Photo by Jeff Zoline.
[This piece originally ran in Time Out Chicago magazine.]
Q: How did K-Town come to be? That stretch of the West Side with all the north-south streets whose names start with the letter K has always fascinated me.
A: The K streets extend for a mile west of Pulaski Road: Karlov, Kedvale, Keeler, Kildare, Kenneth, Kilbourn. The mile after that, the streets begin with the letter L (Lavergne, Lawler)—though you’d have trouble finding people repping L-Town as their ’hood. The mile after that? M streets. The alphabetical pattern continues through P.
In the Tribune in 1913, the superintendent of Chicago’s Bureau of Maps, John D. Riley, explained his department’s new proposal for renaming north-south streets: “Under this scheme a certain letter would be assigned for each mile beginning with ‘A’ for the first mile west of the Indiana state line.” Thus, roads 11 miles west of the Hoosier border start with K, the 11th letter of the alphabet.
Abby Kindelsperger responded to the Time Out article:
“Actually, as a teacher at Long & Chicago, I have to disagree that ‘you’d have trouble finding people repping L-Town as their ‘hood.’ My students who live in the surrounding L-streets certainly consider their neighborhood to be L-Town, and never use the city’s label of Austin. I suppose in a community that doesn’t feel much love from the city, renaming is a form of power.”
At the time, north-south streets west of Pulaski were numbered according to their distance from State Street, so the switch from digits to words was done to differentiate them from their numbered east-west counterparts on the South Side (two 42nd Streets might be confusing). The City Council rejected the proposal regarding roads east of Pulaski, which by then already had proper names like State Street and Michigan Avenue, since renaming them all would have been a major pain in the neck.