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Bronzeville lies between Douglas Boulevard (Cottage Grove Avenue) and Grand Boulevard (Martin Luther King Jr. Drive). History buffs can honor the neighborhood's numerous influential African-American inhabitants, while those interested in architecture should head to the Illinois Institute of Technology (IIT) campus to check out the Mies van der Rohe creations.
Follow History's Trail
Following World War I, blacks began to move to Bronzeville to escape race restrictions prevalent in other parts of the city. Many famous African-Americans are associated with the area, including Andrew "Rube" Foster, founder of the Negro National Baseball League; civil rights activist Ida B. Wells; Bessie Coleman, the first African-American woman pilot; and jazz great Louis Armstrong. The symbolic entrance to the area is a tall statue at 26th Place and Martin Luther King Jr. Drive that depicts a new arrival from the South bearing a suitcase held together with string. There is a commemorative trail along Martin Luther King Jr. Drive between 25th and 35th streets, with more than 90 sidewalk plaques honoring the best and brightest of the community, including the late Gwendolyn Brooks, whose first book of poetry was called A Street in Bronzeville.
"Less is more," claimed Mies van der Rohe, but for fans of the master's work more is more at IIT. The campus has an array of the glass-and-steel structures for which he is most famous. Crown Hall, the jewel of the collection, has been designated a National Historic Landmark, but don't overlook the Robert F. Carr Memorial Chapel of St. Savior.
The McCormick Tribune Campus Center, designed by Dutch architect Rem Koolhaas, is fun to explore and pays homage to the Mies legacy. Its apparently opaque windows are actually see-through, as long as you stand head on. Look at the glass walls near the entrance through a digital camera and you'll see depictions of IIT icons like Mies. In 2003 Helmut Jahn created the corrugated-steel, triple-glass student housing that runs alongside the El.
The campus is about 1 mile west of Lake Shore Drive on 31st Street. The El train's Green and Red Line 35th Street stops are two blocks west of campus. S. State St. between 31st and 35th Sts. 312/567-3000 www.iit.edu.
Tour the Neighborhood
Tours of Bronzeville are a great way to experience the area. The Bronzeville Visitor Information Center (3501 S. King Dr. 773/819-5170 www.bviconline.info) is a good local resource, and offers four different tours. Black CouTours (773/233-8907 www.blackcoutours.com) runs a three-hour excursion of black culture including Bronzeville and other highlights. Reservations are necessary. For a sense of the area's past, present, and future, take a trip with Chicago Neighborhood Tours (www.chicagoneighborhoodtours.com), which offers a bus tour that covers Bronzeville and the Great Migration, the early-20th-century period during which many southern blacks headed north in search of a better life.
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