Chicago’s Shortest Street

If you know your Chicago trivia, you know that Western Avenue is the city’s longest street. From Howard to 119th, it runs in a straight line for 23.5 miles. But what is Chicago’s shortest street?

The answer used to be Ziegfeld Court. Named for showman Florenz Ziegfeld Jr. — a Chicago native — this mini-street was actually an alley, 76.4 feet long and 10 feet wide. Ziegfeld Court was located next to the Ziegfeld Theater, on the north side of Van Buren, just east of Wabash.

McDermott Street

McDermott Street

In 1970 the city sold Ziegfeld Court to Continental Assurance for $151,300. At $198 per square foot, it was reported to be the highest price ever received by the city for a public thoroughfare. The CNA Center now occupies the site.

Some people didn’t seem to get the news. For many years afterward, various sources still claimed that Ziegfeld Court was Chicago’s shortest street. In 2008, the Forgotten Chicago website tried to clear up the confusion with an article titled “Tiny Streets.”  The length of the different streets was determined by their address points—what a layperson might call house numbers.

Using that criterion, Chicago’s shortest street was McDermott Street, a tiny stub off Archer Avenue in the Bridgeport neighborhood. The street is officially listed at 1400 west, from 2928 to 2936 south. That’s eight address points. Hoey Street, a few blocks away, was ranked the city’s second-shortest, with ten address points.

Hoey Street

Hoey Street

Since the city’s address point system can be inconsistent, I decided to take my own readings. In 2012 I paced off from the curb lines of the nearest intersecting streets. From my unscientific measurements, it seemed to me that Hoey was shorter than McDermott. I posted my results on my blog.

That opened up a discussion.  The 1988 book Streetwise Chicago listed the city’s shortest street as Longmeadow Avenue, at 31.6 feet long. However, Longmeadow is a Lincolnwood street, located north of Devon Avenue. That 31.6-foot stub on the Chicago side of Devon is actually part of Lenox Avenue.

Bay Court

Bay Court

The final answer came courtesy of Dennis McClendon.  He noted that GIS data is available from the city, and McDermott Street measures 151.12 feet long. Chicago’s shortest street is now Bay Court (2710 west at 3300 north), at 127.52 feet. Nearby Pier Court is second-shortest at 128.88 feet. Both of these little lanes are located on former industrial land that was redeveloped.

Perhaps we’ll be seeing more of these boutique streets in the future.  And Chicago developers may even want to go for the record. According to the Guinness book, the shortest street in the world is Ebenezer Place in Wick, County Caithness, in Scotland–6.9 feet long.


Where Have You Gone, General Logan?

“General John Logan/ sits on a horse/ on top of a hill/ in Grant Park in Chicago.”

The nursery rhyme gives you the bare facts. But who was General John Logan? And more important to our story, what’s that hill doing there?

The general on the horse on the hill

The general on the horse on the hill

John Alexander Logan was a Civil War general and a two-term U.S. Senator from Illinois. He was the driving force behind establishing Memorial Day as a national holiday. Logan ran for vice president on the unsuccessful Republican ticket in 1884, and was considered one of the front-runners for the next presidential election. Then, in December 1886, he suddenly died.

Logan was given the rare honor of lying in state in the U.S. Capitol rotunda. He was buried in Rock Creek Cemetery in the District of Columbia. Meanwhile, back in Logan’s home state, a grand plan was taking shape.

General John Logan

General John Logan

Former President Ulysses S. Grant–THE great Civil War general–had died in 1885. Grant had been a citizen of Illinois, but New York City was building a mausoleum to house his remains. Now Chicago would show those Eastern body-snatchers. Chicago would build a mausoleum for General Logan.

Three days after Logan’s death, the Chicago city council voted to donate land in Lakefront (Grant) Park for his tomb. The South Park Commissioners and the Illinois state legislature soon got on the bandwagon. A total of $64,000 was appropriated for the project–serious money in 1886.

