I spent a significant part of my coming-of-age years living in Marquette Park. But I was aware of the Marquette Park neighborhood even before my family moved there. My mother loved taking my brothers and me to different parks in the Chicago Park District. Before she learned to drive, we only went to Davis Square Park and Cornell Square Park, mainly because they were walking distance from our home in the Back of the Yards neighborhood. We would always walk there with my Aunt Mari and my cousins. Once she learned to drive, she took us to Marquette Park. I remember as we were driving west on Marquette Road once, she said that we would someday live in this neighborhood. I really thought this was just another one of her farfetched ideas that she would propose to us from time to time. I remember thinking that we could never afford to live in Marquette Park, especially after my parents divorced. I was actually shocked when I found myself living on Marquette Road itself: 2509 W. Marquette Road to be exact. My mother had actually bought a nice house in a beautiful neighborhood.
I remember going to the Marquette Park fieldhouse in 8th grade for a wrestling tournament where I met someone whom I had met previously at Divine Heart Seminary for the sneak-preview weekend. My mother took us to play at Marquette Park a few times and she always said that we would move there someday, but I didn’t really believe her. Wow! Was I surprised when we actually moved there! There were a lot of fears that the homes would be sold to African-Americans, so the seller told my mother when he finally saw her, “At least, you’re not black!” This is the neighborhood where Jesse Jackson marched down Marquette Road and was pelted by rocks and bricks.
Of course, I never wanted to move to Marquette Park because I was perfectly happy living in Back of the Yards. After a while, I adapted. I accepted Marquette Park as my home and Gage Park High School as my high school. But I was never truly happy there. However, I was happy to live in a Lithuanian neighborhood near Maria High School and the retirement home for nuns of the order of St. Casmir. I actually ran into some of my teachers / nuns from Holy Cross School in the neighborhood.
The focal point of the neighborhood became Marquette Park itself. I soon joined the Mar Par Chessmen that met on Tuesdays in the fieldhouse. The park was such a great place just to hang out. When I began driving, I would drive my ’75 Pontiac Firebird around the park at 65 miles per hour. I really loved driving that fast around the park drive. Looking back, I’m surprised that I didn’t get into an accident because I could barely control the car. When I began running seriously, I would run laps around the park. Eventually, I joined the Marquette Park Track Club–but that’s a Blog entry for another day!
When I was honorably discharged from the Marines, I found an apartment in the Marquette Park neighborhood. I felt very comfortable in the neighborhood. I lived there for six years until I bought a house in Bridgeport, but that’s another story!