Fifty years ago, when former Mayor Jay Lytle moved to Evanston, the downtown area resembled a ghost town. Empty department stores lined the streets, foreclosed signs stuck out of the ground and Lytle said you could shoot a cannon in the early hours of morning without bothering a soul.
That same area today could not be more different. Downtown Evanston, which falls largely within the 1st Ward, hosts more than 3,000 businesses totaling more than $1 billion in annual retail expenditure. Local residents recognize the ward for its eclectic boutiques and booming restaurant scene but said they feel new development that has begun to bleed into surrounding neighborhoods could ultimately overtake the district.
Marsha and Hubert Fincher have seen a lot of change over the years in Evanston’s 2nd Ward.
“It’s starting to look more metropolitan,” Marsha Fincher said. “There has been within the last six or seven years an influx of people moving into the area.”
On May 17, 1970, prompted by the student strikes and shooting at Kent State University earlier that month, residents of the 1100 and 1200 blocks of Hinman Avenue, situated in the 3rd Ward, declared independence from the United States for two hours as a protest against the Vietnam War.
James Moran, a Hinman Avenue resident who later served as a U.S. Federal Judge, helped organize the event, which Ald. Melissa Wynne (3rd) said shows the ward’s long history of being generally politically progressive — a trend she said continued in March’s Illinois presidential primary elections, when half the precincts in the 3rd Ward supported Sen. Bernie Sanders.
Evanston’s 4th Ward has a little bit of everything. A portion of downtown dips into its boundaries, the police and fire station headquarters are nestled just inside and three Evanston/Skokie School District 65 schools dot the ward.
“You can walk to downtown, you can walk to the library, you can walk to Main Street, and that’s kind of unique,” said Sue Calder, who has lived on Asbury Avenue in the ward for 37 years.
Colette Allen acknowledges the 5th Ward has problems. Other residents and community leaders agree — safety and economic inequality have been issues in the 5th Ward for decades.
Those problems, however, are being tackled head on by 5th Ward residents, said Allen, who currently works in the ward and spent her childhood in the area. Like any community, the 5th Ward has some good attributes and some that need more attention, but she said residents are proud of their home and consistently work to improve it.
John Kessler spent decades building floats for Evanston’s 4th of July parade, which runs along Central Street in the 6th Ward.
Kessler, a retired Evanston schoolteacher, began making the floats with his neighbors when he moved to the ward roughly 40 years ago — in part to get to know them better. Soon, float-building had become a tradition that began every year in June. Kessler said his favorite float was a giant gym shoe, complete with oversized laces that his children could ride in.
“Everybody on the block had different skills,” Kessler said. “Some were artists, some worked construction, some were willing to just give advice. It really helped me to get to know everyone. … Now I know almost every neighbor on the block.”
Evanston’s 7th Ward could be its own city.
“I used to joke that the 7th Ward could almost secede from Evanston because we’ve got a hospital, a university, a really vibrant business district, schools, transportation,” said former 7th Ward alderman Jane Grover.
Ald. Ann Rainey was elected 8th Ward alderman in 1983, a few years after she moved there from the 3rd Ward and almost a decade after the passage of the Landlord Tenant Ordinance.
She soon found the ordinance — which established the rights and obligations of both landlords and tenants — had done little to quell “problem landlords.” Additionally, many outside the ward regarded it as unsafe, and few took the time to visit the ward’s main thoroughfare, Howard Street.
Quaint houses and residential streets dot Evanston’s 9th Ward, located in the southern part of the city. Residents say they enjoy the quiet comforts of a close-knit neighborhood, but a relative lack of economic development and public land leaves something to be desired in the ward.
“There’s nothing here to do for the kids,” longtime resident Bill Arndt, 67, said.