Politics

The Other Story of the Notorious Cabrini-Green Projects

Thu., Mar. 31, 2011 12:52 PM EST
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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  • Dan Webber

    Public Housing is a GOOD idea. They use it in Europe with success. If they had placed cameras in and around Cabrini and evicted the troublemakers, it would have been a success. The Evans family (Good Times) never had to worry about being evicted. They were a stable working-class family. Happiness is having good neighbors that follow bourgeois norms.

    • Obammy Mammy

      You’re high if you think setting up cameras would have helped. Cabrini Green was a war zone cram packed with the worst elements of society. The area was nice, liveable, and functioned in the early days, but like everything else the blacks touch it all turned to garbage. These people don’t know how to live in decent society, take pride in their homes or themselves, and must perpetuate the myth that all odds are stacked against them so they can do what they all do best… mooch off the taxpayers and blame everyone else for their problems. Good riddance to these people and the cess pool they created. Feral animals function better than American blacks.