Välkommen to My Old Neighborhood


A few weeks ago I told you I grew up in what amounted to a shtetl, an Old World Jewish town, on Chicago’s Far North Side. That’s not quite the whole story. A single point of origin never is the whole story for one of the city’s ever-evolving ethnic neighborhoods.

In the sixties my neighborhood, Hollywood Park, was predominantly Jewish but it also had a good number of Scandinavian, specifically Swedish and Norwegian, families. Danny Miller, another former Hollywood Park resident and one of the bloggers who inspires me, humorously recalls a battle between Swedes and Jews during the annual Christmas carolling at our elementary school.

There’s no doubt, however, the Swedes were there first. During the latter half of the 1800s the entire community was under Swedish rule. Horticulturalist Pehr S. Peterson owned 496 acres of what is now called North Park, an area the City of Chicago annexed in 1889. If it seems as though I’m using “Hollywood Park” and “North Park” interchangeably, I’m not. The official explanation is Chicago has well-defined communities and less well-defined neighborhoods within those communities. I didn’t know about communities growing up, but I knew neighborhoods and their boundaries.

In 1910 Chicago was home to more than 63,000 Swedish immigrants and Pehr S. Peterson was one of the best known Chicago Swedes. He and his family generously gave back to their adopted city, earmarking land gifts to the city for the Municipal Tuberculosis Sanitarium and for the neighborhood’s elementary school, named for Peterson’s wife Mary Gage Peterson. Peterson also gave the city a statue of Swedish botanist Carl von Linneaus that was first located in Lincoln Park and later moved to the University of Chicago campus. The family well deserves the honor of having one of the city’s major streets, an elementary school and a large public park named for them.


Built in 1894, Old Main was the first building on the campus of North Park University in Chicago.

Danny Miller’s grade school experiences notwithstanding, deep in the Swedish heart of North Park–Foster Avenue, where Swedish Convenant Hospital, North Park College and the Sweden Shop are located–the Jewish population was welcomed. At one time the bells of North Park College chimed “Sholem Aleichem” at sunset on Friday evenings to honor the community’s celebration of the Sabbath. (The Jews of Chicago, Irving Cutler, p. 238-239.)

UPDATE: “Back in the 1960s, when Douglas Cedarleaf was pastor at North Park Covenant Church in Chicago, the congregation used to go caroling in the neighborhood, led by a brass ensemble. We included “Mazur Tsur,” a Hannukah song known as “Rock of Ages” in English, as a nod to our Jewish neighbors.” — Juli Lundell Tarsney

How about your neighborhood? Did an unlikely combination of ethnic groups end up in the same place at the same time?

Next week: How my neighborhood’s Scandinavian heritage touched my life. In the meantime,  Tre Kronor is a Scandinavian-influenced restaurant across the street from Old Main on Foster Avenue. It’s a fine place and a good reason to visit my old neighborhood.

Hej då!

, , , , , , , ,

15 Responses to Välkommen to My Old Neighborhood

  1. Dave April 5, 2010 at 10:47 am #

    If you continue with all of this wonderful neighborhood writing, the next thing will have to be a book on the history of Albany PK -Hollywood Park – Peterson Pk.
    Also, I recall a drug store with a soda fountain at the northeast corner of Foster and Kimball. It was a Von hang out and I wonder if anyone can recall the name.

  2. Danny April 5, 2010 at 2:22 pm #

    Wow, now that you mention it, North Park College playing “Shalom Aleichem” really rings a bell (gulp–pun intended?). I always loved our neighborhood’s unique blend of Swedes and Jews (with a soupçon of Greeks and a few other groups thrown in). At the time I never stopped to think about Mary Gage Peterson herself but researched her a few years ago for my blog and was fascinated to discover what a staunch conservationist she was, meeting several times with Theodore Roosevelt to discuss how best to preserve our nation’s forests.

    Oh, and my essay about Christmas was a bit tongue-in-cheek, I never felt any animosity between the Jews and Swedes. I had a big crush on half the Swedish girls in our class…

  3. frances728 April 5, 2010 at 3:09 pm #

    The drugstore was Zfaney’s, name courtesy of Marshall Kravitz via Facebook.

