We Think Therefore We Are!
Not to get philosophical, but it’s been decreed. Gladstone Park is one of 228 vaguely-defined secondary communities allowed to exist in the City of Chicago with no commonly-recognized borders. Just because the community thinks it should be so.
Yeah, Gladstone Park knows it’s located 10 to 12 miles from the Loop, just about as far northwest as you can get from the center city. In fact, The Chicago Tribune refers to the area it’s in as the “Far Northwest Side” as if it were on some alien planet. Maybe that’s because its northern border just past W. Devon is the divide between the city and (eek!) the suburbs.
But nearly all else about Gladstone Park is in dispute. Few know where the community begins and ends. And no one knows for sure how big it is either.
According to many authorities such as the U.S. Census Bureau, Gladstone Park is the small triangular area that starts at the apex created by the intersection of N. Northwest Highway and N. Milwaukee in the south, broadening to about a half mile wide as it heads northwest some 1.3 miles on the long side. This Zip Code Tabulation Area, established for purposes of cumulating demographic data, makes up only about one-quarter of USPS zip code 60630 in the southern section and a much smaller portion of 60646 in the north.
By this measure, Gladstone Park is only a quarter of a square mile in area with about 650 residential buildings and 1700 people.
Zip Code Tabulation Area Map of Gladstone Park (dark gray) consisting of sections of the 60630 and 60646 postal codes as used by the U.S. Census Bureau for tabulating demographic data. This places the community correctly in the northern section of Jefferson Park, one of Chicago’s 77 (supposedly) officially-recognized neighborhoods, which surrounds it in yellow. But most Gladstonians consider this quarter square mile section with only about 650 residential buildings and 1700 people only the heart of their community. When two other main areas — the large yellow triangle to the north with the “Jefferson Park” label on it and the light-grayed “Norwood Park East” — are included in definitions of Gladstone Park, the community is four times larger. Note that this section of Norwood Park East, part of the original but obsolete Park District of Jefferson Park, is claimed by both the greater Jefferson Park neighborhood (and specifically Gladstone Park) as well as by the greater Norwood Park neighborhood. From OpenStreetMap contributors as posted on statisticalatlas.com
The City of Chicago, acknowledging the strength of its neighborhoods in the 1970s, decided to clear up the confusion residents had about where they lived. Going back to an old standard, it used the blocked-off community divisions had been drawn out by University of Chicago research sociologists in the late 1920s for the purposes of keeping track of what was going on in them, according to their Chicago Studies division. Because the city had long found these 77 areas useful for statistical and urban planning purposes, it set the City Planning Department to task verifying the what and where of each of them. Interviewers were sent out into the field to ask 10 random people, “What is the name of this neighborhood?” and “What are the boundaries?” according to the City of Chicago website. That confirmed the boundaries of what had grown up and resulted in the City’s first neighborhood map in 1978. Eventually (in 1993), the Chicago City Council approved this map even if it wasn’t exactly “official.”
Northern section of “Chicago Neighborhoods” map that, when approved by the City Council in 1993, designated 77 distinct areas. This clipping shows the neighborhoods City Planning Department interviewers verified by name and location north and west of the Loop. Jefferson Park, represented in turquoise here and designated #11 on some maps, is in the “Far Northwest Side” of the City some 10 to 12 miles away from the Loop, shown in blue in the extreme southeast corner of the map. Note there is a line pointing to a purpled triangle labeled Gladstone Park, identifying the secondary community within Jefferson Park as its Zip Code Tabulation Area, which excludes the expansive area to its north and west as claimed by many residents and prominent organizations. From chicago.gov.
Admirably, Chicago has always given recognition to the tremendous value neighborhoods of all sizes have in fostering community culture and pride as they act as a series of mini-boosters for the City at large. But Chicago sits on the fence over the designations. On the one hand, it declares in bold on its website that “City government does not recognize or use [the 77] Chicago neighborhood boundaries for official purposes,” while on the other hand, it has affirmed a total of 178 smaller neighborhoods that are also presumably not official, according to Chicago Municipal Code 1-14-010. (Some organizations claim there are 228.)
