The Altgeld Branch of the Chicago Public Library is located at 13281 South Corliss Avenue in the Altgeld Gardens neighborhood of the Riverdale Community Area on the Far South Side of Chicago. The latter is not to be confused with the adjacent Village of Riverdale, a small, inner-ring suburb of Chicago south of and contiguous with the city limits, best known as the birthplace of NFL player Antwaan Randle El and Angelina Jolie’s late mother Marcheline Bertrand (1950-2007).
The Altgeld Branch Library primarily serves the Chicago Housing Authority’s Altgeld Garden & Phillip Murray Homes. It also serves residents of Golden Gate Homeowners, Concordia Place Apartments, and Riverside Village Apartments & Townhomes.
Altgeld Gardens was built in 1945 for Black war-industry workers in the closing days of World War II. It is a 157-acre development with 1,500 two-story row houses. Unlike high-rise developments that were later built, it has open common areas, and plentiful green space, including Carver Park, which was named after the famous Black botanist, educator, and inventor George Washington Carver (died 1943). When all residences are occupied, it has approximately 3,500 residents, according to Joseph E. Craig, who created a Web site in 2001 for current and former residents.
President Barack Obama recalls community work he did in Altgeld in his book Dreams From My Father. The development’s 2,000 units are undergoing renovations to bathrooms, kitchens, lighting fixtures and the heating and cooling systems.
The Altgeld Branch Library is indirectly named after John Peter Altgeld (1847-1902), Governor of Illinois (1893-1897). Altgeld was a German immigrant, a veteran of the American Civil War, and a leader of the Progressive wing of the Democratic Party in Illinois. He pushed child labor laws and for workplace safety laws. Many historians say he was not re-elected in 1896 because he pardoned three of the men wrongly convicted of instigating the Haymarket riot (also known as the Haymarket Massacre). He also earned the antipathy of businessmen (who were mostly Republican-aligned anyway) because he opposed the use of federal troops to put down the 1894 Pullman Strike.
Altgeld Branch Library is far from the only building with the governor’s name on it. He was a champion of the Neo-Gothic style of architecture in public buildings, and there are Neo-Gothic-style Altgeld Halls at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, Southern Illinois University at Carbondale, and Northern Illinois University, as well as such buildings not named after him at Illinois State University and Eastern Illinois University.
This is the second iteration of the Altgeld Branch Library. It was formerly situated at 903 East 132ndPlace.
The current iteration of the Altgeld Branch Library shares a building with Carver Elementary School and the Phillis Wheatley Child Parent Center. This building was designed by Urban Works Architects. Three agencies of the City of Chicago thus share the building: the Chicago Public Library (CPL), the Chicago Public Schools (CPS), and the Chicago Housing Authority (CHA).
The CHA was founded in 1937 to own and operate housing projects built by the Works Progress Administration (WPA), an emergency federal public works program started during the Great Depression by President Franklin Delano Roosevelt. During World War II, CHA housing developments were built near industrial areas for workers in defense contractor plants, and after the war many returning veterans looked to the CHA for transitional housing.
Since the 1950s, the CHA has been the largest owner of rental properties in the city, and today has 50,000 tenant families and individuals. It offers a variety of housing options for the city’s low-income residents. These include approximately 9,200 apartments reserved for senior citizens on fixed-incomes and 8,600 units for families. There are mixed-income developments where some units are set aside for poor people and the rest are occupied by middle-class or upper-middle-class people, scattered site housing, and traditional housing developments.
Placement on the Family Wait List for CHA-owned properties is assigned by lottery. The CHA also oversees 36,900 Housing Choice Vouchers from the Federal Government’s Housing Choice Voucher Program. This is a housing rental assistance program that allows poor families to rent apartments (or houses) from private landlords in the regular housing market, as the program pays a portion of their rent each month directly to the landlord.
At the Altgeld Branch Library, the Featured Collection is African American History. The phone number there is (312) 747-3270.