Near South Side
Nestled in the center of some of Chicago's most diverse neighborhoods, the industrial Near South Side is a prime place to experience urban living. Because of the historical Mercy Hospital, many medical professionals call this neighborhood home, as do artists taking advantage of the large, open layouts and studio space. The existing warehouses make for ideal loft conversions - the ultimate in “industrial chic” design - and contemporary condominiums provide more conventional homes. Surrounded by a network of highways and public transportation routes, the Near South Side offers residents easy access to other parts of the city and a quick commute to downtown Chicago. As a reinvented manufacturing quarter, the neighborhood still has a ways to go in terms of commercial business, but evidence of a dining district has already emerged.
Near South Side Facts
Location: About 2 miles south of the Loop
Bordering Neighborhoods: South Loop, Douglas, Chinatown, Bridgeport, Bronzeville
Boundaries: The Stevenson Expressway to the north, Martin Luther King Jr. Drive to the east, 31st Street to the south and the Dan Ryan Expressway to the west
Then and Now
Like most neighborhoods in Chicago, the Near South Side was once a homeland for Native American tribes, but by the mid-1800s it was overtaken by settlers to the Chicago area. Most of these early residents were employed by the Illinois & Michigan Canal, and later by the lumber industry that was thriving at the time. In 1853, the city of Chicago extended its border to 31st Street, folding the settlement in as a neighborhood.
Despite its new status, the area was still widely considered by city residents as the countryside. With the Civil War in full swing, The Sisters of Mercy decided to move their Chicago hospital further south. Many citizens scoffed at the idea of a hospital so far away, but it didn’t take long for them to eat their words. In 1871, as the city of Chicago was burning from the Great Fire, Mercy became a safe-haven, so far out of the way that not a flame could touch it.
After the fire, some of the city’s most notable families built gilded mansions in the suddenly chic locale, but they didn’t stay long. By 1900, the city’s work in developing an internal rapid transit system made it possible for wealthy families to move further from the city’s center. After the elites fled the neighborhood, industry took over, and by the 1940s the section of town had fallen into decline—warehouses and slum-housing reigned supreme.
By the 60s, it was apparent that what was once referred to as the 'Near Southside' was actually a collection of very different neighborhoods. Chinatown was its own distinct neighborhood, and the historic Prairie District started calling itself just that. What was left behind was a pocket neighborhood, sandwiched between reminders of its former glory. When, in 1968, Mercy Hospital pulled up roots from its home on 26th Street and Calumet Avenue and scooted over a few blocks to settle onto its present lot—where it was free to expand both its facilities and services—the little neighborhood that just couldn’t find its niche became a medical district.
During the housing boom of the 1990s it became desirable to convert industrial warehouses into trendy loft-spaces. Developers embraced the Near Southside neighborhoods for their proximity to the Loop and abundance of industrial properties. The caveat to the popular conversions was that many artists living in those neighborhoods weren’t crazy about the pending gentrification, and in turn started the search for a neighborhood without a Starbucks—an undeniable sign of urban development. They didn’t have to go far. The nearby medical district—the Near South Side neighborhood—became the perfect spot for young artists to get away from it all, without having to move too far away. We suspect that developers already have this little neighborhood on their radar, and that the development happening around it will eventually find its was into the Near South Side, but for now, it remains a refuge from the Starbucks and Condo sect.
Chicagoans are spoiled with their green space, but when a lushly landscaped park is located in a heavily industrial neighborhood, the word 'oasis' doesn’t even begin to describe it.
From 1964-66, the city of Chicago built the 20-acre sanctuary of Dunbar Park (201 East 29th Street, 312-747-6287) on the southern edge of the Near South Side neighborhood. The park takes its name from critically acclaimed author, Paul Laurence Dunbar. The legendary African-American writer was extremely diverse in his talents, writing poetry, short stories, novels, and even a play before his death in 1906, at the young age of 33. The park that bears his name is just as diverse. Whether it’s a game of tennis, a few laps around the track, or a pick-up game of baseball you’re looking for, Dunbar Park can accommodate your every recreational whim.
Near South Side Real Estate
The wide streets of the Near South Side neighborhood are lined with lush green trees. Sprinkled with medical offices, high-rise buildings, and of course, the Mercy Hospital Center, the entire community feels a bit like a college campus. Very few detached homes exist here, as most residents live in condo buildings or converted warehouses.
The neighborhood’s proximity to the Loop, Chinatown, the Prairie District, and the nearby Douglas community means that plenty of restaurants, shops, and nightlife are within walking distance. Near South Side residents get to enjoy the respite of their quiet little enclave—it truly is an island inside all the hustle and bustle of the city.
There are some one-bedroom lofts or condos available in the Near South Side for under $100,000 here, but the average sales price is around $140,000. A two-bedroom unit ranges between $130,000 and the mid-$300,000s, while a three-bedroom costs about $260,000, on average.
