Demolition begins on last Cabrini-Green high-rise

March 31, 2011 4:00:35 AM PDT
Demolition is under way on the last high-rise at the infamous Cabrini-Green housing complex. It marks the end of an era for public housing in Chicago.

At its peak, the Cabrini-Green complex was home to 15,000 people. But, over the years, gang violence and neglect created terrible living conditions for the residents.

The high-rise at 1230 N. Burling is the last one standing from a demolition process that began 15 years ago.

The violence problem made headlines over the years at Cabrini-Green. But, Wednesday, one could get a sense of a different story: The residents returned, looking at the building, realizing, at some point in their lives, this was home. For some, maybe, it was home for a few months, for others, a decade.

The last of Cabrini-Green is coming down piece by piece.

"It's a sight we always dreaded," said Cabrini resident and former property manager Marvin Edwards. "We knew the bulldozers was coming one day, from all the bad history here, but we never thought we would see it unfold so fast."

"This is all I've known for 41 years," said Cabrini resident Carl Nesbitt. "This is where I raised my kids. This was a part of all of this. I wouldn't miss it for nothing in the world."

Each blast of the wrecking ball seems to shake loose so many memories. Edwards was 6 years old when he moved in with his mother and four siblings.

"The togetherness we had here, people were like one big family," Edwards said. "There was a lot of good that came out of Cabrini."

Cabrini did make headlines throughout the years. The Evans family from the TV show "Good Times" lived at Cabrini-Green. But it was also known for the violence; at one point Mayor Jane Byrne moved in, in 1981, to stem the violence.

But the violence may only be part of the story.

"Where there has been gang violence, there has also been success; where there's been drugs, there's also phenomenal growth; where there's been welfare, there are folks who are now millionaires," said Keith Magee. "It actually looks like am American story."

Magee is the executive director of the future National Public Housing Museum, Public housing was part of the New Deal to replace slums. The museum will be in the Jane Addams Homes and will tell a part of Cabrini and public housing history.

"The memories are important from the very beginning through now," said Magee. "What is vital and important is that it is a complex story, but it starts with a simple truth -- everyone needs a place to call home."

The National Public Housing Museum is expected to open by the end of 2012.

As far as the property where Cabrini-Green is situated, there are reports that a Target store will be built there. Those are unconfirmed reports. Officially, CHA is saying that they still own the property, and they hope to have a new, mixed sort of neighborhood. They also say that a working group will be working on the future of the property.