A History of North Lawndale Homan Square
Since receiving its name in the 1870s, the West Side Chicago neighborhood of North Lawndale has been home to Czech immigrants, Russian and Eastern European Jews (it was once known as “Chicago’s Jerusalem”), and later, African Americans relocating from the city’s South to West Side. In 1917, future Israeli Prime Minister Golda Meir briefly lived in North Lawndale and worked at the local library. In 1966, Martin Luther King Jr. moved into the neighborhood and used it as the base for his Chicago Freedom Movement. Notably, North Lawndale was once the home of Sears, Roebuck and Co. In 1906, Sears opened a 40-acre mail-order plant and office complex in North Lawndale, which became the center of the neighborhood and its main employer until the company moved its headquarters to downtown Chicago in 1969. Starting in the 1960s, and especially after the closure of the Sears plant, residents have seen jobs steadily move to the suburbs, resulting in unemployment, poverty, and the housing stock’s physical deterioration.
Over the past two decades, North Lawndale has mobilized with drive and vision to build a safer and more connected neighborhood at the center of the former Sears, Roebuck and Co. campus—an area that has come to be known as Homan Square. The Foundation for Homan Square has been guiding the redevelopment. Since its founding in 1995, the Foundation and its partners have overseen the building of 350 new housing units, a school and technology center, a child development center, and a community center that includes recreational, health, and social services facilities and receives more than 5,000 visits each month.
The initiative to revitalize Homan Square harnessed the energy and assets already in the community, fostered collaborations among area residents and organizations, and supported innovation that improved the lives of those who live there. The Foundation for Homan Square has been so successful because it has been open to the voices of the community and has used them to enlarge the civic fabric of Chicago through creative participation and dialogue. We use it as a model in developing our own programs.
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