Photo by Jackie Serrato

West Lawn and Chicago Lawn have always been predominantly Catholic, immigrant, and family-oriented neighborhoods that share important commercial corridors. The sprawling Marquette Park spans both neighborhoods—further blurring the lines between each community area.

There’s also the unfortunate stain of racism in the local history of both, as memorialized by the monument to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. installed in 2016 on 67th and Kedzie. This is near the site where he was stoned in 1966 as he bravely marched for civil rights through a park filled with angry protesters.

But as has been previously reported by the Weekly and others, significant demographic shifts at the turn of the century have transformed this area of the city. Census numbers show that the white population that initially settled in West Lawn and Chicago Lawn is in decline. 

In 2010, there were about 7,300 residents who identified as white living in these neighborhoods, according to the Census. By 2020, that population had dropped to about 4,400. In contrast, about 62,300 Latinx residents—of predominantly Mexican descent—currently live in West Lawn and Chicago Lawn, per the 2020 Census. 

This major shift was first palpable during the pandemic when traditional Mexican parades were canceled and the roads going downtown were blocked. So thousands upon thousands of Mexican residents flooded Pulaski, Kedzie, California, and beyond in celebration—bringing traffic to a standstill—and showing the city, and each other, that there’s power in their numbers.

But their political power isn’t up to par yet. There’s a strong legacy of machine politics on the Southwest Side that has helped prevent this, though probably not for much longer, given recent indictments of elected officials and the ongoing so-called exodus from City Council, as sitting aldermen decline to seek re-election in 2023.

The concept of the “Indian” monument on 63rd and Pulaski also needs some “unpacking” and re-evaluation due to this new context. There’s a problematic history of white Americans appropriating Native American imagery to advertise cigar shops (as was the original purpose of this effigy) and commodify it. I’ve read accounts of locals who would shoot arrows at its back in the old days. I hope the symbolism of the “Indian” is gaining a new meaning with the influx of brown people to the area. 

Today, residents are writing a new chapter in the history of West and Chicago Lawn. I hope they embrace the magnitude of this moment.

Jacqueline Serrato is the Weekly’s editor-in-chief. She was born and raised in La Villita and has lived all over the South Side, including in West Lawn.

  • Best Good Old-Fashioned Fast Food Pit Stop: Windy City Hot Dogs

    Once upon a time you could buy a hot dog on almost any corner of the city, including in the Southwest Side—at least according to legend. But nowadays, in the West Lawn neighborhood, there’s only a few places where you can get a Chicago dog. I recommend Windy City Hot Dogs.

    When you walk or drive on 63rd Street, it’s impossible to miss the shack-style restaurant on the corner of Kildare. It could very well be a scene out of the 70’s, with its hand-painted restaurant sign that includes the downtown skyline, a hot dog “dragged through the garden,” and a gyro cone.

    But this is a good thing because sometimes a person just wants to make a good old-fashioned fast food pit stop.

    Upon entering the tight quarters, every customer looks up to see the fixed menu on the white letterboard (even though they arrive already knowing what they want). It runs the gamut of Chicago favorites, including cheeseburgers, Polishes, pizza slices, patty melts, chili cheese fries, Italian beefs, pizza puffs, submarines, fried fish and shrimp, grilled chicken sandwiches, and tamales (the English pronunciation).

    The parking lot is huge, so you can wait or eat in the car. Or you can sit on the bar stools and look out the window while you wait five to ten minutes for your order to come out steaming in a paper bag or a checkered cardboard tray. If you’re hungry, you can’t go wrong here.

    Windy City Hot Dogs, 4205 W. 63rd St. Monday–Saturday, 10am–8:30pm; Sundays closed. (773) 581-0332

  • Best Tacos De Barbacoa: Los Comales De Doña Ana

    The Los Comales restaurants are the region’s most famous Mexican food franchise—you can find one as far as Joliet. But not all Comales restaurants are created equal. While the menus are fundamentally the same, each restaurant has a different owner and a different appeal. The location on 60th and Pulaski is run by a family matriarch, Doña Ana (whose name has been added to the restaurant name), and she opened the business when the area was predominantly Polish. 

    There are quite a few things that make her Comales stand out. For starters, the establishment is impeccably clean. This is not true for all taquerias. However, this Comales always has swept tile floors; the tables, condiments, and salt shakers are religiously wiped down; the bathrooms smell like purple Fabuloso; and a neat but bustling kitchen is within eyesight of the customer. It made customers like me feel reassured when we decided to venture out for tacos in 2020.

    Photo by Jackie Serrato

    The restaurant serves the characteristically small street tacos and fat tortas that all Comales are known for. But, in my opinion, the portions here seem more generous, the meat feels more tender, and the salsas haven’t lost their spiciness—as I’ve found to be the case in some Mexican restaurants that try to cater to a white clientele.

