and some large apartments, though two-flats were predominant.&nbsp;Graystone was popular.</p><p>A gentlemen&rsquo;s&nbsp;trotting club&nbsp;operated along the east side of Crawford (Pulaski) south of Madison.&nbsp;Gambling kingpin Mike McDonald took over the track in 1888.&nbsp;The Garfield Park Race Track became the center of controversy, as neighbors feared for their property values. There were shootings and one near riot.&nbsp;The track closed for good in 1906.</p><div class="image-insert-image "><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://www.wbez.org/system/files/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/06-17--02-WGP%20Map.jpg" title="" /></div><p>In 1893 the West Side&rsquo;s first elevated railroad&ndash;another Mike McDonald project&ndash;went up&nbsp;over Lake Street.&nbsp;This line was soon joined by the Garfield Park &lsquo;L&rsquo;&nbsp;at Harrison Street.&nbsp;Now downtown Chicago was only minutes away.&nbsp;More people flocked to WGP.</p><p>The community reached residential maturity in 1919.&nbsp;The largest ethnic group was the Irish, and the St. Mel&rsquo;s complex on Washington Boulevard took on impressive proportions.&nbsp;There was also a significant Russian Jewish settlement.&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;</p><p>WGP&rsquo;s boom continued into the 1920s.&nbsp;The shopping district along Madison Street was one of the busiest outside the Loop.&nbsp;The 4,000-seat Marbro Theater was among the city&rsquo;s largest.&nbsp;The nearby Paradise was slightly smaller, but was often called &ldquo;the world&rsquo;s most beautiful movie house.&rdquo;</p><div class="image-insert-image "><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://www.wbez.org/system/files/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/06-17--04--Pulaski%20Rd%20%40%20Madison%20St%20%281934%29-view%20north.jpg" title="Pulaski at Madison, looking north toward the Guyon Hotel, 1934 (CTA photo)" /></div><p>Cultural institutions included an active West Side Historical Society and the Legler Regional Branch of the Chicago Public Library.&nbsp;Paradise owner J. Louis Guyon opened a new hotel down the block from his theater.&nbsp;The Midwest Athletic Club was completed in 1928, the tallest building between the Loop and Des Moines, Iowa.</p><p>Then came the Great Depression, followed by World War II.&nbsp;WGP stagnated, but remained stable.</p><p>During the 1950s, African-Americans began moving into the community.&nbsp;They were usually met with hostility.&nbsp;Panic-peddling by real estate companies scared long-time residents into selling. Others were forced out by construction of the Congress (Eisenhower) Expressway. WGP changed from all-White to all-Black within 10 years.</p><div class="image-insert-image "><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://www.wbez.org/system/files/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/06-17--03--Mike%20McDonald%27s%20Lake%20Street%20%27L%27.jpg" title="Mike McDonald's Lake Street 'L'" /></div><p>Many homes and businesses were destroyed in a 1965 riot.&nbsp;The trouble developed after a fire truck leaving the Wilcox Street firehouse knocked over a light pole, killing a woman.&nbsp;More of WGP burned down following the murder of Martin Luther King Jr. &nbsp;in 1968.&nbsp;The big movie theaters closed, major retailers&nbsp;left.&nbsp;Crime rose.</p><p>Now people began moving out.&nbsp;Vacant lots became common.&nbsp;In 1961 CTA had added a new Kostner station to its Congress (Blue Line) &lsquo;L&rsquo; route, to take care of heavy patronage. Less than 20 years later, the station was shuttered.</p><p>Jimmy Carter came to WGP in 1986.&nbsp;The ex-president was working with&nbsp;Habitat for Humanity, and personally helped construct new homes at the corner of Maypole and Kildare. Despite their pedigree, the buildings became derelict. They were torn down a few years ago.</p><div class="image-insert-image "><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://www.wbez.org/system/files/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/06-17--05--Jimmy%20Carter%20Habitat%20for%20Humanity%20homes%20%282010%29--SE%20corner%20Maypole%20and%20Kildare%20Ave.jpg" title="Jimmy Carter's Habitat for Humanity homes, 2010" /></div><p>No one can deny that WGP has problems. Yet there are positives.&nbsp;There are still stores at Madison-Pulaski, and they still draw customers.