For now Chicago's Washington Park neighborhood may be a predominantly residential south side community with a sprawling public park and rich culture of African-American heritage, however, as the potential site of the Olympic Stadium for the 2016 Summer Games, this modest neighborhood could really make its mark in the near future. Remnants of the last century's architectural movement are found throughout the area, with a wave of new designs and gut rehabs dusting the streets as well. As Olympic talk heightens, developers and city officials are anticipating the impact such a huge event would have on Washington Park. Temporary athlete lodgings and the massive 80,000-seat arena would only be around for a short period, but the hope is that a surge of new businesses would ride in on the coattails of this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to bolster the Washington Park neighborhood for decades to come. The current commercial base is slight, with a few soul food mainstays and Chinese takeout, but the annual cultural festivals and fun Park District programs keep things on the up as Washington Park awaits an impending transformation of Olympic proportions.
Washington Park’s earliest non-native settlements began in 1890 during the time when the South Park Board purchased large tracts of land to accommodate the rapidly growing meatpacking industry.
The construction of new upscale homes and major thoroughfares like Grand Boulevard (a.k.a. Martin Luther King Jr. Drive) and Midway Plaisance in neighboring Hyde Park drew more working-class laborers to the area, many of whom took up residence in Washington Park. Later, the opening of the Washington Park Club in 1884, with its race track and putting green, served to stimulate the interest of wealthy newcomers to the south side, including to Washington Park neighborhood.
In 1893, when rumors were confirmed that the Columbian Exposition would be held in the Washington Park area, the news brought on another wave of people to the community. And the next decade saw a further population boost upon installation of the elevated train system (or 'El') at 55th Street and cable cars running as far as 63rd Street.
As Washington Park continued to grow the socio-economic makeup of the community shifted from affluent businessmen to low-income laborers that were predominantly African American. By 1930, 92 percent of Washington Park’s population were African American families. Racial tensions increased between white and black residents, and many white residents moved further south.
Despite all the set backs that the Washington Park community endured in the latter half of the 20th century, it has once again struck the interest of many land prospectors. Today the neighborhood is undergoing a healthy redevelopment spurt that is widespread throughout the entire south side of the city. Washington Park neighborhood is even the proposed site to host the 2016 Summer Olympics which would bring an 80,000-seat temporary stadium to the area that could later be converted into a smaller permanent 5,000-seat amphitheatre.