Lost Landmark on Grand Avenue

Like any great city, Chicago is always changing. Familiar landmarks are destroyed. I’ve been told that’s the reason my Then and Now posts are popular. 

I snapped a lot of pictures of weird local landmarks when I was a kid.  This one must have really interested me, because I took two pictures of it, 15 years apart.

1960--What is this?

1960–What is this?

This structure was located at 6650 West Grand Avenue. A curved driveway, supported on concrete pillars 40 feet above the ground, with no ramps. For most of the thousands who passed it everyday, it was an intriguing mystery. A Northwest Side prototype for the Skyway, perhaps?

The Grand Avenue whatsis was actually a relic of World War II. Built by Western Electric in 1943, it was a track used for testing mobile radar equipment. The location at the top of a ridge made it higher than any buildings for miles around.

Originally a wooden ramp connected the track to the ground. The mobile radar units would drive up to the top, then planes from Glenview Naval Air Station flew over. The data collected was used to determine the efficiency of radar, which was then a new invention.

1975--Still there!

1975–Still there!

The track remained in use through 1953 and the Korean War. After that the wooden ramp was removed and the elevated roadway sat unused for over forty years—it was too expensive to tear it down. This particular landmark was finally replaced by a strip mall in the 1990s.



3 Responses to “Lost Landmark on Grand Avenue”

  1. 1 Rich Behrends October 29, 2015 at 1:57 pm

    This was used to test and tune radar sets made by Western Electric during WWII.
    This was on the old Fullerton Ave. Western Electric Plant property.
    My father worked there pre WWII, then he went to Bell Labs in New York to test radar tubes. After the war he returned to Fullerton Ave Plant then transferred to the Hawthorne Plant on Cicero Ave. and 22nd Street until he retired in 1972.

  2. 2 Mike December 11, 2015 at 1:02 pm

    This was one of those local landmarks that I loved to show my out-of-town friends. Imagine my surprise when I took some folks over to see the ‘highway to nowhere’ and found it gone with a Home Depot going up just behind.

    I recently uncovered a lot of history of this thing, including its patent dates, news articles about its construction and training manuals for the machines that were being calibrated there. Very, very interesting.

    • 3 Dennis Schlagheck September 6, 2016 at 11:43 pm

      Hello Mike – Thanks for sharing your info about the WE test stand. I grew up a few blocks away from it and I remember it well. Today I moderate the “Remembering the Hawthorne Works” Facebook page and I co-authored the book “Images of America: Hawthorne Works.” I’d be very interested in seeing the articles and manuals you found. I haven’t been able to dig up much specific information about the Fullerton Avenue plant. I know W. F. Hall Printing occupied the plant by the 1960s and, as you mentioned, Home Depot replaced them in the early 90s. The south end of the building was demolished to expand parking, but the remaining exterior is still the old WE structure. The test stand itself came down around 1992 and was replaced by an Applebee’s restaurant and a Taco Bell. So it goes. Good industrial jobs replaced by “would you like fries with that?”

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