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.
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.)
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.