By Morgan Dunn | Checked By John Kuroski
Published September 15, 2020
Updated November 13, 2020
Popularly known as the setting for the horror movie Candyman, Cabrini-Green began as a mid-century example of what a public housing project could provide, but eventually grew so neglected that it had to be demolished.
Ralf-Finn Hestoft / Getty ImagesOne of the “reds,” a mid-sized building at Cabrini-Green.
It wasn’t supposed to end like this.
As the wrecking ball dropped into the upper floors of 1230 N. Burling Street, the dream of affordable, comfortable housing for Chicago’s working-class African Americans came crashing down.
Opened between 1942 and 1958, the Frances Cabrini Rowhouses and William Green Homes started as a model effort to replace slums run by exploitative landlords with affordable, safe, and comfortable public housing.
But although homes in the multistory apartment blocks were cherished by the families that lived there, years of neglect fueled by racism and negative press coverage turned them into an unfair symbol of blight and failure. Cabrini-Green became a name used to stoke fears and argue against public housing.
Nevertheless, residents never gave up on their homes, the last of them leaving only as the final tower fell.
This is the story of Cabrini-Green, Chicago’s failed dream of fair housing for all.
The Beginning Of Public Housing In Chicago
Library of Congress“The kitchenette is our prison, our death sentence without a trial, the new form of mob violence that assaults not only the lone individual, but all of us in its ceaseless attacks.” – Richard Wright
In 1900, 90 percent of Black Americans still lived in the South. There, they struggled under a system of Jim Crow laws designed to make their lives as miserable as possible. Black men were gradually stripped of the right to vote or serve as jurors. Black families were often forced to subsist as tenant farmers. The chances of being able to rely on law enforcement were often nil.
An opportunity for a better life arose with the United States’ entry into World War I. Black Americans began to stream into Northern and Midwestern cities to take up vacant jobs. One of the most popular destinations was Chicago.
The homes they found there were nightmarish. Ramshackle wood-and-brick tenements had been hastily thrown up as emergency housing after the Great Chicago Fire in 1871 and subdivided into tiny one-room apartments called “kitchenettes.” Here, whole families shared one or two electrical outlets, indoor toilets malfunctioned, and running water was rare. Fires were frighteningly common.
It was thus a relief when the Chicago Housing Authority finally began providing public housing in 1937, in the depths of the Depression. The Frances Cabrini rowhouses, named for a local Italian nun, opened in 1942.
Next were the Extension homes, the iconic multi-story towers nicknamed the “Reds” and the “Whites,” due to the colors of their facades. Finally, the William Green Homes completed the complex.
Chicago’s iconic high-rise homes were ready to receive tenants, and with the closure of war factories after World War II, plenty of tenants were ready to move in.
‘Good Times’ At Cabrini-Green
Library of CongressLooking northeast, Cabrini-Green can be seen here in 1999.
Dolores Wilson was a Chicago native, mother, activist, and organizer who’d lived for years in kitchenettes. She was thrilled when, after filling out piles of paperwork, she and her husband Hubert and their five children became one of the first families granted an apartment in Cabrini-Green.
“I loved the apartment,” Dolores said of the home they occupied there. “It was nineteen floors of friendly, caring neighbors. Everyone watched out for each other.”
A neighbor remarked “It’s heaven here. We used to live in a three-room basement with four kids. It was dark, damp, and cold.”
The Reds, Whites, rowhouses, and William Green Homes were a world apart from the matchstick shacks of the kitchenettes. These buildings were constructed of sturdy, fire-proof brick and featured heating, running water, and indoor sanitation.
They were equipped with elevators so residents didn’t have to climb multiple flights of stairs to reach their doors. Best of all, they were rented at fixed rates according to income, and there were generous benefits for those who struggled to make ends meet.
Michael Ochs Archives / Getty ImagesFamilies in Cabrini-Green, 1966.
As the projects expanded, the resident population flourished. Jobs were plentiful in the food industry, shipping, manufacturing, and the municipal sector. Many residents felt safe enough to leave their doors unlocked.
But there was something wrong underneath the peaceful surface.
How Racism Undermined The Cabrini-Green Projects
Ralf-Finn Hestoft / Getty ImagesA policewoman searches the jacket of a teenage African American boy for drugs and weapons in the graffiti-covered Cabrini Green Housing Project.
