River North is a neighborhood in the Near North Side community area of Chicago, Illinois. It is bound by Michigan Avenue to the east, Chicago Avenue to the north, and the Chicago River to the south and west.
River North previously was named Smokey Hollow around the turn of the 20th century due to the many factories and forges in the area. The smoke was often so thick that sunlight was blocked. At the time Smokey Hollow was a major transportation hub with railroad tracks linking the ports along the Chicago River with the surrounding areas. The Merchandise Mart still has railroad tracks underneath the building. Massive coal bins were throughout the neighborhood both bringing coal into the area from ships and storage for all the ships. The Merchandise Mart was a major storage warehouse for goods. Montgomery Ward had a major transportation and storage facility in River North.
Little Sicily in Chicago was also located in River North. The first Italian Roman Catholic Church in Chicago was Assumption on Illinois Street, with a mandate to be the Parish for all Italians from Lake Michigan to the Mississippi River. Later Sicilians began to move north from the immediate vicinity of Assumption and began to form their own Parishes north. Italians whose family roots were from other parts of Italy tended to move west along Grand Street and formed Parishes west of Assumption.
The River North neighborhood got its name from Chicago real estate developer Albert Friedman (chief executive of Friedman Properties Ltd.), who in 1974 started to buy, restore and build commercial property in the southeast sector. Much of the area was skid row at the time, so in an effort to attract tenants Friedman started calling the area "River North". Within a few years, Friedman found photographers, ad agencies and art galleries willing to rent the low cost space and coalesce into what is now the The River North Gallery District, which has the largest concentration of art galleries in the United States outside of Manhattan. Along with hundreds of art galleries, the area holds many bars, dance clubs, popular restaurants, and entertainment venues. Between the year 2000 and 2010, the population in the four census tracts covering River North increased by an average of nearly 82%, boosting population from 9,835 in 2000 to 17,892 in 2010.
Subsections of River North include:
- the gallery district, primarily along Superior and Huron streets between Wells and Orleans;
- a theme-restaurant area with many tourist-oriented restaurants, surrounding Clark and Ontario;
- "the Cathedral District", an area with many new residential skyscrapers surrounding Holy Name Cathedral (Catholic) and St. James Cathedral (Episcopal), located near State and Superior, and Huron and Wabash, respectively;
- a design district, with shops and showrooms selling commercial and luxury interior furnishings, in the blocks north of the Merchandise Mart; and
- Kingsbury Park, an area of newly built residential high-rises surrounding Montgomery Ward Park, at Erie Street and the Chicago River.
River North is serviced by four "L" train stations: the above-ground Chicago-Brown and Merchandise Mart-Brown stations and the below-ground Chicago-Red and Grand-Red stations.
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