Back of the Yards
The Back-of-the-Yards neighborhood is one of the original communities of the American Industrial Revolution. This was the site of radical social change that moved the country forward with progress in labor relations and how society views laborers. The slaughterhouses and harsh working conditions attracted both reformers and authors who acted as advocates for the everyman. Now the neighborhood is an intriguing place to explore, with a plethora of parks and a strong, diversified community that is expanding on its industrial base. Classic Chicago bungalows are joined by other single-family homes and some condominium conversions to give homeowners a wide range of real estate to choose from. Specialty grocery stores and an international selection of restaurants round out the backdrop of Chicago's Back-of-the-Yards neighborhood.
Location: Approximately 8 miles southwest of the Loop
Bordering Neighborhoods: Bridgeport, Fuller Park, Brighton Park, McKinley Park, Englewood
Boundaries: Pershing road to the north, Amtrak rail tracks to the east, Garfield Boulevard (55th Street) to the south and Western Avenue to the west.
Then and Now
Back-of-the-Yards is part of a slightly larger neighborhood designated by the city of Chicago as New City. The community was formed around the Union Stock Yards, which were founded in 1865 to take advantage of the numerous railroad yards in the vicinity. After the refrigerated boxcar was perfected in 1880, there was an explosion of growth in the area. Not only were laborers needed to man the rail yards and slaughterhouses, but butchers also joined the fold of Industrial Age workers making their way in the new city, working in the meatpacking business.
But what makes this south side Chicago neighborhood interesting is that some of the most dramatic social conflicts in the newly industrialized era played out against the backdrop of the Back-of-the-Yards neighborhood. Novelists such as Upton Sinclair and Nelson Algren wrote definitive portraits of struggling characters that made their living in the hardscrabble area, while activists marched for workers’ rights, and social scientists studied the impact of industry and its inherent pollution on the human condition.
The stockyards were never an easy place to work. The air was filled with pollutants, the hours were long and hard, and the workers were not paid well for their back-breaking efforts. This led to the formation of some of America’s first effective organized labor organizations designed to protect workers from exploitation and improve working conditions. During the Depression and through the years following World War II, residents and workers continued to battle for labor rights, and many of the labor-related laws we have today owe their origin to the gruesome slaughterhouses of Chicago’s south side.
The Union Stockyards remained the nation’s meatpacking center well into the middle of the 20th century. The neighborhood was as active as any, and with full employment and occupancy, area businesses thrived. The good times couldn’t last forever though. By the early 1960s the meatpacking industry had packed up and left, leaving a vacuum in the community it once served. Without industry and jobs to support the local economy, many of the area’s businesses were forced to close and Back-of-the-Yards entered a period of decline. A new, smaller industrial park was created on the old stockyard land, restoring some jobs to the economy in the following decades.
Back-of-the-Yards has seen renewed growth in the past 15 years, as people have discovered that the strong tax base provided by the industrial park reduces property taxes in addition to providing employment to thousands of area residents. Additionally, the parks that were created during the tumultuous, hard-fought labor struggles in the early 20th century now provide a beautiful backdrop for a neighborhood on the make, offering residents open green spaces and a retreat from the daily routine of city living.
Despite its industrial reputation, and actually as a direct result of it, Back-of-the-Yards has enough well-equipped parks to make most other neighborhoods a little bit envious. The South Park Commission established much of the parkland in the neighborhood starting in 1904 as part of a revolutionary citywide park system that improved the difficult living conditions in Chicago’s congested tenement districts.
Davis Square Park (4430 S. Marshfield Ave., 312-747-6107) is a full-service park in the heart of Back-of-the-Yards, with an old fieldhouse that was built at the start of the 20th century. The fieldhouse still remains and provides a space for a fitness center, a gymnasium and a youth boxing league. The park maintains meeting rooms and assembly halls of various sizes for neighborhood gatherings. There are several baseball fields for pick-up or league games in the summer months and a spray pool to cool off in when the weather gets too hot. Back-of-the-Yards walkers and joggers like to get in a workout on the half-mile trail. And if you’re a tennis fan, you won’t want to miss getting in a few swings out on the courts. About five blocks south of Davis, Cornell Square Park (1809 W. 50th St., 312-747-6097) is another lovely neighborhood recreation spot with beautiful walking trails, spacious baseball fields, tennis courts and a kiddie spray pool. The onsite fieldhouse also has a gymnasium and assembly halls available for Back-of-the-Yards neighborhood association meetings.