Logan’s widow preferred to have him stay in the District. However, she agreed to give way to the Chicago plan. A site opposite 9th Street was selected. When she visited the city the following summer, newspaper reports said Mrs. Logan was arranging the transfer of her husband’s remains.

The general’s body was moved on the second anniversary of his death, December 26, 1888. But he didn’t go to Chicago. Instead, he was simply transported across Washington and interred in the National Soldiers Home Cemetery.

The Chicago tomb wasn’t yet ready. Grave-robbing was a concern in those times–thieves had nearly made off with Lincoln’s body–and Mrs. Logan felt security was better at Soldiers Home than at Rock Creek.

In 1897 the Logan monument was dedicated in Chicago. America’s greatest sculptor, Augustus Saint-Gaudens, designed the heroic equestrian statue. It was set on a large mound that could easily be converted to a tomb.

Mrs. Logan attended the ceremony and was visibly touched. But by now she’d changed her mind about bringing her husband with her. The general stayed in Washington. And Chicago had to make do honoring him with Logan Square, Logan Boulevard, Logan School, and the Logan Square Community Area.


Then and Now, Harrison-Hermitage

1944--Harrison Street @ Hermitage, view east

1944–Harrison Street @ Hermitage, view east

2014--the same location

2014–the same location

In 1944 this part of the West Side was a neighborhood of tenements, warehouses, and small factories. The area was designated as “blighted.” Cook County Hospital, located just to the west, was a stabilizing influence. However, it was an open question whether any of the other medical facilities would remain in place.

Seventy years later, the Illinois Medical District has expanded eastward to Ashland Avenue. Rush University Hospital has even built on air-rights over Harrison Street and the Pink Line ‘L’. Much of the neighborhood is now gentrified.




The Wreck of the Lady Elgin (9-8-1860)

Much of the time Lake Michigan looks like a big, peaceful pond.  We forget how dangerous it can be.  That was the lesson nature taught 154 years ago today.

The Lady Elgin was a wooden-hull, sidewheel steamship–the kind you’ve seen in all the old movies about riverboat gamblers.  The ship operated on Lake Michigan between Chicago and Milwaukee.  Late on the evening of September 6, 1860, the Lady Elgin left Milwaukee for the last time.

The 'Lady Elgin' in port

The ‘Lady Elgin’ in port

The ship had been chartered by the Irish Union Guard, a Milwaukee paramilitary club.  The group was going to Chicago either to buy weapons, or to hear a speech by presidential candidate Stephen Douglas–accounts vary.  About 350 people were making the trip.

The voyage south passed without incident.  The Irish Union Guard had their day in Chicago, then boarded ship to return home.  The Lady Elgin left port in heavy weather late on September 7.

About 2 the next morning, as the passengers slept, the ship was off Winnetka.  The storm had become a full-blown gale.  Suddenly the schooner Augusta appeared among the waves.  Before either ship could maneuver, the Augusta smashed into the Lady Elgin‘s side.

Captain Jack

Captain Jack

At first the damage to both ships seemed minor, and the Augusta proceeded on its way.  Then Captain Jack Wilson of the Lady Elgin discovered a large hole on the port side of his vessel.

Wilson tried to plug the hole with mattresses from the beds.  When the ship continued to sink, he ordered the 200 head of cattle in the hold driven overboard, to lighten the load.  Nothing worked.  Within twenty minutes of being rammed, the Lady Elgin broke apart and sank.

A few fortunate people managed to get into lifeboats.  A drummer from a brass band floated to safety on his bass drum.  Most of the others clung desperately to wreckage as the gale raged on.

On shore, word of the disaster spread.  Dozens of Good Samaritans roused themselves from bed, and came out in the storm to the lake.  There were many heroic rescues.  But the fierce weather hampered most efforts.

By morning it was over.  Thirty people survived.  No one knows how many had been lost, though estimates range as high as 400.  The wreck of the Lady Elgin remains Lake Michigan’s most deadly maritime disaster.



