Mapping the image of a Chicago neighborhood
I could chart on a map the answers to the first two questions in my survey of people who grew up in Hollywood Park during the fiftes, sixties and seventies. You’d see seven different versions of the neighborhood boundaries and locations of landmarks.
Surprisingly, that would make a pretty accurate image of the geography of the neighborhood today. The grid of one-way streets, the park, McDonald’s, Peterson School, and Congregation Shaare Tikvah–they’re all still there.
Oh, sure, storefront signs along Bryn Mawr Avenue are different, but with a few exceptions the physical landscape of this Chicago neighborhood hasn’t changed in fifty years. You can’t say that about many Chicago neighborhoods.
The image of a neighborhood in memory
With the three final questions of the survey, however, we leave behind geography and enter the realm of memory. The third and fourth questions evoked responses you can’t see on a map. Unlike borders and landmarks, these images are more strongly connected with feelings and experiences.
The third survey question:
What was the most pleasant part of Hollywood Park?
- “As a kid I mostly knew from my own block (Drake Avenue) which I thought was beautiful”
- “Call me biased but I think our stretch of Central Park between Peterson and Bryn Mawr was the most pleasant part … There was just something about the cute little bungalows, the beautiful “palatial’ corner homes, all in the shadow of the trees and grass and quiet of the Municipal Tuberculosis Sanitarium that made me love walking around.”
- “Down the alley from our house there was a vacant lot with a crabapple tree a five-year-old could climb. I would say this was the most pleasant place I remember. It was at the corner of Kedzie and Berwyn and is now a block of apartments.”
- “My parents’ house; they still live there.”
- “Before Dutch elm disease destroyed the trees, all the canopied streets were surely a pleasant feature.”
- “Our street”
- “My block”
- “Where we lived on Sawyer”
- “Everything about the neighborhood was pleasant. I loved just hanging out on our street with the neighborhood kids. It was so peaceful and pretty and safe feeling.”
To be fair, a few people mentioned spots you can see on a map, including by the river (North Shore Channel east of Jersey) and the park. But everyone naming their own streets as the most pleasant part of Hollywood Park? That sounds like pleasant memories as much as pleasant landscapes.
And just how pleasant was Hollywood Park?
Here’s the fourth question:
What was the least attractive part of the neighborhood?
This group was hard-pressed to come up with answers to this one; the worst anyone recalled were alleys on garbage days or behind restaurants.
The final survey question:
What words describe Hollywood Park as you remember it?
- “Close-knit, safe, green, fun, small town-ish, Jewish/Scandinavian”
- “Nice, middle class and mostly Jewish”
- “Exciting, mysterious and comforting”
- “Peaceful, tranquil and safe”
- “Friendly, middle class, everyone knew each other, many of us were the first in our family to go to college, shared values. We went to the park every single night of the summer, getting home just in time for the 10 pm citywide curfew.”
- “Friendly, safe, clean, happening.”
- “Beautiful, diverse, distinctive, relaxing and stimulating, all at the same time.”
- “Homey, quiet, gang-free, easy”
- “Safe, peaceful, friendly, neighborly, fun, pretty, green. Of course, the park. I went there almost every day starting in sixth grade.”
- “Almost surburban, yet urban”
- “An old-fashioned family-oriented neighborhood. Everything was within walking distance. Friends always congregated at my house. We lived one block from the park, which was every kid’s social life. We rarely left the neighborhood. Everything was there in our little community.”
This survey of course proves nothing. The sampling was way too small, the subject way too complex. I can’t tell you why Hollywood Park failed to achieve the ranks of legendary Chicago neighborhoods, or why it sometimes seems to be on the verge of being swallowed up by North Park.
But, if you wanted to know what it was like to live in a city neighborhood that was leafy and lively and distinctive and memorable and thought of itself as a community, then maybe that question was answered.
Credits: All photographs courtesy of Picturing Chicago.
Thanks to those who participated in the survey.