Occupying 60 acres of neighborhood land, Sherman Park (1301 W. 52nd St., 312-747-6672) is the largest, most picturesque, and most popular park among Back-of-the-Yards residents and other south side Chicago locals. The unique island layout with a circular lagoon is Sherman Park’s most outstanding feature, and it owes its design to the Olmsted bothers, who are celebrated for their landscape work in New York City. The large pond surrounds a land mass that houses baseball and softball fields. Back on the main grounds, area residents can take advantage of the scenic jogging and bicycling paths, as well as the tennis courts and indoor gymnasium. And as if a lovely lagoon wasn’t enough, Sherman Park also has a lap pool for swimming and a kiddie spray pool for splashing around. When the weather turns nasty, we head inside to do our exercises in the gym and the auditorium is a handy place to hold public gatherings and other events, no matter what the season.
Back of the Yards Real Estate
Back-of-the-Yards is a neighborhood that is convenient to the Loop and major expressways and has a large industrial tax base that offsets property taxes, which tend to be lower here compared with other neighborhoods in the city.
A lot of strong value exists in this market with bungalows, two-story single-family houses, raised ranches and brick two-flats and four-flats dominating the inventory. Most of the homes have modest yards in front and back, fences edging the property lines, and some even include garages to park the car, or, if you’re like us, use as extra storage space. Condominium conversions are starting to appear in Back-of-the-Yards with more regularity but not at the pace seen in other Chicago neighborhoods. Still, you won’t have trouble finding one if that’s your interest.
Just like the type of architectural designs in the Back-of-the-Yards, residential blocks vary widely, as do price ranges. Homebuyers will find some detached single-family three-bedrooms listed for $65,000 in this south side Chicago neighborhood. Of course, these are older dwellings that may need a bit of TLC. On the other hand, the newer constructions in the area, which are mostly two-stories with three bedrooms and three bathrooms, are going for closer to $450,000 or $500,000. Perhaps you don’t need all that space and upkeep. As we said, there has been recent development of condominiums and townhomes in the Back-of-the-Yards neighborhood. Typically, you’re looking at a price in the mid to high $300,000s for a three-bedroom townhouse, while you can get a two-bedroom condo for between $130,000 to $300,000.
What’s on the Menu?
There is an affordable selection of good eats in Back-of-the-Yards that will keep you humming from morning ‘til night, and it won’t leave much of a dent in your wallet.
Before we get into the heavier meals, we always like to make a stop in the heart of the neighborhood for some home-baked goodness. Central Bakery (4523 S Ashland Ave., 773-523-0293) has been called the best Mexican bakery in the city. Here you will find quite inexpensive pastries from under $1 all the way up to beautiful wedding cakes that are virtually priceless. They bake bread throughout the day and, as you can imagine, the aroma as you enter the store is almost intoxicating. Central is also open later in the afternoon for Back-of-the-Yarders who are not especially early risers.
Speaking of Mexican food, the neighborhood’s large Latino population has inspired a number of Mexican restaurants to emerge in the vicinity. For folks who love the typical rice and bean plate or taco there are plenty of taquerias around, but if you want something special we suggest a visit to the more upscale El Patio (4527 S. Ashland Ave, 773-847-2595). This friendly family-owned business strives to make you feel at home with a cozy dining room and an attentive staff. Pick from a tasty menu of seafood dishes or other entrees that come in either full or half orders (which are also half-price). Even though it’s nice to have a nice sit-down meal, there are times when we can’t resist the call of the el-cheapo burrito. That’s when we stop by Los Altos (1848 W. 47th St, 773-523-3121). This tiny, ten-table storefront eatery is mainly a carryout joint that whips up tacos and burritos fast and cheap.
Despite the funny name, a good place for lunch bargains in the neighborhood is the See Thru Chinese Kitchen (4318 Ashland Ave., 773-927- 9898). Their lunch specials menu gives you a selection of rotating entrees, plus tea and a cookie for under $6. Similarly China Kitchen (4640 S. Bishop St., 773-247-2773) also has a midday menu that offers soup, main dish and tea for seven dollars. The crab rangoon here is definitely a step above, and so are the Singapore-style rice noodles, which come with a good variety of thinly sliced vegetables that are cooked just enough to keep that delicious crisp.
