Named "Bloody Maxwell" by the Chicago Tribune in 1906 for its reputation for violence, the district served the by this 1881 historic police station was populated first by Irish and German immigrants, followed by Russians, Greeks, Poles, and Jews. Ethnic tensions, including those between police and residents, led to community mistrust of the police, which was not helped by political influence, bribes, and pay-offs. In short, the imposing police station stands as a monument to a fast growing city abound in class, race, religious, and political strife.
The 7th District Police Station, also known as the Maxwell Street Station, opened in 1888 because of what was described as prevalent, violent crime in the neighborhood later known as "Bloody Maxwell." The cultural heterogeneity and poor living conditions in the region led to numerous ethnic tensions, and the propensity of the police jobs to go mostly to Irish and Germans in Chicago only served to further irritate those stresses. The imposing structure, designed by Willoughby J. Edbrooke and Franklin Pierce Burnham, enjoys a Romanesque style that was typical of police stations built in Chicago before World War II. The building later gained pop-culture fame as the perceived setting for two television shows, Hill Street Blues and ChicagoPD.
By 1906, Chicago had enjoyed decades of growth that allowed it to grow into one of the most prominent cities in the U.S., known for its stockyards, architecture, railways, sports teams and culture. But, the city also gained attention for its overcrowding, urban ills, and the Maxwell Street neighborhood that some regarded as the nations' most dangerous police district. As such, an article in the Chicago Tribune that year referred to the area as "Bloody Maxwell."
An influx of immigrants, mostly from Europe, arrived to Chicago during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries and the Maxwell Street community demonstrated that with its many first and second generation Irish, German, Polish, Italian, Greek, Russian and Jewish residents, many of whom were laborers living in crowded, dirty tenements. The prevalence of mistrust for the police coupled with tensions created by disparate cultures separately seeking to advance their own success proved to be a significant variable in the sudden rise in crime in the area.
While the police in the region are often noted for their bravery, it is also true that the pervasive presence of police in the area sometimes exasperated the issues related to ethnic tensions. For instance, on the west side of the neighborhood, first and second generation immigrants from Northern and Western Europe, notably Ireland and Germany, dominated the police force. Those Irish and German police officers routinely treated people sharing their ethnicity much differently than the Russian Jews, Italians, and Greeks in the region.
Moreover, those working as police officers received the job as part of a large pool of patronage jobs offered by politicians as part of the spoils of gaining a position in a public office. It was not uncommon for police to enjoy the perks of the job from eating free food to accepting bribes and routine pay-offs in exchange for special treatment.
As noted by the University of Illinois-Chicago, "Insider ethnic allegiances within the police hardened their class biases which cast scorn on more recent and poorer immigrants. As “alien” nationalities from Southern and Eastern Europe crowded the streets with substandard housing and a lack of sanitation, the West Side neighborhood persisted in a state of perpetual agitation."
The tensions between police and laborers in Chicago were not helped by a legacy of violent clashes, dating back to Chicago's infamous 1886 Haymarket Affair. Indeed, the imposing look of the building took on the appearance of a fortress, creating a feeling of strong police versus the city's (and neighborhood's) poorest citizens, notably those from southern Europe.
Waves of new immigrants, from Latin American and Asian Americans, arrived during the 20th-century, along with an influx of African Americans. The neighborhood has gained a reputation over the years as being a celebration of cultural diversity. The Chicago Police Department remained in the building until 1998. After the police left the station, the University of Illinois-Chicago took ownership of the building and subsequently funded extensive renovations to the red brick and limestone structure both to modernize the building and also maintain its historic features and designs.
Berkow, Ira. "Maxwell Street." Chicago Historical Society: The Electronic Encyclopedia of Chicago. encyclopedia.chicagohistory.org. 2005. http://www.encyclopedia.chicagohistory.org/pages/794.html
Bledstein, Burton J., dir. In the Vicinity of Maxwell and Halsted Streets, Chicago 1890-1930: A Human Documentary. Accessed digitally December 18, 2018. https://maxwellhalsted.uic.edu/home/home-page/.
Pacyga, Dominic A. Polish Immigrants And Industrial Chicago: Workers on the South Side, 1880-1922. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1991.
Schmidt, John. R. "Bloody Maxwell." WBEZ Blogs. wbez.org. February 11, 2013. https://www.wbez.org/shows/wbez-blogs/bloody-maxwell/e09f883a-8ec7-478b-8822-047619d3c9b3.
The 7th District Police Station (picture taken in 2005): By Andy Lambert at en.wikipedia - Own workTransferred from en.wikipedia, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=17982252.