The West Loop is known for its award-winning restaurants, burgeoning art gallery district, boutiques and unique residential loft-style living. Reminiscent of the SoHo area in New York City, the West Loop is one of the fastest growing neighborhoods in Chicago – but it wasn’t always this way.
Long before the Chicago Fire of 1871, the Near West Side was an area of stark contrast. The rich and poor lived close together. Wealthy Chicagoans built spacious homes while hundreds of less fortunate, many immigrants, migrated to the Near West Side to find peace and prosperity.
In the 1850’s and 1860’s, many immigrants built frame shanties on the prairies within walking distance of the railroad yards and lumber district along the South Branch of the Chicago River. Many ethnic groups left their mark in this part of the city by building a variety of churches which led to many ethnic and religious rivalries.
During the Civil War (1861) and the turn of the century, the Near West Side included some of Chicago’s most fashionable homes and prominent institutions. Washington Boulevard emerged as one of the neighborhood’s most elegant streets with many prominent churches.
Despite new construction along Washington, Jackson and Ashland, the Near West Side residential district was essentially an island in the midst of a rapidly expanding city. In the 1880’s, however, many single-family dwellings were demolished to make way for warehouses and light manufacturing plants which clustered around the Randolph Street Market.
By 1884, the outlines of the West Side Medical Center were clearly established with the arrival of Cook County Hospital and Rush Medical Center.
Although Ashland Avenue retained its reputation as one of Chicago’s most prestigious addresses, change was coming swiftly. The construction of two elevated railroads along Lake and Congress streets, led to more commercial development in the area. While this new form of transportation linked this part of the city to downtown Chicago, it also played a role in the break-up of the West Side Gold Coast. Many residents felt that the railroads altered the residential character of their neighborhood. In 1886, the Near West Side was the scene of many bitter labor strikes and conflicts. Many wealthy Chicagoans no longer felt safe living so close to the site of labor upheavals and violence. By the turn of the century, however, the Near West Side had become one of the most densely populated districts in all of Chicago.
In 1909, famous Chicago planner and architect, Daniel Burnham conceived Chicago’s Master Plan, envisioning the area east of Ashland as the “gateway from the west into the Loop;” ultimately, naming the area the West Loop Gate.
By the 1950’s, the West Loop Gate was still a neighborhood divided along ethnic, racial and religious lines.
The announcement in February, 1961 that the University of Illinois’ new Chicago campus would be constructed on land at Harrison and Halsted streets sparked a residential and commercial boom in the West Loop Gate.
In the 1980’s, companies with long-term vision for the area began converting light industrial buildings into loft apartments. In 1995, Mayor Daley brought the Democratic Convention to the United Center. The convention was huge for the West Loop Gate, bringing new and national attention to the area and more importantly, much-needed infrastructure improvements.
Today, the West Loop Gate, now known simply as the West Loop, is one of the hottest neighborhoods in Chicago. Large numbers of people continue to move into the area every day, drawn to its proximity to the Loop and major expressways. Randolph and Fulton streets have become an epicenter for world-famous restaurants that bring in visitors from all over the city and beyond. Moreover, the West Loop is now considered a hub for fashion and the arts, staking claim to renowned galleries, dance companies, designers, boutiques and music venues. Coupled with trendy residential space and a vibrant history, the West Loop is now a place that Chicagoans not only want to visit but also call home.