Bronzeville Historic Buildings

sights / Other

Lonely Planet review

Once home to Louis Armstrong and other notables, Bronzeville thrived as the vibrant center of black life in the city from 1920 to 1950, boasting an economic and cultural strength akin to New York’s Harlem. Shifting populations, urban decay and the construction of a wall of public housing along State St led to Bronzeville’s decline. In the last decade it started its comeback. Many young urban professionals have moved back to the neighborhood, and South Loop development stretches almost all the way here. Still, be careful at night; it’s not a good place to be walking around after dark.

Examples of stylish architecture from the past can be found throughout Bronzeville, but some of the buildings are in miserable shape and aren’t worthy of more than an inspection of the exterior. You can see some fine homes along two blocks of Calumet Ave between 31st and 33rd Sts, an area known as ‘the Gap.’ The buildings here include Frank Lloyd Wright’s only row houses, the Robert W Roloson Houses .

One of scores of Romanesque houses that date from the 1880s, the Ida B Wells House is named for its 1920s resident. Wells was a crusading journalist who investigated lynchings and other racially motivated crimes. She coined the line: ‘Eternal vigilance is the price of liberty.’

Gospel music got its start at Pilgrim Baptist Church , originally built as a synagogue from 1890 to 1891. Unfortunately, the opulent structure burned to the ground (barring these few exterior walls) in 2006 when a roof repairman lost control of his blowtorch. Gospel fans can make a pilgrimage to two more places further south where the music still soars on Sunday. The Greater Salem Missionary Baptist Church is where gospel great Mahalia Jackson was a lifelong member. Still further south, modern Salem Baptist Church boasts one of the city’s top choral ensembles, and is helmed by the charismatic state senator Reverend James Meeks.

The Supreme Life Building , a 1930s office building, was the spot where John H Johnson Jr, the publishing mogul who founded Ebony magazine, got the idea for his empire, which includes Jet and other important titles serving African Americans. There’s a little neighborhood visitors center that sells old albums and trinkets behind the bank here; enter from 35th St.

In the median at 35th St and Martin Luther King Jr Dr, the Victory Monument was erected in 1928 in honor of the black soldiers who fought in WWI. The figures include a soldier, a mother and Columbia, the mythical figure meant to symbolize the New World.