From barbershops to churches to sprawling mansions, the Austin neighborhood on the city’s West Side is home to many establishments with a long history and residents who are eager to maintain and revitalize the community.
The Austin Town Hall on Lake Street, built in 1870, originally served as the government seat of Cicero Township. Austin was annexed to the City of Chicago in 1899, and the town hall site eventually became part of the Chicago Park District.
The Austin Town Hall Park and Cultural Center is now a fieldhouse and features an indoor swimming pool, two kitchens, a gymnasium, performance theater and fitness center.
A mural on Lake Street near the Central stop on the Green Line depicts the Austin Town Hall.
Across the street sits the New Mt. Vernon Missionary Baptist Church, 415 N. Central St. A boy walks by on a Sunday afternoon. Most members of New Mt. Vernon have been attending the church for more than 20 years.
Mt. Vernon Church in Austin holds two services every Sunday, in addition to Sunday school and additional prayer meetings and Bible classes during the week.
Jonas Underwood welcomes people as they enter on a Sunday morning. Underwood has been a member of New Mt. Vernon Church for more than 20 years and recently became the church’s janitor and usher during services.
Amiyah Harris, right, laughs with her aunt Chana Sergeant before the start of service. Amiyah’s mother, Shanika Jones, has been attending New Mt. Vernon Church since the day she was born. Many members of the church arrived up to an hour early in order to make sure they were able to find good seats.
Mother Willie L. Bryan has a place of honor in the front pew. The church was filled to capacity that Sunday.
An American flag blows in the wind in front of a house on Race Avenue. Houses near the Austin Town Hall on Race and Midway Park avenues are all considered a part of Austin’s Historic District. Many of the houses are about 100 years old, and reminiscent of a time when Austin was a sought-after neighborhood for families commuting to downtown in the early 20th century.
A mural of prominent black historical figures at Laramie Avenue and Kinzie Street.
St. Martin de Porres Catholic Church on West Washington Boulevard displays a sign, “Hands up! Don’t Stop Praying.”
A little farther south at 5412 W. Madison St. sits MacArthur’s Restaurant, a neighborhood staple known for its soul food. Kitchen manager Louis Mosley prepares cube steaks early every morning in preparation for the customers of the cafeteria-style restaurant. Mosley has been the kitchen manager for more than 10 years. “We run a tight schedule for preparing food,” he said.
Longtime employee Alfonso Nash pours candied yams into warming trays. “When we first opened across Madison Street, the lines were so long that the fire marshal was called and pretty soon we were forced to move to this larger location,” said Vanessa Alexander, who has been a manager at MacArthur’s since it opened.
An employee prepares cornbread muffins. “Most if not all of our employees live in Austin, and we keep our prices low so all residents of the community can afford to eat,” Alexander said.
Just down the street from MacArthur’s sits His and Hers Barber School, 5355 W. Madison St.
Elaine Sappington opened the school in May 1999, and in the past year, sold the business to Eric Rochel, Jose Gardera and Jesse Salas.
“I want this to be an outlet for youth, to empower the youth and bridge the gap between Hispanic and black communities,” said Gardera, one of the new owners. “We want to teach kids who don’t have guidance a trade that can give them employment.”
Alex Lopez, 18, practices a haircut on fellow classmate Josue Blanco, also 18. The students have a certain number of training hours they have to complete in order to become licensed barbers.
Sam Davis gets a complimentary traditional shave from student Ian Debelen, center, while instructor Alex Gonzalez, oversees his work. Davis lives in the neighborhood and has been coming to His and Her Barber School for years.
Ian Debelen, right, has been in the training program at His and Hers for about four months.
Art is displayed in the window of a vacant storefront on Madison Street.