Start and end Green Line, 35th-Bronzeville-IIT stop
Walking time 2 hours Distance 3.3 miles
1 Bronzeville is a block-by-block contradiction—beautiful at one stretch, scarred by vacancy and blight the next. But you don’t have to walk far to find both history and vitality in the neighborhood once dubbed “the Black Metropolis.” Before going back in time for a look at the area’s black music, culture and civil-rights history, hop off the Green Line and head north on State Street to 34th Street to take a gander at what many call modern architecture god Ludwig Mies van der Rohe’s masterpiece. S.R. Crown Hall (3360 S State St), just across the street and a bit north of the El stop on the Illinois Institute of Technology’s campus, may look as if it were built yesterday, but the glass- and steel-fronted College of Architecture building was way ahead of its time in 1956, while the architect was a department director there.
2 Now turn around and go back to 35th Street, where you’ll turn left, heading east until you reach Gregg LeFevre’s 14-foot bronze map (35th St and King Dr, north median). It illustrates Bronzeville’s history through depictions of the old Record Row and a Langston Hughes poem, among other items.
3 At the same intersection, take a look at the Walk of Fame, a series of historical plaques embedded in the sidewalk throughout the median that note famous residents and events. If that’s not enough local orientation, go across the street, walk slightly east to the Bronzeville Visitor Information Center (3501 S King Dr, 773-373-2842) and talk to Harold L. Lucas, president of the Black Metropolis Convention and Tourism Council, who regularly holds court with tourists and community leaders.
4 This corner, in the heart of Bronzeville’s Historic District, is also home to Leonard Crunelle’s imposing 1927 Victory Monument (35th and King Dr, south median), dedicated to fallen members of the Illinois National Guard’s Eighth Regiment, an African-American unit.
5 Next, walk east on 35th Street to Cottage Grove Avenue to check out soul pioneer Sam Cooke’s first stage, a former streetcar stop (35th and Cottage Grove). Cooke, of “Chain Gang” and “A Change Is Gonna Come” fame, sang covers of Ink Spots songs here while his brother, L.C., passed the hat to commuters.
6 Walk east toward the lake on 35th Street to find Abraham Lincoln adversary Stephen A. Douglas’s burial place. The Illinois Democrat known as the “Little Giant” looms large in Bronzeville, literally: The towering 96-foot Douglas Tomb State Memorial (35th St and Lake Shore Dr) houses the politician’s body on what was once his sprawling estate. During the Civil War, part of his property became Camp Douglas, a military training facility, before it was turned into a prison for Confederate soldiers. Now, all that remains is the tower, tucked away in a green corner next to railroad tracks and a footbridge over Lake Shore Drive.
7 Your next stop is the home where activist Ida B. Wells lived from 1919 to 1930 (3624 S King Dr). To get there, head back west on 35th Street, turning south on King Drive. The daughter of former slaves, Wells was instrumental in founding the NAACP, her antilynching campaign set the nation abuzz, and she helped lead the fight for women’s voting rights.
8 Hoof it a few more blocks south to give your feet a rest at Chicago’s Home of Chicken and Waffles (3947 S King Dr, 773-536-3300), known as Rosscoe’s until an L.A.-based chain of a similar name threatened to sue. Order the restaurant’s namesake dish.
Once you’ve had your fill of waffles—and local history—walk it off back to the Green Line, heading north up King Drive and turning west on 35th Street.
GO THE EXTRA MILE Chess Records’ former headquarters is now the Willie Dixon Blues Heaven Foundation (2120 S Michigan Ave, 312-808-1286), which offers tours by appointment. For another music pilgrimage, hike over to Chicago blues legend Muddy Waters’s house (4339 S Lake Park Ave). The comedic team known as the Marx Brothers once called Bronzeville home (4512 S King Dr), too, for a period during the 1910s.