Pizza is an important part of every Chicagoan’s diet, so what would a Chicago neighborhood be without a few pizzerias? Around here you have your choice and everyone has their preferences, but our favorite is the pie from Naples Pizza (4601 S. Ashland Ave., 773-376-7640), which also serves up pastas and sandwiches if you’re not in the mood for a slice.
Best Shopping Stops
Clearly the focus in the Back-of-the-Yards neighborhood is not on retail businesses, nevertheless, this south side Chicago community offers residents a decent selection of shopping, from gourmet grocers to great deals on clothing.
We’ve already mentioned the best place around to get Kosher cuisine, but there are a few other popular specialty markets that cater to the locals’ tastes for different ethnic fare. Italian Foods and Specialties (3931 S. Leavitt St, 773-247-6555) supplies traditional and imported Italian products while Argentina Foods (4500 S. Wood St., 773-869-9134) stocks scrumptious ingredients and groceries that hail form South America. The International Supermarket (4556 S. Ashland Ave, 773-523-9745) touches on a little bit of everything, and El Cubano Supermarket (4939 S. Ashland Ave., 773-376-3631) offers Back-of-the-Yards residents a fine selection of Cuban-inspired victuals. For chocolate, there’s only one place to go this side of Western Avenue, and that’s Superior Nut & Candy Company (1111 W 40th St., 773-254-7900). They live up to their name with their selection of cashews, walnuts, peanuts, chocolate bars, etc., and all at very reasonable prices. If you’ve ever been to Nuts on Clark near Wrigley Field, Superior Nut & Candy Company is the White Sox fans’ equivalent.
If you’ve had enough sweets and you’re ready to get down to some hard bargaining, visit The Burlington Coat Factory (4520 S. Damen Ave., 773-254-0054). Despite what the name says, this store is more than just coats. The large warehouse-like showroom sells men’s and women’s clothing, men’s sportswear, women’s suits, linens, and shoes for men, women and children. Plus, they’re always expanding their offerings and have recently increased the amount of space they have for baby clothing. Another good spot for clothing deals is Value City Department Store (4500 S. Damen Ave., 773-579-6850). This place has unbeatable deals on casual apparel for anyone from toddlers to grown men. Whether you need T-shirts, shorts, pants, jackets or skirts, Value City has you covered. Even though some of the clothing may not be on the cutting edge of style, if you want staple items to bulk up your wardrobe, this is the place to come. The store also has brand-name kitchen appliances, housewares, electronics and furniture. And they are able to keep prices low because they deal in large quantity buyouts, liquidated merchandise and overstock.
Night on the Town
Local neighborhood bars are the dominant feature of the night scene in Back-of-the-Yards. Many of the people who work in the taverns know their customers by name, and the customers, in turn, know the bar staff.
Kelly’s Tavern (4403 S. Wallace St., 773-924-0796) is a little neighborhood bar that is a little less than a mile from U.S. Cellular Field (a.k.a Sox Park). The beer garden is a comfortable spot for relaxing after a White Sox game, or for just having a nice cold one on a lovely summer day. The bar has a digital jukebox and a smattering of plasma televisions situated so that you never miss any of the action. Although we’re not regulars, Kelly’s has plenty of them that seem to make this place a second home and make us feel right at home, too. If you’re in the mood for a shot and a beer without the frills, check out My Second Home (1501 W. 47th St., 773 847-1664). With just a little bit of persuasion from the friendly staff, this could indeed become our second home. The bar only serves domestic and imported bottles, so if you are looking for a beer on tap, you’ll be searching for quite awhile. No food, no pool, no funny business. This is a place to sit, drink and have a conversation. If you want to do anything else, you’ll have to find another watering hole.
Considering all of the parks and history in Back-of-the-Yards, it’s a fun place to walk around when the weather permits. You never know when you’ll bump into a bit of times past as you wander around the establishments on the main drags and housing along the side streets of the neighborhood.
If you’re driving, Back-of-the-Yards has plenty of street parking on 47th and 55th streets, which are the two major arteries traveling east and west, and Ashland Avenue and Halsted Street traveling north and south. For the most part, it’s pretty easy to find a spot on these thoroughfares, as well as on the side streets, but be sure to look for sign postings about street cleaning dates and other restrictions.
