West Town has traditionally been an immigrant, working-class community. Its proximity to the rail lines and Kedzie Industrial Corridor made it convenient for blue-collar workers, but undesirable for people who could afford to live elsewhere. Typically, as immigrant groups improve their situation, they move out of the neighborhood. This trend began with the first immigrants, people of Dutch heritage, and continued as Scandinavian and German residents moved north into neighborhoods like Andersonville and Lakeview.
Erie Street c. 1925.
By 1915, West Town and surrounding neighborhoods consisted primarily of Italian and Polish immigrants. Until the 1940s, Ukrainians, Greeks, Armenians and Germans made up the majority of West Town. The industry of the Second World War drew Southern whites and African-Americans to the neighborhood.
Beginning in the 1950s, Puerto Ricans trickled into West Town, and Mexican immigrants soon followed. By the 1980s, West Town was primarily Latino, as many other ethnic groups, like those before them, moved out of the neighborhood.
In the 1990s, Chicago initiated an urban renewal campaign, to bring more people—and money—back into the city. The West Town area, located immediately west of the Loop, soon saw the results of this boom, and many "urban pioneers" rediscovered the neighborhood. While local businesses and the city tax base stood to benefit from this shift, many long-time residents were priced out of the area and forced to move south, west, or out of the city altogether.
While the need in West Town persists, Erie House responded to many immigrants' move to Chicago's southwest Little Village neighborhood by offering programming in this community in 2004.
In the early 1900s, Erie participants were confronted with dirty streets, community disinvestment, and crumbling housing. Erie Neighborhood House strove to improve the urban environment outside its walls, encouraging community members to clean up the streets. Erie also worked with local businesses to resist development that threatened the fabric of the neighborhood.
Much of the area's housing was constructed shortly after the turn of the century. The simple wood-frame houses and apartment buildings were often crowded and fell easily into disrepair.