Then and Now, Elston-Diversey

1916–Elston Avenue @ Diversey Avenue, view southeast

2018–the same location

We are at one of Chicago’s famed triple intersections, where Elston cuts through the junction of Western and Diversey.  Traffic was still light in 1916.  Most people depended on streetcars to get around the city—one of them is visible coming up Elston.  And check out the barber pole on the lower right corner of the photo.

In our time the Kennedy Expressway parallels Elston a few blocks to the west.  With more Chicagoans driving their own cars, this stretch of Elston no longer has public transit, though there is talk of restoring buses on a trial basis.  In any case, there will probably always be a few barber shops in the neighborhood.



Chicago Trivia Quiz #5—Answers

WGN radio’s Wally Phillips

1. Chicago’s first radio broadcast featured __________.

(C) an opera

2. Which of these radio personalities died after an on-air heart attack?

(C) Franklyn MacCormack

3. “WLS” stands for __________.

(B) World’s Largest Store (station was originally owned by Sears)

4. Why was Howard Miller fired in 1968?

(B) He made on-air remarks perceived as racist.

5. What was the name inside Wally Phillips’s famous “black box?”

(B) Jean Rogers (actress in 1930s “Flash Gordon” serials)

Chicago Trivia Quiz #5

WGN radio’s Wally Phillips

A quiz on Chicago radio history—

1. Chicago’s first radio broadcast featured __________.

(A) a baseball game   (B) a presidential speech  (C) an opera   (D) a game show

2. Which of these radio personalities died after an on-air heart attack?

(A) Jack Quinlan   (B) Paul Fogarty   (C) Franklyn MacCormack   (D) Fred Wolf

3. “WLS” stands for __________.

(A) We Love Shoppers

(B) World’s Largest Store

(C) Warrior’s Last Stand

(D) Wendell Louis Sherman

4. Why was Howard Miller fired in 1968?

(A) He made on-air remarks perceived as obscene.

(B) He made on-air remarks perceived as racist.

(C) He walked out of the studio during a broadcast.

(D) He refused to play Beatles music.

5. What was the name inside Wally Phillips’s famous “black box?”

(A) Lar Daly   (B) Jean Rogers   (C) Phil Rizzuto   (D) Donald Trump


State Street’s Marble Palace (10-12-1868)

The ad was prominently placed, in the upper-right corner of the front page of the Chicago Tribune.  “REMOVAL and OPENING” read its headline.  Field, Leiter & Company was coming to State Street.

Marshall Field—the man, not the store—had arrived in Chicago in 1856 at age 21.  Within a few years he had become a partner in Potter Palmer’s thriving dry goods store on Lake Street.  In 1867 Palmer sold his share of the business to Field and Levi Leiter.

Marshall Field at 24

Palmer was now concentrating on real estate.  Lake Street had always been Chicago’s shopping street.  But Lake was only a block from the river and the produce market and all their odors.  Palmer thought State Street was the avenue of the future.

Palmer started buying and building along State.  On the northeast corner of State and Washington, he erected a six-story, marble-clad commercial structure.  He had little trouble convincing his former partners to relocate there—even at the stiff rent of $50,000 a year.

So over ten nights in October 1868, Field and Leiter moved their stock from Lake Street to the new site.  At 10 am on the morning of the 12th, the doors were thrown open and the public admitted.  Field and Leiter, along with their junior partners, greeted the arrivals.  Each man who entered was given a cigar, and each woman was given a rose.

The Tribune called the store’s opening “the grandest affair of its kind which ever transpired in Chicago.”  Customers were amazed at the elegance of the “Marble Palace on State Street.”  They also appreciated the store’s liberal refund policy—if you decided to return something, you’d get your money back, cheerfully and with no questions asked.  As Marshall Field himself put it, he would “give the lady what she wants.”

10-12--Field's 1868.jpg

The Marble Palace lasted only three years, until it was destroyed in the Great Fire.  Field and Leiter rebuilt on the site.  By the time Field bought out Leiter in 1881, State Street had become Chicago’s major shopping street.

Marshall Field died in 1906.  One year later, his company opened the world’s largest department store on State.  The building remains today, operated as a branch of Macy’s.


Skrudland Photo Service

Before the digital age, cameras used photographic film.  The film provided a limited amount of shots—12 or 20 or 36 or whatever—and once you shot a picture, there was no going back and erasing it for reuse.  When you used up all the shots, then the film had to be developed and printed.  Most people turned those jobs over to a professional.

