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Use the map below to see the location of each of the historical dates in this post.

South Loop History Chicago Timeline Map

The South Loop has been making Chicago history from the beginning. Two hundred years ago the Potawatomi Indians attacked the troops and civilians fleeing from Fort Dearborn to Fort Wayne on the beach near what is now 18th street, marking the Fort Dearborn Massacre of 1812 as a testament to the determination of Chicago’s first settlers to take root in the land that would become Chicago.

Clarke House

Clarke House (Photo credit: reallyboring)

Chicago did not incorporate as a city until 1837. One year prior, in the outskirts of town, Henry B. Clarke built his home on over 20 acres of land which he used for light farming, hunting, and fishing. As the oldest surviving home in Chicago Clarke House has a surprising history which can be studied in its current South Loop location.

The popular west border of the South Loop is the Chicago River. Less than half a mile across the river is the location where the Great Chicago Fire started in 1871, approximately at Jefferson and Taylor Streets. The fire travelled fast, narrowly missing the South Loop, however over the course of three days it cleared the way for new construction.

Chicago Dearborn (or Polk St.) (1883): a stati...

Dearborn Station (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

As the city rebuilt the South Loop began to truly take shape as a vital neighborhood. In 1883 the Donahue Building became the first printing house setting the stage for Printer’s Row. Only two years later Dearborn Station was built across the street. It quickly became the transportation hub of the city, used by all walks of life from immigrants to movie stars. Due to those buildings the South Loop became a transient and eclectic neighborhood housing manufacturing plants, saloons, brothels, and prominent mansions of the city’s elite.

Much to the dismay of his neighbors such as George Pullman and Marshall Field, John Glessner built what many refer to as an eyesore of a fortress in 1887. Unlike most of his neighbors his monumental home still stands and works as a museum showcasing the great craftsmanship and planning that made the structure a highly functional, intimidating on the outside to create warmth on the inside, home.

Coliseum building, Chicago. Exterior view.

Third Coliseum (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Long before McCormick Place started it’s domination of the south east corner of the South Loop Chicago had the Coliseum to use as a convention hall. The third Coliseum, located at 1513 S. Wabash was originally a reconstruction of the Libby Prison, used as a civil war museum. In 1899 it was converted to the Coliseum and a stone vaçade was built to protect the brick from the prison. The Coliseum quickly became the premier event space in the city playing host to every Republican National Convention from 1904-1920. The Coliseum also hosted many First Ward Balls, the infamous parties designed to line the pockets of the alderman and secure protection for the brothels, gambling houses, and saloons of the neighborhood.

English: Oriental Music Room at the Everleigh ...

Everleigh Club (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

One of the most luxurious brothels in the country, the Everleigh Club opened in 1900. Home of the most expensive prostitutes and debauchery the Everleigh sisters, owners of the club, enjoyed world-wide recognition for their business until it was shut down in 1911.

At that time Motor Row, which got its start in 1905, was shaping the southern end of the South Loop with 116 different makes of cars available at it’s peak.

In 1912, due to increased rent prices in the loop, Chinese merchants built a complex in Armor Square creating what is now Chicago’s Chinatown. Being adjacent to the South Loop the stability of Chinatown has helped its neighboring community take shape to where it is today.

The South Loop is also home to Museum Campus, which wasn’t created until 1998, but got its start when in 1921, due to an expanding collection, the Field Museum moved from the Palace of Fine Arts Building (now the Museum of Science and Industry) to its current location.

Zeiss Planetarium Projector

Zeiss Planetarium Projector (Photo credit: °Florian)

The other two museums that make up the campus, the Shedd Aquarium and Adler Planetarium, opened in 1930. Max Adler decided to gift the planetarium to the city after witnessing a Zeiss planetarium projector in Europe.

Motor Row enjoyed a second breath of life from 1957-75 when Chess Records moved in and produced some of the greatest R&B records of all time. It also made famous some of Chicago’s most notable musicians such as Buddy Guy. Chess Records lead the inspiration to give the district a second name, Music Row.

By 1979 the South Loop was only a shadow of its former self. Some of the old buildings that housed car dealerships, brothels, the urban elite and printing houses still stood, but most were no longer in use as such. The neighborhood was ready for a big change. Builders took note that the rich history and proximity to the Loop, the Lake, and Museums made the South Loop a prime location for residential development. That year the Donahue Building (the first printing house in Printer’s Row, 1883) became the city’s first conversion of factory lofts and the bold plans of Dearborn Park I and Bertrand Goldberg’s River City were brought to life, paving the way for a renaissance of the South Loop.

The development was a slow growth at start. It wasn’t until 1988 when Dearborn Park II expanded the new residential district south of Roosevelt Road. But shortly after, in 1990, Central Station began redevelopment of rail yards into high-rises and townhomes, solidifying the push for residential development in the South Loop

Near South Side, Chicago from Michigan Avenue ...

Central Station sales model. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The South Loop has continued to see its share of shady dealings such as in 2003 when Meigs Field, a single strip airport that operated since 1948 was destroyed under the cover of night. However, now that land is Northerly Island Park. A popular getaway from the hustle and bustle of downtown. Neighbors can visit to enjoy an outdoor concert, the beach, hiking, and in the winter, cross country skiing.

chicago skyline from northerly island 2

Chicago Skyline from Northerly Island (Photo credit: oceandesetoiles)

As the South Loop continues to evolve so do the needs and wants of the community members. In 2012 Jones College Prep, a renowned selective enrollment high school, began construction on new building sparking controversy over whether to tear the old one down and straighten Harrison Street or convert the old building into a public high school, to accomodate the increase of families living in and moving to the neighborhood.

While that debate goes on Motor Row is preparing for a grand resurgence. By 2013 plans for a new brewery and entertainment district in the area are expected to be complete.

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Historical Information From:
Chicago Then and Now