Welcome to "Little Arizona," home of Chicago's only trailer park

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You have to ignore the abandoned mobile homes tagged with gang graffiti and the occasional yellow-eyed zombie wandering the narrow streets in Chicago's only trailer park if you want to see the place for what it really is.

A poor folks' paradise.

Harbour Point Estates in Hegewisch -- between Wolf and Powder Horn lakes -- sits on an old landfill straddling both sides of 134th at the Indiana border.

Locals know that part of town as "Little Arizona." It's "country living" in the big city, trailer parkers say. And more than a few of them have the lawn decorations to prove it.

Jerry Seibt rents a rickety trailer there for about 500 bucks a month on prime real estate -- a backwater channel with a tiny pier, a fire pit and makeshift bench.

"The best part about this place," Ol' Jerry says, "is the fishing.

"Bass. Blue Gill. Northerns. Catfish. Carp. I don't need to go to no Wisconsin. I catch 'em all right out back. Big ones, too."

Other folks say having a small yard of their own on quiet streets near the mature cottonwoods, and being just a short drive to cheaper gas and smokes across the border makes the place special.

Hunters love Wolf Lake -- the only place in Chicago where you can legally bag a goose or a duck. Some mornings, distant shotgun blasts are alarm clocks.

At Powder Horn, bird watchers can catch a glimpse of endangered black-crowned night herons and stroll along wildflower fields.

Ol' Jerry's lived there for about 16 years now and has never really thought about moving anywhere else. A lot of his neighbors feel the same way.

Too bad it's not up to them.

Harbour Point's owners finally figured out that those 130 acres are too valuable for a trailer park. They're betting people who can afford to buy a house might pay as much as $386,000 to live there.

They're planning to clear out the place and build houses, condos, a mini-mall and new parks there. Ald. John Pope is backing their pitch for tax incentives to help pay for installing sewers, public streets, sidewalks and lights, so it's pretty much a done deal.

The trailer dwellers know they'll get tossed out one of these days, just not when.

"I'll believe it when I see it," says Paul Demkowicz.

Four generations of his family have called the Estates home. His parents moved there from Burnside in the 1970s. The Estates were booming back then -- packed to the gills with about 3,000 trailers and loads of decent, hardworking people, Paul says.

But by the early 1990s, Harbour Point had become a trailer park cliche. Drugs. Crime. Gangs. Pregnant teenagers.

Ol' Jerry swears he remembers a night gang-bangers shot a trailer park kid right in front of his mother, or something like that.

"It was hell on wheels back then, man," Ol' Jerry says.

In 2000, new owners bought the trailer park, evicted troublemakers, removed their dilapidated homes and called the cops to help.

"We got rid of the undesirables and there were many, many of them with criminal records or being sought on warrants or doing a lot of bad things," co-owner Eric Hagen says.

Now, the place is safe and neighborly again, 20-year resident Lois Lucas says.

"It's quiet. There's no problems that I see here now," she says. "I love it here. I don't know when I'll have to move or where I'm going to go. It's terrible, and I'm sick about having to move."

But Lois figures people who buy homes and settle there will love the place, and Hegewisch will be better off without the trailer park and its troubles.

"I'm upset and hurt. This isn't just a trailer. It's home for me," she says. "But it will be better for the neighborhood when it's gone. If people buy the homes, they're getting lucky. It's beautiful here."

Construction could start in the spring, with the first batch of homes ready for new neighbors in 2009. If all goes well, the city's last trailer park will be a distant memory in about 20 years.

Still, poor folks who knew it as paradise will miss it.

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15 Comments

I used to know Hegewisch very well when I was in high school, and I know that it's a great working-class neighborhood filled with(mostly) decent people just trying to make a living. I did have some good times there with some young ladies and watching my brother and cousin get tanked at house parties (I didn't drink at the time). And when my grade-school basketball team played at the St. Florian Christmas tournament I always felt like it was a cool little road trip into the big city.

But come on. Have developers gone mad? Who in their right mind would buy a $386K house in Hegewisch? That's insane, especially if they're going to "re-develop" the character of that little neighborhood, which seems to be the only attraction there. Yeah, you might be next to a lake and some wildflower prairie, but you're also stuck with a large mortgage payment for a house plunked down between steel factories, coke factories, and industrial parks, not to mention Indiana.

Sure, if the developer makes the houses more affordable (perhaps in the $250K range) people certainly would buy them. And if the City continues to clean up Lake Calumet and the old vacant mill properties then, yes, maybe it would be worth the investment. But that remediation stuff should come beforehand, not after you plunk down close to $400K to live in a wasteland.

But, hey, that's just my opinion.

Hegewisch was named for Adolph Hegewisch, President of US Rolling Stock Company.

The neighborhood is named after Adolph Hegewisch, the president of U.S. Rolling Stock Company.

