Albany Park Neighborhood Part of Colorful Chicago History

One of Chicago's 77 designated "community areas'', Albany Park sits in the north central portion of the city and has been dubbed one of the most ethnically diverse regions in the United States.

The area that is now Albany Park began with the purchase of 10 acres by entrepreneur Richard Rusk in 1868. Rusk opened a horse racing track there, which attracted city-dwellers to the area. They'd come to enjoy not only the sport but also the country-like setting they found near Rusk's property. The area continued to grow in popularity with city residents and was eventually annexed by the city in 1889, becoming part of Jefferson Township.

In 1893, four wealthy and well-known Chicagoans purchased more than 600 acres near the Rusk tract and eventually brought transportation lines to the area. The four men, streetcar entrepreneur DeLancy Louderback, Illinois Trust and Savings Bank founder John Mitchell, Northwestern Elevated Railroad owner Clarence Buckingham, and transportation magnate Charles T. Yerkes, decided to call the area Albany Park, naming it in honor of Louderback's hometown of Albany, NY.

The act of bringing public transportation to the area had a huge impact on Albany Park's commercial and residential growth. Streetcars came into the community around 1896 and the Ravenswood Elevated Train had reached Albany Park by 1907. In addition, streets were widened and straightened. This initiated a building boom that included not only numerous new homes but also large department stores, small shops, and entertainment venues, such as theaters. More than 7,000 people lived in Albany Park at the time of the 1910 census. Twenty years later, the community's population had increased more than seven-fold to 55,000.

In the early years of the twentieth century, Albany Park became a haven for immigrants hoping to make a home and a living in the city. Germans and Swedes were the first to arrive, followed by large numbers of Russian Jews. Throughout World War II, Chicago's Albany Park was largely known as a Jewish neighborhood, home to numerous synagogues serving the population's religious needs.

However, the years after World War II brought declining population to the area as many of the Jewish families moved to the suburbs. Throughout the 50s, 60s, and 70s, the community saw a marked decline in property values, and by the mid-70s, many homes and commercial locations stood empty and became dilapidated, attracting drug dealers and other unsavory characters to the area.

Finally, in 1978, the city government along with the North River Commission and the Lawrence Avenue Development Corporation intervened in an attempt to revitalize the area. Thanks to its Facade Rebate Program, property values continued to increase throughout the 1980s and 1990s.

Today, Albany Park has once again become a popular entry port for immigrants, this time from Asia and Latin America as well as the parts of Eastern Europe and the Middle East. The neighborhood is often referred to as the "Koreatown'' of Chicago; however, many shops and restaurants featuring a wide variety of other ethnic specialties have sprung up there, especially in the last decade. As a result of the large numbers of immigrants, the Chicago Public Schools estimates that approximately 40 languages are spoken in Albany Park's schools.

The community of Albany Park is also well-known for its strong Democratic tendencies. Election results in the 2004 presidential election show nearly 98 percent of the voters in Albany Park precincts casting their vote for the Democratic candidate.

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