So, if none of the neighborhoods are “official” in so many ways, how do they get anything official done? In Chicago all the legal and political business is accomplished through its 50 wards, each headed by an Alderman who represents his or her constituents as a member of the City Council. While, fortuitously, most people from Gladstone Park are clumped into the 45th Ward with their brethren from greater Jefferson Park, residents from some of the community’s northeastern streets are assigned to the 39th Ward. Placing them into a rogue district that includes Edgebrook and other parts of the Forest Glen community has had the unfortunate effect of many of them thinking they live in another place called “South Edgebrook” and not in Gladstone Park at all. (More on this later.)
Map of Chicago’s 45th Ward, which includes much of Jefferson Park and most of Gladstone Park (shown at its southeasternmost point at the blue “P.”) The 50 wards are the official districts that handle the legal business of the City and each is headed by an Alderman who represents his or her constituents’ interests as a member of the City Council. Only a few northeastern streets of the Gladstone Park community are assigned to the 39th ward, which is not shown. By hook or crook–or maybe sheer luck–the political unification of the great majority of Gladstone Park residents within its greater neighborhood of Jefferson Park enables them to work together toward common goals. Typically the Chicago ward maps are altered every ten years following the U.S. Census, and were last changed in 2011. In 2019 Mayor Lori Lightfoot called for different district boundaries, opining that the present wards often have “…no relationship to neighborhood boundaries,” giving people no shot for “fair representation,” according to a 2019 WTTW News report. This means if America ever releases its 2020 census information, district lines might change again. Map from chicago.gov.
Coming full circle, the city acknowledges on its website that, “Chicago neighborhood names and neighborhood boundaries can change over time” and, “Different people may have different perspectives on the names and locations of specific neighborhoods.” Thus the paradox: Chicagoans don’t really know how many neighborhoods and sub-neighborhoods they have and none of them (but the wards) are official anyway. But the city encourages them to identify with their specific communities, anyway, freely granting its residents the apparent right to self-determination to live in any amorphous, ever-changing neighborhood they want.
So we’re back right where we started…Gladstone Park as one of 228 vaguely-defined secondary communities allowed to exist in Chicago with no commonly-recognized borders, just because the community thinks it should be so.
Opening Up a Can of Worms
Gladstonians refuse to regard their community as a cold, limited Zip Code Tabulation Area. That would be short shrift for a community that, while it doesn’t like to brag, thinks of itself as a much bigger entity!
The question is: What bigger entity is that?
You’d think the two most active organizations in Gladstone Park would agree. But while the Gladstone Park Chamber of Commerce (GPCC) and the Gladstone Park Neighborhood Association (GPNA) draw their borders much more expansively, they both set different parameters to serve different purposes, the former concentrating on business and industry with the latter focusing on over-all community well-being. Whichever of their borders you pick, however, the result is about the same. According to calculations on GIS Chicago, Gladstone Park is 0.97 square mile in size if using the GPNA boundaries and a full 1.0 square mile with the extra territory GPCC throws in.
While organizations pretty much agree Gladstone Park’s eastern boundary line is N. Central and its northern border is along the Forest Preserve of Cook County to where it meets W. Devon near where the community meets the suburbs, the two groups dispute how far south and west the community extends.
GPCC, seeing the need to promote the businesses that extend west from the W. Foster/N. Northwest Highway/N. Milwaukee intersection, ropes in the entire southwestern quadrant even though the area’s residential streets are cut off from the rest of Gladstone Park by the Kennedy Expressway. GPNA, feeling that lack of connection, excludes it. Its residents, meanwhile, are unsure whether to self-identify with Gladstone Park or the adjacent sub-neighborhood of Union Ridge, a secondary community of Norwood Park.
Boundaries of Gladstone Park as defined by its two largest organizations. The red outline shows the area Gladstone Park Neighborhood Association claims, differing mostly in the southwest where it draws its border along N. Northwest Highway and Metra’s Union Pacific/Northwest Rail Line, staying strictly to the east of the Kennedy Expressway. The blue outline of the Gladstone Park Chamber of Commerce adds a big chunk of commercial and residential property in the southwest section where W. Foster crosses over the Kennedy Expressway to N. Nagle in the west. Some homeowners in the southwest triangle, their streets cut off from the rest of Gladstone Park by the freeway, consider themselves to be in the adjacent Union Ridge community, a secondary community of Norwood Park. While GPCC traces the Chicago River through the Edgebrook Golf Course in the northeast quadrant rather than conforming to the straight lines of GPNA, the two boundaries are essentially the same since neither adds or subtracts any streets or structures. The square mile or so in both the GPNA and GPCC areas is some four times larger than the Zip Code Tabulation Area shown previously. Map courtesy of Gladstone Park Neighborhood Association and enhanced by the author.
