Chicago’s Bronzeville neighborhood was one of the most influential stops of the “Great Migration.” The southside neighborhood became the home to hundreds of thousands of Blacks fleeing the South. African Americans created a “city-within-a-city” that provided all the essentials for living. It helped to frame “Black Chicago.” In Bronzeville, there was a flourishing economy and jobs. Bronzeville also enjoyed an immense art, music, and cultural scene, attracting people from across the city. Bronzeville gave rise to a Black Arts Movement. Between 1920 and 1960, Bronzeville was the Chicagoland destination for black culture for its residents. Unfortunately, the Bronzeville economy collapsed at the end of the 20th century, beginning in the 1960s thru the 1970s. By the 21st century, Bronzeville lost three-quarters of its population and the majority of its commerce. Thousands of homes became vacant and eventually demolished. Retail districts that had been the blueprint of success fell victim to vacancy and crime.
Located at 318-328 East 43rd Street (next to the Green Line CTA station), still stands The Forum. Built-in 1897, the building contains one of the city’s essential performance halls and possibly the oldest hardwood ballroom dance floor in Chicago. The Forum played a significant role in Chicago’s cultural scene.
Since 1897, The Forum’s existence at 43rd Street and its distinctive “Forum Hall,” with six large retail slots, made it a South Side Hub for prominent performers, powerful politicians, parties, and all walks of life. After the closure of “Forum Hall,” the second-floor performance space and the building fell into disrepair.
After four decades of neglect, Build Bronzeville of Urban Juncture Inc. is working to revitalize The Forum. Urban Juncture Inc. founder and Bronzeville resident Bernard Lloyd began developing a plan for returning commerce to the community. These efforts led to the creation of “Build Bronzeville.” This is a series of connected initiatives that utilize Bronzeville’s unique assets to restore commercial activity and revitalize this historic neighborhood. Over the past few years, Urban Juncture Inc. has lead in the restoration of The Forum. Their efforts saved the landmark location from Chicago’s Emergency Demolition List in Spring 2011.
To return The Forum to its former glory, rehabilitation and the redevelopment of Historic 43rd Street are essential. The Forum was known as a primary Chicago entertainment destination. It is part of the rich history of music and art in the Bronzeville Community.
Urban Juncture completed many critical repairs to the building. In 2020, they replaced the roof over Forum Hall. The Forum received an incubator grant of almost a quarter-million dollars to rehab the six retail slots on 43rd Street. The complete vision of restoration remains a work in progress.
There are plans to fully renovate Forum Hall, located on the second floor of the building. Plans for the Forum hall include providing performance space for established and emerging artists in music, dance, and theater. Events can also be hosted at the Forum Hall. The six retail spaces known as Forum Retail will hold various activities that combine hospitality with unique performances. The Forum complex will also include nearby customer parking and an outdoor public square.
The Forum looks to provide a platform for generating quality cultural offerings while filling the neighborhood’s needs. For more information on The Forum, visit www.theforumbronzeville.com.
Shera Strange is a writer and fitness professional. Find her on social media @StrangeFitness