Thursday, December 29, 2011

My Childhood Neighborhood in NW Chicago

Used by permission of subject

From 1945 to 1955, I lived with my parents and siblings in a Veterans’ Housing Project in northwest Chicago, IL on land that belonged to the Forest Preserve. I remember just a few things about the Project: chalky white, one-story houses with pitched roofs, quiet streets where a child could ride a tricycle, and long towers of hollyhocks in the summer.
By 1955, the government told the veterans that they would need to find other housing as the Project was to be closed.

My parents began looking for housing in the city of Chicago where they had both been born and grew up. But the only apartments they could afford (my father was a semi-skilled laborer) were cold-water flats in poor, crime-ridden neighborhoods.

A friend told my father that in Tucson, AZ one could buy a house on the G.I. Bill for $5,000! Well, that was all it took for my parents to pack us up and leave what had been our families’ home for four generations. Off we went to AZ but that is another story.

All my life I have wondered about my first and only Chicago neighborhood. I had done some google searching on the topic but nothing much had come up until this month – Dec 2011. I struck gold!
Lee Bey, a native Chicagoan, is a writer, photographer, architecture critic, and blogger. My search brought up his blog posting from Feb 2, 2011. The subject was a vanished Chicago neighborhood which just happened to be my long-lost Project!

Mr. Bey writes about a man, Michael Delarosa who lived in the area that once was the Project in the 1970s. Michael wanted to find out what the neighborhood had looked like over the last 70 years. He used the website Historic Aerials to find aerial photographs showing the Project when it was first built in 1945. And then another photograph in 1962 showed that the neighborhood of veterans’ homes was gone.

From Mr. Bey’s blog posting, I found out for the first time that my neighborhood was called Sauganash Homes. Sauganash was the Indian name given to Thomas “Billy” Caldwell, who was born in 1780 to a Mohawk woman and an Irishman. As a reward for his work as a translator and emissary between the Indians and the US government, Billy was given some land in Chicago by the federal government. Part of this land was to become the Sauganash Homes.

As the fourth generation of their families in Chicago, my father and mother broke that chain of residency in that great city when the Sauganash Homes’ closing left them without affordable housing. I was only ten years old, but I had already become enamored with my home city. I was looking forward to riding the buses by myself. But that was not to be. After 1955, I never again lived in Chicago.

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