The Evolution of the South Water Market

A University Commons Building

In 2008 my husband Steven and I moved into our new loft condominium at University Commons. One of the coolest things about being here is that we are living in one of the former South Water Market buildings. There is a lot to learn about the history of our neighborhood and here is a bit about the evolution of the South Water Market that I have read and taken parts from several publications and articles listed on the internet. You can read the full articles in Great Chicago Fire and the Web of Memory, South Water Market on, and Wikipedia.

During the years preceding the Chicago Fire, commercial activity was heavily concentrated along the banks of the Chicago River, and most business was conducted in the blocks just south of the river’s main branch. Here were commission merchants, insurance companies and brokers of all kinds.

After the 1871 fire many offices that had once been near the river moved farther south into the expanding commercial downtown, and South Water Street (which is presently located just north of Lake St. between Wacker Dr. & Stetson Dr.) became home to the city’s central produce market.  It was fairly accessible to the rail yards, and most of all was backed up to the docks where many incoming vessels could bring fruits and vegetables from the states located around the Great Lakes.  Michigan was a great supplier during the warm months.  Cherries, celery, apples, plums and other fresh commodities were put on boats from Benton Harbor, St. Joe, Ludington, Traverse City and other Michigan port cities and shipped to the South Water Market.

By the turn of the century, reformers and planners, over the objections of some Chicagoans, urged that the gritty and heavily trafficked area be cleared out as an unsightly intrusion to the downtown that created unnecessary congestion in the heart of Chicago and blocked access to the river.  In addition, the market had become too cramped for a city of Chicago’s size.

As part of the building of bi-level Wacker Drive in the mid 1920’s, and the accompanying of a walkway along the riverfront, the city leveled the buildings in this area and moved the wholesale produce business to the new South Water Market which is bounded by Racine Avenue on the west, Morgan Street on the east, 14th Place on the north and the railroad on the south.

I have found references to 2 different architectural firms who designed the structures, B.K. Goodman & Co. and also Fugard & Knapp, but have not been able to confirm if both were involved. To make room for the new South Water Market, deteriorated existing houses were bulldozed in this high crime neighborhood called The Village. (I wonder if University Village might be named for this.)  In 1925, the cost of the approximate 13 acres of land and buildings was around 17 million dollars.  It took 6 months to complete and there were 166 stores or units.  They designed the streets to be 10 feet wide and the alleys 42 feet.  It was expected that the new market would service Chicago well for the next 25 years at least.  Soon it was discovered that the streets were not wide enough and the market became badly crowded.

I recently spoke to my friend and neighbor Jessie Johnson, who has lived in the Barbara Jean Wright homes since they opened in 1973 and asked what she remembered about the neighborhood.  Her immediate recollection was that there were so many trucks coming down Morgan Street it was hard to maneuver around them and the congestion was terrible.

The time came again in the 2003 for the market to move.  The name changed to the Chicago International Produce Market, conveniently located off of Damen and I-55.  It is a state of the art facility and many of the merchants are the third or fourth generations in the family business.

What to do with those 6 buildings now that the market was gone?  It was auctioned off to a few interested developers taking into account all intentions of the 5 highest bidders.

On July 10, 2003, The Chicago Planning Commission granted their approval on the sale of the 78 year old produce market for a cost of approximately 36 million dollars to Enterprise Companies of Chicago.  They were offered the deal because of their intent not to tear it down.  Other bidders had intentions of demolition rather than saving and restoring the terra-cotta facades reminiscent of the acclaimed Wrigley Building, which dates to the same era. Terra-cotta carvings and floral ornaments were cleaned, repaired or replaced by the firm Papageorge/Haynes Ltd, a leading urban residential architecture firm. In 2004 the buildings were placed on the U.S. National Register of Historic Places.

University Commons is a beautifully award-winning landscaped community with 917 units and the home to approximately 1800 residents.

We have a strong University Commons Neighborhood Association (UCNA) and a very active UC Kids Club.  With the close proximity to downtown, UIC and the Medical District we are a great draw.  We’ve seen the neighborhood change since we moved in and look forward to continued improvements.  As I walked over to our Maxwell Street Community garden this morning I couldn’t help but think about what this area used to be like.  I look forward to sharing more with you again.

For some wonderful  pictures please go to  to the links below.  I had a great time looking through all of them.

Beauty in the Viaduct

Connecting4Communities has worked to transform the dark and gloomy Peoria Viaduct into a gorgeous outdoor gallery featuring area artists. Back in 2018, after meeting with Alderman Patrick Thompson, whose 11th ward is where the viaduct is located, C4C spearhead a fundraising campaign with the University Village community. Through monetary donations from residents, local restaurants doing community nights, businesses doing percentage of sales and even a couple of pet portrait events we raised funds.

Local Pilsen Vaulte Gallery owner, Delilah Martinez volunteered to curate the art and we were off and running until Covid stopped us. Finally last October 2020 over an incredibly beautiful weekend 24 artists worked their magic. The viaduct was totally reconstructed prior with new sidewalks, streets and LED lighting with funds from Alderman Thompson’s menu budget so we had the perfect canvas for the artists.

Public art adds enormous value to the cultural, aesthetic and economic vitality of a community. It is now a well accepted principle of urban design that public art contributes to a community’s identity, fosters community pride and a sense of belonging, and enhances the quality of life for its residents and visitors. We encourage you to visit and see for yourself.

A fundraising committee has been formed and we are about to start looking for funds for the Morgan Viaduct. Monetary contributions can be made by contacting

Maxwell Street History…A Day of Exploring!


