Roseland’s South Michigan commercial district

Chicago’s far south side is a surreal land, where industrial hellpits alternate with charming small-town main streets. It is a place where strange things happen, such as Western Avenue becoming a one-way street. And it is home to random outcroppings of once self-sustaining communities, places that were functionally independent towns in and of themselves.

S. Michigan Avenue commercial strip

The blocks of South Michigan Avenue that run through the Roseland neighborhood are one such area. A lengthy commercial district, roughly centered around 112th Street, lines Michigan as it rolls ever further southward toward a termination point at 127th. (Streets in Chicago often “end”, only to crop up alive and well a few blocks further onwards, and S. Michigan is no exception. This particular strip is not only interrupted a mile north of here, but also picks up again to the south after skipping over a bend in the Calumet River.)

S. Michigan commercial district

These blocks bear the imprint of a neighborhood that was doing well until the 1960s, like so much of urban America. The architectural styles run the gamut from 1880s Queen Anne, through Gothic, Italianate, Sullivanesque, Renaissance, and Art Deco.

A.B. Anderson

Roseland Family Medical Center and Pharmacy

Sullivanesque ripoff

Art Deco detail

Like Milwaukee Avenue on the near northwest side, this district is home to a number of 1940s-vintage neon signs, well past their prime. Unlike their northside counterparts, few if any of these appear to remain operational.

Gatelys Peoples

Jansen's Furniture

Sy Block Appliances

And of course, there are the inevitable Midcentury interventions, which in places like this were all too often the final signs of optimism and new construction before economic deterioration set in.

American Ideal Cleaning

A new design

Not much appears to have happened here post-1960, construction-wise. The neighborhood appears predominantly black today, a sharp contrast with the mostly-white neighborhood of Pullman just a few blocks to the east. The state of repair of the buildings, and the nature of the businesses indicate an area that’s suffered economic decline for decades. Still, it’s a busy district, with lots of people on the sidewalks, cars passing by, and plenty of storefront businesses open.

Some gems remain standing today. Most prominent is the Roseland Theatre Building, all shiny white glazed brick with glazed green terra cotta for a centerpiece. It’s simple but beautiful. The section shown here is literally the only ornament remaining on the whole building; sadly, the entire lobby entrance has been stripped of its ornament.

Roseland Theatre Building

All these shots were taken in a fifteen-minute drive-by. Hopefully I’ll get back there to spend more time giving the area’s architecture the attention it deserves.

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11 thoughts on “Roseland’s South Michigan commercial district

  1. There is a really marvelous old library here too, I think it might have been a Carnegie Library. Roseland has a fascinating history, as it was the ‘free and easy’ spillover community from heavily controlled Pullman, which was an extremely regulated company town, and workers moved here to be able to purchase their own homes, and be free of the dry (except for the Hotel Florence) community regulations that Pullman enforced.I had friends here when I was growing up, some of their stories were pretty awful. But then there’s North Roseland Heights, on the north of the expressway, which has remained middle class since it was built in the 50s (and has almost always been a predominately black area too).

  2. Western becomes a one way street?Where is that?There is the strange dual configuration of Western, where there are two mainlines of north-south traffic on the South Side.Is that what you are talking about?

  3. Western becomes a one-way street in downtown Blue Island, just south of the Chicago line. Blue Island’s downtown has a real old-fashioned charm. Most people in the area have no idea that it exists.

  4. What a cool post! But note, Roseland is one of Chicago’s most dangerous neighbourhoods. Persons reading your description of it certainly deserve to be told that when traveling that far south and east in Chicago, it is imperative to stay within the Chicago city limits unless you know your destination precisely i.e. can find it on a (printed!) map. There are jurisdictions directly south of there where the police may not be fully in control of the streets or may not have the authority that police in most of Chicago have. Note that it reads “most of Chicago”: in the Riverdale area, where there is considerable public housing, the police also may not be able to take control of an emergency as readily as they can in an area that contains more infrastructure, so staying within the city limits (the street signs are distinctive) may not be adequate all of the time either. I cannot defend taking photographs of an inner-city zone like Roseland from inside a personal car. If you’re going to “visit” there for that purpose, you need to be on a bicycle or on foot. (Otherwise, your car could be taken from you and used against someone innocent later in a crime, besides sending the “I want to visit but I wouldn’t want to BE here” message over the duration that it remains in your possession). You may want to hone your human relations skills in another, less hazardous area first: be prepared to communicate that you’re from a background where it’s considered barbaric to be afraid of someone just because of their skin colour. Try to bring plenty of cigarettes or conspicuously munch something that can be shared with others. Do not assume that you can insulate yourself from the people who reside there and, particularly, those who roam the streets. Ahhh … end of lecture.

  5. Geez anonymous, you got some actual stories about having to pass out cigarettes?I’ve biked through Roseland and Riverdale flashing a camera too, a number of times w/o problem. Of course I am an imposing looking man and am usually with a friend.

  6. nice to see what these animals do to beautiful communities like Roseland. I used to live there when humans inhabited the neighborhood and I have fond memories. What a fuckin shame !!!!!

  7. Roseland is where I grew up for most my childhood. It was great place, left in the early 70's. Now, You need to know where you are going, and with someone who knows the area. It is high crime. I lived on wentworth and parnell. I miss what it used to be like. but I can't go visit there cuz I would be shot,plus it is like war zone. The animals came in wrecked it. Visit Pullman in daylight.

  8. For the last two comments – I'm glad you've both moved. We don't need your racism in Chicago anymore (and you are hypocrites since I bet your parents took money from the black families who bought your houses….).

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