Aldine Square – Chicago, Cook County, IL
Aldine Square on Vincennes Avenue between 37th and 38th Streets (circa 1890).
Following the Great Fire that destroyed many properties in downtown Chicago, wealthy Chicagoans who had lived on Michigan Avenue and other downtown streets that were turned over to commerce moved farther south.
One of the areas that attracted them was Aldine Square, constructed in 1874 and located between 37th and 38th streets and bounded by Vincennes to the east and Eden (which no longer exists) to the west. Adolph Cudell, a recent German immigrant from Aachen, led the renowned Cudell and Blumenthal firm responsible for designing the square.
The development consisted of a series of uniform houses that faced a private park featuring magnificent elm trees and an artificial lake, lending it a distinctly European ambiance. Unfortunately, the charming houses and bosky square no longer exist.
In the late 1800s and early 1900s, Aldine Square was a highly sought-after residential area in the city, known for its impressive brick and limestone townhouses. At the time, this neighborhood was highly coveted by the city’s elite, including judges, lawyers, and members of high society. In fact, in 1877, the Chicago Tribune described Aldine Square as “the most charming of all the beautiful places of residence in the city.”
Unfortunately, Aldine Square met its demise in 1938 when it was demolished to make way for the now-defunct Ida B. Wells public housing project. Since then, this once-popular neighborhood has largely been forgotten. However, prior to its destruction, the federal government commissioned photographers Joseph Hill and Robert Tufts to capture images of Aldine Square. Taken between 1934 and 1936, these photographs provide a rare glimpse into the beauty of the area, even during its final days.
Displayed below is a westward-facing photograph that captures the entrance to Aldine Square, which was demarcated by two large stone pillars on Vincennes. There were 42 homes within the neighborhood, all with an Aldine Square address. Notably, famous ragtime musician Jelly Roll Morton resided at 545 Aldine in 1918.
As evidenced by the next photo, the homes in Aldine Square have certainly seen more prosperous days. The unassuming wooden footbridge in the foreground was actually a replacement for a more ornate original structure.
This particular angle provides a glimpse into the intricate architectural features and Victorian-era grandeur of the homes in Aldine Square:
What ultimately led to the decline of Aldine Square? As African American migrants from the southern United States began moving into the area in the 1920s, many of the white residents of Aldine Square and the surrounding neighborhoods chose to relocate elsewhere. The Chicago Tribune reported on this trend in a 1929 article that covered a neighborhood reunion hosted by Aldine Square’s original families. According to the article, the reunion was held in a downtown hotel by individuals who had “moved away from the path of the advancing Negro district.”
The “Negro district” that had sprung up in the area was characterized by a significant lack of quality housing options, and the ambitious Ida B. Wells public housing project was intended to remedy this issue. However, Aldine Square, although occupying only a small portion of the future public housing site, stood in the way of this progress.
After the demolition of the Ida B. Wells public housing project, new homes were constructed where Aldine Square once stood. However, it is interesting to consider what might have been if Aldine Square had been preserved. Had this been the case, the area would likely be designated as a landmark district and would be a valuable asset to the city of Chicago, much like other similarly-planned neighborhoods such as Groveland Park near 33rd and Cottage Grove or Madison Park just north of 51st Street between Woodlawn and Dorchester.