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Lincoln Park | Neighborhoods | Chicago by 'L'

Just outside Lincoln Park Zoo, the Nature Boardwalk in Lincoln Park overlooks Chicago’s iconic skyline. Photo: Meredith Francis

The Story of Lincoln Park

With a sprawling park of the same name to the east, the Lincoln Park community area is known for being an affluent community with large mansions, plenty of shops and restaurants, and views of Lake Michigan. Much of the land in Lincoln Park was once a cemetery, until 1864. But the high water table along the lakefront required shallow graves. According to the Encyclopedia of Chicago, “the graves proved such a health hazard that the cemetery was moved and the land redesignated Lake Park in 1864.” The park took on its current name a year later after the assassination of Abraham Lincoln.

Lincoln Park

Watch: Lincoln Park

With its proximity to downtown, Lincoln Park was hit hard by the Great Chicago Fire of 1871. Residents rebuilt the neighborhood, including some of the large mansions along the park that still stand today, as well as working-class homes. But if the Chicago Fire hit hard, so did the Great Depression. Home values plummeted as buildings were left in disrepair. According to Encyclopedia of Chicago, some residents joined forces to rehab the properties, so that by the 1970s, property values shot back up, forcing working-class families out of the area.

Today, Lincoln Park is still an affluent, mostly-white community. DePaul University is in Lincoln Park, occupying most of the area around Sheffield and Fullerton avenues. The area is home to the ultra-fine-dining of Alinea and Boka. The park itself offers scenic views of the skyline, along with walking paths and lakefront access. Within the park are cultural attractions such as the Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum (originally founded as the Chicago Academy of Sciences in 1857), the free-admission Lincoln Park Zoo, the Lincoln Park Conservatory, and the Alfred Caldwell Lily Pool – a quiet garden oasis right off a busy Fullerton Avenue. Brown and Red Line trains make stops at the Diversey, Fullerton, and Armitage stations.

Steppenwolf Theatre sign at night

Steppenwolf Theatre has grown in both size and reputation since its church basement roots in 1974. Photo: Kyle Flubacker / Steppenwolf Theatre

Neighborhood Spotlight: Steppenwolf Theatre

Actors Gary Sinise, John Malkovich, and Laurie Metcalf have all stood on stage at the renowned Steppenwolf Theatre, situated just north of North Avenue on Halsted Street in Lincoln Park. Founded by Sinise, Jeff Perry, and Terry Kinney in 1975, Steppenwolf is now nationally renowned, ensemble theater company with a dozen Tony Awards under its belt.

Steppenwolf traces its roots back to a group of high school and college students who performed the play And Miss Reardon Drinks a Little at a Unitarian Church in Deerfield in 1974. Among them were Sinise, Perry, and Kinney. They called themselves The Steppenwolf Theatre Company after the Herman Hesse book, which one of the actors was reading. The small group also produced Grease, The Glass Menagerie, and Rosencrantz and Gildenstern are Dead in that first year. Sinise, Perry, and Kinney then decided that they would look for a permanent theater in which to perform and launched their company in 1975 in the basement of a school in Highland Park.

By 1980, the company had moved to Chicago to a 134-seat theater in Lakeview, with actors Laurie Metcalf, Alan Wilder, John Malkovich, and others joining their ranks. In 1982, Steppenwolf brought their production of Sam Shepard’s play True West, to New York and it took the American theater scene by storm, with its rough and edgy brand of realism. After a decade of further growth, the company moved into their current building on Halsted. In 1985, the company won its first of many Tony Awards. It went on to win several. August: Osage County, a Pulitzer Prize-winner written by Tracy Letts, premiered at Steppenwolf in 2007 before heading to Broadway in New York City and onto the big screen after that.

Things to Do

Though Lincoln Park has plenty of fine-dining experiences, check out the famous Wiener’s Circle on Clark Street, where the employees will insult you as they serve up Chicago-style hot dogs. Kingston Mines, the historic blues club with two stages and music well into the night, is only a 10-minute walk away.