Steeped in a rich tradition of ethnic diversity, Albany Park is a northwest side bastion of unique grocery stores, restaurants and shopping, all nestled within a multicultural community. Residents from Korean, Mexican, Middle Eastern and former Yugoslavian descent bring their influences to one of Chicago's liveliest neighborhoods. In fact, Albany Park holds one of the highest ratios of foreign-born residents in the city, which is reflected in the local fare and youth theater projects. Area teenagers and young adults band together to form a multicultural, ensemble group that embraces today's issues and shares the stories of modern-day immigrants and working-class Chicagoans. Enjoy the international tastes of this diverse neighborhood year round, but when August arrives, get ready to join the fun at the annual Albany Park Summer Fest.
Way back in 1868, Albany Park welcomed its first settler, a land speculator named Richard Rusk who bought 10 acres in the undeveloped region northwest of Chicago and converted it into a brickyard on the banks of the river. By the 1870s and 80s, Chicago's population was booming, and residents started settling further outside the central city, moving into the territory near Rusk's brickyard. Chicago annexed the entire area in 1889-the land that would become Chicago's Albany Park neighborhood.
Less than five years later, a quartet of high-powered real estate investors purchased more than 600 acres of former farmland for residential development. One of the investors included streetcar mogul DeLancy Louderback, who was also an Albany, N.Y native. He lobbied to name the development after his hometown, and worked with his partners to bring transportation lines to the vicinity, a crucial move in its residential and commercial expansion. Centrally located Lawrence Avenue saw its first electric streetcars in 1896, and another streetcar that ran north along Kedzie Avenue to meet Lawrence Avenue was finished in 1913. But it was the extension of the Ravenswood elevated track (now the Brown Line) to Lawrence and Kimball avenues in 1907 that made the most significant impact on the development of Albany Park and its transportation abilities. The completion of the Ravenswood 'El' sparked a rapid growth in construction, most of which was close to the train station at the intersection of Lawrence and Kimball avenues. Between 1910 and 1920, the neighborhood saw its population more than triple, from 7,000 inhabitants to more than 26,000. A decade later, Albany Park's population more than doubled again, to more than 55,000 people.
When it was still farmland, the area was largely populated by working class Germans and Swedes. But after 1912, a sizeable number of Russian Jews who were fleeing the overcrowded neighborhoods of the city's near west side, moved to Albany Park in search of more space to plant roots and raise their families. The neighborhood remained predominantly Jewish until after World War II, when many Jewish families moved out of the city to the North Shore suburbs.
Suburban flight led to a period of social and economic decline in Albany Park until 1978, when several neighborhood associations sought to improve the area's appearance and eliminate the vacated storefronts. For the next two decades, low interest loan programs and streetscape beautification initiatives increased neighborhood property values. Suddenly, a new wave of immigrants from Mexico and Asia moved in, bringing a new cultural vitality to Albany Park neighborhood. By the year 1990, this northwest Chicago community was home to the city's largest number of immigrants from the Philippines, Guatemala and Korea. Today the area maintains its niche as a launch pad for recently arrived immigrant groups and cultures from around the world.
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