Politics

The Other Story of the Notorious Cabrini-Green Projects

Thu., Mar. 31, 2011 12:52 PM EDT
by Zondra Hughes

Chicago’s most notorious housing project was demolished March 30, but its ties to politics and Hollywood won’t be forgotten. (Photo: Cooley High).

The Cabrini-Green Housing Projects was a favorite stomping ground for politicians looking for media attention, the black vote or both.

In 1981, Mayor Jane Byrne, who owned a swanky 43rd-floor apartment on Chicago’s affluent Gold Coast, took a tour of the notorious Cabrini-Green projects. Byrne decided that she, her husband Jay MacMullen, and an around-the-clock Chicago Police detail, would move in to “get the troublemakers out.”

Laughably, Mayor Byrne and her crew moved out three weeks later.
Lesson: Cabrini-Green was not a place to trifle with nor to launch a publicity stunt.

Cabrini-Green offered the urban tale of two cities; it was home to some of the most horrific crimes in Chicago’s history, including the 1997 rape and attack that left 9-year-old “Girl X” blind, but it was also the backdrop for some of black Hollywood’s most memorable contributions.

Cabrini-Green’s well-documented blight, violence and hopelessness was also fertile ground for artistic expression. Award-winning actress Jackie Taylor, founder of the Black Ensemble Theater, has produced more than 100 plays and musicals.

Taylor grew up in Cabrini-Green and says that the horror of life inside the projects made her strong, and the beauty of the family connections helped to develop her art. “It exposed me to a lot of people, a lot of different personalities and a lot of violence,” Taylor noted, “but, at the same time, a lot of wonderful experiences.”


In 1974-79, the sitcom “Good Timeswas set in Cabrini-Green. Cabrini-Green did not receive its props on the show, but a photo of Cabrini-Green, the residence of the Evans family, is shown.

In 1975, the film Cooley High was set here. (The cast and crew filmed at a different Chicago Housing Project), the film is based on the notorious Cooley High School, home to many of the Cabrini-Green residents.

In 1992, Candyman was set here; filming took place at another location, but Cabrini-Green was used for aerial shots.

In 1999, a portion of the film White Boyz was actually filmed inside Cabrini-Green, and the characters in the film say the housing project’s name.

Recently, “The Chicago Code” (starring Delroy Lindo and Jennifer Beals) devoted an episode to Cabrini-Green.

In its heyday, the project, built on the land formerly known as Little Hell, held 15,000 residents in its mid- and high rise apartment building complex. Since 2000, a total of 12,780 high-rise units have been demolished. The Chicago Housing Authority’s Plan for Transformation of Public Housing will replace Cabrini-Green with mixed-income condos and town homes; the location is ideal, as Cabrini-Green was located a stone’s throw away from the affluent Gold Coast.

Take a tour.

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