This large neighborhood just south of Chicago’s business district (the Loop) was actually one of the city’s first residential districts.
Working-class immigrants settled near the south branch of the river, while the wealthy built homes closer to Lake Michigan in the Prairie Avenue district. The area was filled with railroad lines from the 1850s well into the 20th century as Chicago became the railroad hub of the nation. Clustering near the train stations was both a notorious vice district (the vast Levee – long gone) and a prosperous printing district (gone – but its loft buildings today form the historic Printers Row district).
The South Loop is home to a dazzling variety of cultural amenities. Along the northern edge is Chicago’s Grant Park, the city’s popular “front yard.” Chicago’s Museum Campus is at its eastern edge, featuring the Field Museum, Shedd Aquarium, and Adler Planetarium, with Soldier Field and Northerly Island nearby. Toward the south, the largest convention center in North America looms: McCormick Place.
In the Prairie Avenue Historic District, two esteemed house museums are open to the public: Clarke House (Chicago’s oldest house, 1837) and the incredible Glessner House designed by H.H. Richardson. The vintage auto showroom buildings of historic Motor Row line South Michigan Avenue. Chicago’s music history is well represented, too, with the preserved site of Chess Records, Buddy Guy’s Legends blues club, and the Jazz Showcase.
Old Vs New Architecture
The South Loop retains its historic roots but the thrust is undeniably toward the future. In recent years a residential building boom has transformed the area into a residential neighborhood once again. Modern high rises are now accompanied by an array of amenities for residents (and their children and pets), including quality supermarkets and other retail, good schools, fine restaurants, cafes and bars.
Close and connected to everything, this continues to be an up-and-coming area. Some of Chicago’s newest – and tallest – developments are rising in the South Loop, transforming the city’s skyline and making the South Loop one of its most exciting neighborhoods.