With wide boulevards, plenty of park space, inexpensive housing and convenient transportation options, South Austin is a Chicago neighborhood on the rise. Civic organizations are an active part of South Austin's community culture, working with residents and local businesses to revitalize the area and create an attractive and pleasant environment. A classic farmer's market sets up shop in the heart of South Austin every week during the warm weather months, and year round recreational activities are always going on at the neighborhood's popular Columbus Park fieldhouse. A nine-hole golf course makes it easy for South Austiners to keep those tee times and summertime movies and concerts in the park are a great evening event for the whole family to enjoy.
South Austin Facts
Location: 7 miles west of the Loop
Boundaries: Division Street to the north, Austin Boulevard (and Oak Park) to the west, Cicero Avenue to the east and the Eisenhower Expressway (1-290) to the south
Bordering Neighborhoods: North Austin, Lawndale, West Garfield Park, West Humboldt Park, Oak Park
Then and Now
The greater Austin area is Chicago’s largest neighborhood, both geographically and in terms of population. This area on the city’s far west side, known then as Austinville and a part of Cicero Township, was founded as a tight-knit community by land speculator Henry Austin in 1865. Despite its founder’s wishes for the town to remain a small family-oriented village, Austin’s growing importance as a transportation hub for both the Chicago & Northwestern rail line and the expanding Lake Street elevated tracks made land there a valuable commodity. Austin was voted out of the township by a majority vote of its residents and officially annexed to the city of Chicago in 1899. Still, the residents of this new Chicago neighborhood persisted in maintaining their own identity and as a sign of their independence—in spirit, if not as a municipality—Austin Town Hall was constructed on an existing neighborhood park and opened in 1929. The original settlers of the South Austin neighborhood were Europeans (Germans, Scandinavians, Irish and Italians) but the ethnic makeup of Austin has changed over the years. In the 1920s, Austin had a sizable Greek populace. The population shifted again in the 1960s when numerous residents were forced to relocate to make way for the building of the Eisenhower Expressway. Migration to the suburbs by many descendants of the neighborhood’s original inhabitants also added to the dramatic change in South Austin at the time. By the 1970s, South Austin was experiencing a period of economic depression and a spike in crime and poverty. Since then, various neighborhood activists groups, such as the Organization for a Better Austin, have been working toward improving the quality of life in this predominantly African-American community, and the neighborhood is experiencing signs of recovery.
The South Austin neighborhood has many parks to serve its population of over 117,000 residents, the largest of which is Columbus Park (500 S. Central Ave., 773-287-7641). Jens Jensen, the father of Prairie-style landscape architecture, designed Columbus Park from the grass up, so to speak. This was Jensen’s first chance to build a park from scratch as opposed to redesigning existing park space. Even though the park lost a few acres to the Eisenhower Expressway in the 1960s, it still covers 144 acres of land and we find it to be one of the city’s best. There’s more than enough open space to organize your own sporting activities and there’s plenty of room to picnic as well. This west side park is busting at the seams with different playing fields, outdoor interests and recreational activities. In addition to traditional favorites like baseball, tennis and basketball, Columbus Park also has a fieldhouse with assembly rooms, a swimming pool, a boxing area, walking trails and day camps for kids. During the summer, the park is a popular neighborhood hangout when it hosts movie screenings and music events at the outdoor theater. And as if that wasn’t enough to keep you busy, golfers need to check out the 9-hole Columbus Park Golf Course (5800 W Jackson Blvd, 773-746-5573). We find this well-kept Chicago secret to be a surprisingly challenging and well-maintained course where the obstacles are few and the greens are fast. Built on land donated by founder Henry Austin and his wife Martha, Austin Park (5951 W Lake St, 773-287-7658) is another Jens Jensen creation. The park originally featured a long, narrow lagoon which provided welcome relief from hot summer days for South Austin’s earlier residents. Unfortunately, that body of water was destroyed from overuse. Today the park’s spray pools and water playground are the perfect modern day substitute and a soft surface playground fills a space formerly occupied by a lagoon.
There are many busy thoroughfares and intersections in South Austin, and traffic can get hairy. For small children living north of Washington Boulevard, getting to Columbus Park can be dangerous. This unfortunate fact of city living prompted the City of Chicago to construct Six Mile Playlot Park (240 N Waller Ave, 773-287-7658) on the site of the old Six Mile House tavern—torn down years before.
Art and Architecture
Austin Town Hall (5610 W Lake St, 773-287-7658) refers not just to the actual town hall field house building, but to the surrounding park as well. The Town Hall building was designed by architects Christian S. Michaelsen and Sigurd A. Rognstad in 1927. Georgian Revival architecture sought to not simply imitate the early American colonial style but to also be an interpretation of that period. Georgian Revival architecture sought to not simply imitate the early American colonial style, but to be an interpretation of that period and is said to be influenced by Philadelphia’s Independence Hall. Administered by the Chicago Park District since 1934, Austin Town Hall Park also features gym and fitness centers, an Olympic-sized swimming pool, meeting and assembly rooms, and an auditorium. Acting and arts and crafts workshops are offered at the field house, and the park is also home to the Austin Branch of the Chicago of Public Library.