&nbsp;Compare this to the fate of another old-line shopping district, 63rd-Halsted.</p><p>Some blocks have been rehabbed.&nbsp;The Tilton School is an architectural gem designed by Dwight Perkins.&nbsp;The nearby Garfield Park Conservatory draws people to the area.</p><p>A century ago West Garfield Park promoted itself as being &ldquo;only five miles from the Loop.&rdquo; That location is still a selling point.&nbsp;Perhaps the next economic boom will bring better times to the community.</p><div class="image-insert-image "><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://www.wbez.org/system/files/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/06-17--06--renovated%20two-flats%20%284200-block%20W%20Washington%20Blvd%29.jpg" title="Renovated apartments on Washington Boulevard" /></div></p> Mon, 17 Jun 2013 05:00:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/blogs/john-r-schmidt/2013-06/west-garfield-park-past-and-present-107658 From gang life to green shoots http://www.wbez.org/blogs/chris-bentley/2013-05/gang-life-green-shoots-107391 <p><div class="image-insert-image "><a href="https://www.facebook.com/pages/Windy-City-Harvest/177708402262849?fref=ts" target="_blank"><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://www.wbez.org/system/files/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/darius%20with%20easter%20egg%20radishes%20courtesy%20chicago%20botanic%20garden.jpg" style="height: 458px; width: 610px;" title="Darius Jones, 21, with easter egg radishes. Raised in gritty West Garfield Park, Jones struggled to turn his life around, but recently launched his own urban agriculture business. (Chicago Botanic Garden)" /></a></div><p>Darius Jones grew up slinging drugs in West Garfield Park, a few blocks and seemingly a lifetime away from the garden beds he now tends with the support of the United States Department of Agriculture.</p><p>On May 1, the 21-year-old launched <a href="https://www.facebook.com/pages/Urban-Aggies/199086706882220?fref=ts" target="_blank">Urban Aggies</a>, an incubator for urban agriculture enterprises that he hopes to parlay into a network of farms and small businesses. He is also part of a project administered by the Chicago Botanic Garden, and funded through a three-year USDA effort to rejuvenate food deserts on the city&rsquo;s West and South Sides.</p><p>But trading gang life for garden spades was no simple switch.</p><p>Jones first worked the soil behind bars at the <a href="http://www.cookcountysheriff.org/bootcamp/bootcamp_main.html" target="_blank">Vocational Rehabilitation Impact Center</a>, or &ldquo;Boot Camp&rdquo; as it&rsquo;s known. He was arrested for aggravated carjacking at 17, when he was a junior at Crane High School. He waited 15 months in Cook County prison before pleading guilty to a lesser offense, which earned him four months in Boot Camp. In the compound&rsquo;s one-acre garden, he transplanted head lettuce, built raised beds and learned the basics of horticulture, landscaping and gardening.</p><p>After more than a year in a maximum security facility, Jones said he was just happy to be outside. He served his time and took a job at a compost operation right next door to Boot Camp.</p><p>But work is only eight hours each day. He quickly fell back in with his old crowd.</p><p>&ldquo;If I kept coming home to the same situation,&rdquo; he said. &ldquo;I would never change.&rdquo;</p><p>He signed up for the Chicago Botanic Garden&rsquo;s <a href="http://www.chicagobotanic.org/windycityharvest/" target="_blank">Windy City Harvest</a> program, a nine month training course in sustainable urban horticulture and agriculture, run through Richard J. Daley College. During the program he interned as a manager for the program&rsquo;s Pilsen market stand.</p><p>&ldquo;That started opening my eyes,&rdquo; he said. &ldquo;A little bit.&rdquo;</p><p>Jones surprised himself by blurting out solutions to garden problems that he didn&rsquo;t think he knew the answers to. But after work he returned to the same environment that landed many of his friends in jail or in the morgue.</p><p>It took a brush with violence for his new life to take root. Jones got caught up in a series of gang disputes that one night found him sobbing on the shore of Lake Michigan, remembering the people he&rsquo;d met in prison who were serving 60 year sentences.</p><p>&ldquo;I just started flashing back to all my cellmates who were never going home,&rdquo; he said. &ldquo;They traded all this for life in a box.