As welcome as the homes were, there were forces at work that limited opportunities for African Americans. Many Black veterans of World War II were denied the mortgage loans white veterans enjoyed, so they were unable to move to nearby suburbs.
Even if they managed to get loans, racial covenants — informal agreements among white homeowners not to sell to black buyers — barred many African Americans from homeownership.
Even worse was the practice of redlining. Neighborhoods, especially African American ones, were barred from investments and public services.
This meant that Black Chicagoans, even those with wealth, would be denied mortgages or loans based on their addresses. Police and firefighters were less likely to respond to emergency calls. Businesses struggled to grow without startup funds.
Library of CongressThousands of Black workers like this riveter moved to Northern and Midwestern cities to work in war industry jobs.
What’s more, there was a crucial flaw in the foundation of the Chicago Housing Authority. Federal law required the projects to be self-funding for their maintenance. But as economic opportunities fluctuated and the city was unable to support the buildings, residents were left without the resources to maintain their homes.
The Federal Housing Authority only made the problem far worse. One of their policies was to deny aid to African American homebuyers by claiming that their presence in white neighborhoods would drive down home prices. Their only evidence to support this was a 1939 report which stated that, “racial mixtures tend to have a depressing effect on land values.”
Cabrini-Green Residents Weathered The Storm
Ralf-Finn Hestoft / Getty ImagesDespite political turmoil and an increasingly unfair reputation, residents carried on with their daily lives as best they could.
But it wasn’t all bad at Cabrini-Green. Even as the buildings’ finances grew shakier, the community thrived. Kids attended schools, parents continued to find decent work, and the staff did their best to keep up maintenance.
Hubert Wilson, Dolores’ husband, became a building supervisor. The family moved into a larger apartment and he dedicated himself to keeping trash under control and elevators and plumbing in good shape. He even organized a fife-and-drum corps for neighborhood kids, winning several city competitions.
The ’60s and ’70s were still a turbulent time for the United States, Chicago included. Cabrini-Green survived the 1968 riots after Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s death largely intact.
But an unfortunate consequence of this event was that over a thousand people on the West Side were left without homes. The city simply dumped them in vacancies in the projects without support.
The conditions for a perfect storm had been set. Transplanted West Side gangs clashed with native Near North Side gangs, both of which had been relatively peaceful before.
At first, there was still plenty of work for the other residents. But as the economic pressures of the 1970s set in, the jobs dried up, the municipal budget shrank, and hundreds of young people were left with few opportunities.
But gangs offered companionship, protection, and the opportunity to earn money in a blossoming drug trade.
The Tragic End of the Dream
E. Jason Wambsgans/Chicago Tribune/Tribune News Service via Getty ImagesAlthough many residents were promised relocation, the demolition of Cabrini-Green took place only after laws requiring a one-for-one replacement of homes were repealed.
Towards the end of the ’70s, Cabrini-Green had gained a national reputation for violence and decay. This was due in part to its location between two of Chicago’s wealthiest neighborhoods, the Gold Coast and Lincoln Park.
These wealthy neighbors only saw violence without seeing the cause, destruction without seeing the community. The projects became a symbol of fear to those who couldn’t, or wouldn’t, understand them.
After 37 shootings in early 1981, Mayor Jane Byrne pulled one of the most infamous publicity stunts in Chicago history. With camera crews and a full police escort, she moved into Cabrini-Green. Many residents were critical, including activist Marion Stamps, who compared Byrne to a colonizer. Byrne only lived in the projects part-time and moved out after just three weeks.
By 1992, Cabrini-Green had been ravaged by the crack epidemic. A report on the shooting of a 7-year old boy that year revealed that half of the residents were under 20, and only 9 percent had access to paying jobs.
Dolores Wilson said of the gangs that if one “came out the building on one side, there are the [Black] Stones shooting at them … come out the other, and there are the Blacks [Black Disciples].”
This is what drew filmmaker Bernard Rose to Cabrini-Green to film the cult horror classic Candyman. Rose met with the NAACP to discuss the possibility of the film, in which the ghost of a murdered Black artist terrorizes his reincarnated white lover, being interpreted as racist or exploitative.
To his credit, Rose portrayed the residents as ordinary people in extraordinary circumstances. He and actor Tony Todd attempted to show that generations of abuse and neglect had turned what was meant to be a shining beacon into a warning light.
