The Winter of Wrigleyville’s Discontent

Thousands of revelers descended on Wrigleyville this past Saturday for the 6th Annual BeadQuest Mardi Gras pub crawl/celebration.  After a particularly harsh winter, Wrigleyville residents are anxious for the warmer weather that also attracts thousands of fans to the neighborhood streets.  As I walked down Clark Street surrounded by a sea of partygoers, I could not help but stop to reminisce at Wrigleyville as a neighborhood.

Next year at this time, I fully expect to see bulldozers and other construction equipment converging on the Cubs’ “triangle lot” along Clark Street as well as on the current McDonald’s lot across that street.  The south side of Addison Street will see a less talked about, but still significant, construction project of its own called Addison Park on Clark.  In other words, seven months from now, Wrigleyville will begin its own version of Boston’s The Big Dig.  The investment of over 500 million dollars in neighborhood construction projects will usher in a new era in Wrigleyville’s ever changing history.

Like many other Chicago neighborhoods, Wrigleyville’s character has morphed over the decades.  Wrigley Field technically sits in the Lake View neighborhood of Chicago.  Originally founded in 1857 as an independent city, Lake View Township was annexed by Chicago in 1889.  Consistent with the Cubs’ own fortunes is the recently closed, but still standing, Town Hall District police station, which is located two blocks west of Wrigley Field at 850 West Addison Street and was built in 1907.  Currently bordered by the lake to the east, Irving Park Road to the north, Diversey Parkway to the south, and extending as far west as Ravenswood Avenue, Lake View is home to almost 100,000 city residents.  Apart from its association with the Cubs, Lake View has a rich and notable history worthy of further examination.

Within Lake View sits Wrigleyville, the unofficially recognized name for the sub-neighborhood in which Wrigley Field resides.  Invented as a catchy real estate/commercial designation to reflect proximity to Wrigley Field, “Wrigleyville” covers the central part of Lake View that extends from Irving Park Road to Diversey Parkway and from Halsted Street to Racine Avenue.  Without being an officially recognized Chicago neighborhood, Wrigleyville is perhaps one of the city’s most famous and recognizable geographical areas.

My early memories of Wrigleyville involve attending Cubs’ games in the late 1970s and early 1980s.  Back then, the neighborhood lacked both the economic strength and glitz of its current incarnation.  In the 1970s, Clark Street adjacent to Wrigley Field was known more for its Korean restaurants than the now ubiquitous bars.  After the Cubs won the National League East Division title in 1984 and attendance spiked, the neighborhood began to gentrify.  By the mid-1990s, Wrigleyville’s vintage two-flat and courtyard apartments housed numerous twenty-something young professionals, many of whom enjoyed a short commute to their downtown office jobs.

The construction boom of the late 1990s and early 2000s resulted in the bulldozing of many of those fairly well-constructed two-story brick buildings to make room for the current four-story condominium buildings that now predominate the side streets.  My old apartment at 3532 North Fremont was one such casualty of the neighborhood’s re-imagining.  Along with the housing changes, the Wrigleyville commercial district took off, too.  As recently as the early 1990s, one could count the number of Clark Street bars on two hands.  Twenty years later, that number has tripled with bars and restaurants extending along Clark Street from Buckingham to Grace Streets.  Clark Street more closely resembles the Rush and Division Streets of Harry Caray’s era than the handful of bars surrounding the ballpark in the 1980s.

Current Wrigleyville news concerns outfield video screens, rooftop views, and the threat of lawsuits.  Despite the consternation of some of us who have lived in this neighborhood for many years, Wrigleyville continues to evolve.  The changes that we will see over the next four years will hasten that transformation.  Understandably, many area residents have a heightened degree of anxiety as a result.  Some refer to the ballpark renovation and surrounding projects as the Disneyfication of the neighborhood.  In reality, the next generation of Wrigleyville began several years ago and now includes the 15- and 17- story luxury buildings that rise out of the right centerfield skyline three blocks away.  We rarely realize that these neighborhood sea-shifts are coming until they are well underway.

Four years from now, as the 10th Annual BeadQuest kicks off, the Wrigley Field renovation project likely will be nearing its conclusion.  As we grow more comfortable with that reality, there will be for new projects and other ideas to earn our trepidation.  It’s this dynamism that draws many of us to Wrigleyville in the first place.  There certainly is nowhere else I want to be when the Chicago Cubs finally win the World Series.