Uptown Chicago Resources


Edgewater Chicago

Edgewater Beach Hotel.

A 1960s view of the Edgewater Beach Hotel, shortly before it closed. Image courtesy CRCC collection.

Edgewater is a Chicago, Illinois, community located seven miles north of the Loop. It has a population of roughly 62,000 people and contains the neighborhoods of Edgewater Glen, Andersonville, the Bryn Mawr Historic District, and Lakewood-Balmoral. Edgewater borders the neighborhoods of Rogers Park to the north, Uptown to the south, Lincoln Square to the west and south, and West Ridge to the west and north. The community was first developed around the 1890s as summer homes for Chicago’s elite. With the exception of pockets acknowledged as historic districts (like the Bryn Mawr Historic District), Edgewater boasts a skyline of apartment buildings, condominium complexes, mid-rise units, and single-family homes. Edgewater is highlighted by two main corridors: North Winthrop Avenue and North Kenmore Avenue stretching toward Loyola University. In the 1960s and 70s, when the neighborhood was at its low point, the Winthrop-Kenmore corridor was called Arson Alley because 25% of the buildings were empty and vacant. Today, due to a massive community effort, Winthrop and Kenmore avenues have many homes and apartments restored to their former glory.

History

Early Settlers

Developers began cutting down the dense woods in the area in the late 1880s to make way for future development. In 1885, Edgewater was given its name by its builder, John Lewis Cochran. He built the first residential subdivision in the area. After a few years, Edgewater was celebrated as a wonder as it became “the only electric lighted suburb adjacent to Chicago.” Edgewater also gained fame as the celery-growing capital of America’s Midwest.

Early 20th Century / Edgewater Becomes Uptown

In the early 1900s, Edgewater was regarded as one of Chicago’s most prestigious communities. A prominent symbol of Edgewater’s affluence was the Edgewater Beach Hotel, which opened in 1916 at 5349 North Sheridan. The famed yellow hotel was demolished in 1968, though the remaining pink Edgewater Beach Apartments building is still a landmark at the north tip of Lake Shore Drive. The Edgewater building boom peaked in 1926 and property values reached their height in 1928. The burgeoning affluent population grew so much that developers expanded Edgewater and included it as part of Uptown.

Revival

Uptown’s population declined in the 1950s as Chicago’s suburbs were developed and opened, absorbing Chicago’s middle and upper classes. With the flight of residents came disrepair and high crime rates for what once was one of the most affluent districts of Chicago.

In the 1970s, the Chicago Board of Aldermen, the Edgewater Community Council (ECC), and various local business owners and community groups orchestrated a revival for the Edgewater community. The ECC established Operation Winthrop-Kenmore to raise money and support for revitalization. In the 1980s Edgewater seceded from the Uptown neighborhood and once again called itself its own community. New businesses were brought into the area while older buildings, including the Belle Shore and Bryn Mawr Apartments, were refurbished. Many of elegant buildings along the Winthrop-Kenmore corridor have been rehabbed and converted to condos.

Gay and Lesbian Community

An influx of gay and lesbian residents has recently moved into Edgewater, and the area now boasts one of the largest gay and lesbian populations in the United States. It shares that distinction with neighboring community areas of Lakeview, home of Boystown, and Rogers Park. Edgewater is home to the Gerber/Hart Library, the largest gay and lesbian library and archives in the midwestern United States.

International Community

Many of Edgewater’s newest residents are from Eastern Europe, particularly the former Yugoslavia. The area has a great density of Bosnian, Serb, and Croat residents. These people, troubled by civil war and tough conditions in their homeland, have been encouraged to settle in the area. Edgewater is also home to a large African community. Ethnic Ethiopians, newly independent Eritreans, and Nigerians, to name a few, live and socialize in Edgewater. The African community extends farther north into the Rogers Park and Loyola University areas. Walk the streets of Edgewater and one will mix with women in traditional African clothing and Serbian grandmothers strolling with their grandchildren while the middle generation is out making a living in the new world of Chicago.

Native Americans, former Yugoslavians, Africans, Vietnamese, Thai, young hipsters, new parents, first-time homeowners, students, and many more make their home in Edgewater. The average resident is beyond classification.

Edgewater Historical Society

A great place to learn more about the history of the Edgewater community is the Edgewater Historical Society. They’re open Saturdays from one until four in the afternoon. Visit their Web site for a calendar of upcoming events.

5358 N. Ashland Ave.
Chicago, IL 60640
(773) 506-4849
www.edgewaterhistory.org

Sulzer Regional Library of the Chicago Public Library

Since 1935, the Chicago Public Library and the Ravenswood-Lake View Historical Association have collected books, manuscripts, maps, newspapers, and ephemeral materials related to Chicago’s North Side neighborhoods, in particular the old Lake View township (approximately Fullerton north to Devon and Lake Michigan west to Western). It’s easy to spend an afternoon browsing through the collection, and well worth the visit.

4455 N. Lincoln Ave.
Chicago, IL 60625
(312) 744-7616 

Edgewater Branch of the Chicago Public Library

The Edgewater Branch has a small local history collection of Edgewater-related materials. Call ahead for current hours.

1210 W. Elmdale Ave.
Chicago, IL 60660
(312) 744-0718 

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