    The menu includes classic dishes like enchiladas, mole, and seafood, as well as more trendy options like quesabirria with consomé. One underrated item is the Tacos Jalisco, which are Guadalajara-style semi-crispy barbacoa beef tacos (the meat resembles pulled pork) with a signature fiery salsa on the side that will clear your sinuses and lift your spirits by the time you’re done.

    The location includes a fair selection of tequila and imported beer, which allow for decadent cocktails like micheladas, piñas coladas, and margaritas—or you can keep it simple and just get a six-pack in a bucket of ice. The non-alcoholic options, needless to say, are delicious: the aguas de horchata, tamarindo, and jamaica are never watered down.

    For entertainment, the restaurant has a digital jukebox and five flatscreens that are tuned into the soccer game or the telenovela. There is an altar of La Virgen de Guadalupe in one corner of the dining area, which further attracts customers year round and is a popular backdrop for selfies. 

    Despite a series of other great restaurants popping up on the block over the last decade, Los Comales de Doña Ana is unfazed and here to stay. 

    Taqueria Los Comales de Doña Ana, 6035 S. Pulaski Rd. Monday–Sunday, 10am–10pm. (773) 838-1977.

  • Best Renovation: West Lawn Library

    When you cross west on 63rd and Pulaski, it’s easy to miss the West Lawn Library among the rows of storefronts and busy vehicular traffic. The library was especially overlooked when it closed down for what felt like a year at the beginning of the pandemic, with some neighbors fearing that it would close forever. 

    The West Lawn Branch quietly reopened in January 2022 after undergoing a series of indoor renovations. The $625,000 TIF-funded investment was part of the City’s capital improvement program that included upgrading library buildings as a way to “reduce maintenance and rental costs, provide safe, structurally sound and inviting facilities, and ensure that current and future service needs are met.”

    Staff changes were implemented to presumably better serve the relatively new Mexican-American community in the area, and Mina Duarte was hired as the branch manager. She brings relevant experience having previously worked in libraries serving Latinx communities such as Brighton Park Branch, Toman Branch in Little Village, Gage Park Branch, and South Chicago Branch, as well as the downtown Harold Washington Library Center.

    There is also more visible programming. The branch participated in CPS’s Summer Meals program, distributing to-go lunches to children during summer break. The library is also a popular voting site during election season, and many Southwest Side voters will likely choose that location to vote this November for the general elections and in the February municipal elections.

    At the moment, the branch is hosting a performing arts series called “Artopia,” which consists of mini-concerts at the library on select Saturday nights. The lineup includes a jazz duo, a guitar-flute duo, and a classical guitarist.

    More family-friendly events are expected to come to the new and improved branch. Keep an eye out! 

    West Lawn Library, 4020 W. 63rd St. Monday & Wednesday, 12–8pm; Tuesday & Thursday, 10am–6pm; Friday & Saturday, 9am–5pm; Sunday, 1–5pm. (312) 747-7381

  • Best Oasis Within An Oasis: Marquette Park Lagoon

    Marquette Park is truly an oasis in a very industrialized part of the city. In fact, it holds the title as the largest park on the Southwest Side. There’s much to appreciate about the park, and because it’s roughly fifteen blocks wide, there is ample space for people from different neighborhoods to spread out and enjoy it. 

    Many people use the soccer fields and basketball courts, have cookouts under the trees, or walk, run or ride their bike on a nearly three-mile trail that loops around the park. The trail is also car-accessible, so people can drive to any part of the park, and many times the park has served as a training ground for new drivers or a meeting point for caravans.

    One aspect of the park that I think is underrated and that I consider to be an oasis within an oasis is: the lagoon. 

    The lagoon is a narrow and shallow body of water that circles the park inside the perimeter of the trail. It’s reportedly about forty acres. From a bird’s eye view, it appears that two tiny islands are in the center—especially because Kedzie Avenue runs through the middle of the park.

    My favorite way to access the lagoon is by walking the trail on the east end of the park. I’ll start on Kedzie, going on Mann Rd., which turns into Kanst Drive—and right there, inconspicuously, you’ll find an entrance amidst the trees and prairie bushes. It takes you on a small wooden bridge over the water, and for a minute, it makes you forget you’re in the city. 

    There’s not much else on the other end of the bridge, just more wilderness. The quiet atmosphere is perfect for fishing enthusiasts. There are about ten known species of fish in the water, including channel catfish and yellow bass.

    Check it out one day when you want to clear your mind. And let’s help to maintain and protect this lovely piece of nature. 

    Marquette Park, 6743 S. Kedzie Ave. 6am–11pm. (312) 747-6469.

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1 Comment

  1. How about the Teddy Bear ? daycare center located at 64th Pulaski since 1978. Also Little Bear ? daycare center Nextdoor since 2011. Teddy Bear has been serving the south side of Chicago for the past 50 years with six locations.

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