The Hollywood Park neighborhood on Chicago’s Far North Side has a lot of things going for it, but clear-cut borders aren’t one of them. When I asked 10 former residents of Hollywood Park to recall the boundaries of the neighborhood, I expected a few different answers. What I got was seven different versions of Hollywood Park. Here they are:
- “I have no idea what the ‘official’ boundaries are, but to my childhood mind they were probably Peterson to the north, Central Park to the west, Bryn Mawr to the South and Kedzie (Jersey) to the east.”
- “Foster to Lincoln and Kedzie to Pulaski”
- Peterson to the north, Kedzie (Jersey) to the east, Kimball to the west, and Bryn Mawr to the south”
- “The river on the east; Pulaski to the west, Devon to the north and Bryn Mawr to the south”
- “In no specific order and more feeling/memory-wise than strict geography: Peterson/Pulaski intersection, Lincoln Village shopping center, Peterson school/Christiana Ave., Jersey Ave.”
- “Peterson, Kedzie, Foster, Pulaski”
- “Hollywood Park to Von Steuben, Kedzie to Central Park”
- “I would say Foster Avenue on the south, Pulaski Road on the west, Califoria Avenue on the east, and Devon Avenue on the north.”
There’s no right answer. And that’s true for just about every Chicago neighborhood.
The official version
In the late 1920s the University of Chicago identified 75 communities in the city and two more were later added. The community designation is used for the census and some municipal functions.
Hollywood Park was one of several neighborhoods included in the North Park community, but it’s the only one of the bunch that routinely gets called North Park instead of its actual name. Not that it matters. Neighborhoods themselves have no official designation or purpose and they’re always changing.
What we learned in school
Back in the day, Chicago children acquired an early, strong sense of their neighborhood’s borders because they didn’t have to venture outside them to attend school. In Hollywood Park the connection between school and neighborhood was particularly strong. The elementary school and high school were on the same street, Kimball Avenue, just five blocks apart.
On the northern and southern edges of Hollywood Park, however, neighborhood and school boundaries didn’t quite line up. Some survey responses corrected these border discrepancies by extending Hollywood Park neighborhood boundaries to match up with the boundaries for the local elementary school, Peterson.
A street with two names
Hollywood Park suffers another conceptual difficulty on its eastern border. For nearly 23 miles in Chicago, the north-south street at 3200 West is Kedzie. Except in Hollywood Park, where 3200 West is Jersey Avenue.
The mystery behind this street name is on my list of things to look up, but I do know this: a street with two names might as well be a street with no name in the minds of people who aren’t all that familiar with the area.
Why choose–have both
In the beginning, there was North Park. When it was founded in the 1890s by a group of Swedish immigrants, Hollywood Park had not yet appeared in the dreams of real estate developer Oliver Salinger.
At one time the two communities must have seemed distinctive, Swedish North Park and Jewish Hollywood Park. One survey participant who attended Peterson School wrote:
“We referred to our neighborhood as North Park. I was vaguely aware of there being a Hollywood Park region nearby but I don’t think I ever had a concept of where it was, just that kids who lived there attended Peterson School with me.”
In the mid-1960s and later, most residents probably still thought of Hollywood Park and North Park as separate communities, but as demographics changed the boundary between them became less meaningful. The solution has been to combine the two. On the 39th ward website, for example, the community is called Hollywood Park/North Park. Another example is the Hollywood Park-North Park Community Association.
What does it mean when people who lived in a community disagree on its boundaries? Do blurry boundaries weaken a neighborhood’s identity? Do they have an economic as well as a social impact on a community?
One indication of the importance of borders to neighborhoods are Chicago’s neighborhood gateway structures. A stylized Puerto Rican flag arches across Division on the road to Humboldt Park, architectural columns welcome visitors to Greek Town and rainbow pillars mark the threshhold of Boystown.
Imagine if the city had built a gateway to Hollywood Park-North Park back in the 1960s. Where would they have put it? And what would it have looked like?
Sources: This series of posts is based on my reading of Kevin Lynch’s, The Image of the City.