As the author extensively walked the community to take her photographs, her gut told her the red GP Neighborhood Association lines linked the commonalities of Gladstone Park better. Thus, she excluded homes southwest of the Kennedy Expressway within GPCC’s parameters because there was no real feeling of physical connection to that section. She only differed with both organizations when it came to the tiny triangle of homes west of N. Northwest Highway and Metra’s Union Pacific/Northwest Rail Line roughly near the middle of the community (off W. Bryn Mawr). Walking across the tracks to those few isolated streets there created a real divide that she couldn’t justify for inclusion in the project.
Grandly, the author initially thought it made sense to augment Gladstone Park even further by embracing the businesses people in the community regularly frequent on N. Elston east of N. Central as well as the homes inbetween that felt so much like part of the neighborhood. That would have taken the community all the way to Metra’s Milwaukee District North Rail Line and included the Chicago North Department of Motor Vehicle facility and the Mariano’s that Gladstonians have treasured since the epicurean grocery store opened in the neighborhood in 2012. It would have added the “L” residential streets from N. Leclaire to N. Luna of Chicago’s alphabetical streets to Gladstone Park’s “M” streets. (See Streets for more on this street naming scheme that shaped the community as new roads ran east from the lakeshore.)
However, those lofty notions were shot to pieces by more than one factor. First, it became obvious that some of the entities on N. Elston to the east of N. Central identify with the adjacent neighborhood of Forest Glen, such as the Forest Glen Animal Hospital and Chicago Transit Authority’s Forest Park (Bus) Garage…even though they are technically in the greater neighborhood of Jefferson Park that runs even further east past Metra’s Milwaukee District North Rail Line to Rt. 94.
And then there was the school district problem.
Although there are no public high schools in Gladstone Park, younger Chicago Public School students wanting to go to a neighborhood school are divided amongst three elementaries. While the great majority go to the only school within both GPCC’s and GPNA’s defined borders — Rufus M. Hitch at 5625 N. McVicker — that district also draws in students from the area south of the Kennedy Expressway that the author was so anxious to exclude, the area that sometimes regards itself as part of the secondary Union Ridge community of Norwood Park.
Meanwhile, Gladstone students in a big chunk of blocks north of W. Rosedale to W. Devon (who often say they live in East Norwood Park) attend William J. Onahan Elementary, 6634 W. Raven, along with children from the adjacent Norwood Park neighborhood. And then there are those in the four-block strip west of N. Central who go to James B. Farnsworth Elementary, 5414 N. Linder, along with those from the adjacent Forest Glen neighborhood.
There’s less confusion concerning Taft High School, the local public secondary school, located only two blocks west of Gladstone’s borders at 6530 W. Bryn Mawr. Its sending district with 3400 students brings in the Edison Park and O’Hare communities to mix with the larger neighborhood areas. These would include Jefferson Park (with the sub-community of Gladstone Park, Indian Woods, and parts of Norwood Park East), Norwood Park (with Oriole Park, Big Oaks, Union Ridge, Norwood Park West, Old Norwood, and the same and other parts of Norwood Park East), and Forest Glen (with Edgebrook, North Edgebrook, Old Edgebrook, Sauganash, and Wildwood).
All the different allegiances Gladstone Park students and their parents develop with their assigned schools create bewilderment when it comes to which communities they associate with. Is it any surprise that some of them say they are from Union Ridge, Forest Glen, Norwood Park, East Norwood Park or another community rather than Gladstone Park?
