Then and Now, 103rd-Yates

1939–103rd Street @ Yates Avenue, view west

2019–the same location

Eighty years ago the area around 103rd-Yates was largely undeveloped.  Trumbull Park (on the left in the photo) had few amenities.  In the distance on 103rd Street, a long viaduct carried traffic over some major railroad freight yards.

In 2019 this part of the South Deering community is filled with postwar ranch homes.  Trumbull Park has many facilities.  And in addition to the rail yards, the 103rd Street viaduct now spans the Bishop Ford Freeway.



Hidden Movie Landmarks on “Extension 720”

Last night Justin Kaufmann had me on his “Extension 720” WGN radio show.  We talked about three of the little-known movie-related sites in my book Hidden Chicago Landmarks.  Here’s the link—

Historian John R. Schmidt explores hidden Chicago landmarks: Hollywood in Chicago

Cherokee Ben?

In 1920 Ben F. Parker was voted out as president of the Chicago waiters’ union.  Shortly afterward, he read that the federal government was awarding oil land in Oklahoma to “descendants of American aborigines.”  Now Parker recalled that his great-great-grandfather had been a Native American known as Squattingheffer.

Ben F. Parker

Parker went home and started rummaging through some trunks.  He found a peace pipe inscribed with great-great-grandpa’s tribal name.  Soon Parker was off to Tulsa to re-establish contact with his kinfolks.

Three weeks later, Parker returned to Chicago.  Some of the older chiefs in Oklahoma did have memories of Squattingheffer.  He was a Cherokee and had been “a great fighter.”  One of the chiefs said that Parker had Squattingheffer’s chin.  Then Parker was invited to smoke the pipe with the chiefs.

“At my first puff the world began whirling like a top,” Parker said.  “The ground leaped up and smacked me in the face.  I was flat on my face trying to swim across a vacant lot when I came to.”  Parker was so shaken by the ritual that he gave Squattingheffer’s pipe to a porter on the train ride home.

Thus was the story reported in the Chicago Tribune on January 23, 1921.  It also noted that “Mr. Parker declined to state how many oil gushers he had been awarded.”

Ben F. Parker died in 1943.  At the time of his death he was serving as president of the Chicago Waiters’ Alliance.  None of his obituaries mentioned anything about Native American ancestry.


The Big Broadcast of 1921 (11-11-1921)

On this date, Chicago was introduced to the latest method of instantaneous communication.  They called it radio-telephony—or just plain radio.

The city was a late starter in this particular technology.  Scientists had been transmitting sound via radio waves for years.  In the summer of 1920 the first America broadcast went out over the air from Detroit.  A few months later, Pittsburgh launched a regular radio station.

In Chicago, the impetus came from the Westinghouse Electric Company, owner of Pittsburgh’s pioneer station.  The Department of Commerce granted Westinghouse a license for a Chicago radio station with call-letters “KYW” on November 9, 1921.  Two days later, the station made a test broadcast.

Mary Garden

KYW had scheduled regular broadcasts with the Chicago Grand Opera Company.  The site of the test was the opera’s home, the Auditorium Theater.  A microphone was hung over the stage and telephone wires carried the sound to the KYW transmitter on the roof of the Commonwealth Edison building, three blocks away.

Mary Garden, director of the opera, made the opening address.  Newspaper reports said she began with the introduction, “This is station KYW, Chicago.”  But according to legend, the first words that went out over the air were her slightly-earlier adlib—“My God, it’s dark here!”

Garden’s speech was followed by an orchestra selection and an aria from “Madame Butterfly.”  That was all.  In a little over ten minutes, Chicago’s first radio broadcast was over.

An estimated 50,000 people had listed in on their primitive crystal receivers.  The transmission was received over a wide area, from upstate New York to Kansas, and from southern Kentucky to northern Minnesota. The signals were reported to be “loud and clear.”

The Tribune saw radio as an agent of democracy.  High culture was now available to everyone, everywhere.  “No longer will it be necessary to dress up in evening togs to hear grand opera,” the paper said.  “No longer will grand opera consist solely of [recordings] in towns 500 or 1,000 miles from Chicago.  All that is necessary is to acquire a radio telephone outfit.”

Today, the Chicago area hosts over 100 radio stations.  But don’t look for KYW.  Since 1934, those call letters have been assigned to a Philadelphia station.


Then and Now, Western-Devon

1922–Western Avenue @ Devon Avenue, view south

2019–the same location

Western Avenue was widened throughout its entire length during the early 1920s.  That work often involved chopping several feet off the front of existing buildings.  However, here on the far North Side, much of the frontage along Western was vacant anyway.

By the end of the 1920s, this stretch of Western was thoroughly developed.  In more recent times, the roadway around the intersection was throat-widened on the edges, to make room for left-turn lanes.  No buildings were affected, and only a few feet of sidewalk was sacrificed.


Irving Park Road and O’Hare Airport

In 1961, when I was just finishing grade-school, one of my friends moved out to Bensenville from our Portage Park neighborhood.  My mom was friends with his mom, so one day we drove out to visit them.

Traveling west on Irving Park Road near O’Hare Airport, just before we passed under a railroad viaduct, I spied another, smaller viaduct off to the right.  It was alone and isolated.  I wondered why it was there.

1976—Westbound Irving Park Road through O’Hare

Mom guessed that a plane had crashed into the railroad embankment and rendered it unstable for train traffic.  That meant rerouting the train track over a newer embankment, and a newer viaduct over Irving Park.  Years later, I discovered that the real explanation was much more prosaic.

Irving Park cuts across the southern portion of O’Hare.  In the airport’s early days, this was no problem.  But with more planes needing bigger and better runways in the late ’50s, Irving Park’s straight path through the airport property was diverted.  That old viaduct was a relic of Irving Park’s former routing.  In 1976 I snapped a picture of it.

A closer look at the abandoned viaduct

Today both Irving Park and the railroad line have again been relocated, to the southern-most perimeter of the O’Hare property.  I assume that both viaducts from the 1976 photo have been torn down by now.


Then and Now, Clark-Washington

1953–Clark Street @ Washington Street, view north

2019–the same location

Things have really changed at this Loop location in the last 66 years.  In 1953 Clark Street has two-way traffic and streetcars.  The east side of this block features two theaters—the Erlanger has a stage-version of Stalag 17, while the RKO-Grand is showing the movie Invasion U.S.A. (famously riffed on TV’s “Mystery Science Theatre 3000”)  On the next block north is the Greyhound bus station, with the Sherman House hotel peaking out on the other side of Clark.  And even with a traffic cop on duty, a couple of people are jaywalking.

Today the Daley Center occupies the square block east of the City-County Building.  An office tower has replaced the bus station, while the Thompson Center stands on the site of the Sherman House.  Traffic is heavier around here now, despite the one-way streets.  Will that lady on the corner wait for the “Walk” signal, or will she dart across Clark?