Woodrow Wilson Road

As any true Chicagoan knows, Western Avenue is the longest street in the city.  Would you believe it was once named Woodrow Wilson Road?

Woodrow Wilson, 28th President of the United States, died on February 3, 1924.  He’d been an icon of the Progressive movement and had led the country through the First World War.  The Chicago City Council wanted a suitable way to honor him.

President Woodrow Wilson

President Woodrow Wilson

A few years before, when Theodore Roosevelt had died, the aldermen had changed 12th Street to Roosevelt Road.  What was good for a dead Republican president should be good for a dead Democrat one.  Since the city already had a Wilson Avenue, it was decided to use both the honoree’s names.

It’s not clear why the lawmakers chose Western Avenue for renaming.  On April 25 they officially re-designated the street as Woodrow Wilson Road.

The 12th-to-Roosevelt change had caused little controversy.  But now the property owners along Western objected to the expense involved in renaming their street.  Within a few weeks they’d gathered over 10,000 signatures asking that the old name be restored.

The Tribune sent its Inquiring Reporter to the corner of “Washington Boulevard and Woodrow Wilson Road” to gauge public opinion.  Most people said the change didn’t make any difference to them.  One young lady did say she favored the new name because “it sounds lots nicer, [and] we see enough old things around here.”

The property owners prevailed.  Less than a month after its original action, the council ordered the street changed back to Western Avenue.  A proposal to rename Navy Pier after Wilson was shelved.

Detroit still has a Woodrow Wilson Street

Detroit still has a Woodrow Wilson Street

In 1927 the council changed Robey Street to Damen Avenue without serious incident.  But when Crawford Avenue was renamed Pulaski Road in 1933, that set off a 19-year long battle  The lesson seems to be that nobody can predict when changing a street name will rub some people the wrong way

By the way, the move to change Woodrow Wilson Road back to Western Avenue was spearheaded by Alderman Joseph Kostner.  Today the city remembers him with a street named Kostner Avenue.



3 Responses to “Woodrow Wilson Road”

  1. 1 Kyle L July 23, 2016 at 10:10 am

    What was the prior name of Kostner, or was it un-platted at that time?

    As someone with Ohio roots, I know that the Buckeye state’s most notable remembrance of the 28th President is football legend Woodrow Wilson “Woody” Hayes.

    The question of a recognition for the 44th president certainly serves as fodder for a barroom conversation. Does East 95th Street have a sufficiently small number of business addresses?

    • 2 J.R. Schmidt July 24, 2016 at 3:21 pm

      Kostner Avenue was 44th Avenue (4400 west).

      One of our suburbs has already changed 127th Street to Obama Drive. In the city itself, I’ve previously proposed that our Chicago president get either Franklin Street or Franklin Boulevard, since that wouldn’t require totally displacing anyone. Meanwhile, as a Park Ridge resident, I’m grappling with another problem—if Hillary is elected, then what do we rename in her old hometown?


      • 3 Garry July 25, 2016 at 4:01 am

        Get rid of Franklin Blvd.
        There’s no reason for duplicate street names.
        The same with Columbus Dr. & Columbus Ave., California Ave. & California Terrace, which is really ridiculous, since it’s a short, dead end, private street totally surrounded by a single building.

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