School district map showing blue pointer on Rufus B. Hitch Elementary School, the only Chicago Public School in Gladstone Park. The great majority of public school youngsters in the neighborhood are assigned to Hitch, including those south of the pink Kennedy Expressway (Rt. 90) that is adjacent to the Union Ridge sub-neighborhood of Norwood Park (included in GPCC’s but not GPNA’s borders). Meanwhile, instead of the district continuing the red western border straight north on N. Nagle to W. Devon, its line cuts out a big chunk of Gladstone Park students on the northwest who go to William J. Onahan Elementary, 6634 W. Raven, along with children from the adjacent Norwood Park neighborhood. Is it any wonder these students and their parents are more inclined to think of themselves as living in the larger Norwood Park neighborhood…especially since the disputed Norwood Park East areas have long been claimed by both that neighborhood and the greater Jefferson Park neighborhood (and specifically Gladstone Park)? Meanwhile, children from the 4-block wide area east of N. Central (the road that travels north into Edgebrook) are assigned to James B. Farnsworth Elementary, 5414 N. Linder further to the east along with students from the adjacent Forest Glen neighborhood. Is it any wonder these students and their parents might think of themselves as living in the greater Forest Glen neighborhood instead of Gladstone Park? District map from Illinois Gazetteer of HomeTownLocator.com.
Often unsure which one of several communities they should be identifying with, the befuddlement over place name extends to businesses as well. In one glaring example, the Liberty Bank for Savings, 6210 N. Milwaukee, bordering on the Norwood Park East area of Gladstone Park calls itself the “Norwood Office” while signage on the front of the Wintrust Bank, 6336 N. Milwaukee just up the street announces it’s the “Gladstone Branch.” Yet both are members of Gladstone Park’s Chamber of Commerce!
It is a running battle for Gladstone Park to get credit for even its most iconic commercial concerns. In “The 10 Best Hot Dog Stands, Ranked,” Chicago Magazine’s June/July, 2021 issue put the community’s Superdawg (Hot Dog) Drive-in, known internationally for its old-fashioned car hop service, in fifth place in the City…but told people to go to Norwood Park to experience it. This is even though the 1950s-style eatery is on the eastern corner of N. Milwaukee and W. Devon, firmly in the Gladstone Park Corridor Study (but in the disputed Norwood Park East section). It is also across the street from the Gladstone Branch of Wintrust Bank as well as the neighborhood’s Shop & Save Grocery Store widely acknowledged to be in the community.
Homeowners, too, get caught up by other constructs that keep them from knowing they live in Gladstone Park. Realtors, who love to frame the communities they sell in as more highly desirable than perhaps they are, freely bat about names of areas within the community. Houses located in the handful of blocks north of N. Elston in the 39th Ward associated with the swankier Edgebrook community, for example, are said to be in “South Edgebrook.” This is even though the area they are in is physically separated from Old Edgebrook and Edgebrook proper by a half-mile of Cook County Forest Preserves. And the designation doesn’t match the location of “South Edgebrook” on Chicago’s official neighborhood map shown earlier. (Plus the homes there are no swankier than those in the rest of Gladstone Park.)
Likewise, houses in Norwood Park East are bandied about as being in the distinctive but separate Norwood Park neighborhood, leading homebuyers to associate them with a community that sometimes commands more prestige and thus, higher average selling prices. With these disparate parts of Norwood Park East seemingly up for grabs, they are claimed by both the “official” Jefferson Park neighborhood (and Gladstone Park specifically) and the “official” neighborhood of Norwood Park at the same time.
But hey, that’s OK. Variety is the spice of life.
To simplify the whole works, some residents just tell people they live in Jefferson Park, Gladstone Park’s greater neighborhood. And technically, they’re right!
How Did We Get Into This Hot Mess?
It might be illustrative to go back some 100 years in time to explore how Gladstone Park got to be where it is today. See Early History for even earlier details.
The first apparent instance of Gladstone Park residents coming together to work for the common good comes from historical park district records as detailed on the Chicago Park District website. By the 1920s new homeowners from the Gladstone Park Subdivision had formed its first neighborhood association, the Gladstone Park Community Club. Seeing the need for a pubic park for its children, its concerned citizens successfully hit up the (now obsolete) Park District of the greater neighborhood of Jefferson Park for a plot of land within its development for a small fieldhouse and open play areas.
