1 Corinthians 13:12
My next stop in my urban exploration series brings me home. Well, to my first home. Roseland on Chicago's Far South Side. Mention Roseland to a person of the right age and two words usually come out: white flight.
Roseland's boundaries are bit nonsensical now, as the building of I-57, the Dan Ryan Expressway, and the Bishop Ford Expressway and have dissected the neighborhood. Roughly its northern border is the Chicago and Western Indiana Railroad tracks on the north, the Metra Electric on the east, Eggleston--up to 103rd street on the west and then Halsted, and 115th Street on the south.
Over the last 30 days Roseland ranks 19th in violent crimes among Chicago's 77 designated community areas.
Visitors to the location of my last urban exploration piece, the Pullman National Monument, will receive an unpleasant greeting if they wander west under the Metra tracks when they see this large abandoned apartment building at Vernon and 110th Place.
A block away is a tiny grocery store, one of those places where the cashier is positioned behind bullet-proof glass. I took a picture outside of the place, not a very good one, and some jerk hollered at me, "Why are you taking pictures?" Well, why not? Here's a warning to the twenty-or-thirty-so tourists who visit Pullman every day--stay out of Roseland. This is the part of Chicago known as the Wild 100s. More on this area later.
Our next stop a two-story brick home at 9601 S. Princeton that, based on what is left of the For Sale sign, didn't sell. While taking this picture I met a man who was on photo duty for a bank that just foreclosed on a home. The Great Recession continues to drag on in Chicago. He's black--I'm white, he said that I "need to be careful here." But this is a nice part of Roseland.
Two blocks from this battered dwelling is the Princeton Park section of Roseland, which has always been majority black. Built in 1944 during the World War II housing shortage where probably the last farm in Roseland sat.
Before it was annexed by Chicago the Dutch were the first Europeans to live in large numbers in Roseland. Farmers mostly, these Hollanders were. And while it's generally a misnomer to call Dutch people Hollanders, the first Rosleand settlers came from Eenigenburg, which is in the Holland province of the Netherlands. Over 100 years later when I putt-putting around the Fernwood section of Roseland in my little red fire wagon the Dutch were a distinct but vocal minority; Irish, Lithuanians, Italians, and Scandinavians overwhelmed the neighborhood years before. But there was an imperiousness about the Roseland Dutch that I recall even as a six-year-old. My mother recently reminded me of the saying I'd hear, "If you ain't not Dutch, you ain't much." And they meant it--their haughtiness went far beyond ethnic pride. These Dutch Reformed Calvinists were the elect--and you weren't. What did that mean to little boy like myself? I remember being told my parents and my brothers, "He won't play with you--he's Dutch." And that was largely true. The Hollander children for the most part were instructed by their parents to stay away from kids like myself--after all, I was allowed to play on Sunday--after going to church. And I could watch television on Sunday. Older children and teens would participate in competitive sports on the Sabbath--Roseland had a top-notch Little League Baseball program--and go to dances and enjoy other frivolities, but not the Dutch. Oh, dancing was to be avoided at all times by them.
This was their thinking: Dutch parents did not want their kids complaining to them, "How come John Ruberry can go to Ferwnood Park on Sunday and I can't?" Or, "How come we have to go church twice on Sunday and other families go just once?" It was best for children to avoid these non-elect troublemakers so these uncomfortable conversations would be infrequent.
If you think I'm being to harsh on the Dutch--or if you are enjoying this Dutch-bashing--then stick around for the exclamation point.
Roseland is graced by many Chicago-style bungalows, such as this abandoned one at 316 W. 100th Street.
We've now crossed a set of railroad tracks into the aforementioned Fernwood section of Roseland, the best part of the neighborhood then and now. That's the old Ruberry house at 10536 S. Eggleston--but we lived on one of the more modest streets in Fernwood.
Up above is Mother Marathon Pundit, on Easter perhaps, with my oldest brother sometime around 1967.
My family moved to Palos Heights a dozen miles to the southwest in 1968. My parents never felt comfortable in Roseland and we had outgrown this bungalow--there were seven of us packed into a three bedroom house. Blockbusting, also known as panic-peddling, had already begun in Roseland, the concept was beyond the understanding of a kindergartner, but I heard from older kids that "the negroes were coming." Sometimes that other word was used. When my folks bought this place in 1959 their plan was to save up enough money until they could afford a home in the more desirable South Shore neighborhood to the east--where my father grew up. But white flight had come to South Shore too around the same time and my parents sold the bungalow, which as it was for almost all families at the time, their biggest investment, at a loss.
