Old Chinatown

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Located adjacent to the historic Loop Elevated Structure on South Clark Street and continuing around the corner onto Van Buren Street is a grouping of six buildings, the last remnants of a long-lost-era of Chicago history. Once known as “Little Cheyenne,” and also known for a time as “Old Chinatown,” it merged the story of politicians, marginal businesses and a colored and checkered history of the city’s underbelly, combining with an ever-growing Asian community. This melting pot of Chicago’s early days after the Fire of 1871 is, today, among the few survivors of the old Loop and the areas extending to the south.

The area received its “Little Cheyenne” name, as it had all of the “Lawlessness of the Old West and was lined with every sort of dive, saloon, gambling house, and house of ill-repute,” “…In response, the residents of Cheyenne, Wyoming, referred to their own red-light district as ittle Chicago,” according to one source.

The two-story structure at Van Buren and Clark Street was designed as the “Yukon Building”, an 1897 “taxpayer building” designed by Holabird & Roche, and commissioned by the Brooks Brothers of Boston, who also developed the nearby Monadnock Building and the Rookery. The site of the two-story Yukon Building, now known as the “Bock Building” was to be the location of a much larger and taller 12-story structure. However, a financial panic in the mid-1890s, and the construction of the Union Loop Elevated, most likely impacted the desirability of Van Buren Street and this clean-lined, early glass and steel building survives to this day as a fine remnant of lost Chicago.


In the 1920s a large effort was made to improve the living conditions of the city’s Chinese and Asian populations by relocating them to a new area, a few miles to the south, along Cermak/22nd Street and focused along Wentworth Avenue in the Bridgeport/Armour Square area.

This was also an area where the City’s many train terminals and stations once abounded, from the LaSalle Street Station, to the Dearborn Station, North Shore Line and Grand Central Station, most of which have been closed, lost, demolished, merged or reconstituted. This area was also severely impacted by demolition and the widening of Congress Parkway in the 1950s, as it became part of an entry ramp and extension to the newly built Congress/Eisenhower Expressway and I-90/I-94 Interstate Highway System.

Looking beyond the current usage there is an amazing story of architecture, an early and dense Asian community and an assemblage of buildings, reflecting Chicago before the advent of the larger buildings of the Chicago School and the large full-block developments of the 20th and 21st centuries.


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