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Become Aquainted With Chicago's West Elsdon Neighborhood

Earlier this week, we explored the historic Villa District on the North Side, but today we head south towards Midway to venture through the West Elsdon neighborhood. Located along Pulaski Road, West Elsdon is an official Chicago Community Area (Number 62), and is among the city's smallest with just over one square mile of total area. As a small community, you may have actually passed through West Elsdon without ever stepping foot on the ground, as it lies adjacent to the CTA Orange Line and Midway Airport's northeast flight path. The elevated path of the Orange Line carries travelers over the rooftops of the community, offering visitors to Chicago their first impressions of the city.

The neighborhood's boundaries form a triangular shape with 59th Street on the south and freight railroads hemming it in on the west, north and east sides. The Orange Line parallels two of these rail lines and has stations located at Midway (59th St) and at Pulaski Road which are used by local residents. Its proximity to Midway makes this area popular among pilots, flight attendants and TSA agents who walk to work, often with luggage bags in tow along 59th Street.

Midway Airport's terminal, parking garage and CTA Orange Line Station form the west boundary of the community.

The east boundary is the railroad viaduct running along Central Park Avenue (3600 West). A good general rule of thumb when looking for community area boundaries is to find the railroads first (chances are that's your answer).

Like many other Chicago Neighborhoods, West Elsdon got its start by utilizing the railroads to emphasize its proximity to the city center. The area east of the railroad had been previously known as Elsdon before later being renamed Gage Park and the Grand Trunk Railroad established repair facilities near 51st Street and Central Park Avenue. Passenger stations were established along the railroad paralleling Central Park Avenue at 51st, 55th and 59th Streets, but passenger service has long since disappeared. As such, older housing stock is more prevalent in the eastern end of the neighborhood.

Older buildings in the east end of the community also have remnants of former storefronts tucked away on side streets. These now serve a residential use.

When the Great Depression occurred the area was still relatively undeveloped, and as such, most development in the area did not occur until the housing boom after World War II, resulting in a mix of post war bungalows, ranches, cape cods as well as smaller multi-unit buildings often ranging from 2-12 units scattered about. 1960s era architectural kitsch can easily be spotted in the neighborhood.

This photo may look a couple decades old, but it's actually from February 2015.

'60s architectural kitsch found on small apartment buildings

Many of the area's early European decedents have moved away or passed on and the community's vibe now reflects its largely Mexican population. Pulaski serves as the main retail spine of the area, offering many different shops and services, including two full service grocery stores. The retail is a mix of independent and chain businesses located in suburban-style shopping centers, stand alone structures, and traditional storefronts that meet the sidewalk. Many ethnic shops cater to the local residents and include Mexican bakeries, stores selling quinceanera dresses and a collection of taquerias and other Mexican restaurants.

The well patronized El Solazo restaurant at 56th and Pulaski will soon open a second location on the world renown Randolph Street Restaurant Row in the West Loop. Now is the time to try it before it becomes famous.

The neighborhood boasts a large inventory of single family residences that can usually be found for around $200,000 or less, allowing many working families an opportunity to purchase a first or second home. And getting to the Loop from West Elsdon is also relatively painless. Travel time to downtown on the Orange Line is about 20 minutes, comparable, or in many cases, quicker than trendier North Side neighborhoods.

The Art Deco John Hancock High School is a neighborhood anchor and looms over nearby homes. A new elementary school will soon be constructed one block to the south of the community boundary at 60th Street and Karlov Avenue.

Typical of neighborhoods with a large Mexican population, colorful murals can be spotted throughout the area.

Shawn Ursini

·West Elsdon [Encyclopedia of Chicago]
·West Elsdon Home prices [Trulia]
·Getting to Know Chicago's Smallest Neighborhood: The Villa [Curbed Chicago]
·Micro Week archives [Curbed Chicago]