The Story of Albany Park
Albany Park’s history is representative of the story of many Chicago (or even American) neighborhoods. When Chicago was incorporated in 1837, Albany Park was unsettled wilderness eight miles northwest of the city. The first permanent settlers arrived in the 1840s, farming the land and eventually establishing a brickyard by the Chicago River and a horse racing track.
Watch: Albany Park
In 1889, after Chicago annexed Jefferson Township, which included Albany Park, prominent developers and transit magnates began purchasing land there; one named the area after his hometown of Albany, New York. Soon, streetcars ran along Lawrence and Kedzie avenues, and the Ravenswood Elevated train (now the Brown Line) extended to the intersection of Kimball and Lawrence by 1907. (The Francisco, Kedzie, and Kimball stops, three of only four ground-level Brown Line stops, serve the Albany Park Community Area.)
This extension of transit to Albany Park set off a residential and commercial boom, turning Lawrence into an important commercial center. Many of the new residents were Eastern European Jews leaving neighborhoods closer to the city, such as the Maxwell Street district on the near West Side and North Lawndale. With this northern migration, the center of Jewish life shifted to Albany Park. Later on, bungalows and larger, more palatial homes went up along the river in an area that became known as Ravenswood Manor.
A generation later, Chicago’s Jewish center would again shift north, as many of the residents of the neighborhood moved to suburbs such as Skokie after World War II. Their departure caused a decline in the once-bustling neighborhood. Stores and residences sat vacant, property values fell, and crime rose because of out-migration and other factors.
But reinvestment programs and a new wave of immigrants, primarily from Korea, the Philippines, and Spanish-speaking countries such as Guatemala, led to the revitalization of Albany Park. So many Korean immigrants bought houses and opened businesses that the area was known as Koreatown.
While many Koreans have followed previous populations and moved to the suburbs, Albany Park remains a port of entry and melting pot, with a well-known stretch of Middle Eastern businesses at Kedzie and Lawrence, South and Central American restaurants and businesses along Lawrence, the American Indian Center just north of the end of the Brown Line, and other quirky businesses scattered throughout the neighborhood.
The Brown Line makes stops at Francisco, Kedzie, and Kimball in Albany Park.
Neighborhood Spotlight: Arun’s Thai Restaurant
While getting a master’s degree from the University of Chicago, Arun Sampanthavivat decided to open a restaurant showcasing the food of his native Thailand. Arun’s first opened on Irving Park Road in 1985, then moved to Kedzie Avenue in 1998. Its well-regarded food, art-adorned restaurant, and prix fixe menu made it a fine-dining destination, and Sampanthavivat was named Best Chef: Great Lakes by the James Beard Foundation in 2000. Decades on, his attentive and highly detailed approach to a cuisine often seen by Americans as fast and inexpensive seems ever more relevant.
Watch Sampanthavivat speak about his approach to food in an episode of Chat, Please! and learn about his path to becoming a restaurateur in an episode of Foodphiles.
Things to Do
Sample Middle Eastern food along Kedzie Avenue near Lawrence Avenue at such restaurants as Semiramis, Noon O Kabab, and Kabobi. Stroll through Ravenswood Manor to admire the beautiful homes and get a glimpse of one of the prettiest stretches of the Chicago River.