Written by Paul Norrington
K-Town - so named because of a 1913 street-naming plan in which all north-south streets were named alphabetically in one-mile groups, starting at the Indiana border - is tucked in the far southwest corner of Chicago's North Lawndale neighborhood. K-Town was built by Czechoslovakian immigrants in the late 1890s and early 1900s, and was home to many employees of the nearby Western Electric Plant. (Tragically, many of those original residents died while on a company-sponsored yearly outing on the SS Eastland, a passenger ship that capsized in the Chicago River, killing 844 passengers and members of the crew.)
In the late 1950s and early 60s, many working and middle-class blacks bought homes in K-Town and immediately formed block clubs. These block clubs not only stabilized the community, but also improved it while maintaining its character. However, with a limited availability of credit and insurance during this time, reinvestment in the neighborhood declined. Many middle-class black families and businesses moved out of North Lawndale, leaving only a few low-paying jobs for those who remained in the community. All this, plus poor urban planning practices, increased drug activity, and under-performing schools caused a shift in economic demographics, threatening the integrity of the neighborhood.
Fast forward to 2008. Charles Leeks, director of Neighborhood Housing Services’ local office, recognized the unique character of K-Town and commissioned a study of the area’s historic resources. The study resulted in K-Town’s placement in the National Register of Historic Places on September 9, 2010.
Author Paul Norrington and Mike Jackson of the Illinois Historic Preservation Agency proudly display the certificate for K-Town’s listing on the National Register of Historic Places. (Photo: Neighborhood Housing Services of Chicago, 2010)
Following this listing, some area block club presidents came together to decide how this designation could best be used to help bring positive change to the neighborhood. It was quickly determined that one of the factors that leads to urban decay is the perception by outside investors that an area is not worthy of investment. We immediately moved to make K-Town known as a stable and desirable community in which to live. One of those efforts was proposing a city council resolution, acknowledging the unique character and desirability of K-Town.
While the Chicago City Council adopts many resolutions, it typically only reads them on the floor for police and fire department resolutions. On November 2, 2011, with the help of our alderman, Michael Chandler, the city council not only adopted our resolution but also read it on the floor.
This is a great boost in our efforts to get businesses and people to take a second look at our community. In the process, we got our alderman to take a second look at our community and see the benefits of working together toward a common revitalization goal: to bring new families and businesses to our area - and with them, a prosperity that can benefit all of North Lawndale.
Paul Norrington is a K-town native. He is currently the president of his block club; vice-president of the K-Town Historic District Committee; and a board member of two community-based non-profit organizations. After serving 30 years on the police force, Paul looks forward to retiring later this year to devote more time to community work.
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