By the late 1990s, Cabrini-Green’s fate was sealed. The city began to demolish the buildings one by one. Residents were promised relocation to other homes but many were either abandoned or left altogether, fed up with the CHA.
Dolores Wilson, now a widow and a community leader, was one of the last to leave. Given four months to find a new home, she only just managed to find a place in the Dearborn Homes. Even then, she had to leave behind photographs, furniture, and mementos of her 50 years in Cabrini-Green.
But even until the end, she had faith in the homes.
“Only time I’m afraid is when I’m outside of the community,” she said. “In Cabrini, I’m just not afraid.”
After learning the sad story of Cabrini-Green, find out more about how Bikini Atoll was rendered uninhabitable by the United States’ nuclear testing program. Then read about how Lyndon Johnson tried, and failed, to end poverty.
Is Candyman based on Cabrini-Green? ›
The original Candyman and the razing of Cabrini-Green. Cabrini-Green essentially symbolized the plight of the American inner city—and in 1990, the English filmmaker Bernard Rose decided to capitalize on that reputation by transposing a short story by Clive Barker about a monster in the Liverpool slums to Cabrini-Green.What apartments did Candyman come from? ›
Cabrini-Green was a real housing project in Chicago, and one which has since been taken down. In the now-gentrified Near North Side of Chicago, the Cabrini-Green housing projects stood tall, but have since been closed and many have been demolished.How many murders did Cabrini-Green have? ›
After 11 homicides on the premises in early 1981, Chicago mayor Jane Byrne moved into a Cabrini-Green apartment for three weeks, seeking to bring local and national media attention to the ongoing chaos.What was Cabrini-Green known for? ›
Cabrini-Green was once a model of successful public housing, but poor planning, physical deterioration, and managerial neglect, coupled with gang violence, drugs, and chronic unemployment, turned it into a national symbol of urban blight and failed housing policy.What is Cabrini-Green called now? ›
Project co-developer Peter Holsten had the first-of-its-kind vision for North Town Village and the second phase of development replacing Cabrini-Green, Parkside of Old Town. "We wanted to have this look like a Chicago neighborhood," Holsten said.Is Candyman based on a true story 2021? ›
The Candyman himself is pure fiction — he's the ghost of Daniel Robitaille, a wrongfully accused slave who was lynched, mutilated, and given a terrifying hook for a hand before his murder.Where was Candyman filmed in Cabrini-Green? ›
LOCATION DETAILS. Cabrini–Green Homes, which comprised the Frances Cabrini Row-houses and William Green Homes, was a Chicago Housing Authority (CHA) public housing project located on the Near North Side of Chicago, Illinois, United States.Was Good Times filmed in Cabrini-Green? ›
The 1970s sitcom Good Times depicted a family living in the Cabrini Green complex. The 1990s horror film Candyman was set and filmed at Cabrini-Green. In 2019, producers announced a sequel to the film that is being filmed in the abandoned, and soon to be demolished, Cabrini-Green rowhouses.Is there a real Cabrini-Green? ›
The 586 homes are all that remain of Chicago's public housing complex known as Cabrini-Green. Roughly a quarter of them have been rehabbed for residents.How long did Cabrini-Green last? ›
History. Cabrini–Green was composed of 10 sections built over a 20-year period: the Frances Cabrini Rowhouses (586 units in 1942), Cabrini Extension North and Cabrini Extension South (1,925 units in 1957), and the William Green Homes (1,096 units in 1962) (see Chronology below).
Where can I watch Cabrini-Green documentary? ›
Streaming on Roku. 70 Acres in Chicago: Cabrini Green, a documentary movie is available to stream now. Watch it on Kanopy on your Roku device.How did Cabrini-Green get its name? ›
Cabrini–Green was a neighborhood on the Near North Side of Chicago, Illinois. The neighborhood was named after the Frances Cabrini Rowhouses and William Green Homes that once took up most of the area.What was the largest housing project in Chicago? ›
The corridor included Stateway Gardens (1958), which comprised eight buildings; and Robert Taylor Homes (1962), the largest public housing project in the United States.Where was the original Candyman filmed? ›
Candyman (1992) was filmed in 1360 N Sandburg Terrace (Helen's Apartment), 4222 Agnes Ave (Clara's House), Chicago, Near North Side, Near West Side, Occidental Studios and University of Illinois at Chicago.Why did Chicago tear down the projects? ›
The Chicago Housing Authority used to manage 17 large housing projects for low-income residents, but during the 1990s, due to high crime, poverty, drug use, and corruption and mismanagement in the projects, plans were made to demolish them. By 2011, all of Chicago's high-rise projects were torn down.What is the largest housing project in the United States? ›
New York City Housing Authority.