Within the same timeframe, Gladstone Park was seeing increasing commercial growth spreading along N. Milwaukee from the larger Jefferson Park town center at W. Lawrence to its south, accompanied by a boom of light industry along N. Northwest Highway as aided by the rail line that ran behind it.
Everything was going along swimmingly until Chicago butted in with its midcentury plan to build a freeway to speed cars in and out of downtown. Progress could come only by slicing the City through its whole length, lacerating established neighborhoods and chopping secondary roads into pieces no longer connected to each other. When the Kennedy Expressway opened in 1960, it cut kitty-cornered through Jefferson Park at W. Foster just north of its main business district, creating, for the first time, an actual barrier separating much of Gladstone Park from the larger Jefferson Park neighborhood that encapsulated it.
The Expressway’s stark physical divide of the two business districts became a logistical as well as a psychological challenge. It reaffirmed the dominance of southern Jefferson Park as the greater neighborhood’s downtown business center, already anchored by the only U.S. Post Office, the only Chicago Park District pool, and later, the only Chicago Library Branch. But the split also had the effect of putting a geographical cap on the size of its established commercial center…one that had previously been gradually and seamlessly expanding its way northward into Gladstone Park.
From this point onward, increased growth in Jefferson Park’s downtown would come primarily by constructing taller buildings with more density, creating more congestion and the consequent need for greater traffic control with more stoplights and parking meters. In 1970 this hub of the greater neighborhood developed further when it became the site of the comprehensive Jefferson Park Transit Center with area-wide bus and rail connections to anywhere and everywhere you might want to go.
Conversely, the barrier created by the Expressway produced a scenario in Gladstone Park that was poles apart. Divided off from the more vibrant commercial growth to its south, the business community was forced to function more on its own. Because its plentiful, lightly-developed land remained relatively cheap in comparison to that of the rest of the City of Chicago, business owners could still make money building stores, restaurants, and service centers no more than one or two stories tall. Locating smaller commercial concerns on bigger tracts of inexpensive land made financial sense, too, because it gave entrepreneurs the advantage of being able to offer their customers off-street parking in lots. The result was a Gladstone Park with a completely different vibe from its southern neighbor with its commercial corridor featuring a more suburban-like low-rise landscape with buildings spread further apart from one another.
While road reconfiguration was going on elsewhere, there was little pressure during the mid-20th Century to add any substantive changes to the main artery of N. Milwaukee through Gladstone Park. Its two mile length through the community, along with 100 miles of other major Chicago streets, had already been widened to four lanes in the 1920s as part of Burnham and Bennett’s 1909 City development plan, according to Gladstone Park Corridor Study: Milwaukee Avenue from the Kennedy Expressway to the City Limits.
In fact, the N. Milwaukee commercial corridor sat essentially untouched throughout the Great Depression and even into the 1940s and 1950s, the Study revealed. It was not until the 1960s that most of the vacant land was finally developed into the shape of what it still is today, 50 and 60 years later. Some might call its present circumstances a time warp reflective of a lack of progress, but others might see it as an example of historical preservation with more and better options for future, smarter expansion.
In 1998 Chicago’s Planning and Development Department recognized the need for enhancements to the infrastructure in Jefferson Park’s more dynamic southern commercial area by establishing the Jefferson Park Business TIF (Tax, Increment Financing) District. Because its 79-acre TIF ran from W. Montrose on the south and ended near W. Foster on the north, all improvements and growth in the initiative were restricted to Jefferson Park proper. Gladstone Park’s commercial corridor further north was left to putter along by itself.
That is, until what became known as “The Border Wars.” As recounted by Editor Brian Nadig of Nadig Newspapers at the June, 2022 Gladstone Park Neighborhood Association meeting, that’s when Jefferson Park decided to hang banners on N. Milwaukee all the way up to W. Bryn Mawr some ten or more years ago, claiming the center of the Gladstone Park Business District as its own. The tiff was only resolved when the Jefferson Park signage came down. Interestingly, the local Chamber of Commerce announced plans in 2022 to hang Gladstone Park banners of its own up and down N. Milwaukee, like one sees if driving through business districts in other communities such as North Park or Mayfair, in efforts to help increase the community’s identity.
