Little Italy, a Chicago Neighborhood Guide

The Little Italy community is densely populated and diverse. While many of the inhabitants of the area are students attending the University of Illinois at Chicago, there remains a significant number of Italian families living in the area. As the neighborhood becomes more affluent, young professionals have also begun to buy condominium space in the area.

The University of Illinois at Chicago is a major part of Little Italy; with over 25,000 students enrolled at the university, it is one of the largest in Chicago. A university with a strong reputation, UIC attracts a mix of students. UIC Medical Center is part of the largest medical district in Chicago; it also includes Rush University Medical Center and Rush-Presbyterian-St. Luke’s Hospital, the Illinois Medical Center, Cook County Hospital, and the Veterans Administration Hospital.

Little Italy is a proud neighborhood; there are landmarks around the area that showcase Italian nationalism and culture. The National Italian American Sports Hall of Fame, founded in 1977, is “dedicated to preserving and promoting the history and heritage of Italian Americans in sports.” The Hall of Fame includes the Tommy and Jo Lasorda Exhibit Gallery, the Grand Piazza Ballroom, the Salvatore A. Balsamo Rooftop Terrace, and the new Frank Sinatra Performing Arts Center.

Across the street from the Hall of Fame is the Piazza DiMaggio, built in 1998 as a gift from the City of Chicago to the Little Italy area. In the piazza is a much-photographed sculpture of Joe DiMaggio. Another landmark in the area is the Our Lady of Pompeii Church, a community center and shrine to Mary. Open to people of all faiths, the center is devoted to providing a refuge for prayer and education. Nearby is Arrigo Park, a 6-acre park whose main attraction is a large sculpture of Christopher Columbus. Named for Victor Arrigo, an Italian American who served as Illinois State Representative, the park is a picturesque haven in the midst of Little Italy.

While Chicago’s Little Italy is not a large neighborhood, it is well known in the city for its excellent cuisine. Certain restaurants along Taylor Street are especially well-known; these include Rosebud’s, Pompeii, Tuscany, and Francesca’s. Dining at one of these, there is a sense of history and pleasure mingled with the knowledge that the establishment has been around for a long time. Serving good, hearty food is something the neighborhood does well.

Although less-exclusively Italian than in its early days, Little Italy is a popular part of the city offering a proud Italian culture and cuisine to locals and visitors alike.

Little Italy Neighborhood Map of Chicago

Little Italy is located southwest of the Loop, with the heart of the area at Taylor Street and S. Racine Avenue. All along Taylor Street, you’ll find lots of Italian restaurants – from bakeries and sandwich shops to fine dining. Also on Taylor Street is the National Italian American Sports Hall of Fame.

This map provides the approximate locations of the points of interest that are described in the partner articles regarding the South Loop neighborhood. See the links above for access to those articles.

Little Italy Neighborhood Map of Chicago

History

Italians first began coming to Chicago in the 1850s. By the end of the 19th century, they were immigrating to Chicago from Italy in rapidly increasing numbers. In 1900, there were 16,008 Italians in the city. By 1930 that number had multiplied by almost five. Most of these immigrants held labor-intensive jobs; they worked for the railroad, for factories, and at construction sites.

While Italian immigrants settled all over the city, the area now known as Little Italy saw the greatest concentration. As these immigrants settled and became more prosperous, they began to have an impact on the city. The Italian Socialist Federation was established in 1908, and by the early 1900s, there were several Italian parishes around Chicago. The increased activity of the Italian mafia in the 1920s also brought Italians to prominence. The Italian Welfare Council was established in 1945; this was changed to the Joint Civic Committee of Italian Americans in 1952, and along with over 150 other Italian organizations, caters to the cultural and professional needs of Italian Americans in Chicago.

Little Italy is bordered on the north by the Eisenhower Expressway, on the east by the Kennedy Expressway, on the south by Roosevelt Road, and on the west by Polk Street.