|Jurisdiction||New York City|
|Headquarters||250 Broadway, Manhattan, NY|
The Public Works Administration (PWA), created under the New Deal to address the country's housing and infrastructure needs, constructed Techwood Homes in Atlanta, GA, in 1935 as the first federal public housing project. The project evicted hundreds of black families to create a 604-unit, whites-only neighborhood.Who owns the Chicago Housing Authority? ›
The Chicago Housing Authority is a municipal not-for-profit corporation, governed by a Board of Commissioners consisting of ten members. The commissioners are appointed by the Mayor.Why does the Candyman have bees? ›
Candyman 1992 follows Helen, who becomes consumed with the legend. She discovers that a Black man in the late 1800s fell in love with a white woman. As a result, a lynch mob pursues him, cuts off his hand, and covers it with honey. The honey attracts bees, which explains the buzzworthy appearance.Is Candyman actually scary? ›
All in all, Candyman plays a little more like a thriller than a horror movie. There are some scary moments, but it's not as scary as its pedigree (Jordan Peele co-wrote the script) or the hype around it might suggest. It's not so terrifying that relative horror newbies wouldn't be able to handle it.
How did Anthony become Candyman? ›
As she is being held in a cop car, she tells the police officer to look in the wing mirror. As he does, she recites Candyman's name five times. The hook-handed killer then makes his appearance but it's not Sherman. It's Anthony who has now been resurrected as Candyman.Where was the Candyman library scene filmed? ›
A photo of Founders Memorial Library. DeKALB – The film “Candyman” was released by Universal Pictures on Aug. 27, and featured in the movie was NIU's very own library, the Founder's Memorial Library.Where did they film Candyman in Chicago? ›
Candyman was shot in North Park, Chicago. It has become the first movie to film on location inside the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago. Chicago, IL, USA.What city is Good Times based on? ›
"Good Times" was on on-air from 1974-79, and featured a family of five struggling to make ends meet while living in the Cabrini-Green high rise projects. Although the show was set in inner-city Chicago, it was actually produced in Los Angeles.What projects is Good Times based on? ›
Created by Eric Monte and Mike Evans and developed by executive producer Norman Lear, it was television's first African American two-parent family sitcom. Good Times is a spin-off of Maude, which itself is a spin-off of All in the Family, making Good Times the first television spin-off from another spin-off.What are the Chicago projects? ›
|Altgeld Gardens Homes||Chicago/Riverdale, Illinois borderline (Far–south side)||1944–46; 1954|
|Bridgeport Homes||Bridgeport neighborhood (South–west side)||1943–44|
|Cabrini–Green Homes||Near–North neighborhood||1942–45; 1957–62|
|Clarence Darrow Homes||Bronzeville neighborhood (South side)||1961–62|
All three projects became known as Cabrini-Green, and were the first example of high-rise public housing primarily for the African American poor in Chicago. By 1968 public housing through the city of Chicago was predominantly African American.Where was Ida B Wells projects? ›
Ida B. Wells Homes was a public housing project of the Chicago Housing Authority (CHA) located in the Bronzeville neighborhood in the South Side of Chicago. They were constructed between 1939–41 as part of the Public Works Administration and demolished from 2002–2011.How many people died in Robert Taylor Homes? ›
In one weekend, more than 300 separate shooting incidents were reported in the vicinity of the Robert Taylor Homes. Twenty-eight people were killed during the same weekend, with 26 of the 28 incidents believed to be gang-related.Why is it called project? ›
It's short for Public Housing Project. Projects built en masse during the mid 20th century were (in)famous for being large scale, bland looking, brick, apartment towers, often built on the same plot of land, offset from the street.
