Little Italy June 14, 2024
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Little Italy, occasionally merged with University Village to form a single neighborhood, can be found on the Near West Side of Chicago, Illinois. Its current boundaries are defined by Ashland Avenue to the west, Interstate 90/94 to the east, the northern limit being the Eisenhower Expressway, and the southern boundary extending to Roosevelt. Positioned between the eastern side of the University of Illinois at Chicago campus in the Illinois Medical District and the western side of the University of Illinois at Chicago campus, this community once had a predominantly Italian immigrant population. However, over time, it has evolved into a diverse neighborhood, characterized by various ethnicities and socio-economic backgrounds, shaped by immigration, urban revitalization, gentrification, and the growth of the resident student and faculty population at the University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC). While its Italian-American heritage is most evident in the Italian-American restaurants that used to line Taylor Street, the neighborhood is also home to the National Italian American Sports Hall of Fame, as well as historic Roman Catholic churches including Our Lady of Pompeii, Notre Dame de Chicago, and Holy Family.

The recent history of this neighborhood is marked by waves of urban renewal, commencing with the construction of expressways in the 1950s, the establishment of UIC in the 1960s, the demolition of public housing in the 1990s and 2000s, and the redevelopment of Maxwell Street in the 2000s. These changes have contributed to rising housing prices in the area.


While the Chicago metropolitan area boasts several Italian-American communities, Taylor Street emerged as the central hub for Italian American immigrants in Chicago, earning it the title of "Little Italy." Situated within the larger community area of Chicago's Near West Side, the neighborhood was a melting pot of various immigrant groups during the mass European migration at the dawn of the 20th century, including Italians, Greeks, and Jews. As time passed, other ethnicities gradually relocated out of the neighborhood, leaving behind a vibrant Italian-American enclave.

Despite the presence of other ethnic groups, "Little Italy" derived its name from the dominant influence of Italians and Italian culture throughout the 19th and 20th centuries. While the Italian population reached its peak in the 1950s and '60s, it began to decline after the decision to build the University of Illinois in the area was finalized in 1963. Nevertheless, remnants of the Italian heritage can still be found in the form of several Italian restaurants and businesses along the once-prominent Taylor Street corridor.

The Italian immigration to Chicago commenced in the 1850s in small numbers and steadily grew. By 1880, there were 1,357 Italians in the city, and by the 1920s, Italian cuisine had become one of the most popular ethnic cuisines in America, giving rise to numerous successful bakeries and restaurants, some of which have continued to influence the Chicago dining scene to this day. In 1927, Italians owned 500 grocery stores, 257 restaurants, 240 pastry shops, and numerous other food-related businesses concentrated in Italian neighborhoods throughout the city.

Italian immigration to Chicago continued to increase throughout the late 19th century and into the early 20th century. The Italian population in Chicago reached 16,008 in 1900 and peaked at 73,960 in 1930. While the Taylor Street area was the primary settlement, there were also 20 other significant Italian enclaves in both the city and suburbs. Notably, this was the home of the Genna crime family.