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Once Chicago’s premier residential district, Prairie Avenue was home to some of the city’s founding families—Pullmans, Armours, and Marshall Field, to name a few. But by the late 1800’s, the neighborhood was already in decline. Factories and warehouses replaced some of the fabulous Second Empire homes, and others were boarded up or subdivided into boarding houses. It wasn’t until the late 1960s, when the area’s rich architectural heritage began to attract notice, that the slow process of revitalization began in the Prairie District.
Now the neighborhood has come full circle. The factories have been demolished, or converted to upscale lofts, and the mansions have been renovated as museums, office space or, once again, homes for wealthy families.
The Glessner House Museum provides a fascinating glimpse of life in Prairie Avenue’s golden age, and another house museum, the Widow Clarke House, is even older, dating to before the Civil War. Adjacent to both museums, The Chicago Women’s Park and Gardens is a beautiful spot to rest and contemplate the achievements of Chicago’s founding mothers.
Residents of this diverse community come together in the Prairie District Neighborhood Alliance, an active neighborhood association that sponsors neighborhood festivals and block parties, provides educational and community programs and works to maintain and upgrade local parks.
A few historic mansions have been renovated into private residences, and some vintage row houses remain on neighboring streets. But most of the housing available in the Prairie Avenue district today is in converted lofts and new high-rise condo buildings, most notably One Museum Park, one of the city’s most upscale developments and the tallest building on Chicago’s south side. Currently under construction is a companion building, One Museum Park West, where 2-3 bedroom condos and penthouses are priced between $500,000 and $1.8 million. Some low-rise buildings on nearby 18th Street and Indiana Avenue feature luxury condos in the $200,00 to $500,000 range.
Residents of the Prairie Avenue District enjoy their neighborhood’s walkability, but CTA buses and the Red Line elevated trains provide convenient alternatives. Metra trains also offer 2 stops in the area on their way to Millennium Station on Michigan Avenue.
Shopping, Dining and Nightlife
As a part of the larger South Loop area, residents of the Prairie Avenue District are benefiting from a burgeoning retail and restaurant scene. Panozzo’s Italian Market, and Little Branch Café are popular spots at the northern end of the district, while to the south around 18th Street, residents choose from a variety of tapas and sushi bars, plus favorites like Kroll’s South Loop, a neighborhood bar and grill, and Café Bionda, which features Italian specialties and cocktails.
For shopping and nightlife, residents have easy access to the delights of State Street and Michigan Avenue, plus additional options in other areas of the South Loop.
Part of the Chicago Public Schools system, South Loop School includes an early childhood center and a regional gifted center. Test scores have been on the rise since 2002. Perspectives Charter School is also located in the South Loop, with innovative programs for 6th to 12th-graders. Many residents take advantage of CPS’s magnet schools, or a number of private schools located in nearby neighborhoods.