Chicago's Bronzeville neighborhood has some really interesting art and historic architecture to see. This South Side area has gone through many changes over the years, with the building of the highway, and then the closing of the east-west CTA line that once serviced it. Today, it is a hub for black culture and holds a dear spot for anyone who loves Chicago history.
If you enter Bronzeville from Martin Luther King Drive, you are greeted by what the locals call the "Soul Man," officially called "Monument to the Great Northern Migration" (pictured above). Though made of bronze, the sculpture appears to be made of the soles of shoes, representing the difficult journey of the many citizens who moved north during the period of the Great Migration, when this neighborhood grew to become such an important place of Chicago black history. If you keep exploring on MLK Drive, you will encounter a variety of architecture from across the ages, including beautiful 19th-century mansions.
At 35th and MLK is the Supreme Life Building (pictured above), an official historic landmark. It housed one of the most important black-owned insurance companies in the nation. Architecturally it is unique for the short clock tower over its entrance. Today it houses the Bronzeville Visitor Information Center, an excellent resource for exploring the neighborhood.
Bronzeville particularly grew during the 1920s, and you will see lots of terra cotta ornamentation on the buildings from that time. Some examples in the neighborhood include the Little Black Pearl, with its simple dentil blocks lining the top; the very art deco Chicago Bee Building; and the brick and terra cotta Overton Hygienic Building (pictured below).
The site of the Chicago Defender newspaper is on Indiana, just north of 35th. This major landmark currently has a completely ripped apart facade that doesn't look like much of anything as far as architecture is concerned, but it's very significant for its history. This newspaper helped thousands upon thousands of blacks decide to move to Chicago, and plan their move here during the Great Migration. And it was interestingly originally built as a synagogue in the late 1800s.
Another synagogue was just on the north end of the block. Architect Louis Sullivan designed it in 1890 with giant arches in its stone facade, and the Hebrew lettering is still visible over the main entrance. The congregation moved into another building in Hyde Park in 1922, and it became Pilgrim Baptist Church, which became famous for its recordings of gospel music. However if you visit it today, you will wonder about all the scaffolding outside. It actually is just a shell of a building, as it almost completely burned in a fire in 2006.
And lastly, but certainly not least, is my favorite architectural landmark in the neighborhood - Meyers Ace Hardware. You may not find a hardware store to sound intriguing, but this building was a jazz club in the 1920s into the 1940s. When you walk in, you can see historic photos hung up that show the jazz club interior of the past, and compare it to the current layout you see before you. Displayed in the window is a very cool hand-painted sign from the Grand Terrace Cafe, advertising a show with Sun Ra and his orchestra as well as a burlesque performance. And the hardware store itself is history! It's been there since 1950 and is still family-owned.
Technically the Illinois Institute of Technology (IIT) campus, designed by architect Mies van der Rohe, is also in Bronzeville, and worth a walking tour of its own. The campus grew in the 1940s and '50s and beyond. While that construction took away some places that could have been attractions in Bronzeville today, the neighborhood has many fascinating places to see and is a lively, culturally rich neighborhood to visit.