  4. Dave April 5, 2010 at 3:35 pm #

    This is another in your series of wonderful community history pieces. The info on the bells of North Pk College and the impact of the Swedish immigrants on the settlement of the area are the “inside baseball” facts that I most enjoy.
    Also, although I didn’t attend Von, I remember a drug store/ soda fountain high school student hangout on the northeast corner of Foster and Kimball. Can anyone recall the name of that store?

  5. Bonnie McGrath April 5, 2010 at 8:20 pm #

    so funny that we were just talking about the old swedish neighborhood to the east of hollywood park. maybe at one time all one swedish neighborhood from east to west.. and btw, i have been wanting to try tre kronor for ages!! you reminded me once again i must get over there!

  6. Carol Barstow April 6, 2010 at 2:38 pm #

    I remember that to be truly fashionable at Von, you had to have clogs from the Sweden Shop. 🙂

  7. frances728 April 6, 2010 at 5:17 pm #

    Oh, those Swedish clogs. I could write a blog post about them.

  8. Joan Chandler April 7, 2010 at 9:21 am #

    I live just a few block from the Swedish Museum. That stretch of Clark Street has gone a little trendy, but there’s still lots of stores that have been there for ages. Besides Ann Sather’s, there’s Svea, and Simon’s Bar.

    My friend Camille, who is Swedish, is big into tracing her ancestors. Not content with finding the ones who live here in the States, she went back to Sweden with her brother after contacting family members. The connections go back to the 1700’s. Some 150 of them came from all over the country to celebrate Camille’s return. There’s a TV show like this now. It’s fascinating.
    Joan Chandler
    I blog at web.me.com/joanchandler

  9. frances728 April 7, 2010 at 9:40 am #

    Thanks, Joan. See Bonnie’s comment, wondering whether the North Park and Andersonville neighborhoods were once one continuous Swedish enclave. Anyone know?

  10. Dave April 7, 2010 at 3:05 pm #

    You may have something. Just west of Andersonville at Foster and Damen sits Amundsen ( Norwegian explorer) High School and continuing westbound at California Ave is the Swedish Covenant Hospital. It appears that back in the day there was continuity in the neighborhoods. In the mix would have been large numbers of German ethnics near Western Ave.

  11. frances728 April 7, 2010 at 3:42 pm #

    Amundsen, the missing link! I wonder if there might have been a clear-cut boundary between the German and Swedish areas. Thanks, and look for an update in the future.

  12. East Portland Blog July 20, 2010 at 1:18 am #

    Thanks Francis. Love your stuff. Posted a link to this entry and some others on my blog:


  13. Frances Archer July 20, 2010 at 7:15 am #

    Thank you. Looking forward to exploring your blog as well.

  14. Gregory Sager July 20, 2010 at 10:01 am #

    There was no geographic/ethnic continuity between the Swedish neighborhoods of North Park and Andersonville. In between them was (and is) the community of Ravenswood, in particular the Ravenswood neighborhoods of Budlong Woods and Bowmanville. Both of those neighborhoods, like most of Ravenswood, were predominantly German, with a later influx of Greeks after World War One.

    Andersonville was largely settled by Swedes who moved north from the old Swedish neighborhood of Lake View, to the west and south of Wrigley Field (that’s why the original Ann Sather is located on Belmont four blocks south of the ballpark). North Park was a farming community thinly populated by Swedes who moved there directly from the old country.

    Incidentally, the school formerly known as North Park College (which is my alma mater) is now North Park University. It changed its name in the mid-’90s, in part because the large number of Scandinavian and Korean students who matriculate there (Chicago’s Koreatown is on the south edge of the campus, in the Albany Park neighborhood) come from educational systems in which a “college” is actually a high school, rendering a “North Park College’ diploma of dubious use in their home countries.

  15. Frances Archer July 20, 2010 at 10:57 am #

    After writing the post I did discover that the Andersonville and North Park communities developed separately and it was interesting to read of the original plans for the North Park community. The school has proven very adaptable to the pattern of changing neighborhoods of Chicago.

Powered by WordPress. Designed by WooThemes