Chicago - East Side Overview
The East Side is one of 77 official community areas of Chicago, Illinois. It is located on the far southeast side of the city. It is surrounded by water and is located on the Calumet River’s eastern bank. Due to its location and access to water, steel mills were able to thrive in The Southeast Side of Chicago. It is home to thriving Calumet Beach, a United States Coast Guard station, and Calumet Yacht Club. It borders the state of Indiana and is located just 13 miles south of downtown Chicago.
Most of the neighborhood was built by the 1930s, with expansion to the south occurring in the 1940s and 1950s as new industries opened up along the Little Calumet River. The housing stock is comprised of Chicago-style brick bungalows, frame homes, and small apartment buildings while the southeast portion of this area was developed in the 1980’s with newer single-family homes.
The neighborhood has an impressive park along Lake Michigan which totals 181 acres. Calumet Park features two gymnasiums, a fitness center, Lake Shore Model Train exhibit, gymnastic center, sewing and upholstery studios, woodshop, and multi-purpose rooms. The park also has a beach, boat launch, artificial soccer turf, picnic groves, playground, baseball, football, and soccer fields. There is also a forest preserve known as Egger’s Grove two miles south of Calumet Park. Residents enjoy access to hiking/walking trails, picnic grounds and birdwatching.
The East Side is served by both Catholic and Chicago Public Schools. Gallistel Language Academy, Taylor Elementary, Sadlowski Elementary, Jane Addams Elementary and Washington Elementary are among the public elementary schools. Annunciata School is the neighborhood's Catholic, private elementary school. George Washington High School is the neighborhood public high school and St. Francis De Sales is the neighborhood's Catholic, private high school. There is also one institution of higher learning in the neighborhood. St. Augustine College offers five Bachelor’s Degrees programs and a wide range of Associate’s Degrees.
The East Side has been the City’s industrial soul for decades. Ships from all over the world navigate to the Port of Chicago with over 19 million tons of cargo every year, more than any other port on the Great Lakes. Construction of the railroads in the late 1800’s lured new residents, mostly of Serbian, Croatian, Slovenian descent to the area. Later other Europeans (Italians and Greeks) and Mexicans settled in the area. The river and railroads contributed to the success of the steel industry. The riverside docks allowed materials to be loaded and unloaded onto nearby railways. The mills were responsible for the strong economy and population explosion. They employed 40,000 workers. The Southeast side was economically dominated by steelmaker giants. U.S. Steel was located in the Bush neighborhood, Wisconsin Steel was located in the South Deering neighborhood, and Republic Steel/LTV Steel was located on the East Side. Families were proud of their work in the mills because the steel they produced was used to construct buildings in the city. Generations of family members found work in the mills.
In the late 1970s, Free Trade caused the collapse of the steel industry and its impact on East side residents was brutal. The rapid fall of the industry brought a decline to the economy and drove residents out of the neighborhood in search of employment. Much of the population that left was replaced with a Hispanic population that grew substantially between 1980 and 2000.
Although revitalization efforts have been made with the expansion of Ford Motor Company’s industrial campus into the former LTV Steel site, the area continues to struggle economically. The industries that replaced the steel mills along the Little Calumet River include ongoing waste disposal, scrap yards, and bulk cargo/storage facilities. Manufacturers continue to pollute the environment with their processing methods which include the crushing and blending products.
Residents of the East Side have always lived in the wake of industrial pollution. Everyone assumed the pollution would improve after the mills closed but headaches, nausea, asthma, heart disease, and cancer are still prevalent in the area. These illnesses are attributed to idling trains that emit toxic diesel exhaust fumes, trucks carrying materials without tarps allowing dust to radiate into the air, open-air storage of harmful byproducts, and the release of hazardous particulate matter into the air.
Community leaders Peggy Salazar, Olga Bautista, and Gina Ramirez along with East Side residents and the Southeast Environmental Task Force and Southeast Side Coalition to Ban Petcoke have been leading the fight to change policy and stop manufacturers from contaminating the environment. These women were triumphant in the fight to ban petcoke from the area. Manufacturers were forced to remove open-air piles of dirty petcoke from the area. Community leaders and residents continue to push back against dirty industry that no one wants in this area. East Siders are working tirelessly to change their legacy of industrial pollution in pursuit of a cleaner, healthier, and greener landscape.