It was not until 2017 that the City of Chicago completed a Gladstone Park Corridor Study assessing the businesses that existed on the stretch of N. Milwaukee in northern Jefferson Park in order to make recommendations for its future development and growth. Interestingly, this official City Department of Planning and Development plan included the entire two-plus miles of N. Milwaukee from W. Foster all the way to and past W. Devon even though this longer length conflicted with Chicago’s other “official” definitions of Gladstone Park.
Continuing the Study a quarter mile north past W. Devon all the way to the city limits — an area of a small number of blocks that few people realize is still in Chicago — was, in one way, an oddball choice. This small isolated section, another part of the disputed Norwood Park East community, is not included in either GPCC’s or GPNA’s boundaries. That makes it into a virtual no-man’s-land, claimed by greater Norwood Park but here plunked into Gladstone Park of the greater Jefferson Park neighborhood, seemingly represented by no one and two entities at the same time.
More provocative is the existence of another quasi-no-man’s-land between where the Jefferson Park TIF ends as the Kennedy Expressway veers west near W. Carmen and where the southern border of the Gladstone Park Corridor Study and GPCC start at W. Foster. Although GPNA includes these two long blocks further south on N. Milwaukee, no one else does. Maybe the tire shop or the car wash along that strip don’t care if they’re associated with either community, but it seems kind of egregious to assign the 16th District of the Chicago Police, Jefferson Park Station that’s there at 5151 N. Milwaukee, to the wilds!
Identifying map from “Gladstone Park Corridor Study: Milwaukee Avenue from the Kennedy Expressway to the City Limits.” Starting at the southern apex where N. Northwest Highway branches off along the blue railroad tracks, the red outlined corridor travels for two-and-a-quarter miles along N. Milwaukee to the Chicago border just north of W. Devon. Showing the City’s ambivalence about the full extent of the community, it differs from other “official/unofficial” Chicago maps that reduce the size of Gladstone Park to a triangle ending at the merger of N. Milwaukee and N. Elston slightly more than two-thirds of the way up. The two no-man’s-lands are at both ends of the Corridor. At the north across W. Devon is a quarter-mile long section of N. Milwaukee within the Corridor that borders directly on the green Cook County Forest Preserves property. Few people realize this area (another part of the disputed Norwood Park East community not included within either GPCC’s or GPNA’s territory) is still in Chicago. The second no-man’s-land extends south of where the red-lined Corridor Study begins at W. Foster (where the word “Northwest” is on the map) and continues for two blocks to where the Jefferson Park TIF ends. This area, apparently not represented by any specific business community is where the 16th District of the Chicago Police, Jefferson Park Station at 5151 N. Milwaukee is located. From the Chicago Department of Planning and Development.
Having Their Cake and Eating It, Too
So, what was the point of all these maps and discussions? To prove that no one agrees where Gladstone Park is, how big it is, or where it begins and ends?
No. Just because the community isn’t official, just because its very presence is indeterminate doesn’t mean it’s nondescript or even ordinary. On the contrary. The very mystery behind the what and where of the community is what gives Gladstone Park the opportunity to be exceptional.
Clearly, Gladstone Park is complicated. Like any city neighborhood, it has its attributes as well as its share of problems. Up here on the “Far Northwest Side,” the distant and somewhat undefined community gets ignored by the powers-that-be in Chicago as much as it gets put upon. But existing 10-12 miles away from the purview of big metropolitan departments and red tape can be a good thing. Sometimes it’s easier to be what you want by flying under the radar.
Most people who move to Gladstone Park say it is the best place they could afford to comfortably live where they could be a part of Chicago…but not feel like they were in a built-up city. They relish all the perks of living in a low-rise, family-friendly community bordered by forest preserves that feels more like a country village at the same time as having access to world class museums, pro sports, music, theater, lakefront beaches. Making it all possible is the Jefferson Park Transit Center, a mere five-minutes away, with easy connections via bus, “el,” and Metra to anywhere in the city and beyond. Ensconced in their sturdy vintage homes on lush tree-lined streets…well, they’ve pretty much succeeded in doing their own thing.
So tell people in this one-square mile community you never heard of where they come from. Tease them about being small and insignificant. Make fun that they were named after an old British prime minister. No insult will hit its mark because Gladstonians are having their cake and eating it, too. Why would they want it any other way?