Stop on over at the Jane Addams Hull-House Museum on Sunday, July 23rd between 10 am and 4 pm.

Explore some Maxwell Street history through artifacts from the Hull-House and the Maxwell Street Foundation collections, tours, food, music and conversations with neighbors.

Free of charge!  Please see the link below for more information.

good this day only final phone

Neighborhood history surrounding the Maxwell Street Police Station



I have witnessed the building of our new 12th  District police station from ground zero which started back in September 2010 to the open house in December 2012.  This started me thinking about the original neighborhood police station that is still standing at Morgan and Maxwell Streets.  With the help of the internet sites Wikipedia, and the University of Illinois I have found the history of our neighborhood fascinating and would like to share it with you.

The 7th District Police Station, located at 943 West Maxwell Street, also known as the Maxwell Street Station was built in 1888 in response to the need for increased police presence.  It was built during a period of tremendous growth after the Chicago Fire of 1871, as the city’s population exploded from 298,000 to almost 1.1 million.  As late as 1850, the entire police force of Chicago consisted of just nine men, but the growing population, along with the social and economic changes, created the need for more law enforcement.  The force expanded from 455 policemen assigned to 11 precincts in 1872, to more than 1,255 policemen in 20 district police stations by 1888. In 1906, the Chicago Tribune called the district “Bloody Maxwell”, and “the Wickedest Police District in the World”.

The neighborhood was termed “the terror district” by a newspaper reporter of the time. It was a changing melting pot of Irish, German, Italian and European Jewish immigrants and grew mightily in the years following the Chicago Fire of 1871.  This densely populated area echoed with the sound of 50 foreign tongues, the clatter of the push cart wagon and the ragged vendors peddling their produce and wares in the market a block due east. There were thousands of ram-shackle wooden hovels and airless worker cottages with the outhouse inconveniently located in the alleys of tenements pushing up against the police station.  Very often the Maxwell Street police office, bewildered by the old world customs and buzz of strange languages he heard on the street, was the foreigner in the foreign land.  In 1898, the city census taker counted 48,190 residents living in squalid tenement buildings along Taylor, DeKoven, Forquer, Loomis, Lytle, and other streets comprising Little Italy nearby.  It was a tough assignment in a dangerous area of the city for a young officer learning the ropes.  Poverty, then as now, bred crime. In “Bloody Maxwell” there were an escalating homicide rate and the scourge of the Black Hand terrorists who preyed on the immigrant Italians living near Taylor Street in the 1890’s and early 1900’s.  The term “Bloody” was loosely applied to many police districts and city wards in the old days, but it seemed to take on special significance along the Near West Side corridor, especially during the wild and woolly 1920’s when Taylor Street, located in the heart of the old 19th Ward, evolved into the production center for bootleg alcohol in the City of Chicago.  It was a vast criminal enterprise controlled by the “Terrible” Genna brothers-Angelo, Pete, Jim, Tony and Mike from Marsala, Italy, who were graduates of the Black Hand.  Their liquor warehouse stood at 1022 Taylor Street (most likely where now there is a parking lot for Tuscany Restaurant).  It was rumored that at least half of the uniformed patrol working out of “Bloody Maxwell” in the early 1920’s received $15 every Friday from the Genna brothers by simply stopping by the warehouse for their weekly envelope.  Lieutenants and captains from neighboring districts were said to receive upwards of $500 a week—quite a sum in those days.  Over the years, the legendary station played host to some of the nations most notorious criminals, including Sam Giancana and Al Capone.

The 7th District, anchoring the western end of the Maxwell Street market, quieted down considerably following the repeal of Prohibition in 1933.  After World War II, the district witnessed the show exodus of its immigrant population—a process that greatly accelerated in the early 1960’s when hundreds of acres of residential property west of Halsted were bulldozed to make way for the University of Illinois campus.

The station itself is Romanesque in style and is architecturally significant as an example of pre1945 police stations in Chicago.  It was designed by Willoughby J. Edbrooke and Franklin Pierce Burnham.  It was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1996.  The Chicago Police Department vacated the station in 1998.  After extensive renovation, the red pressed brick and Joliet limestone building with walls three feet thick at the base became the home of the UIC Police Department.  The renovations were done in a manner designed to uphold the historic significance of the building’s architecture.  The building’s original windows were sent to a company in Kankakee for restoration, the masonry cleaned and repaired, the roof replaced and parapets at the top of the station rebuilt using custom-made bricks, the exact texture and color of the originals.

The building is known in popular culture because the outside was used as the picture of the precinct house in the opening credits of the iconic television series, Hill Street Blues.  It ran on NBC from 1981 into 1987.

So the next time you walk or drive by the old Maxwell Street Station, think about what the neighborhood was like back in its hey day.  We certainly have an interesting past history here on the Near West Side.

The link below has some great Chicago crime history. Check this one out in particular as it shows the corner of 14th Place and Sangamon, right in the middle of University Village.

Nancy Plax – Director of Community Outreach

Originally from St. Louis, Nancy has made her home in Chicago for the past 32 years.

Since 2008, Nancy and her husband, Steve, have settled in at University Commons, where Nancy co-founded the University Commons Neighborhood Association (UCNA). Nancy draws from her years in sales and marketing to take on her new role at C4C. Her love of community has become a passion for her. She looks forward to seeing all that will be accomplished through Connecting4Communities.

Nancy is C4C’s Director of Community Outreach and also organizes the annual C4C cheering station at Taylor and Morgan Streets to encourage the Chicago Marathon runners in October.