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The South Loop suffered from the urban decay prevalent in most major cities during the 60s and 70s. It was once one of the city’s skid rows, with flophouses, ugly buildings, and low-income housing.
Urban renewal and gentrification came late to the South Loop, compared to the other downtown neighborhoods.
And frankly, low income and lower-middle-class residents who made up the population of the South Loop at that time wasn’t too happy with the gentrification of the neighborhood.
Re-development of the South Loop meant rent increase and the end of low-income housing in the area. Several coalitions were formed to oppose and slow up the re-development of the South Loop. It worked for a time.
It wasn’t until 1995 when then Mayor of Chicago Richard M Daley, decide to move from the Chicago neighborhood of Bridgeport to the slowly re-developing South Loop that things changed for the South Loop Chicago neighborhood.
Then the recession hit, and the bottom fell out of the real estate market. Since the South Loop was still re-developing, it suffered a big economic hit during the recession of 2012. A lot of new properties had massive vacancies, and significant real estate projects were scrapped.
But now South Loop Chicago is HOT and, to be honest, not as appreciated as the other downtown neighborhoods. The neighborhood is a lovely hidden gem worth exploring when visiting Chicago.
Where is the South Loop
When I moved to Chicago in the late 80s, the South Loop neighborhood ended at Roosevelt Road to the south and what is now Clark Street to the West.
However, due to the South Loop redevelopment and expansion, the south end of the boundary extends to 18th street; Canal to the West and east edge extends to Lake Shore Drive.
But like most neighborhood boundaries in Chicago, it is hotly debated and dependent upon whom you speak to. Some folks will argue that the South Loop extends to Cermak Road (2100 South) near the McCormick Place.
Exploring the South Loop
The South Loop was a forgotten neighborhood. It is exciting to see it experiencing a rebirth as more and more people discover this part of downtown.
The South Loop is a gorgeous residential area. It is supported by several parks such as Grant Park, Dearborn Park, Jones Park, and Roosevelt Park.
Expect more of a traditional neighborhood vibe, especially as you move southward toward 18th Street. Exploring the South Loop on foot is the best way to get to know this neighborhood.
Notable areas in the South Loop are Printer’s Row and the Museum Campus (includes Soldier’s Field, where the Chicago Bears play).
There are plenty of neighborhood restaurants, bars, and clubs specializing in blues and jazz.
The architecture of the South Loop
History and architectural buffs will love learning about the South Loop influential past. The South Loop was the home of captains of industry and the rich long before Chicago’s Gold Coast neighborhood. A few of their mansions are still standing in what is known as “Millionaire’s Row on Prairie Avenue.
Printer’s Row, now mostly residential, use to be the Midwest hub for the printing and publishing industry. The area is located between Congress Parkway and Polk Street in the South Loop. Many of the buildings located on Printer’s Row were designed by famous architects such as Daniel Burnham and William Holabird, to name a few. It is a cute little area of the South Loop worth exploring.
I recommend checking out the Chicago Architecture Center’s “Vice to Nice: Transformation of the South Loop.” Click here for more information on this walking tour, click here. This tour is seasonal; not held year-round.
8 Cool things to do in the South Loop
1. Jazz Showcase (806 South Plymouth Court) – has hosted many famous jazz musicians such as Dizzy Gillespie, Count Basie, George Benson, and others over the years. It is the oldest Jazz club in Chicago.
For more information on who’s playing, click here.
2. Buddy Guy’s Legend (700 South Wabash Avenue) – blues club owned by Buddy Guy himself (performs a month of shows in January of every year), Legends is legendary internationally. It has hosted several famous musicians, including the Rolling Stones.
For more information on who’s performing, click here.
3. Museum Campus (1400 South Lakeshore Drive) – a 57-acre park where the Adler Planetarium, Shedd Aquarium, the Field Museum of Natural History, and Soldier’s Field are located. Click on each link for more information on exhibits and hours of operation.
Looking for the most affordable way to check out several Chicago’s attractions? Check out the Chicago Explorer’s Pass! Create your itinerary. For more information, click here.
4. Glessner House Museum (1800 South Prairie Avenue) – designed by American architect Henry Hobson Richardson and completed in 1887. The Glessner House is internationally known and has inspired many architects such as Frank Lloyd Wright and Louis Sullivan.
For tour times and ticket prices, click here.
5. Clark House Museum (1827 South Indiana Avenue) – The Clark House is the oldest house in Chicago. It was built in 1836, before the Civil War and before Chicago officially became incorporated. Learn about how life was for families back then by attending a FREE tour of Clark House.
For more information, click here.
6. Check out a Bear’s Game at Soldier’s Field (1410 South Museum Campus Drive) – There are not many of the old-time stadiums left in the United States, so Soldier’s Field is exceptional! The Bears have been playing here since 1971 (previously played at another great old-time stadium – Wrigley Field). If you’re in town during Bears season, try to catch a game – there’s not like it!
For more information on events held at Soldier’s Field, click here.
7. Go to the beach at 12th Street (1200 South Linn White Drive) – located just south of Adler Planetarium on Northerly Island. The beach dates back to the 1920s and has a beach house and bike/walk path. During the summer, it’s a fantastic way to catch a beautiful breeze downtown when it’s hot out.
8. Check out Printer’s Row Lit Fest (Dearborn Street near Dearborn Station, June 6-7, 2020) – the Printer’s Row Lit Fest is the largest outdoor literary event in the Midwest. If you’re a book worm, you don’t want to miss this community-based event. The festival showcases books from over 100 different booksellers.
For more information, click here.
Where to stay in the South Loop
Whether it be either hotel, Airbnb, or hostel, there are fantastic choices for accommodations in the South Loop. The South Loop is mainly residential, so it is a great area to score amazing digs from Airbnb.
But there are lovely hotels in this area as well, such as the Chicago Hilton at 720 South Michigan Avenue and the Hotel Blake (500 South Dearborn) on Printer’s Row.
Is it safe in the South Loop
The South Loop has come a long way from its checkered past. You will see people out and about enjoying themselves at all times of the day and night. Like most of downtown, it’s relatively safe, but you still need to do your part by not making yourself a target for crime.
A visitor to the South Loop should treat this city like any other metropolitan oasis – with some common sense. Stick to well-lit streets when going out at night and no taking short cuts through alleys.
The South Loop is patroled by the Chicago Police Department and is excellent at keeping the downtown area safe.
Where to eat in the South Loop
1. Lou Malnati (805 South State) – Pizza
2. Harold’s Chicken Shack (612 South Wabash) – Fried Chicken
3. Devil Dawgs on State (767 South State Street) – Hot dogs and Polish
4. Yolk South Loop (1120 South Michigan Avenue) – Breakfast
5. Chicago Firehouse Restaurant (1401 South Michigan) – American
The South Loop is a beautiful residential neighborhood. It was once a forgotten area of downtown but is now experiencing an exciting rebirth as more and more people discover what it has to offer.
Be prepared to be enchanted by the South Loop neighborhood with its rich history, astounding architecture and musical roots. It is a lovely hidden gem worth exploring when visiting Chicago.
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