A year later integration, such as it was, came to most of Roseland and the change did not go smoothly. Some blocks went from being all white to all black in six months. That's why it was called white flight. The anger from the assassination of Martin Luther King and the riots that followed were the harbinger of a painful era in American race relations. At my elementary school in Palos I regularly would meet kids who moved from Roseland or the neighboring West Pullman neighborhood, they told me stories of being chased home from school every day by blacks. These were nine and ten-year-olds.
Even Fernwood has forsaken homes, such as this one at 10519 South Lowe.
I don't know the contemporaneous side of the story from blacks as the grade school, middle school, and high school I attended had no African-American students. I can only guess. Perhaps their parents, each of whom suffered the sting of institutional racism, told their children that white people had it too good for too long and now it was time for payback. Or maybe when there were few African Americans in Roseland the blacks were chased home from school by whites every day.
The Fernwood Park Race Riot of 1947 was a fresh memory for most adults then--three days of rioting occurred when a few black World War II veterans moved into a Chicago Housing Authority project on the western edge of Roseland. Does anyone seriously believe that the vastly outnumbered blacks started the riot? The Chicago Police, as was the case through the 1960s, routinely sided with whites.
Because what happened in Roseland in the late 1960s is an unhappy story, this is a largely forgotten part of American history. Parents, whose ultimate responsibility is to protect their children, were forced to sell their homes. Or you could fairly say they were compelled to flee. Things didn't go well for the new black residents either. More on that in a little bit.
Around this time of South Side racial upheaval, the Kinks released their then-ignored masterpiece, The Village Green Preservation Society, which included the song "Big Sky," which neatly summarizes the narrative so far.
Big Sky looked down on all the people looking up at the big sky,Quadrophenia from a few years later by The Who sold much better--this snippet from "Helpless Dancer" captures some of the rage of that time:
Everybody's pushing one another around.
Big Sky feels sad when he sees the children scream and cry,
But the Big Sky's too big to let it get him down.
And you get beaten up by blacks
Who though they worked still got the sack.
Now it's time to head back east over those tracks--the wrong side of them--to the worst part of Rosleand, the Wild 100s--the Far South Side version of Englewood.
This "red X" home is near the corner of 107th and State.
Many of the Roseland homes purchased during the blockbusting era were financed by FHA-insured mortgage loans, but many of the new homeowners couldn't afford the monthly payments. The lenders still got their money but the federal government was the owner of many now-abandoned homes, and the credit of these new Roselanders was ruined. And property values in Roseland plummeted again. Liberal social engineering has painful consequences. And the FHA Loan Scandal of the late 1960s and early 1970s is has been swept under the rug by the guilty and their protectors.
In 1972 my siblings and I convinced our father to take us to see our old home on Eggleston after attending a White Sox game. We were unprepared for what followed. One-third of the homes on our old block were boarded up--including our beloved old bungalow. Each of these vacant houses had orange signs with black lettering which read, "Federal government property--stealing from this house is stealing from you." I'm not a believer in single events--outside of traumatic ones--reshaping a person's psyche, but if you had to point out a moment in my life that made me a conservative--this is it.
There was an uncomfortable silence as my father drove us out of Roseland back to Palos Heights.
I'm certain the financial toll of this debacle in remaking communities has never been calculated. But as I mentioned earlier, historians aren't interested in stories like this one. Which is why I'm telling it because no one else wants to, and as the years pass, few will even be able to do so.
American Four Square homes are rare in Chicago but rather common elsewhere in the Midwest. It appears this one on 107th Street may be gone soon and Chicago will have one less of them.
Six years ago Roseland, mostly because of the Wild 100s section--was the most dangerous part of Chicago. It's possible that other areas of "Chiraq" have gotten far worse and Roseland has merely stabilized. Of my urban exploration adventures so far I've only been more anxious in North Lawndale. Thomas Wolfe was right, you can't go home again.
I'm repeatedly warned by loved ones that I'm foolish to enter these dangerous neighborhoods--unarmed. But I take precautions. While walking past this abandoned frame home on Perry Street an obese man his his 20s wearing an Indianapolis Colts shirt began yelling "Hey buddy, hey buddy" in a menacing tone of voice while running towards me. I turned around and walked slowly away. It's fortunate he was a fat guy because he didn't run very fast.
Oh, here's a crucial urban-ex tip: When being pursued, always keep a consistent pace and never show fear. And always have an exit route planned.
That exit route took me into an alley past what I believe was a garage, then back on to 107th Street where I was just an anonymous, albeit Caucasian, face in the crowd. I continued to walk east, to Michigan Avenue, not the fancy shops north of downtown, but to what was once a South Side thriving shopping district.