What’s on the Menu?
This Chicago neighborhood happens to be an easy stroll from dozens of restaurants in nearby districts, but if you’d rather stuff your face without leaving the comforts of your little corner, you do have several options close by.
In the mood for Chinese but don’t feel like hoofin’ it to Chinatown? You’re in luck, because the China Town Cafe (2604 S. Wentworth Ave, 312-791-0366) is ironically, not there! This place serves up heaping portions for small prices. All of the staples you’ve come to love, including a huge variety of fried rice and soups. We really enjoy the satay chicken—spicy, savory, and served over rice—but if you ask for our recommendation, we’d say try everything on the menu before choosing your favorite.
That’s our problem, when it comes to good food, we can never decide. Mongolian, Korean, Chinese—sometimes we just aren’t sure exactly which kind of spicy goodness we’d like to eat. It’s times like these that call for the Grand Palace (225 W. 26th St, 312-225-3888). The prices are ridiculously low here, and it’s not nearly as crowded as any of the restaurants in Chinatown. So whether you’re looking for the perfect Mongolian pork, Kong Pao chicken, or even just a perfectly-flavored plate of General Tao’s chicken—you’ll find it here.
Of course no Chicago neighborhood is complete without its comfort food. Ricobene’s (252 W. 26th St, 312-225-5555) opened its doors in the 1940s—not that they could fit many people through them. Until they expanded their space, which was only recently, customers had to stand at the counter and bump elbows with their neighbors. But no one seemed to care, because this Chicago mainstay serves up quintessential local fare. Deep-dish pizza, pulled pork, and French fries that are out-of-this-world make this short-order haunt divine. But, as Ricobene frequenters will tell you, the true draw is the breaded steak sandwich. If you want to sound like a regular just say, 'Gimme a Steak Pak' and soon enough you’ll be sinking your teeth into a delicious sandwich smothered in marinara and peppers on crispy garlic bread.
You’ve probably gathered by now that you can walk to most nearby businesses, but sometimes feet get tired, we understand. A bike is a great option for this neighborhood, as you can easily peddle to the Loop, Lake, or many of Chicago’s best museums from here.
If you prefer to drive, just hop onto the Dan Ryan or Stevenson Expressways—hey, they border the Near South Side on the north and the west, so you might as well use them! And once back at home, parking is easy and ample throughout the neighborhood.
You wouldn’t be a Chicagoan if you didn’t use the outstanding public transit system once in a while. The Green Line train of the Chicago Transit Authority (CTA) runs straight through the Near South Side with a stop just south of the neighborhood at 35th Street. Hop on and travel north to the Loop. The Red Line flanks the neighborhood on the western edge. It’s an easy walk to the 35th Street Station near US Cellular Field, although we like to head up to the stop in nearby Chinatown. Again, this line will take you north to downtown and beyond.
For a bus trip, the #1 and #4 lines both run along Michigan Avenue—probably the quickest way to all the entertainment, shopping, restaurants, and tourist attractions in the city’s center. And, the #3 and X3 (the express route) will get you up and down Martin Luther King Jr. Drive in a jiff.
School’s in Session
Families will find plenty of options for grade schools in the Near South Side. In addition to the following list, check out our Chicago Guide Schools page for more information on Chicago area schools.
Big Picture High School 2710 S Dearborn St - (773) 534-9160
Dunbar Vocational Career Academy 3000 S King Dr - (773) 534-9000
John B Drake Elementary School 2722 S King Dr - (773) 534-9129
Sengstacke Academic Preparatory Center 2641 S Calumet Ave - (773) 534-9727
Young Women’s Leadership High 2641 S Calumet Ave - (312) 949-9400
Heaven forbid anything should happen, but if it does, Near South Side residents are in a good spot with one of the city’s best hospitals just beyond their front door.
Mercy Hospital & Medical Center - 2525 S Michigan Ave - (312) 567-2000
Webster Drugs 610 1/2 W 31st St - (312) 567-1490
China Town Cafe 2604 S Wentworth Ave - (312) 791-0366
Grand Palace 225 W 26th St - (312) 225-3888
Ricobene’s Pizzeria 252 W 26th St - (312) 225-5555
As one of the many diverse Chicago neighborhoods, Near South Side offers homeowners a wide range of residential properties. Near South Side homes include lofts, condos and townhomes, to name a few. In addition to Chicago real estate, you can get detailed neighborhood information from our comprehensive online Chicago neighborhoods guide. With features like dining, shopping, entertainment, and resources, we’ve done all the leg work already to make your home search that much easier. Now, when a listing in Near South Side Chicago catches your eye, you can read all about the surrounding area and what it has to offer, all without setting foot in the neighborhood. Like a Yellow Pages, Metromix and MLS database all rolled into one, this site is your ultimate Chicago neighborhoods visitors’ guidebook.