The U.S. Census of 1870 reported only 275 Italians in Chicago. The late 19th and early 20th centuries saw the arrival of large numbers of Italian immigrants to the area of Taylor and Halsted Streets, near the Jane Addams Hull House. The Census of 1900 reported 16,008 Italians in Chicago, with the largest population living in the Hull House area. Significant numbers also lived in the business district and near Chicago Commons – a settlement house modeled after Hull House – once located at Grand Avenue and Morgan Street at the time. The Chicago Commons organization still exists today. Italians established and maintained a strong presence in the commercial and political life of the area in the twentieth century and the area became known as “Little Italy.” An investigation conducted in 1914 of the housing conditions in the Hull House area by the Department of Social Investigation of the Chicago School of Civics and Philanthropy looked at the area between Harrison and Taylor Streets from Morgan to Desplaines Streets. Within this small area it found 10,125 people who lived here and Italians were the predominant ethnic group, comprising 72% of the families.
The construction of the area’s expressways, urban renewal, and the construction of the Chicago campus of the University of Illinois in the early 1960’s resulted in the demolition of large numbers of homes in the area. The Chicago campus of the University of Illinois was Richard J. Daley’s most contentious decisions and his most lasting and significant legacy.
Beginning in about the mid-to-late 1970’s, the area began attracting new residents and investors and the housing stock began to see significant improvements. It was a slow evolution that continues to this day. Some people of Italian ancestry still call this community home and while Chicago’s Little Italy pales in comparison to those in many other cities, vestiges of the community’s Italian heritage remain. The oldest continuing Italian American Catholic parish in Chicago is Our Lady of Pompeii church which is now a shrine that draws many worshipers from the suburbs who like to maintain ties to our community. The area is home to some well known Italian restaurants and the National Italian American Sports Hall of Fame on Taylor Street is the realization of the dream of its founder, George Randazzo, and was designed by architect John Vinci.