When visiting by car, the neighborhood is accessible from I-55 (Stevenson Expressway) using the Damen Avenue exit. Travel southbound to Pershing Road, and if you’re in the mood for a scenic drive, cut through McKinley Park where Damen Avenue intersects 37th Street. Drive east until you reach either Ashland Avenue or Halsted Street. The neighborhood can also be reached from I-90/94 (Dan Ryan Expressway) using the 43rd Street exit. Exit at 43rd Street and travel westbound to Halsted Street. Beware that otherwise major thoroughfares suddenly become dead end streets in Back-of-the-Yards due to the many industrial parks that dot the neighborhood. Consider it a challenge to navigate your way to your chosen destination.
If you’d prefer not to mess with trying to find your way around the residential blocks, Back-of-the-Yards has several CTA bus lines that operate through the neighborhood and will take you anywhere you need to go. A couple of the popular favorites are the #9 and the #X9 that travel northbound all the way to Irving Park Road in Wrigleyville, or southbound to 95th Street in Beverly. If we’ve got plans in the Loop, we catch the #39 bus along Pershing Road and connect with the #29 northbound at State Street, or take the #47 along 47th Street and get off at the Dan Ryan Expressway to transfer to the CTA Red Line train northbound. Don’t worry, it’s not as confusing as it sounds!
Say your destination is of the far off kind and you have to catch a flight from Midway. Then hop on the #51 bus along 51st Street or the #47 bus along 47th Street heading westbound. Transfer to the #49 along Western Avenue, or if the weather is nice, just walk the two blocks to the CTA Orange Line train station at 49th Street and Western Avenue which with take you right to the airport in minutes.
School’s in Session
Residents in Back-of-the-Yards with school-aged children will be impressed with the large selection of public and private schools located in the neighborhood.
Cesar Chavez Multicultural Academy 4747 S. Marshfield Ave. (773) 535-4600
Coleman Elementary – 4655 S. Dearborn Ave. – (773) 535-1450
Daley Elementary School – 5024 S. Wolcott Ave. – (773) 535-9091
Dewey Academy – 5415 S. Union Ave. – (773) 535-1666
Dugan Alternative School – 4541 S. Wood St. – (773) 535-482
Fulton Elementary School – 5300 S. Hermitage Ave. – (773) 535-9000
Graham Elementary School – 4436 S. Union Ave. – (773) 535-1308
Hamline Elementary School – 4747 S. Bishop St. – (773) 535-4565
Hedges Elementary School – 4747 S. Winchester Ave. – (773) 535-7360
Lara Elementary Academy – 4619 S. Wolcott Ave. – (773) 535-4389
Libby Elementary School – 5300 S. Loomis Blvd. – (773) 535-9050
Richards Vocational High School – 5009 S. Laflin St. – (773) 535-4945
Saint Gabriel’s School – 4500 S. Wallace St. – (773) 268-6636
Seward Elementary School – 4600 S. Hermitage Ave. – (773) 535-4890
Sherman Elementary School – 1000 W. 52nd St. – (773) 535-1757
Tilden Community Academy High School – 4747 S. Union Ave. – (773) 535-1559
Visitation Grammar School – 900 W. Garfield Blvd. – (773) 373-5200
We’ve compiled a sampling of some of the places you can get your bare necessities in the Back-of-the-Yards neighborhood, from kosher hot dogs to kimchi, pastrami to pot stickers.