We moved to "Arizona" in 1951 and my mother lived there in Harbour Point Estates.(formerly Island Park Trailer Court) until her death 9-5-91. We all went to St. Florian grade school and our 3 brothers attended Mendel Catholic High School and my sister and I graduated from St. Francis de Sales on the East Side. We knew everyone in the trailer court and my brothers delivered the Sun Times & Herald American . My sister and I baby sat for many families and also up to Avenue O. My sister still lives in the Hegewisch community. We had a great time, and had made many friends, and you could stay out late back then and not be afraid. Paul Hayes was the manager way back there. Who else remembers?

crap, i was too slow posting my reply:

" Adolph Hegewisch, the president of U.S. Rolling Stock Company" ...

source: wikipedia

Yes, I can remember Hegewisch very well, my Father worked at Ford Motor Company. He ate at this restaurant named Cousins, which I believe is still opened. We had family friends that lived out there as well. I can remember riding out that way to the bordering Indiana to buy cheap cigarettes, gas, and groceries too. We lived in Roseland neighborhood at that time. That was some really great days then when Steel mills, General mills and Ford Motor Company was thriveing. But, at this time, seem to be somewhat of an abandoned town near the east side. So, property more at a $200K would seem a lot more in the right price range!

stumbled on this site this morning. just decided to plug my old neighborhood into a google search. such memories.

i lived directly across the street from cousin's (formerly milan's). cousin's burned down...don't know if they rebuilt it. my dad had a pharmacy on the corner (13300 baltimore ave) and we lived on the second story. it was closed in the late 80's due to his declining health. the original business dated back to 1888 and was located in the middle of the block. i moved away in 1968 and have not been back to visit in many years.

my brother & his wife lived in the trailer park in the 60's. not so sure about $400K homes in that community unless the economy has really picked up there. of course, there may be those who would gladly commute. i live in no. virginia now and thousands from the DC area are moving this way for the rural living factor & relatively lower cost of living...so who knows? they commute every day and the new homes they are buying are in the $500K range and UP!!!

i went to henry clay and graduated from st francis de sales in '66. ate lots of good food at milan's, steve's, mama d's pizzeria. got all of my exercise on the monkey bars, teeter totters and swings at mann park. hegewisch was the best place to grow up. gotta come back to see how it's changed.

suzi k

leave the trailer park here you wouldnt want to buy a house here three words calumet containers fire on 134th (between the two sets of railroad tracks)there was a huge fire there in the 80s that spread toxic cancer causing chemicals everywhere it is believed that the chemicals even seeped underground to nearby lakes at least six children from the hammond trailer park got cancer from living near the place harbour point is even closer to the toxic site do some reasearch on calumet containers to see for yourself.

My mother's maternal grandparents came to Hegewisch from Poland around WWI; her paternal grandparents came over from Ireland about the same time. I spent my early years in Slag Valley (father worked at Wisconsin Steel), until my parents divorced and my mother moved us back to Hegewisch. Grew up on 135th and Buffalo, close to the old South Shore station. Grandfather still lives on 130th and O, uncle owns Mancini's pizza on Brandon. What a great neighborhood. Went to Clay and St. Francis, had many friends in the trailer park. Certainly hope the old 'hood experiences a renaissance before I die. There's still a lot of potential.

Thanks for the toxic waste comment Suzi! I was just thinking about that...didn't they find green liquid in the ground behind the railroad tracks? I know they were testing it a year or so ago...I'm an East Sider but I had a lot of friends from Hog-wash when I was in grade/high school. My mom is also a former resident of Hegewisch. I don't know who would want to purchase a 300K house on the East Side or Hegewisch..if anything, those neighborhoods are so bad compared to what they used to be. There are gangs and shootings all around that area. If I was going to put that much money towards a home I would definitely rather check out NW Indiana or the north side of Chicago...somewhere a little safer!
SFDS alum here also! :)

I was born and raised in Island Home Traler Park.I went to Henry Clay School and then to G. Washington High, I loved it there, my freinds and I would fish at wolf lake all the time, and Powderhorn lake, there was even a little lake or pond in the trailer park, I have a lot of good memories there, my family an I lived there for about 16 years,we moved in 1982, hard to beleive that homes will go for 350,000 there!!! But ya never know! Lots of great memories there!

what's the progress on the trailer park? read just recently that the project to raze it and build homes was going to happen. i really hope it does, and that no one suffers from the toxins in the ground. folks who build there have great access to downtown via the south shore...or used to.

hegewisch will always be a soft spot for me since i grew up there in the building directly across from Cousins. did they ever rebuild after the fire? they had the best burgers and ribeye steak sandwiches ever...and fries, malts.

i miss the south side and cal city's john's pizzeria. is it still there? they had the best gnocchi!

