Rich History of Jewish Lawndale Explored at COD Movie Screening

Remembering Jewish Lawndale, a short film about the rich history of one Chicago neighborhood, will be screened at 2 and 3 p.m. on Tuesday, Oct. 9, in the Health and Science Center, Room 1234.

Co-produced by the College of DuPage Geography program and the Illinois Geographical Society, the 30-minute film details the history of Lawndale and its Jewish heritage. Keith Yearman, associate professor of Geography, said the idea actually grew from two separate projects.

“Six years ago, the IGS proposed recording several well-known Illinois geographers to preserve their knowledge on a variety of topics,” he said. “At the same time, I’ve been working on a new book about Route 66 between Chicago and Joliet. Most tour books show the route starting in downtown Chicago and then jumping to Joliet, skipping most of what’s in between. But the route passed through Lawndale by Douglas Park.”
Fascinated by this neighborhood, Yearman contacted Irving Cutler, former Geography chair at Chicago State University who grew up in Lawndale. Cutler and Yearman took a driving tour of the community and began discussing its history.
“Lawndale was Chicago’s largest Jewish community after World War I. They came from the Maxwell Street area of Chicago because they wanted improved living conditions and such things as indoor plumbing,” Yearman said. “Earlier this year, a big synagogue in Lawndale – Anshe Kanesses Israel – was torn down, and the loss of that gem drove us to document what’s left of the old Jewish community.”
In Remembering Jewish Lawndale, Cutler explains the Jewish population grew to more than 100,000 in the 1930s and early 1940s, representing 40 percent of Chicago’s overall Jewish population.
In addition, more than 70 synagogues were located in the greater Lawndale area. Famous residents included Israeli Prime Minister Golda Meir, Martin Luther King Jr. and big band leader Benny Goodman.
Cutler documents the community’s history though maps and tours of the area, including a visit to the Greater Galilee Baptist Church that was once a synagogue and still contains many Jewish architectural features. The film also features an interview with Richard Dolejs, former North Lawndale resident and real estate manager who came up with the “Little Village” nickname for South Lawndale.
By the end of World War II, the Jewish community began moving out, Yearman said.
“They wanted neighborhoods with single-family homes and better schools,” he said. “They really didn’t stay a long time in Lawndale yet they left so much behind.”
Yearman sees the history of Chicago in its neighborhoods, and he wants to give his students clues they can use to determine an area’s
history through its geography.
“Chicago has more than 200 neighborhoods, but my students only tend to be familiar with neighborhoods like Wrigleyville or the Loop,” Yearman said. “I want them to look at the world through the eyes of a geographer and build a geographic perspective on the world, which can help them explore Chicago’s rich history.”
Remembering Jewish Lawndale features interviews by independent journalist Maria Traska and was filmed by COD student employee Luke Ronne through the College’s Multimedia department. Both screenings on Oct. 9 are free and open to the public. For more information, call (630) 942-2765 or email