Senate Theatre

The Senate Theatre opened at 3128 West Madison Street in 1921, with 3097 seats. There were larger and grander movie palaces on the other side of Garfield Park, but the Senate managed to outlast them. During the 1960s it presented mostly Spanish language films.

Senate Theater-a (1976)

The Senate closed around 1970. I used to pass the shuttered building whenever business took me into the neighborhood. One day in 1976 I decided to take a picture of it.

Less than a week later, when I again drove down Madison Street, the wreckers were at work on the Senate. We didn’t have cell-phone cameras then, but I still had my trusty 35-mm Mamiya with me, and took another photo.

Senate Theater-b (1976)

I never attended a show at the Senate. I did hear a story that in the early ’60s, the owner tried to increase business by presenting a live lion act–but the lion went to sleep on stage, and the tickets had to be refunded.

There must be easier ways to earn a living.




Real Women Don’t Wear Corsets (9-1-1921)

Women were becoming liberated.  They were voting.  They were driving cars.  They were smoking in public.  And now, they were getting rid of their corsets.

Today’s Tribune said so.  The thoroughly modern woman no longer wanted the old fashioned, high bust, heavy steel corset.  That contraption was probably gone forever.

The Tribune asks some questions

The Tribune asks some questions

Dr. Katharine Corcoran, medical director of the Woman’s Catholic Order of Foresters, declared that the corset was a hazard to health.  “Women for the first time are giving their bodies a chance to develop naturally,” she said.  “Going without the corset is a good substitute for the old medicine bottle.”

For Corcoran, dumping the corset was like shedding prison shackles. Women could now achieve their full potential. “The present-day woman,” she said, “is now capable of achievements equal almost to those of men.”

Some women thought the corset wasn’t dead yet.  One buyer from a major State Street store said that “the Parisian style dictators assert more strongly than ever the need for a corset.”  She had just returned from Paris, and knew this for a fact.

Make way for the new woman!

Make way for the new woman!

“In our store, we sell twice as many corsets as a year ago,” the buyer went on.  “But the corsets are lighter in weight, and not made of expensive material any more.”

As the buyer was giving her views, a young male customer interrupted.  “But I have danced with fifty girls in the last month, and not one of them wore a corset,” he said.

With that, the buyer smiled at him, and said, “Ah, my boy, you didn’t know.”

The buyer then opened a box of 1921-model corsets and showed them to the young man.  “See how light they are!” she said.  “The modern corset simply confines the hips and holds up the stockings–that’s all.  The girls wear them, and you wouldn’t know.”

So maybe the corset, in some form, would always be with us.  But it would have to adapt to the changing lifestyle of the modern female.  As Dr. John Mahoney put it, “The women of the present day are paying more attention to their work and their sports than they are to their hearts and their appearance.”



Southmoor Hotel


In 1924 the Southmoor Hotel opened on the northwest corner of Stony Island Avenue and 67th Street. With 300 elegant rooms and a prime location at the southwest entrance to Jackson Park, it soon became a jewel of the South Shore community.

The Southmoor was one of many residential hotels that once dotted Chicago’s finer neighborhoods. Two historic events distinguished the Southmoor from the others. Most famously, The Woodlawn Organization was formally organized during a meeting at the hotel in 1962. A lesser-known incident occurred seven years earlier–during his first Chicago concert tour, Elvis Presley hid out from his fans in the Southmoor.


The hotel started to slide in 1969, when management unknowingly hired some members of a local street gang. Within months the gangbangers had run off the residents and the other employees, and established the Southmoor as their headquarters.

A Time magazine story on this particular form of adaptive re-use didn’t sit well with Mayor Richard J. Daley. The city seized the building, kicked out the thugs, and launched a fruitless search for someone who’d restore the property. In 1977, shortly after I took the photo of the vacant hulk, the Southmoor was demolished.





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