The Story of the South Loop
The view looking south from Grant Park in downtown Chicago is a wall of sparkling glass high-rises, which mark the South Loop neighborhood. The community sits – you guessed it – just south of the Loop, also straddling the Near South Side community area.
Watch: South Loop
The South Loop was originally settled by wealthy residents. During the Gilded Age, it was Chicago’s first “Gold Coast,” with residents like George Pullman, Marshall Field, and Potter and Bertha Palma settling in vast mansions on Prairie Avenue. One such mansion, the Glessner House, was built in 1887 and still stands today as a National Historic Landmark.
By the twentieth century, the South Loop was full of freight and passenger railroad yards. According to the Encyclopedia of Chicago, the high-traffic area also gave rise to a notorious vice district, well known for brothels and gambling houses. The wealthy decamped to the present day Gold Coast on the North Side. By the mid-twentieth century, the decline in both the printing industry (see Printer’s Row below) and the railroad industry left much of the area vacant. But the city’s renewal efforts in the 1980s revitalized the area.
Since then, housing has boomed in the neighborhood, with chic high-rises, townhomes, shopping, and restaurants popping up all over the South Loop. The area is also home to the Museum Campus, featuring the Field Museum, Adler Planetarium, and Shedd Aquarium. Also nearby is Soldier Field, home of the Chicago Bears.
The Green, Orange, and Red lines all meet at Roosevelt Station, which is the primary ‘L’ stop near the South Loop.
Neighborhood Spotlight: Printer’s Row
Just a short walk from the Loop are a few blocks packed with industrial buildings that once housed some of the biggest publishing houses in the country. Today it is an affluent community with a few shops and restaurants and many of the old printing plants have been adapted as residential lofts.
In 1885, trains started rolling into Dearborn Station. Proximity to the station allowed the printing companies to boom. Publishers such as Rand McNally, Franklin Printing, and R. R. Donnelley and Sons all set up shop in the area.
As the automobile and interstate system outpaced the railroad companies in the mid-twentieth century, Dearborn Station saw less traffic. In addition, changes in the publishing industry meant that big printing machines and the large buildings required to house them were no longer necessary, so publishers started leaving the area, as well. Printer’s Row was mostly abandoned until the 1970s, when urban renewal efforts redeveloped the area, converting some of the old printing buildings into stylish apartments.
Today, a city map marks Printer’s Row between Clark and State streets, bordered by Harrison Street on the north and Roosevelt to the south. The last publisher, Palmer Printing, moved out in 2018. As a nod to its past, the community hosts the Printers Row Lit Fest every summer.
Things to Do
Grab a bite of Northern Italian cuisine — including homemade pasta – at Sofi. If you’re over 21, head to Adler After Dark, where you can enjoy a beer or cocktail while you explore the planetarium. You can also visit the Clark House Museum. It’s the city’s oldest house and was built in 1836.