suzi k


To suzi K, no they never rebuilt Cousins and Cal City's John's is closed, but to other bloggers and any misc. readers, a few comments about Hegewisch. I'm not a "local" but have lived here for almost 14 years and worked here for 24. I retired almost five years ago and purposely decided to stay. "Why?" Alot of good reasons. Former neighbors who fled to Tinley, Munster, Dyer, Griffith, Highland, etc., etc. now might be wondering what their huge taxes have done for them (e.g. flooded homes and nonaware governmental bodies.) My home (104 years old) sits on what used to be a swamp. After 7.5 inches of rain in 36 hours and being within one mile of two major lakes and the Calumet River, my neighbors and I got not one drop of water! The South Shore Hegewisch Station takes me to Michigan and Randolph in 30 mins. and if I decide to not walk six blocks, parking is only a dollar. Two blocks away I have a free, 1/2 mile square public park with an indoor, olypmic sized swimming pool. Three blocks away there is a 12,000 sq. ft. free, fantastic library. Our best local bank (First Savings of Hegewisch) is probably the most solid, stable bank in America! Two blocks away is a deli with probably the best shish-ka-bobs in the world and lunch meat prices two-thirds cheaper than the three best known grocery chains in Chicago. Two blocks away is a decades old, family-owned hardware store that has every part known to man, with friendly service at arm's reach! Whether I'm Catholic, Lutheran, Baptist, etc., there is a wonderful church and community a few blocks away. I known neighbors, on a first name basis, who work for City, County, State and Federal police jurisdictions. Do you think I ever loose a blink of sleep when I am away from home, or that my neighbors ever worry about their kids playing outside? Hegewisch might be a neighborhood that rich guys and Northsiders look down their noses at, but here, America's most sacred tenets are alive and well (God, Country and Family!) I can look around on any given day and see flights of ducks or geese and other innumerable examples of God's wild creatures (and never any rats!) I can walk to TWO lakes stocked with the best game fish! I know that if I'm ever in danger, my neighbors (4th District cops and Engine 97 firemen) are minutes away and will put their lives on the line, (which I have witnessed them doing!) to help me. If there's a street light out or any other City problem, I know that I can call a respected local, (Ald. John Pope) and within a day or two, the problem is no more. Yes, here in Chicago, we have high taxes, but it's true, you get why you pay for. I LOVE HEGEWISCH! It's probably the most undervalued neighborhood in Chicago, and yes, we have no Starbucks, but if you want a great place to raise a family, pay low taxes, not worry about walking around (and have even strangers say "Hello") perhaps you need to come down and check us out - lots of top quality homes at affordable prices! And no, I'm not a real estate agent! I'm your average guy who's found the American dream - and a place I'm proud to call home!

I was not born to Hegewisch but might as well been !
My family moved there from PA. when I was 3 years old.I lived there till I was 19 and to this day im still not sure why I left ! It will always be home to me and I still have family living there.
Island Homes as it was refered to during the 60,s is a place that I will always remember, always had good times and friends that lived there.
My Uncle was sort of the care taker of the park and he also over seen the trailer sales. My brother lived at the park with my Uncle and Aunt so this ment I spent alot of time there even though I lived a half block from Clay School. My brother now lives in Chicago Heights.
It was a safe place to grow up as we spent meny a summer night all night fishing all parts of wolf lake, When we did you could most likley find us at the small train bridge that water from the big part of the lake would flow into the smaller channel sure made for some good carp fishing! These all night fishing adventures is what helped to keep us young kids in a little extra spending money, Come Sat. morning we would walk the banks and sell our catches of the night to the locals, It was always good for a couple bucks to get us through the weekend. During the week we would pick up every pop bottle we could find to get the 2 cents they were worth and at times we would hit the jack pot and find a quart bottle that would bring in a wooping 5 cents,boy those were the days when a kid could get through the week on a few pop bottles! And Suzi if I recall alot of those pennys were spent at your fathers Drug store!
I should say we left Hegewisch during the summer 1969 and ended up back in PA. We being my wife and daughter and yes My wife lived at Island Homes when we meet which makes it even a more special place in my memories.
So after almost 40 years and a couple more kids and now a few grand children and even 2 great grand children We still think of all the friends and good times while growing up at home in Hegewisch!
I could go on and on but I will just leave it at this till maybe another time! All the best to Hegewisch for meny years to come.....

HEAR! HEAR! Paul,

Well, we've been here for 29 years. We raised 3 boys here. I absolutely love Hegewisch. My Great Grandmother and Grandfather came from Greece {legally} on the USS Martha Washington in 1912 and settled here in Arizona in a nice house on 135th an Ave L. My Grandmother who was raised there will be 92 next month and Mom is 75 who was also raised here. They both went to Henry Clay as we did and our children as well as my Grandchildren {who moved to Tennessee and my son is homesick, He misses Hegewisch} We plan on going NO WHERE soon. Our home sits on 135th and Buffalo and was 94 years old when we bought it 21 years ago and has NEVER flooded either. We've truely been blessed in what I ALWAYS refer to Hegewisch as Gods Country. This place has a small town atmosphere and I love it. Yes as was mentioned Hegewisch has lots of potential. The kids that get hurt here from troublemakers are the problems that come from the East Side, I know this because one of their cousins that lived here turned him in, and the boy that was beaten at Mann Park were kids from Lansing. Thank God he survived and he still lives here too. Yeah, I Love this Small Town in a Big City. It's STILL a peaceful town.
Hope you are just as happy :}

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Mark Konkol

Mark Konkol covers city neighborhoods for the Chicago Sun-Times. You can e-mail him or call (312) 321-2146.

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This page contains a single entry by Mark Konkol published on September 28, 2007 9:40 AM.

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