The Island

The Chicago neighborhood known as The Island is only about eight miles from the Loop.  But it’s the kind of place you won’t find unless you are looking for it.  And even then, you might miss it.

Go straight west out Madison Street.  Just before you hit the suburbs, you arrive in Austin.  This is Community Area #25, one of the city’s largest in both area and population.  The Island is the far southwest corner of Austin.

Why call this neighborhood The Island?  The name is explained by geography.

9-15--The Island map.jpg

First of all, The Island is cut off from the rest of Chicago.  To the north is Columbus Park and the Eisenhower Expressway—and even before the expressway was built, there were three rail lines at grade level here.  Directly to the east is a major factory area.

So much for the connection to Chicago.  What about the other two sides?  To the south is a suburb, Cicero.  To the west is another suburb, Oak Park.

The result is an isolated City of Chicago neighborhood totally surrounded by alien territory—an island.

Island Convenience Store (Roosevelt and Austin)

The precise boundaries of The Island are vague.  Some locals claim that only the five residential streets count.  Others want to include all of Census Tract 8314.  To make things simpler, I’m declaring that The Island is the area bounded by Austin, the Eisenhower, Central, and Roosevelt.

When the Town of Austin was annexed by Chicago in 1899, The (future) Island came with it.  Then the area was mostly vacant.  The ‘L’ came through shortly afterward, as did the Chicago, Aurora & Elgin interurban line.  The 12th Street (Roosevelt Road) streetcar line was also extended to Austin Boulevard.

California-style bungalows (900-south block Mayfield Avenue)

The 1920s were the years for building.  The first five blocks in from Austin Boulevard were filled in with bungalows and two-flats.  East of Menard Avenue the land was zoned for factories.  A ribbon commercial strip developed along the Roosevelt Road car line.

A monumental event in local history took place on April 27, 1926.  William McSwiggin, an assistant state’s attorney, was gunned down as he left a speakeasy at 5615 West Roosevelt Road.  The crime made national news and was never solved.  Technically, McSwiggin died on the Cicero side of Roosevelt—but the killers did drive by on the Chicago side!

Two-flats (1100-south block Mason Avenue)

It’s anybody’s guess when the neighborhood started calling itself The Island.  A friend of mine who grew up there in the 1940s said the name was already in use then.  The Island Civic Association dates its founding from 1956.

The population has held steady at around 1,800 for decades.  As late as 2000 it was a mostly White enclave.  Since then, African Americans and Hispanics have moved into the neighborhood, and it is now integrated.

Chicago Studio City (5660 West Taylor Street)

Today, the residential blocks of The Island are much the same as always—quiet, clean, and well-tended.  The major changes have taken place in the industrial zone.  Though some factories remain, many have been replaced by other types of business.

A small shopping plaza has opened at Roosevelt and Central.  The old Victor Products factory has been replaced by a new branch of Hartgrove Hospital.  Along Taylor Street, Chicago Studio City operates a 100,000-square-foot facility with three soundstages, the biggest movie-making plant between the coasts.

Olson Rug Company (832 South Central Avenue)

The Island is also home to the Olson Rug Company.  Older Chicagoans fondly remember the park which the company operated at its old headquarters on Pulaski Road.  Now that the industrial land is being revitalized, is there a waterfall in the future for The Island?

—30—

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3 Responses to “The Island”


  1. 1 jh4email01@aol.com June 30, 2017 at 6:45 am

    I think Myles O’Donnell set McSwiggin up in order to get back in good graces with Capone. Thanks again for another great article.

    Sent from Windows Mail

  2. 2 Frank Patino June 30, 2017 at 1:07 pm

    John, You probably want to go west on Roosevelt, not Madison. Always enjoy your articles. Thanks for doing these.

  3. 3 Scott vavrinchik July 4, 2017 at 8:34 am

    I lived at 1133 S. mason for much of my adult life. My grandfather purchased the 3 flat shortly after immigrating fr Italy. As a suburbanite now I miss the days of coffee and cake on the front stairs and kids playing in the streets until the street lights came on. I loved that neighborhood…..the island has produced successful business owners, world renowned surgeons, and many many hard working productive citizens.


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