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 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.

There are various controversies about the facts of Swanson’s Chicago years. Some sources say she attended Hawthorne Elementary School, others say it was Hayt. In her autobiography, Swanson herself states that she was born at 341 Grace Street.  Yet when she revisited the city as an elderly lady, she couldn’t find the house.

Was Gloria Swanson born here?

Was Gloria Swanson born here?

As an expatriate who hadn’t resided in Chicago since her teens, Swanson might have forgotten that the local address system was changed between 1909 and 1911. That caused all sorts of confusion, so the Chicago City Directory Company published a book titled Plan of Re-Numbering, City of Chicago. The book was made up of tables converting the old addresses into the new ones. Today those Chicago address conversion tables are available online at this site–http://www.chsmedia.org/househistory/1909snc/start.pdf

According to the guide, Gloria Swanson was born at today’s 2017 West Grace Street. Whether or not this is really her birthplace has not been proven–maybe she didn’t remember the original address, and got it wrong in her autobiography. The Chicago City Tribute program has not recognized any Swanson sites.

The house on Grace Street appears to be the right vintage, and identifying Gloria Swanson’s actual birthplace is a project worthy of further pursuit. But don’t bother the people who live there now. It’s a private residence.



8 Responses to “Where was Gloria Swanson born?”

  1. 1 Kyle L July 1, 2013 at 5:19 pm

    I read the last sentence of the first paragraph too quickly and got excited thinking that Ms. Swanson played “Granny” on the Beverly Hill Billies.

    Why was the address numbering system changed? Was it a shift from a neighborhood system to a city-wide system?

    I think that 1900 Census records for 341/2017 Grace would quickly confirm or deny this story, but do not appear to be available for free online (Ancestry.com pay wall).

    • 2 J.R. Schmidt July 1, 2013 at 6:12 pm

      The current street-numbering system, with State and Madison as the baselines, was the work of Edward Brennan, who convinced the city council to adopt it. Before that different systems were used in different parts of the city. As for the 1900 Census, Swanson didn’t spent her entire childhood in Chicago, but lived in Puerto Rico and Key West at various times; she might not have been a Chicago resident in 1900.

  2. 3 Garry July 1, 2013 at 6:07 pm

    According to Wikipedia, her father was a soldier & presumably, her mother was a housewife as no occupation is given.
    The house you pictured is a classic “Workingman’s cottage” & that would be the appropriate type of building for a soldier, since their pay was very little in those years.
    Zillow.com estimates it at $775,800, which in that neighborhood [North Center] is a teardown!

    • 4 J.R. Schmidt July 1, 2013 at 6:15 pm

      I’m not sure, but I think the house on Grace Street (wherever it was) actually belonged to Swanson’s maternal grandparents, not her dad.

  3. 5 FG July 19, 2013 at 8:31 am

    I’d always thought that there was a (also?) School Street connection as well? Is that a wrong assumption?

    • 6 J.R. Schmidt July 19, 2013 at 9:30 am

      I’m not sure. I don’t know many details about Gloria Swanson’s early life, but was just interested in unraveling the mystery of her birthplace.

      • 7 john b August 26, 2013 at 9:15 pm

        her birthplace is on kenmore just north of wrigley field – home of the cubs -. if you have her autobiography there is a picture in the book. the house looks exactly the same today 2013. a miracle !! i love gloria – a true chicagoan !!

      • 8 J.R. Schmidt August 31, 2013 at 10:06 am

        John B–
        I’ve seen the picture in Swanson’s autobiography, and I wish I knew its provenance. Is it a picture of Gloria and the Marquis standing on the porch while fans gawk at them? Anyway, the reason I ran the post is because of the mystery involved in Swanson’s birthplace. She says it was 341 Grace Street, and the building in the autobiography picture is obviously not that. It would help if we had her birth certificate, but maybe she didn’t get one–Walt Disney was born in Chicago two years after Swanson, and he famously did not have a birth certificate. The 1900 Census Records would not be conclusive, since Swanson’s family moved around a lot at the time. So we still don’t really know where to put the birthplace plaque.

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