History of Gold Coast
Chicago’s Gold Coast is the center of Chicago’s high society. Located north of downtown, it is laced with high rise apartment buildings, multi-million dollar homes, and elegant boutiques, shops, and restaurants that make this neighborhood an authentic Chicago gem. The neighborhood boundaries are approximately:
- North Ave to the North
- Lake Shore Drive to the East
- Oak St to the South
- Clark St to the West
Gold Coast did not originally start out as the esteemed neighborhood it is today. It was a vastly undeveloped swamp land for the most part and was first known as Astor Street District in the late 1800s. It was named after John Jacob Astor, wealthy businessman and real estate investor out of New York City. Astor was not a Chicago resident himself, but the name seemed to foreshadow the neighborhood’s elegant future. A jumpstart into that bright future would come at the hands of then prominent Chicago businessman, Potter Palmer.
Potter Palmer greatly contributed to Chicago’s economy, specifically through the business he owed along State St before the Great Chicago Fire, and his influence even stretched post fire, and after all of his businesses destroyed by the flames had to be redeveloped. The neighborhood appeared on Chicagoan’s radar after Lake Shore Drive was opened in 1875 and shortly thereafter Palmer moved from Chicago’s south side and became one of the first to buy land in the Gold Coast. In 1882, with the help of architects Henry Ives Cobb and Charles Sumner Frost, Palmer began to construct a massive, luxurious 42 room mansion that would set a new high class standard for the area as a whole. The mansion lie between Schiller and Banks and was adoringly dubbed “a goldfish bowl castle.” Upon its completion in 1885, it was the largest private residence in its time in Chicago. Palmer and his wife Bertha entertained many important and affluent people at their home including some former US presidents and oversees royalty. It was torn down in 1950 and a 22-story high rise apartment building stands in the mansion’s footprint. The mansion however still remains a part of Gold Coast’s history and some paintings collected by Bertha Palmer are currently held in the Art Institute of Chicago.
With the Palmer mansion set firmly in place, other wealthy Chicagoans took notice and soon followed Palmer’s footsteps to the area. As the neighborhood grew, land became both scarce and valuable; many homes were built tall on thin lots and within close proximity to each other; high rise apartments sprung up in the area as well. In 1891-1892, the James Charnely house was built, which now stands as a National Historic Landmark and serves as a museum and headquarters for the Society of Architectural Historians (SAH). The house was built for Charnely, and designed by architect Louis Sullivan with some influence by infamous architect Frank Llyod Wright. It serves as a good representation of modern American architecture.
After the Michigan Ave bridge (better known as the DuSable Bridge) was built after the 1920s, a new market opened up in Gold Coast for luxury shopping and dining that matched the income level of the local residents. Elaborate million dollar homes, condominiums, luxury high rise apartments and the newly added compliment of high scale shops, boutiques and diners defined Gold Coast as the center of Chicago’s high society; It is still held in the same regard today.
Chicago’s history is heavily influenced by gentrification. As the populations and economic scenarios change, many of Chicago’s historic neighborhoods go through a phase of decline that can last for decades and slowly transitions back to a state of revival. Gold Coast is unique in that it avoided a period of deterioration that most of Chicago’s historic neighborhoods went through in the 1950s. This was in large part due to the wealth in the neighborhood; Gold Coast remained to be a neighborhood with much value. Most of the old mansions have since been converted into condominiums. One of the few remaining mansions is home to the Archbishop of Chicago. Even without the big mansions Gold Coast is still a Chicago staple for upscale, modern living while still offering matching entertainment for both beloved tourist and locals from different parts the city.