10 Things We Love About Bronzeville
Bronzeville has a rich cultural and architectural history that can still be felt today. It is a thriving neighborhood with locally owned restaurants and cafes, a strong arts community, and monuments that pay tribute to its history and those residents who made a lasting impact.
Here are 10 of our favorite things about Bronzeville:
We Got The Jazz
Bronzeville has an important place in Chicago – and American – music history. The community has had the country’s greatest jazz, blues, and gospel entertainers in its midst, including Louis Armstrong, Nat King Cole, Sam Cooke, Quincy Jones, and Dinah Washington. An esteemed institution in Bronzeville’s music scene, Chess Records, released several blues and R&B hits and established musical figures such as Muddy Waters and Buddy Guy. Even a little band from the U.K. called The Rolling Stones recorded there.
Musical acts frequently performed at the Regal Theater, a popular night club that opened in the late 1920s. The elegant venue also hosted movies and dance performances. The theater closed in 1968, and the site is now home to the Harold Washington Cultural Center.
Bronzeville Walk of Fame
Aforementioned entertainers like Armstrong are among the many iconic figures commemorated on the Bronzeville Walk of Fame, which spans 10 blocks and honors former residents who have made noteworthy contributions to the community. Civil rights activist Ida B. Wells, Pulitzer Prize-winning poet Gwendolyn Brooks, and astronaut Robert H. Lawrence, Jr. are just a few of the other legendary names featured on the plaques between 25th and 35th streets.
An Artists Haven
Bronzeville’s art scene is evidence of the neighborhood’s storied past. The Monument to the Great Northern Migration stands at Bronzeville’s entrance at 26th and King Drive, and remembers those who fled the Jim Crow South. Gallery Guichard and the Bronzeville Artist Lofts also offer a glimpse into Bronzeville’s culture with immersive art experiences.
Faie Afrikan Art opened in 1995 and features an exploration into the art of Africa through the work of modern artists. The gallery seeks to bring art that’s typically included in private collections and museums to the public. Similarly, Blanc Gallery engages Chicagoans through works of spiritual, political, and social significance.
Founded by Margaret Burroughs and fellow artists, South Side Community Art Center is the country’s oldest African American art center. Today, the center conserves and promotes African American art and artists, and engages the community through thought-provoking exhibits and film and literary events.
Bronzeville’s historic architecture is another reason residents are drawn to the neighborhood. Homes include rehabbed 19th century mansions, as well as early 20th century Italianate, Queen Anne, Romanesque, Classical Revival, and Flemish Revival structures. Several buildings designed by Louis Sullivan still stand today.
Frank Lloyd Wright also left his mark on the community with the Robert W. Roloson Houses – a group of four row homes that stand out as the only row homes he ever designed during his noteworthy career. They were listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1977.
A Hub for Education
The Bronzeville Children’s Museum is not your typical discovery center; it’s where kids get to dive deep into the cultural history of the neighborhood. It’s packed with interactive exhibits, workshops, and programs designed to spark curiosity, and promote education and cultural awareness. The museum shines a spotlight on contributions from influential African American figures like Dr. Daniel Hale Williams, who performed the first successful open-heart surgery operation, and Lewis H. Latimer, inventor of a long-lasting filament for light bulbs. The Bronzeville Children’s Museum aims to ignite a love of learning and heritage appreciation while building community pride. It’s a vital educational resource for the neighborhood, offering access to historical information that isn’t always taught in school.
Bronzeville is also the home of the Illinois Institute of Technology. Founded in 1890, the university offers degrees in engineering, science, business, design, and, most famously, architecture. IIT appointed revered architect Ludwig Mies van der Rohe as its director of the Department of Architecture in 1938. He was essential in transforming the school’s architecture program and bringing it international recognition. Mies also redesigned and reshaped the school to introduce bold lines and a stark grid layout, making IIT the first modernist campus and the setting of the biggest collection of his work in the world.
Abundant Green Space
Bronzeville residents need not worry about finding a place to set up a picnic or stretch their legs. The neighborhood has several parks including Margaret T. Burroughs Beach and Park. Also known as 31st Street Beach, the park is a community favorite and offers views of the Chicago skyline and access to the lake.
Named after jazz musician and composer Lillian Hardin Armstrong, Armstrong Park is 9.27 acres and offers baseball diamonds, basketball courts, and playgrounds. Meanwhile, the community memorializes late honor student Hadiya Pendleton at Pendleton Park, which features climbing equipment, a merry-go-round, and contemporary sculptures.
Several architectural landmarks in Bronzeville serve as physical reminders of the community’s past. Some have been restored and repurposed, including Overton Hygienic/Douglass National Bank Building; the Chicago Bee Building, where a branch of the Chicago Public Library operates today; Wabash Avenue YMCA; Chicago Defender building; Unity Hall; 8th Regiment Armory; Sunset Café; Supreme Life Insurance Co.; the Victory Monument; and the South Side Community Art Center.
The Bud Billiken Parade
Since 1929, Bronzeville locals and their fellow Chicagoans have come together annually for the Bud Billiken Parade. The parade has been known to draw more than one million people and includes a procession of bands and floats down King Drive. Attendees enjoy music, dancing, and food, and commemorate the legacy of the Chicago Defender and Bud Billiken, a fictional character created by Defender founder Robert Sengstacke Abbott as a guardian angel for children.
Flourishing Restaurant Scene
Bronzeville has a diverse collection of locally owned restaurants and cafes. Enjoy mornings at Sip and Savor, which serves up certified fair-trade coffee from around the world alongside delicious pastries and small bites from local bakeries, and grab a midday wrap, panini, or sandwich from Ain’t She Sweet Cafe. Locals know to head to Truth on the weekend for a soulful take on breakfast or Two Fish Crab Shack for an authentic seafood boil experience. Dessert-lovers will find their place at the ever-hip Eméché Cakery & Cafe or Shawn Michelle’s Homemade Ice Cream, which is housed in the Historic Rosenwald Building and has been churning out award-winning flavors since 1994.
A Commuter’s Dream
Bronzeville’s location puts residents within easy access of downtown Chicago. Commuters can reach the Loop in minutes on the Green or Red Line “L,” Lake Shore Drive, or 90/94. The Metra’s Rock Island District Line has a stop in Bronzeville at 35th Street and runs to and from downtown. Want to catch a Sox game? “The Rate” (or Comiskey if you’re old school) is just a hop across the Dan Ryan on the 35th Street overpass.
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