Where was Gloria Swanson born?

Gloria Swanson (1899-1983) was one of the giants of early-day motion pictures. Her most famous films include Sadie Thompson, Queen Kelly, and her 1950 comeback, Sunset Boulevard. She continued performing into the 1970s, in both movies and on TV. Probably her most memorable role in these later years was playing herself in an episode of “The Beverly Hillbillies.”

Swanson

Swanson was a Chicagoan, born in the city and raised intermittently on the North Side. In 1914 she happened to visit the Essanay Studios on Argyle Street and was “discovered.” If you check her birthdate, she was only 15 years old at the time.

Swanson birthplace in autobiography

In her 1980 autobiography titled Swanson on Swanson, the actress says that she was born on the second floor of 341 Grace Street in Chicago.  After the city’s address numbers were changed in 1909, the house at that number became 2017 West Grace Street.  Yet there are no contemporary records showing a Grace Street connection to Swanson’s family.  How Gloria came up with that address is unknown.

Steven Michael Shearer’s exhaustive biography Gloria Swanson: The Ultimate Star offers a different location.  He has Swanson’s birthplace at 150 Seminary Avenue, based on the 1900 census record.  Unfortunately, Shearer misread the census sheet.  The Swanson family residence is actually listed there as 885 Seminary Avenue, an address confirmed by the “Joseph T. Swanson” entry in both the 1900 and 1901 city directories.  That address is 3124 North Seminary Avenue today.

Yet another story claims that Swanson really was born in a cottage on Grace just east of Clark Street—but somehow got the address wrong. Later that cottage was supposedly moved to 3710 North Kenmore Avenue, just behind the left field fence at Wrigley Field, where it stands today.  This spot is endorsed by oral history passed down by generations of firemen at the firehouse around the corner.

As it happens, the firemen have the street right, but the wrong building. The 1899 city directory has Gloria’s father residing at 1316 Osgood Street, which became 3703 North Kenmore Avenue.  The building there today matches the photo is Swanson’s autobiography.  So it would seem that this was her birthplace.

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