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.
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.
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.
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.