The offices of the Rogers Park/West Ridge Historical Society are located at 1447 West Morse.The history of Rogers Park is recounted by Patricia Mooney-Melvin in The Encyclopedia of Chicago and Chicago Neighborhoods and Suburbs, and William B. Hinchliff in the AIA Guide to Chicago.
Over a period of about twenty years between the late 1830s and his death in 1856, an early settler, Philip McGregor Rogers, purchased 1,600 acres of land from the U.S. Government.
In 1865, the aforementioned Captain Patrick Touhy, a veteran of the Civil War who managed to escape from Andersonville, the notorious Confederate prisoner of war camp in Georgia, opened a grocery store in Chicago. The next year, he married Catherine Rogers.
In 1869, she inherited 800 acres of land from her brother, also named Philip Rogers. Touhy managed the property for his wife. In 1872, Touhy subdivided this property at what would now be the intersection of Lunt Avenue and Ridge Avenue.
He sold land mainly to German and Luxembourger immigrants. Touhy called the community that formed in the area Rogers Park.
Farmers built cottages in the area while more affluent residents like the Touhys built mansions and other large residences. In 1872, Touhy sold 225 acres of land to a group of five businessmen: John Villiers Farwell (1825-1908) Luther Greenleaf, Stephen Purrington Lunt, Charles H. Morse, and the brothers Paul Pratt and George Pratt.
In 1873, these five men formed the Rogers Park Building & Land Company. They developed a forty-eight block subdivision. In 1878, the Village of Rogers Park incorporated.
The foundation for the transformation of Rogers Park from an outlying rural community to a railroad suburb was made in the 1860s. The Chicago & North Western Railway and the Chicago, Milwaukee & St. Paul Railroad both connected Rogers Park with downtown Chicago. By century’s end, large private homes were being built on large lots between Greenview Avenue and Ridge Avenue in roughly the western half of Rogers Park and north of Touhy Avenue along Sheridan Road.
Chicago annexed what are now the Community Areas of Rogers Park, West Ridge, and Norwood Park in 1893, the same year Chicago hosted its first World’s Fair, the World’s Columbian Exposition. Rogers Park was now part of the city but would retain a suburban atmosphere for almost twenty years.
Real estate development accelerated after the elevated rail line – the Chicago El (or L) – went through Rogers Park to Evanston. The Northwestern Elevated Railroad opened the Howard station in 1908.
Real estate developers built fewer and fewer single-family homes. Apartment buildings became the order of the day.
The City of Chicago expanded Rogers Park in 1915 when it annexed land east of the L tracks and south of Calvary Cemetery, a community variously known as Germania and South Evanston. This is the part of Rogers Park known as “North of Howard Rogers Park.” It was here that real estate developers built the highest concentration of apartment buildings.
Apartment buildings began to fill all available space. During the housing crisis of World War II, when the city was filled with defense workers, as well as servicemen being rapidly trained with technical skills before being deployed, large apartments built earlier in the century were subdivided into smaller ones.
Population density increased, most noticeably in the North of Howard area. Unfortunately, landlords allowed apartment buildings to deteriorate. Substandard housing stock and low rents in this part of Rogers Park attracted a transient population of residents who moved as soon as they were able to do so.
Concerns over population density, traffic congestion, poverty, and higher crime rates inspired public-private partnerships that improved the area housing stock and provide social services. Since the 1960s, neighborhood construction (outside Loyola University’s Lake Shore Campus) has consisted mostly of moderately-sized apartment buildings, townhomes, and nursing homes.
In Rogers Park, commercial districts have developed along Clark Street, Devon Avenue, and clustered around the four L stops. Rogers Park formerly supported four movie palaces.
According to Bryan Klefft’s history of the Adelphi Theater on the Cinema Treasures Web site, J.E.O. Pridmore designed the Adelphi Theater at 7074 North Clark Street, built in 1917 for the Ascher Brothers circuit. “In the 1930s, the Adelphi received an Art Deco remodeling. The theater was modernized during the 1940s and again in the 1950s. It began to show second-run features starting in the late 1960s, and closed briefly in the early 1980s, after several years screening Spanish movies.”
The Adelphi re-opened as the North Shore Theater in the mid-1980s, “but was again known as the Adelphi when it began to show East Indian films and became the premiere venue for Bollywood features in the Chicagoland area, despite its down-on-the-heels appearance both inside and out.” The Adelphi Theater closed in January of 2002 and was demolished in January of 2006.
According to Klefft, Edward Eichenbaum of the firm of Levy & Klein designed the Grenada Theater that formerly stood at 6427 North Sheridan Road in the Spanish Baroque style. “Built in 1926 for the Marks Brothers circuit, this was one of the largest movie palaces on Chicago’s Far North Side… In November 1929, the theater was acquired by the Balaban & Katz chain… The Granada Theater was originally designed by for both live stage shows and movies, but by the 1940’s, was only showing films. It remained open until the late-1970’s.”
In the 1980s, the Granada Theater was used sporadically as a concert venue, but eventually closed and was demolished in 1990. An apartment/retail complex named in honor of the Granada Theater replaced it.
Henry L. Newhouse designed the Howard Theater at 1621 West Howard Street that opened in 1917. He also designed the Metropolitan and Atlantic Theaters in Chicago, according to the Cinema Treasures history of the Howard Theater written by Ray Martinez. The arch motif of the main entrance to this building evokes the gate of a castle or fortress-city.
The Balaban & Katz chain acquired the Howard Theater not long after it had opened. The Howard Theater continued to show
first-run films until the 1970s. In 1999, the long-vacant Howard Theater’s auditorium was razed but the facade and outer lobby were saved and reused as the structure was transformed into a mixed-use apartment and retail building.
The firm Rapp & Rapp designed the North Shore Theater that stood at 6610 North Sheridan Road. By 1927, this two-story building had become retail space. In 1966, an apartment building was built on the site.
The 1960s saw an influx of Eastern European immigrants. The next decade saw the arrival of immigrants from Asia and Latin America, as well as growth in the number of Black residents.
According to the 2000 Census, Rogers Park had 63,484 residents, of whom 46% were exclusively White, 30% were exclusively Black, 6% were either Asian or Pacific Islander, and 28% were Latino. Of the Latinos, 79% were Mexican. About 34% of residents were foreign-born.
Alderman Patrick J. O’Connor of the 40th Ward serves Mayor Emanuel as floor leader of the Chicago City Council, just as he did for Mayor Richard M. Daley. A graduate of Loyola University, he is the son of the late Patrick O’Connor (1927-2009), Deputy Commissioner of the Department of Streets and Sanitation, Bureau of Equipment Services.
A resident of Budlong Woods and parishioner at St. Hilary’s Catholic Church, O’Connor sits on the Chicago Plan Commission. For more than twenty years, he served as Chairman of the Committee on Education and Child Development. Subsequently, he served as Chairman of Traffic Control and Safety from 2008 to 2011. Now, he chairs the newly created Workforce Development and Audit Committee.
There have been multiple iterations of the Rogers Park Branch of the Chicago Public Library, which actually started out as a social library independent of the Chicago Public Library. Like a number of suburban public libraries, it started as a social library founded by a women’s club.