By the early 1980s Roseland struggled once again with economic turmoil. The 1981-1983 recession hit the Great Lakes States hard. Things got so bad that a group of Roseland and West Pullman Roman Catholic Churches, including the one where I was baptized, formed the Calumet Community Religious Conference, which was run by followers of leftist Chicagoan Saul Alisnky, who died in 1972. But none of these activists were black--so they hired Barack Obama, who was living in New York at the time. Obama chose not to live on the Far South Side when he arrived in the city, he chose the Hyde Park neighborhood, home of the University of Chicago.
Obama eventually ran the Developing Communities Project, which chose a shuttered department store on Michigan Avenue for his headquarters. Gately's People Store, pictured above, could have been that place. It closed its doors in 1981, thirty-five years later the decrepit long-unlit neon sign is still there.
It was at Gately's where I first met Santa Claus.
Among Obama's goal's at DCP was to retrain blue collar workers who lost their jobs during the early 1980s recession and reinvigorate the region, and of course, organize the community and whatever that entails.
But other than advancing his career, which of course brought him to the White House, Obama's endeavors in Roseland ended in failure. I mean c'mon now, look at the place!
Once a bustling retail side street, 112th Street sits forlorn.
If you think Democratic social engineering is over, than you are quite naïve. I suggest that you read about how Dubuque, Iowa is being forced to accept Chicago Section 8 housing applicants because Obama's HUD sees it as part of its Chicago region.
You thought I forgot about the Dutch. On the corner of 107th and Michigan stands a spectacular-looking old Dutch Reformed Church. (Sorry, no pics, the sun was at a bad angle.) It was sold to a black congregation in 1971, becoming the Lilydale Progressive Baptish Church. The Hollanders left with a Parthian shot by taking the church's cornerstone with them. Not even Detroit's avowedly racist Temple Baptist stooped that low when it sold its church to a black Baptist group.
From the Kinks' "Black Messiah."
Everybody talking about racial equality
'Cos everybody's equal in the good Lord's eyes
But if I told you that God was black
What would you think of that
I bet you wouldn't believe it.
Chicagoland Board Up is not lacking for business in Chicago.
The Rosemoor section of Rosleand is dominated by vacant lots. Picture above is a soon-to-be what we called back in the day "prairie" at 101st and Michigan.
"He grew up a small-town boy which used to be possible in the big city," that's what Pulitzer Prize winning columnist Mike Royko said about Mayor Richard J. Daley, who ruled Chicago during from 1955-1976 in his best-selling book Boss. But by the 1960s most families in Chicago owned a car, sometimes two, but there that village feel in Roseland remained. Everybody knew who lived in every house on the block where you lived. I was much more of a small-town boy in the city than was I was in the suburbs.
When I arrived in Palos Heights in '68 I was overwhelmed by the quietude of my new suburban life. Yes, Roseland was in its own way was a small town, but it was a cacophonous one. Kids weren't allowed to ring door bells, I yelled "Yo Russell....can you come out and play" outside a friend's house. The reply might have been screamed back at me by a parent, "Come back later, John, we're having dinner!" Or, "Go away, it's past your bedtime!" Baseball was played on the street, when an automobile approached the participants would howl, "Car!" Often the annoyed driver would honk back.
Children growing up in such a place are compelled to process information quickly. Old Roseland is gone, but it never left me. If you need evidence, this post--and my work at Marathon Pundit--is your proof. I weave seemingly unconnected subjects together into a body of work that makes sense. Well, at least to me and some of my readers it does. In this single entry I cover politics, rock music, neighborhood history, architecture, and boyhood recollections.
Now that the memory-hole is wide open, my mind is dominated by the ethereal images of the Big Snow of 1967, playing in places where I wasn't allowed to, such as the Roseland Pumping Station, the smartass greasers, middle-aged men in white tank-top shirts and women in house dresses sitting on front porches every summer evening, the tinker and his knife-sharpening wheel, and of course the racket of the city populate my mind as I conclude this post.
- (Photos) Abandoned homes in Chicago's violent Austin neighborhood
- (Photos) The abandoned homes of Chicago's violent Back of the Yards neighborhood
- (Photos) Abandoned homes in Chicago's violent East Garfield Park neighborhood
- (Photos) Abandoned homes in Chicago's most violent neighborhood--West Garfield Park
- (Photos) Abandoned homes in Chicago's violent North Lawndale neighborhood
- (Photos) The abandoned homes of Chicago's violent Englewood neighborhood
- (Photos) Abandoned homes in Chicago's violent Auburn Gresham neighborhood
- (Photos) The abandoned homes of Chicago's violent West Englewood neighborhood