See Thru Chinese Kitchen – 4318 Ashland Ave. – (773) 927 9898
China Lamp Restaurant – 4603 S. Ashland Ave. – (773) 254 7668
China Kitchen – 4640 S. Bishop St. – (773) 247 2773
New China Wok – 752 W. Garfield Blvd. – (773) 373 2988
Central Bakery – 4523 S Ashland Ave. – (773) 523-0293
Kelly’s Tavern – 4403 S. Wallace St. – (773) 924 0796
D J Lounge – 4434 S Wood St. – (773) 247 5368
Members Only Club – 4518 S. McDowell Ave. – (773) 847 1546
Back-of-the-Yards Saloon – 4554 S. McDowell Ave. – (773) 247 4452
My Second Home – 1501 W. 47th St. – (773) 847 1664
Dana’s Place – 4715 S. Paulina St. – (773) 523 9226
Bar El Intimo – 1706 W. 47th St. – (773) 847 5909
Second Place – 5160 S Racine Ave. – (773) 624 0708
Mr. Breakfast – 4142 S. Halsted St. – (773) 523 3031
Kiki-D’s – 4117 S. Ashland Ave. – (773) 254 3526
Cafe Chicago – 1825 W. 47th St. – (773) 247 7737
T N T Pizza & Beef – 601 W Root St. – (773) 890 9988
McDonalds – 4158 S. Ashland Ave. – (773) 847 2763; 1454 W. 47th St. (773) 890 1004
Dean’s Hot Dog Place – 601 W 43rd St. – (773) 373 6996
Dunkin Donuts – 4302 S. Ashland Ave. – (773) 847 3337
Subway Sandwiches – 4316 S. Ashland Ave. – (773) 376 7733
Fatty’s Fast Food Inc – 1621 W. 43rd St. – (773) 927 3380
Mama Nena’s Shrimp House – 1623 W. 43rd St. – (773) 254 9380
Big Ray’s Grill – 4653 S. Halsted St. – (773) 285 6201
J Carolina Classic Gyros – 1543 W. 47th St. – (773) 523 7020
Burger King – 2000 W. 47th St. – (773) 579 0082
Joe’s Grill – 1156 W. 51st St. – (773) 548 3173
El Patio – 4527 S. Ashland Ave. – (773) 847 2595
La Barca – 1221 W. 47th St. – (773) 523 6443
Restaurant Las Esperanzas – 1758 W. 47th St. – (773) 254 7040
Los Altos – 1848 W. 47th St. – (773) 523 3121
Pizza Nova – 558 W. 43rd St. – (773) 548 5100
Naples Pizza – 4601 S. Ashland Ave. – (773) 376 7640
Vito’s Pizzeria – 5016 S. Ashland Ave. – (773) 927 8787
Italian Foods and Specialties – 3931 S. Leavitt St. – (773) 247 6555
Canaryville Food Center – 710 W. 43rd St. – (773) 254 3026
De La Luz – 4400 S. Honore St. – (773) 247 3331
New City Market – 4404 S. Wood St. – (773) 254 8126
Ayesh Food Inc – 4456 S Hermitage Ave. – (773) 927 4160
Argentina Foods – 4500 S. Wood St. – (773) 869 9134
International Supermarket – 4556 S. Ashland Ave. – (773) 523 9745
Tortilleria Sanisiro – 1207 W 47th St. – (773) 254 8089
El Cubano Supermarket – 4939 S. Ashland Ave. – (773) 376 3631
Curves – 5113 S. Pulaski Road – (773) 767-2566
Southern Pharmacy – 4829 S Ashland Ave – (773) 927-0270
Walgreens – 4700 S. Halsted St. – (773) 927 6599; 1614 W. 47th St. – (773) 247 1880
Finance Station – 4642 S Bishop St – (773) 247-7491
Stockyard – 4101 S Halsted St – (773) 247-0731
Value City Department Store – 4500 S. Damen Ave. – (773) 579 6850
The Burlington Coat Factory – 4520 S. Damen Ave. – (773) 254 0054
Hollywood Video – 4301 S. Ashland Ave. – (773) 254 4285
Superior Nut & Candy Co., Inc. – 1111 W 40th St. – (773) 254-7900
Chicago Transit Authority – (888) 968-7282
Our neighborhoods guide is meant to give potential homebuyers a general overview of what every Chicago neighborhood has to offer and what makes it unique from the rest—and believe us, no two neighborhoods are the same! Searching for a new home isn’t just about finding that prefect condo or house, making sure the setting fits your style and needs is just as important. And whether Back-of-the-Yards neighborhood is your ideal locale to settle down, or you’ve found the scene here just isn’t your cup of tea, we’re here to help you find the right place to make sure your home purchase a is total success. From the type of restaurants to the outdoor venues to the local schools, every detail is an essential factor in what makes a property of dream home. By utilizing our comprehensive accounts of each community, such as this one for Back-of-the-Yards, we hope to provide a detailed picture of not only the residential real estate available in the area, but also the additional features of the neighborhood. A quick glance and you’ll know exactly what shopping, dining, entertainment and resources are in Back-of-the-Yards, all without ever having to go anywhere.