CommunityWhen talking to local businesses and residents about how to accurately describe the area, words that jump to the top of the list are diverse, exciting, dynamic and evolving.
The Westside of Evanston is the historic African-American community of Evanston. Pre-dating the Civil War, this community has remained stable for over 100 years. It is common to find families that have lived here for five generations. In the beginning, most of the families were employed as domestic servants or manual laborers until the opening of light manufacturing on Evanston's west side, which drew its workforce both from African Americans and Polish immigrants. By the 1960s Evanston's African American population had become largely concentrated in the city's west and south-central neighborhoods.
In the 1970s and 80s, this was a thriving community that had its barbeque restaurants, pool halls, and a fish market. Long time residents will remember Norm’s grocery store and the Monticello malt shop. It was a busy and community oriented neighborhood where everyone watched out for one another and everyone’s parents watched out for one another’s kids. Activities abounded in the parks, the basketball courts were always full and pick up baseball games were prevalent. There was a sense of pride of community and neighborhood.
The beautiful part of the history of this community is that it originated as a community of servant families in the late 1800s and early 1900s which has turned into an independent viable educated community. Entrepreneurship began as early as the late 1890s with the Butler family, who owned a livery and founded the Butler Memorial Hospital, a precursor to Community Hospital. The strong sense of entrepreneurship brings up other names, such as Dr. Hill, who founded Community Hospital because the existing Evanston Hospital did not treat African-Americans, and the Robinson Family, who started off with a small taxi company, turning it into Robinson Bus Company, which went on to employ numerous Westside residents.
But the history of the area has ranged from thriving to destitute. The area is currently entering a period of resurrection, the most recent evidence being the opening of Strange Lofts at Darrow and Church a few years ago, and continues with the 2007 opening of Boocoo, which is a new cultural center for the Westside, a Greek restaurant, a beauty salon and a photography studio. It is a community that is bound to its history while preparing for its exciting the future.
The business community is maturing, a mix of new establishments and older establishments that have been here for decades. Concentrated in a small area you will find businesses that are in their infancy and those which have been pillars of the community for decades. While new businesses arrive monthly, businesses owned by “Sam”, “Marshall” and “Dr. Cheeks”, anchor the community.
Similar to the business community, the residential community is a mixture of the old and the new, with the new influencing the old in a positive way. It is becoming an exciting eclectic community as it grows and evolves. The community is becoming more diverse with a growing Hispanic population. The neighborhood is family oriented, just around the corner from the Evanston Township High School with tree-lined streets and a strong sense of community. It is an older working class neighborhood that is attracting new blood. It is a community where people are encouraged to have their voices heard and engage in community efforts.
There are great things happening in the community, which are bringing a positive change. There is much evidence of the emergence of the new economy with new people coming in who are bringing in new ideas, new cultures and with it new economic power. The area is a blend of cultures, reflecting the diversity of Evanston; a central melting pot.