Then and Now, 26th-Pulaski

1928-26th Street @ Crawford Avenue (Pulaski Road), view east

2018–the same location

Ninety years ago, this neighborhood centering around West 26th Street was known as South Lawndale.  The population was mostly Czech and Polish.  Streetcars ran on the streets, autos were boxy and black, the cross-street was called Crawford Avenue.

Today most of the old buildings are still there, with varying degrees of remodeling.  The area is now usually referred to as Little Village.  The residents are largely Mexican.  No streetcars, better autos, “Pulaski Road” instead of “Crawford Avenue.”  What will be the changes here in 2108?



Night Baseball Comes to Wrigley Field (8-8-1988)

The first night game in major league baseball was played in 1935.  By 1950 all the teams played night games—except the Cubs.  Longtime owner Phil Wrigley said the national pastime was meant to be enjoyed in daylight.

When the Tribune Company bought the Cubs in 1981, management began talking about putting lights in Wrigley Field.  The neighborhood didn’t like that, and pressured politicians to pass laws banning night games at the ballpark.  But night games made more money, and now it was only a question of time until the Cubs installed lights.  A compromise was reached, where the number of night games would be strictly limited, and non-resident parking would be prohibited on nearby streets.


On August 8, 1988, the Cubs met the Phillies in the first night game at Wrigley Field.  Naturally, the park was a sellout on that historic 8-8-88.  Just as naturally for something involving the Cubs, things didn’t work out as planned.  A major storm drenched the area, and the game was called after three innings.

Unlike a few hundred thousand Cubs fans, I can’t claim to have been present at Wrigley’s aborted first night game.  I was in San Francisco on vacation with my family that day.  When I finally did get to a Wrigley night game later in the season, the whole experience seemed surreal.  Even now, I still prefer going to the park for day games.  It’s probably a generational thing.

By the way, in the first official night game at Wrigley Field on 8-9-88, the Cubs beat the Mets, 6-4.


Bull Moose (8-6-1912)

He was back.  Before an ecstatic crowd of 15,000 people at the Chicago Coliseum, Colonel Theodore Roosevelt declared himself a candidate for President of the United States.

8-7-TR top.jpg

The occasion was the first convention of the Progressive Party.  Roosevelt had served two terms as president, then engineered the election of his friend William Howard Taft in 1908.  By 1912 the two men had broken over policy matters, and Roosevelt had challenged Taft in the Republican primaries.

The crowd at the Coliseum knew the rest of the story too well.  Roosevelt had won most of the primaries, but the Republican bosses had still nominated Taft.  The people had been ignored.  So when Roosevelt announced he was quitting the Republicans, he took much of the party with him.

They had formed a new third party, the Progressives.  Now Roosevelt was speaking to them.  “You know where I stand!” he roared.  “I’m ready if you want me!”

The audience yelled themselves hoarse.  They remembered the golden years of the Roosevelt administration.  He had broken up monopolies, settled strikes, built the Panama Canal, started the National Park system, and won a Nobel Peace Prize for ending the war between Russia and Japan.  He had been the most popular president since George Washington.

Roosevelt spoke for nearly an hour, but the people in the Coliseum didn’t notice the time pass.  Nothing else mattered when the Colonel was talking.  At the end he brought them to their feet, comparing the current fight to the Bible’s final war of good against evil–“We stand at Armageddon, and we battle for the Lord!”

Afterward someone asked Roosevelt about his health.  “I feel as fit as a bull moose,” he declared.  From that time on, the new party was nicknamed the Bull Moose Party.

In November Roosevelt and the Progressives pulled more votes than Taft.  But the split in the Republican ranks sent Democrat Woodrow Wilson to the White House.

The Progressive Party eventually fell apart, and Roosevelt rejoined the Republicans.  He died suddenly in 1919.  At the time of his death, he was the odds-on favorite to win the Republican nomination—and probable election to the presidency—in 1920.


Then and Now, Western-116th

1914--Western Avenue @ 116th Street, view north

1914–Western Avenue @ 116th Street, view north

2015--the same location

2018–the same location

In 1914 Chicago annexed the village of Morgan Park.  Western Avenue here was still a dirt road.  Contemporary maps indicate the west side of Western was part of Mount Hope Cemetery.

Today the area is fully developed.  Mount Hope Cemetery is still in business, but several blocks to the west.  The cemetery sold off some of its unused land, and the blocks bordering Western are now a residential community called Beverly Woods.


Opera Comes to Chicago (7-30-1850)

Chicago had 30,000 people in 1850.  It was becoming a big city.  Folks here were getting sophisticated.  Women were even buying spittoons so their husbands didn’t spit the tobacco juice on the floor any more.

And on this date, the world knew that Chicago wasn’t just some backwater little village.  An opera company had come to town!

Well, it wasn’t exactly an opera company.  It was actually four professional singers who’d been performing in Milwaukee, a real backwater little village.  Still, this was an actual opera.  Opera was big news in 1850.

Jenny Lind

In New York, P.T. Barnum was paying Jenny Lind—“The Swedish Nightingale”—$1,000 a night to perform.  Chicago’s first opera didn’t have Jenny Lind.  But the local promoters were crafty enough to choose one of her biggest hits for their first show, at Rice’s Theatre.  The opera was Bellini’s La Sonnambula.

Four singers are not enough for an opera.  So the Chicago cast was filled out with local amateurs.  A few of them had good voices, most of them didn’t.  Rehearsals were—I think “confused” is a good word to describe them.

(Does this sound like the plot of some bad old Hollywood movie yet?)

Well, the grand premiere went off on schedule.  Rice’s Theatre was jammed.  And just like in 2018, the opening night crowd really dressed up.  The men were wearing swallow-tail coats, the women had on long gowns and were carrying lorgnettes.

Just like in one of those bad old Hollywood movies, the show had problems.  The audience kept applauding at the wrong time—whenever one of the hometown amateurs showed up on stage, his friends in the audience would stand up and cheer.  Meanwhile, one of the extras named J.H. McVicker sang so loudly he drowned out everybody else.

But the cast slogged through to the finish.  And everybody loved it!  The whole town was talking about Chicago’s first opera.

The next day Rice’s Theatre burned down.

So Chicago’s first opera season ended, after a single performance.  But they had made a start.  And a few years later, J.H. McVicker, that booming-voice spear carrier, built the city’s finest theater.


The Alderman Helps Out (7-26-1914)

“Constituent service” was the name of the game for 3rd Ward alderman Jacob Lindheimer.  The Chicago Beach Hotel was operating a private beach for guests off 50th Street.  Neighborhood residents wanted access, but the alderman was advised that nothing could be done until the courts rendered a decision.

So Lindheimer paid a visit to the hotel’s manager, and presto!—half of the beach was thrown open to the public.  The episode was just another part of a Chicago alderman’s daily routine, one for the voters to remember when the next election rolled around.


Then and Now, Lawrence-Lawndale

1949–Lawrence Avenue @ Lawndale Avenue, view west

2018–the same location

Our location is a few blocks west of the Kimball terminal of the Ravenswood (Brown Line) ‘L’ route.  That fact made this one of the city’s most densely-settled inland neighborhoods.  The streetcar line on Lawrence also produced the customary ribbon commercial strip.  In the 1949 photo, the vertical sign for the Admiral Theatre is visible in the distance.

Nearly seventy years later, the streetcar tracks and overhead wires are gone, but the old buildings still remain—including the Admiral Theatre.  Though this stretch of Lawrence now has retro street lights, why are they only on the south side of the street?  Did the property owners along the north side forget to pay their taxes?