In 1927, a women’s clothing magnate purchased two properties on Chicago’s North Side, hoping to recreate the magic of the arts colonies he had visited in Montmarte, Paris. At the time, the area contained a mix of aging flats and townhomes with predominantly working class tenants.
But within two generations, the Old Town Triangle was among the wealthiest inner-city communities in the country, driven by a movement of middle-class professionals looking for the comfort of the suburbs with the proximity and cosmopolitanism of the city. And their wealth was rapidly spilling over into the broader Lincoln Park neighborhood that surrounded it.
The Battle of Lincoln Park tells the story of how people with clashing visions and values fought to determine the path “gentrification” would take before anyone was using that word. Calling on the power of private funds, public policy, moral appeals, and both nonviolent and violent protest, residents of Old Town and Lincoln Park struggled over the meaning of “desirable” homes, “neighborhood character,” and what kind of city Chicago should be. The outcomes set the tone for profound changes to the city that are still unfolding today.