On the Northwest Side, many of us used Skrudland Photo Service.  My dad remembered that they had started out in a small building at Central and Addison during the 1930s.  By the time I started taking pictures around 1958, Skrudland’s was operating out of an old bungalow at 6440 West Diversey Avenue.

That Skrudland’s was the first place my parents let me go to solo on the bus.  It was a little under three miles from our house at Montrose and Austin.  I was about eleven, and could have ridden my bike.  Too dangerous, Mom said.  Take the bus.

Getting to Skrudland’s involved taking the #91-Austin bus south to Diversey, then transferring to the #76 bus west to the store—or walking that last half-mile if no bus was coming.  So every month or so, when I had saved up enough money, I’d make the journey with a used roll of film from my old 8-shot box camera.  A few days later, I’d go back to pick up the prints.

The prints came in a pink envelope.  Along with them you got a set of negatives.  If you wanted a second copy of a particular photo, the store could make it using the negative.  The envelope also included various coupons and price lists.  Sometimes there’d be a booklet with tracts from the Bible.

Time passed.  Amateur photography was getting more and more popular.  Skrudland’s opened a second store at 7000 West Belmont Avenue.  They tore down the old Diversey bungalow and put up a new building on the site.  Then they opened another branch in Palatine.

I continued going to Skrudland’s even after I moved to Rogers Park and later Oak Park.  They did good work and their prices were fair.  The staff there was friendly, too.  They seemed to enjoy what they were doing.

Eventually digital cameras replaced film cameras.  Skrudland’s closed the two stores in the city.  I’m not sure whether the Palatine store is still in business.

Those pink Skrudland’s envelopes were always a handy place for me to store extra photos.  A few weeks ago I decided to go through one of them.  I discovered that I had inadvertently saved some 1961-vintage Skrudland’s enclosures.  They might not be worthy of sending to the Chicago History Museum or the Smithsonian, so I’ll share them here.


Then and Now, Dearborn-Monroe

1953–Dearborn Street @ Monroe Sreeet, view north

2018–the same location

In 1953 Dearborn Street downtown still handled two-way traffic.  The clock on the left of that older photo was on the old First National Bank of Chicago building.  Up the block and across the street is one of the Loop’s three Harmony Cafeterias.  Meanwhile, two guys are busy fixing the pavement while two other guys stand around admiring themselves—no further comment necessary.

Sixty-five years later, much of Dearborn Street has been rebuilt.  Now the only southbound traffic here is in the bike lanes.


The Babe Calls His Shot (10-1-1932)

On this date, Babe Ruth hit the most famous—and most controversial—home run in baseball history.  It happened in Chicago, at Wrigley Field.

Ruth’s Yankees were facing the Cubs in the World Series.  The Yankees had won the first two games in New York.  Now the series had moved to Chicago for Game Three.

There was bad blood between the two teams.  The Cubs’ pennant drive had been sparked by the late-season acquisition of shortstop Mark Koenig.  But the rest of the Cubs had voted Koenig only a partial share of World Series money.

Koenig was an ex-Yankee.  The Yankees thought the Cubs were cheating their old teammate.  When the series began, both teams started dissing each other across the field.  “Cheap bastards” was one of the milder terms used.

The score was tied 4-4 when Ruth came to bat in the 4th inning of Game Three.  The Cubs yelled at Ruth.  Ruth yelled back.  He watched the pitcher fog in two quick strikes.

Then Ruth majestically pointed toward the center field bleachers, announcing he’d hit the next pitch there.  The pitcher threw.  Ruth swung.  He hit the ball just where he had pointed.

At least, that’s the legend.

10-1--Ruth 01.jpg

A few newspaper accounts said that Ruth made some sort of gesture toward the pitcher, or toward the Cubs’ bench.  Most of the reports don’t mention any gesture.  Only one New York paper said that Ruth had pointed—like a man playing pool, the Babe had “called his shot.”

Over the next few years, more and more writers picked up the story of The Called Shot.  At first Ruth brushed aside questions about whether he’d pointed.  By the time he died in 1948, he was happily telling everyone that, of course, he really had pointed.

Later generations of baseball scholars dismissed The Called Shot legend.  Some questioned whether Ruth had even made a gesture.  The whole business seemed like another New York media invention.

Then, in 1992, a fan’s 8-mm movie of Game Three surfaced.  The film shows that Ruth did make a pointing gesture with his hand.  But it’s not clear who or what he was pointing at.  So the debate continues.

By the way, in case you haven’t guessed, the Yankees swept the Cubs in the 1932 World Series in four straight games.