Wide and Wonderful Sunnyside Avenue

Like most kids, I asked my parents a lot of strange questions.  One of them involved a street a couple of blocks from my home, Sunnyside Avenue.

At 4500 north, Sunnyside was supposed to be a side street.  Yet it was just as wide as Montrose, Austin, or any of the other arterial streets in my neighborhood.  The parkway between the curb and the sidewalk was also generous, leaving room for two more traffic lanes, if the city decided to widen Sunnyside even more.

I remember asking my Dad about it.  He didn’t know why Sunnyside was so wide.  Dad suspected that some politician’s relative had a lot of extra paving material he wanted to sell to the city.

Sunnyside Avenue @ Lockwood Avenue, view west

Sunnyside Avenue @ Lockwood Avenue, view west

I later found that there are a few other unnaturally-wide side streets around Chicago—for example, Catalpa Avenue between Western and Lincoln.  However, most of them are only a block or two long.  The wide section of Sunnyside runs for over a mile, from Milwaukee to Austin.

I’ve come up with two possible explanations for Sunnyside’s extraordinary width—(1) Sunnyside is on the right-of-way of a railroad freight line that was never built, or (2) Sunnyside was originally intended to be part of the Chicago Park District boulevard system.  However, these are only conjectures.  I have no proof of either one.

This blog has a few thousand readers who collectively have a pretty impressive knowledge of Chicago.  If anyone knows the reason why Sunnyside Avenue is so wide—and can document it—please let me know.



7 Responses to “Wide and Wonderful Sunnyside Avenue”

  1. 1 mark January 30, 2017 at 4:21 pm

    Looking at the Sidwell maps, there is an easement running along the north side of Sunnyside between Milwaukee and Menard. Between Menard and Austin, where the lots face the side streets, the first lot north of Sunnyside on each block has an actual PIN that is exempt. This configuration is similar to the path of the former Humboldt Park L that ran behind the alley north of North Avenue. Perhaps Sunnyside was to be the stub for a street car line or extension of the Milwaukee L that would have passed through Six Corners.

  2. 2 Kenn Rowe January 30, 2017 at 4:29 pm

    Chicago Terminal Transfer Railroad Co. had a right-of-way from Mayfair along Sunnyside Ave. and Forest Preserve Blvd. into River Grove. There are various maps available online that show a completed RR (http://www.leventhalmap.org/explore/publisher/chicago-terminal-transfer-railroad-company) but it’s possible that only the western end of the right of way had tracks laid down.
    Some physical remnants include the regrading of the right-of-way west of Nagle Ave. where there is a elevation change at the ancient lake shore and concrete abutments where the RR crossed the Des Plaines River. There is also a restaurant at 7955 W. Forest Preserve Blvd. built in approximately 1900 that might have been a RR property.
    Other remnants can be inferred from property tax parcels along the right-of-way as shown at the Cook County Viewer portal of the assessor’s office.

  3. 3 Garry January 30, 2017 at 8:19 pm

    I was going to mention Catalpa if you hadn’t.
    I’ve always wondered if there was once a plan to cut off Lincoln there & feed it into Western, as that’s where Lincoln narrows down going southbound.
    There’s also a quarter mile section of Wolcott around Roscoe that’s wider than normal.

  4. 5 Kenn Rowe January 31, 2017 at 11:07 pm

    Here is a link to some 1908 Jefferson Township maps which show greater detail of the RR right-of-way.


    • 6 J.R. Schmidt February 7, 2017 at 5:38 pm

      Thanks for clearing up this long-time mystery. As indicated in the post, I’d heard the explanation about the onetime railroad line. This is the first time I’ve ever seen documentation of it. Obviously, I’d been looking at the wrong old maps.

      • 7 Fran Jacobs October 20, 2017 at 3:47 pm

        If you look in the University of Chicago’s map library at Rand McNally’s railroad map of Chicago for the year 1900, you can see the route of the Chicago Terminal Transfer’s line from Mayfair to Franklin Park, IL. The Boston Public Library has some CTT maps of the line that show a station at Dunning. Forest Preserve Dr. is the old railroad right-of-way to Franklin Park.

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