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The South Side’s destination treasures: Giving Bronzeville a breakthrough tune for today

Wed, Jul 10, 2013

On a June night in 1920, jazz echoed smoothly down State Street between 26th and 39th. Men dressed in their best suits lined up in front of clubs on State Street, known as “The Stroll,” eager to hear the breakthrough tunes of their time. The Sunset Café was one of the era’s jazz clubs that still stands today, although reconfigured as Meyer’s Ace Hardware at 315 E. 35th Street.

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Fast-forward to 1954, and the home of Muddy Waters at 4339 S. Lake Park Ave., where he lived for roughly 20 years and had a basement rehearsal room that hosted many blues greats. Vacant for 10 years, the home is on Landmarks Illinois’ recent 10 Most Endangered list. According to its website, Landmarks Illinois seeks to work with an owner to develop a plan to honor Waters’ legacy and enhance community pride around the building, which Chicago Cultural Historian Tim Samuelson says is always a favorite of visitors.

Bronzeville, also known as the Black Metropolis, is a neighborhood that has experienced some of Chicago’s richest history. Black people settled in Chicago before the Civil War and during and after World Wars I and II. Of the seven million people participating in the Great Migration north from the Deep South, half a million came to Chicago.

The “Monument to the Great Northern Migration” stands on Martin Luther King Drive and 24th Street; sculpted by Alison Saar, the walking figure of a man standing on a mound of shoe leather commemorates the thousands of African American men and women who came here seeking better opportunities. Additionally, just south of McCormick Place, the mile-long “Walk of Fame” on King Drive features sidewalk plaques with the names of famous Bronzeville residents.

StreetWise spoke to Harold Lucas, president and CEO of the Bronzeville Visitor Information Center of the Black Metropolis Convention and Tourism Council and Paula Robinson, managing partner for the Bronzeville Community Partnership. Both said they are focused on economic development in the area: specifically heritage tourism development, technology, and transportation initiatives. They point to its music history as a reason to expand international tourism.

A Black Metropolis National Heritage Area, Lucas said, “would provide a developmental infrastructure for [Bronzeville residents] to understand their contribution to the City of Chicago.” He acknowledges the removal of public housing and gentrification of the neighborhood, but he stresses what he calls “authentic tourism,” as lived by neighborhood residents who gain jobs through this economic sector. His fondest wish is that the former site of Michael Reese Hospital, at 2929 S. Ellis St., become the home of the Obama Presidential Library. It is fitting, he said, because the effects of the nation’s first African American President would radiate southward. The library was one of three possible uses for the site discussed at an April meeting; others were a casino/entertainment complex and a convention hotel, according to the Chicago Tribune.

By Sarah Berz
StreetWise Editorial Intern

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