The Story of North Center
Once a working-class area known as “Bricktown” for its many brickyards and clay pits, North Center now contains million-dollar-plus homes. This area bordering the Chicago River five miles north of the Loop was mostly unsettled and unused until after the Great Chicago Fire of 1871, when some German farmers began cultivating the land.
The Great Fire also brought a new industry to North Center. New laws required buildings to be made of fireproof materials like brick, and the clay along the riverbanks became an asset, with many workers moving into the area to be close to their jobs at the clay pits and brickyards. A light industrial corridor also developed along Ravenswood Avenue.
With the extension of streetcar lines and the construction of the Ravenswood ‘L’, now the Brown Line, around the turn of the century, commuters began moving into North Center, although they were still mostly working class. Eventually the brickyards shut down, and other institutions opened along the river: Lane Technical High School, the public housing Julia C. Lathrop Homes, and famed amusement park Riverview at Belmont and Western.
As many white Chicagoans left the city for the suburbs in the postwar period, many Hispanic, Korean, Filipino, and other immigrant groups moved into North Center. As Lakeview and Lincoln Park have become gentrified in the past few decades, some of that has spilled over into North Center as well, with many new, residential units going up in addition to renovations and conversions of two-flats into single-family homes. North Center is no longer an industrial, working-class area but rather a family-oriented, wealthy neighborhood. Roscoe Village, another affluent neighborhood, falls within the community area’s boundaries.
The Addison, Irving Park, and Montrose Brown Line stops service North Center.
Neighborhood Spotlight: Riverview
The land at Belmont and Western, now a shopping mall, DeVry University, and a police station, was once a land of delight: the beloved amusement park Riverview. Originally a private shooting club, it eventually began operating some rides and officially opened to the public in 1904. Over the next 64 years, roller coasters, fun houses, and other entertainments brought Chicagoans to the park – one couple even got married in midair during a ride that dropped patrons from a tower in a parachute.
Riverview once had one of the world’s largest carousels, but also exploited racial stereotypes for entertainment. Take a look back at the park, which closed in 1967, in an episode of WTTW’s Chicago Stories from 2000.
Things to Do
North Center is full of unique things to eat and drink: try an unusual burger at Bad Apple, a rare cider at nearby English-pub-lookalike The Northman, or a cocktail tailored to your taste at the intimate Victor Bar.