Additionally, at the Bethel Cultural Arts Center (1140 N Lamon Ave, 773-378-3600) created in 1979 by the Bethel Lutheran Church, you can see musical, theater and dance performances, film screenings and poetry readings, as well as register for various classes open to the community.
South Austin Real Estate
Housing in South Austin is affordable and plentiful and the neighborhood has been experiencing a resurgence of building in recent years. The residential streets feature a large selection of single-family homes and multi-unit housing. Larger Victorian homes, some with sweeping wrap-around porches, mingle with new construction townhomes with attached garages, green front lawns and manicured shrubbery.
Vintage brick condos, newer models made to resemble vintage style, courtyard apartment buildings, two-story frame houses, traditional bungalows and modern designs round out neighborhood’s residential architecture. Wrought-iron fences edge the properties, while trees dot the landscape providing a serene city existence.
The average sales price for a three-bedroom detached single-family home in South Austin is about $173,000. The value of a four- or five-bedroom is around $186,000 with most priced at $300,000 or lower. The average sales price for a three-bedroom condo unit is around $165,000, a two-bedroom is $142,000, and a three-bedroom averages in at around $173,000.
What’s on the Menu?
Dining in South Austin is an unpretentious and laidback affair. There are several homey restaurant options for soul food or traditional American cuisine. Talaber’s Family Restaurant (5940 W Lake St 773-378-1837) is a South Austin mainstay that’s usually filled with regulars. Popular for traditional breakfast options (we never get tired of pancakes, eggs and sausage), the price is also right for your basic American fare lunch and dinner, with most entrees ringing up at less than five bucks. If you have a hankering for down-home southern fare, we recommend MacArthur’s (5401 W Madison Ave, 773-261-2316). South Austin residents line up during the dinner rush to get a taste of home-style fried catfish, fried chicken and corn bread. MacArthur’s offers more than 20 side dishes from collard greens and black-eyed peas to mac‘n cheese and sweet potatoes. If you can find an open booth in the cafeteria-style dining room you can order a piece of peach cobbler to finish and fully enjoy the experience.
Mark Your Calendar
From the late spring through the early fall, we skip the weekend trip to the grocery store for produce and other food fare items, and instead join the throng of locals that can be found on Saturdays at The Austin Farmers Market (5600 W Madison St. Emmet Academy parking lot, 312-744-3315). While attendance has tended to waiver in past years, the influx of organic farmers from downstate and Wisconsin has increased the bounty of fruits, vegetables and meats available. And if you’re a southern-style chef, you’ll find a good selection of greens, peas and okra to give that Sunday dinner a little something extra. Thankfully, local agriculture organizations have recognized the demand for organically grown produce and have worked hard to help the Austin Farmers Market thrive.
South Austin has many convenient public transportation options that allow residents to tool about the neighborhood with ease, or travel to events and activities taking place out in Oak Park or in Chicago’s downtown Loop. Two separate Chicago Transit Authority (CTA) train lines run through the South Austin neighborhood, helping residents commute to work and play. The Blue Line 'El' (so named for the system’s periodic elevated tracks) serves the southern side of the neighborhood with stops at both the eastern and western borders—at Austin Boulevard and Cicero Avenue, respectively. Running along Lake Street, the Green Line train is the backbone of South Austin’s public transportation, with four stops for convenience, at Austin Boulevard, and Cicero, Laramie and Central avenues. The CTA bus system also provides South Austin residents with another handy option for city travel. For the ultimate cultural excursion, hop on the #12 Roosevelt Road bus (just south of the neighborhood’s southern border) and head east to Museum Campus where the Shedd Aquarium, Adler Planetarium and the Field Museum await a visit. Sports fans can always jump on the #12 Roosevelt to get to a Bears game at Soldier Field. Speaking of sporting events, the #20 Madison Avenue bus (with late night service) will get you to the United Center to watch the Bulls or Blackhawks play, or you can take this same line all the way out to Oak Park suburb. Commuting into the Loop is a breeze on the #20. Several busy streets and boulevards run through South Austin, which can make bicycling somewhat hazardous. Parking is ample and despite heavy traffic on the main thoroughfares, driving might be the safest and quickest form of travel after the CTA. The Eisenhower Expressway borders South Austin on its southern edge, so for those of you who have your own vehicle, the neighborhood has easy access to both on and off ramps.
School’s in Session
There are many public schools in South Austin to choose from.
