Once home to Italian and Jewish immigrants, the old neighborhoods that make up Little Italy and University Village began to change in the early 1960s, when the University of Illinois moved its Chicago campus from Navy Pier to this Near West Side location. The move was controversial, but over time the old neighborhood and the new University have come together in a vital and diverse community.
New developments, both residential and retail, have replaced many of the old three-flat buildings in Little Italy and the storefronts that lined the Maxwell Street Market. But vestiges of the old neighborhoods remain. Vendors still set up shop on Sunday mornings, although the market has moved a few blocks from its Maxwell Street location. And the city’s best Italian ice—the premier treat for a hot summer day—can still be found on Taylor Street.
A visit to the Jane Addams Hull House Museum is a great way to learn about the early days of the neighborhood, and the tireless social activist who fought for a better life for its immigrant families. The Hull House Association continues her work, providing a variety of programs and advocating for the city’s needy population.
A public park also bears the name of this neighborhood icon. Operated jointly with Medill Elementary School, Addams Park features a swimming pool and activities for children. The sense of history continues in Arrigo Park, a 6-acre green space named for an Italian-American leader, and Sheridan Park, originally designed by landscape architect Jens Jensen.
The UIC Student Recreation Facility features a fitness center, indoor pool, climbing wall and gym with indoor running track. Paid membership is available to neighborhood residents. Sports events and big-name musical acts fill the schedule at the UIC Pavilion, and student drama productions can be seen at the UIC Theater.
The charming brick and greystone buildings in Little Italy are prized by lovers of vintage homes, and often sell for over $1 million. Most of the available properties in the neighborhood are in newly constructed developments. Ivy Hall offers a mix of housing options from lofts and townhomes to single-family residences, priced from $500,000 to over $1 million. University Commons offers loft-style living for $300,000 to $500,000. Prices in the $300,000 to $600,000 range are common in newer townhomes and condos throughout the neighborhood.
As in most city neighborhoods, walking is the way to get around in Little Italy and University Village. The large student population makes biking a popular alternative, and bike racks are everywhere. The CTA Blue Line elevated train and a number of bus routes make it easy to get to downtown Chicago and O’Hare Airport. Parking is less of a problem here than in many areas, and easy access to I-90/94 and I-290 make this a relatively car-friendly neighborhood.
Shopping, Dining and Nightlife
Little Italy/University Village is essentially a college town, and student-friendly—read budget-friendly—spots abound. Ethnic specialties, pizza, hot dogs, and of course Italian beef are plentiful here, with some more upscale Italian restaurants—and even a French bistro—along Taylor Street. Tufano’s Vernon Park Tap has been a neighborhood gathering place since 1930, and another long-time favorite, Manny’s Deli, is just to the east of the neighborhood.
Food shoppers who venture a couple of blocks to the east can choose from Dominick’s and Whole Foods, but local markets like Conte di Savoia offer mouth-watering choices right in the neighborhood. The area’s main shopping districts are along Halsted and Taylor Streets, and offer a mix of local boutiques and national chains.
The collegiate atmosphere dominates the nightlife scene as well. The new Junior’s Sports Lounge adds a dance club vibe to the sports bar formula with DJs and karaoke.
Public schools in the neighborhood include the top-rated Andrew Jackson Language Academy. St. Ignatius College Prep is a Jesuit high school founded in 1869.