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Little Village | Neighborhoods | Chicago by 'L'

A mosaic entitled Cannas and Corn: A Community Garden greets commuters who pass through the Central Park Pink Line station in Little Village. Photo: Ken Carl

The Story of Little Village

Officially part of the South Lawndale community area, the Little Village neighborhood is brimming with Mexican-American culture. Before it was known as “La Villita,” Little Village saw an influx of German, Czech, and Polish immigrants following the Great Chicago Fire of 1871. At that time, many people worked in the nearby factories, and it has been a working-class community ever since.

In the 1970s, Little Village started to become known as the “Mexico of the Midwest,” as more Mexican Americans moved into the community. Today, a terracotta arch towering over 26th Street greets people with “Bienvenidos a Little Village.” The arch, designed by Mexican architect Adrian Lozano, was built in 1990 to acknowledge the influence of Mexican culture in Chicago.

Little Village hosts Villapalooza every year, an annual music festival promoting arts, culture, and community engagement. Every September, the neighborhood also hosts a large annual parade in honor of Mexican Independence Day with colorful floats, mariachi bands, and dancing.

Little Village is also home to Cook County Jail, one of the largest jails in the United States, where most inmates are awaiting trial. The jail first opened in 1929 when it was just one building. The 96-acre property now has 11 different divisions. Al Capone and John Wayne Gacy both spent time in Cook County Jail.

The Pink Line stops at California, Kedzie, and Central Park along the northern edge of Little Village.

26th Street in Chicago

The Little Village Arch welcomes 26th Street visitors in Spanish. Photo: Eric Allix Rogers / Flickr

Neighborhood Spotlight: The 26th Street Retail Corridor

According to the Little Village Chamber of Commerce, Little Village has more than 1,000 businesses. Approximately 500 of those businesses are along a two-mile stretch of 26th Street, mostly between Kedzie and Kostner avenues. Local media have dubbed the area the “Mexican Magnificent Mile.”

Crain’s reported in 2015 that it’s not only one of the busiest shopping districts in the city after the Magnificent Mile, but also in the Midwest, with $900 million in sales annually. It has chain stores, but also small mom-and-pop shops, with everything from barber shops to bakeries and specialty grocery stores.

Things to Do

Check out the work of local artists at the OPEN Center for the Arts, then head to La Chaparrita Grocery for tacos.