History of Albany Park
The modern history of Albany Park began in 1893 when a group of investors purchased 640 acres of the McAllister farm. The real-estate syndicate was for of DeLancy Louderback, John J. Mitchell, Clarence Buckingham and Charles T. Yerkes. Louderback, who was originally from Albany, New York, chose the name in honor of his hometown. A common vision of what the area would look like in the future united each man. They were all wealthy businessmen from Chicago and understood the potential for the small community.
They brought a transportation line that proved essential to the early success of the area. Business and residential growth boomed due to the population increase from things like the electric streetcar. It ran along Lawrence and Kedzie Avenue as early as 1896. The biggest addition to the area was the Ravenswood Elevated train to Kimball and Lawrence Avenue in 1907. It helped start a boom of building growth around the train station. Commercial development came in the form of small shops, department stores and movie theaters. Land that was only worth $52 per foot in 1909 was being sold for $2,750 by 1929. The residential building of bungalows and two-flats between 1910-1920 was unseen in the area until then. The 1910 census counted 7,000 inhabitants; by 1920 the number more than tripled to 26,676. In 1930 more than 55,000 people resided in the northwest Chicago neighborhood. In 1904 the Chicago Sanitary District widened the North Branch of the Chicago River. The relocation of the river helped define boundary lines and improved sewage disposal.
German and Swedish immigrants were the two main groups to initially settle in the area. After 1912 Albany Park became home to a large number of Russian Jews leaving the crowded neighborhoods of Chicago’s Near West Side. There were many Jewish bakeries and storefronts along Lawrence avenue. The community remained largely Jewish all the way through the 1950s. Between 1910 and 1940 several of the synagogues and churches, public schools and parks opened that are still there to this day. The all-time high population in this neighborhood was 56,692 and that was reached in 1940. After the Second World War, is when the demographic took another major shift. Many Jewish families—like the generation before them—moved north, but this time it wasn’t just to another neighborhood in Chicago, it was to the suburbs of Lincolnwood and Skokie.
The large move of people from Albany Park to the suburbs sent the neighborhood into an economic and social decline. The population decreased which led to homes and stores laying vacant, and with it property values took a dive. In the 1970s, 70 percent of the commercial property along Lawrence Avenue stood vacant. Empty buildings attracted illegal drug trade, prostitution and gangs . Relief came in 1978 when city government, the North River Commission, and the Lawrence Avenue Development Corporation cooperated to improve Albany Park’s area. Albany Park’s renewal included redoing the aesthetics of the street, the Facade Rebate Program, low-interest loans, and other financing packages. These efforts led to a drop in commercial vacancies and an increase in residential property values in the 1980s and 1990s. Albany Park was once again an attractive urban neighborhood for real-estate development and commercial investment.
These days the Lawrence Avenue strip is so busy that traffic frequently slows to a crawl, especially on weekends. But don’t let the hustle and bustle of the avenues mislead you; veer down a side street and you will understand the practical reasons why many people choose to live here: two and three story brick flats and single family homes on tree lined streets. Friendly neighbors and easy access to markets and local attractions make this a great place.
Even though Albany Park is an incredibly diverse neighborhood, the food scene isn’t! That may come as a little bit of a shock to some…but the neighborhood spots serves the cuisine that the people want! What you will find is a tremendous amount of Persian food, good Persian food. Upon hearing that some people will get confused “Where is Persia? What kind of food do they eat? Is it like the food served in Iran or Afghanistan?” The answer to those questions clears up a lot. The Persian empire doesn’t exist anymore…but it did at one point. It was huge and it covered many of the areas in the Middle East we know today such as Iran, Afghanistan, Iraq etc. Many of the people that come from these areas and open restaurants will brand there food as being from the country they’re from, but the truth is the food is Persian.
Mohammed Toulabi, manager of the year-old Kabobi Persian and Mediterranean Grill, 4748 N. Kedzie Ave., attempted to create order out of chaos. “It’s all the same food,” he said. “The roots of the food are 100 percent Persian.”
Toulabi, who moved to Chicago from Iran in 2008, said, “We call ourselves Iranian, but when it comes to cuisine … I can’t say Iranian. It’s Persian.”The style of food crosses national and religious boundaries, though there are regional differences, he said.
So use this as not only an opportunity to experience great food from countries and regions you’ve probably never visited, but to also sharpen up your culinary history. Great food can come from anyone and anywhere…an open mind can lead to great times!