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Chicago Public Housing: History through Pics

By Andrew Peerless in Arts & Entertainment on Feb 3, 2005 2:27PM

Richard M. Daley and a 1965 model of the Hilliard Homes, courtesy of often gazes through Brown Line windows at the ever-so-dismal remains of the Cabrini Green community, and has wondered time and time again just what went wrong with some of the Chicago Housing Authority’s (CHA) most ambitious, and notorious, housing projects. For that reason, Roosevelt University's The Promise of Public Housing, 1936-1983 is situated firmly atop our “Damn, This Exhibit Looks Cool” file.

Compiling more than 80 photographs culled from the archives of the CHA and Chicago Historical Society, this exhibit documents the birth of public housing in Chicago and its subsequent progresses and struggles. The photographs, many of which are on public display for the first time, showcase an era when brand spankin’ new public housing complexes were seen as modern, progressive and very real solutions for the housing crises in the city’s worst slums. Of course, the issues of race, poor design and urban poverty, which came to doom so many valiant CHA attempts, are also addressed.

For Chicago residents that are only familiar with the crumbling white towers and downtrodden remains of the aforementioned CHA catastrophe, this exhibit promises to be extra worthwhile. Either way, the photographs include works by area luminaries such as Harry Callahan and Mildred Mead, and will certainly be a fascinating glimpse into a little-documented chapter of Chicago history.

Though The Promise of Public Housing has been on display since Monday, the official opening reception (free and open to the public!) is tonight. Otherwise, you can see it between now and March 11 at Roosevelt's Gage Gallery. After that, you'll have to drive out to Roosevelt's Rotunda Gallery in Schaumburg, where it will be on display between March 23 and May 6.