&rdquo;</p><p><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://www.wbez.org/system/files/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/darius-jones-2-610px.jpg" style="height: 203px; width: 305px; float: left;" title="Darius Jones, at the garden plot he shares on the 200 block of N. Kenneth Ave. (WBEZ/Chris Bentley)" />His life is different now. He lives with his girlfriend in Humboldt Park, and was recently promoted to sales coordinator at the farmers market.</p><p>&ldquo;It&rsquo;s all about who you come home to,&rdquo; he said.</p><p>On an 1,800-square-foot lot in West Garfield Park, his is one of three incubator farms for Windy City Harvest&rsquo;s urban agriculture initiative, which last month received $750,000 from USDA&rsquo;s Beginning Farmers and Ranchers Development Program. He shares half of the growing space with a colleague who grows vegetables for her Smith Park food truck business. Five more beginning farmers on the South and West Sides will join the program over the next three years.</p><p>Urban Aggies&rsquo; first harvest will fill sampler boxes with winterbor kale, carrots, beets, swiss chard and turnips, but Jones said he hopes to expand into value added products like jams and pickles.</p><p>&ldquo;Doing this work gives me time to think,&rdquo; he said. &ldquo;It&rsquo;s very therapeutic.&rdquo;</p><p>He hopes to sell his produce to Inspiration Café, <a href="http://www.wbez.org/news/culture/former-cop-starts-effort-feed-homeless-little-red-wagon-105219" target="_blank">a neighborhood restaurant that employs formerly incarcerated men and serves people struggling with homelessness and poverty</a>. He said&nbsp;<a href="http://crime.chicagotribune.com/chicago/community/west-garfield-park" target="_blank">the far West Side is still gritty</a>, but Jones is heartened by the support he has received since he turned away from his past.</p><p>&ldquo;The fact that I completely changed my life around,&rdquo; he said. &ldquo;is highly respected in the &rsquo;hood.&rsquo;&rdquo;</p><p>Several new farmers markets <a href="http://austintalks.org/2012/06/farmers-markets-kick-off-on-west-side/" target="_blank">have cropped up in Jones&#39; neighborhood</a> recently, a trend he said he would be proud to help continue.</p><p><em>Chris Bentley writes about the environment. Follow him on Twitter at <a href="http://twitter.com/Cementley" target="_blank">@Cementley</a>.</em></p></p> Tue, 28 May 2013 13:36:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/blogs/chris-bentley/2013-05/gang-life-green-shoots-107391 Mexican poet leads march against drug war http://www.wbez.org/news/mexican-poet-leads-march-against-drug-war-102148 <img typeof="foaf:Image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/main-images/JavierSiciliaCROP.jpg" alt="" /><p><p>Led by a renowned Mexican poet, a four-mile march through Chicago&rsquo;s West Side on Monday evening called for an end to the U.S. war on drugs. Javier Sicilia, whose 24-year-old son was killed last year by Mexican drug traffickers in Cuernavaca, blames the drug war for tens of thousands of violent deaths in that country.</p><p>Sicilia says the war has been devastating north of the border too. To make that point, he is leading a month-long bus caravan through the United States. His group joined hundreds of Chicago activists on the march, which began in the city&rsquo;s Little Village neighborhood and ended in West Garfield Park.</p><p>&ldquo;These are African-Americans and Latinos who have been criminalized,&rdquo; he told WBEZ in Spanish, motioning to bystanders watching the march. &ldquo;They are more vulnerable because there is a drug war.&rdquo;</p><p>Sicilia said the war on drugs, which dates back to President Richard Nixon&rsquo;s administration, has fueled mass incarceration and street violence in the United States.</p><p>He compared that bloodshed to Chicago gangster violence during Prohibition almost a century ago. But the drug war has deeper effects, Sicilia said, &ldquo;because the scale is international and the weaponry is more powerful.&rdquo;</p><p>Sicilia said authorities should treat drug use as an issue of public health, not criminality.</p><p>The caravan is scheduled to wrap up in Washington next week.</p></p> Tue, 04 Sep 2012 00:01:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/news/mexican-poet-leads-march-against-drug-war-102148