Austin High 231 N Pine Ave - (773) 534-6300
Clark Middle 5101 W Harrison St - (773) 534-6250
Depriest 139 S Parkside Ave - (773) 534-6165
Herbert Spencer 214 N Lavergne Ave - (773) 534-6150
Robert Emmet 5500 W Madison St - (773) 534-6050
George Rogers Clark 1045 S Monitor Ave - (773) 534-6225
Louis Armstrong 5345 W Congress Pkwy - (773) 534-6365
George Leland 5221 W Congress Pkwy - (773) 534-6340
Francis Scott Key 517 N Parkside Ave - (773) 534-6230
Horatio May N 512 S Lavergne Ave - (773) 534-6140
Duke Ellington Edward Kennedy 243 N Parkside Ave - (773) 534-6361
Julia Ward Howe 720 N Lorel Ave - (773) 534-6060 Do
Frederick Middle Douglass 543 N Waller Ave - (773) 534-6176
Brunson Specialty at St Martin Deporres Milton R 116 N Leclaire Ave - (773) 534-9645
Below is a short list of some places in South Austin that will help you cover those basic needs …
Austin Branch, 5615 W Race - (312) 746-5038, (312) 746-5039
West Chicago Avenue Branch 4856 W Chicago Ave - (312) 743-0260
Chicago Transit Authority (888) 968-7282
Rev. Milton R. Brunson Station 324 S Laramie Ave (800) ASK-USPS
Mary Alice Henry Station 4222 W Madison St (800) ASK-USPS
CVS 3552 W Grand Ave - (773) 772-8900
Walgreens 5222 West Madison Ave - (773) 287-0380
Moo & Oink 4848 W. Madison St - (773) 473-4800
City Sports, 335 N Central Ave - (773) 626-5088
Austin Farmers Market 5600 W Madison Ave - (312) 744-3315
Parks are plentiful in the South Austin neighborhood. To find out more information on the parks listed below, visit the Chicago Parks District
Austin Park, 5951 W Lake St - (773) 287-7658
Clark (John) Park, 4615 W Jackson Blvd - (773) 287-7794
Cottonwood Playlot Park 5056 W West End Ave - (773) 287-7794
Hubbard Playlot Park 4942-58 W Hubbard St - (773) 287-0806
Kinzie Parkway Park 5200 W Kinzie St - (773) 287-7658
Austin Town Hall 5610 W Lake St 773-287-7658
Levin Park 5458 W Kinzie Pkwy - (773) 287-7658
Moore Park 5085 W Adams St - (773) 287-0561
Ohio Playlot Park 4712 W Ohio St - (773) 287-0608
Six Mile Playlot Park 240 N Waller Ave - (773) 287-7658
Sweet Clover Playlot Park 650 W Leamington Ave - (312) 746-5316
Art and Culture
Bethel Cultural Arts Center 1140 N Lamon Ave - (773) 378-3600
Cash Inn 6 S Cicero Ave - (773) 473-7243
El Chacharas Resale 5900 W Roosevelt Rd - (773) 261-3367
600 S Cicero Inc - 600 S Cicero Ave - (773) 379-2022
Esquire Lounge 4905 W Madison St - (773) 921-8160
Victoria Lounge 5131 W Madison St - (773) 379-5500
Sherrie’s Lounge 5040 W Madison St - (773) 378-5073
Whole Lounge 158 N Laramie Ave - (773) 378-8367
Ted & Jackie’s, Inc. 5813 W Madison St - (773) 378-8389
Coleman’s Hickory House 5754 W. Chicago Ave - (773) 287-0363
Greg’s Gyros 1759 N Harlem Ave - (773) 637-7708
Joe’s Barbeque & Fish 4900 W Madison St - (773) 626-5910
K & K Fish 430 N Laramie Ave - (773) 261-7377
MacArthur’s 5401 W Madison Ave - (773) 261-2316
Rib Bazaar 5719 W Madison St - (773) 379-4177
Salty Dog 5701 W Jackson Blvd - (773) 261-3269
Talaber’s Family Restaurant 5940 W Lake St - (773) 378-1837
Vivrette’s Deli 5963 W Madison St - (773) 287-8718
Vienna Taco House 333 N Central Ave - (773) 287-1742
Fung’s Chop Suey 5606 W Madison St - (773) 287-2328
Chop Suey Kitchen 5353 W Madison St. - (773) 379-0311
King Joy Chop Suey 10 N Cicero Ave - (773) 626-8922
C & P Fried Rice 521 S Cicero Ave - (773) 261-2800
Liews Chop Suey 5709 W. Madison St - (773) 379-4242
Mr. Fried Rice 524 S Laramie Ave - (773) 261-1515
Nina’s Restaurant 5810 W Madison St - (773) 921-5062
Sometimes it makes more sense to view the city of Chicago as a bunch of separate neighborhoods, especially when it comes to real estate. Whether you are in the market for a loft, condo, townhome, or house, it is just as important to inspect the surrounding area as it is to inspect the home’s foundation. South Austin neighborhood is just one Chicago community with an abundance of residential properties, and a life all its own. From where you send your kids to school to where you dine at night, the information we provide is an essential piece of the puzzle when you’re trying to decide whether or not to buy that beautiful loft or adorable house in South Austin.