What city has the most projects? ›
(1) NEW YORK CITY, NEW YORK
With more than 30,000 units approved, New York City tops the chart with the highest number of permitted construction of multifamily units in the United States.
|Created by||Clive Barker|
|Original work||"The Forbidden" (1985)|
|Films and television|
|Film(s)||Candyman (1992) Candyman: Farewell to the Flesh (1995) Candyman: Day of the Dead (1999) Candyman (2021)|
He learns that the Candyman folklore was created as a means of self-preservation for the Cabrini-Green community, a way for them to consolidate the horrors of everyday life into a mythical figure. In several scenes, Anthony looks into a mirror and his reflection is Candyman himself, hinting at a next generation.What city is candy set in? ›
In Wylie, Texas, in 1980, Candy Montgomery, a suburban housewife, is accused of murdering her neighbor Betty Gore, after having an affair with Gore's husband, Allan.How long did Jane Byrne stay in Cabrini-Green? ›
Byrne and her husband lived at Cabrini-Green for three weeks, and after they moved out, the challenges facing Cabrini-Green persisted. In 1997, Mayor Richard M. Daley announced a redevelopment plan that would demolish most Cabrini-Green housing.How big was Cabrini-Green? ›
At its peak, Cabrini–Green was home to 15,000 people, mostly living in mid- and high-rise apartment buildings. Crime and neglect created hostile living conditions for many residents, and "Cabrini–Green" became a metonym for problems associated with public housing in the United States.Where was original Candyman filmed? ›
Where was Candyman (1992) Filmed? Candyman (1992) was filmed in 1360 N Sandburg Terrace (Helen's Apartment), 4222 Agnes Ave (Clara's House), Chicago, Near North Side, Near West Side, Occidental Studios and University of Illinois at Chicago.Where did they film Candyman? ›
Principal photography for Candyman took place between August and September 2019 in the Chicago area under the working title Say My Name. Some filming took place in the North Park neighborhood during the month of September.Why did Jane Byrne move to Cabrini Green? ›
Thirty-seven years ago, Mayor Jane Byrne moved into the Cabrini-Green housing project to draw attention to the violence and poverty there. It would become one of the most famous—and factious—publicity stunts in the city's history.How old is Jane Byrne? ›
Where is Jane Byrne buried? ›
Gravesite, Jane Byrne, St John Cemetery, Middle Village, Queens, NY. There is no headstone marking Jane's grave.How did Cabrini-Green get its name? ›
Cabrini–Green was a neighborhood on the Near North Side of Chicago, Illinois. The neighborhood was named after the Frances Cabrini Rowhouses and William Green Homes that once took up most of the area.What is the largest housing project in the US? ›
The Queensbridge Houses in Long Island City, Queens, is now North America's largest housing project with 3,142 apartments, following the demolition of several larger Chicago housing projects, including the Cabrini–Green Homes and the Robert Taylor Homes (whose 4,321 three, four and five bedroom apartments once made it ...What was the largest housing project in Chicago? ›
The corridor included Stateway Gardens (1958), which comprised eight buildings; and Robert Taylor Homes (1962), the largest public housing project in the United States.How many candy Mans are there? ›
|Created by||Clive Barker|
|Original work||"The Forbidden" (1985)|
|Films and television|
|Film(s)||Candyman (1992) Candyman: Farewell to the Flesh (1995) Candyman: Day of the Dead (1999) Candyman (2021)|
He learns that the Candyman folklore was created as a means of self-preservation for the Cabrini-Green community, a way for them to consolidate the horrors of everyday life into a mythical figure. In several scenes, Anthony looks into a mirror and his reflection is Candyman himself, hinting at a next generation.What do the bees in Candyman mean? ›
What is the significance of the bees in Candyman? Candyman was stung to death by bees in an apiary while he ran from a group of racist men after impregnating a white girl. The bees are just part of his urban legend identity.Why did the Candyman want the baby? ›
Baby Anthony had been chosen by Candyman to act as a sacrifice to make his legend grow, and it took Helen Lyle sacrificing her own life to save him from the fire started by Candyman that ultimately consumed her.Does Helen become Candyman? ›
It is hinted that Helen is the reincarnation of Candyman's lover. He plots to have himself, Helen, and kidnapped baby Anthony McCoy immolated in a bonfire, but Helen escapes him and sacrifices herself to rescue Anthony. With Candyman apparently destroyed, Helen becomes a vengeful spirit and continues his behavior.Was the new Candyman filmed in Chicago? ›
The new “Candyman” tackles the question of who gets to tell the stories, and how to deal with the looming phantom presence of Cabrini-Green itself. DaCosta and company shot their version entirely in Chicago in 2019. Earlier drafts of the script by Peele and Win Rosenfeld mentioned Cabrini-Green only in passing.