Running through the "Bronzeville" neighborhood is Martin Luther King Jr. Drive, formerly known as Grand Boulevard. Developed in 1874 by the South Parks Commission, this tree-lined thoroughfare became a popular site for wealthy Chicagoans to build ornate and luxurious mansions.
The community surrounding Grand Boulevard grew steadily through the late 19th century, attracting more middle and working-class whites and a small African-American population. Between 1916 and 1920, more than 50,000 blacks from Southern states migrated to Chicago, many settling around Grand Boulevard.
The boulevard was lined with black owned-and-operated businesses and social organizations. Numerous black artists, musicians, writers, and intellectuals took up residence in the area, creating a metropolis for African-American culture and history. The community became known as "Bronzeville," and became a national model of African-American achievement.
The growth of the Bronzeville community surrounding Grand Boulevard came to a halt as the Depression began to impact the Midwest. Banks along the boulevard closed in 1930, creating first a sense of frustration and, later, panic among residents. The magnificent boulevard quickly deteriorated as businesses closed, unemployment rose, and poverty consumed the neighborhood. Throughout the later part of the 20th century, Grand Boulevard became a symbol of urban decay and economic decline.