The Last Day of the Western Streetcar (6-17-1956)

Yesterday I posted some old Chicago photos I recently found.  I had taken them during the rebuilding of Central Avenue in the 1970s.  Today’s photos mark an anniversary—exactly 64 years ago, streetcar service ended on Western Avenue.

Western Avenue @ Grace Street

I have no idea who took these pictures.  I bought them in a stack from a  long-gone used book store on Milwaukee Avenue, near the Portage Theatre.  The photos had no credits and no locations, only the 6-17-1956 date.

Western Avenue @ Cornelia Avenue—and Riverview!

I was eventually able to figure out the locations of all but one of the photos.  I knew the mystery location was somewhere between 33rd Street and Garfield Boulevard, because you could see Western Boulevard paralleling Western Avenue.  My thanks to Joe Urbanski for identifying the site.

Short-run wye on Roscoe Street

Streetcars first ran on Western Avenue in the early 1900s.  By 1931 the line stretched from Howard Street to 111th Street.  At the time it was advertised as the longest city streetcar line running on a single street.

Western Avenue @ Montana Street

In August 1948 CTA cut back and rerouted the line.  Now the cars operated from Clark-Devon via Devon and Western to a terminal at 79th Street.  A few months later, the north terminal was changed to an off-street loop at Berwyn Avenue.

Western Avenue @ Pershing Road—where the Orange Line ‘L’ crosses today

I remember riding the Western Avenue streetcar with my grandfather to Sox games.  The year must have been 1955.  Although there were quicker ways to get to the game from the Northwest Side, Grandpa knew I liked riding the streetcar.

Western Avenue @ 49th Street—where the Orange Line ‘L’ again crosses today

When the Western line was given over to buses, that left only two Chicago streetcar lines—Broadway-State and Clark-Wentworth.  Though the Wentworth cars went right past Comiskey, Grandpa continue to use the Western bus for our trips there.  I guess he didn’t like riding through the Loop.  Chicago’s last streetcars ran on Wentworth Avenue on June 21, 1958.

Western Avenue @ 79th Street terminal

I have never seen these photos published anywhere.  If someone can identify the photographer, please let me know.


8 Responses to “The Last Day of the Western Streetcar (6-17-1956)”

  1. 1 Joe Urbanski June 17, 2020 at 12:32 am

    For the unknown photo, I assume it could be narrowed down to two locations. 1) Looking north down Western from the Northeast most viaduct that crosses Western, Western Blvd and Pershing. Reference your previous photo with the two viaducts. With this location, McKinley Park would be on the east side of Western Blvd. Difficult to see if the park is actually accounting for any additional trees other than the Blvd itself. 2) Looking north down Western from the 49th St viaduct that runs east & west across Western Ave & Western Blvd. The Orange line now crosses at the 49th St location as well.

    I assume either of these two locations as the photos appear to be taken from a higher position. Easier to climb a railroad embankment than gain access to a higher floor or roof of a building.

    • 2 J.R. Schmidt June 17, 2020 at 12:15 pm

      I think it’s probably Western-49th looking northeast, taken from the viaduct that now holds the Orange Line ‘L’ Station. Thanks!

  2. 3 Joe Urbanski June 17, 2020 at 9:38 pm

    I believe back in the day there was a spring manufacturer at that location that ran from 4800 S to 4900 S Western Ave. Want to say it was Burton Spring. Just a huge empty lot now. Was announced in 2018 that the Chicago Park District was moving it’s headquarters there to 4800 S Western Ave.

    Haven’t driven past there in a while. Google maps still shows an empty lot with a park district sign about the future headquarters. As for the Blvd strip, the Orange Line Station bus terminal has been placed on the Blvd land south of 48th Pl.

  3. 4 JAMES F. O'NEIL June 17, 2020 at 11:51 pm

    That’s our ’56 Chevy!😊
    We rode the Garfield Blvd bus from Halsted to Western, then transferred to get to Riverview.
    We [only white people then] swam in Gage Park, 55th & Western.
    There was a pickle factory on Western north of Garfield Blvd…I think north…
    (FYI: I attended Quigley Prep Seminary, but could have gone to Carmel, DeLasalle, or Rita’s–or Harper High. My mom attended Lindblom.)

  4. 5 rickey2144 June 30, 2020 at 10:10 pm

    Nice! Thanks for the history sir!

  5. 7 Jerry Wysocki July 23, 2020 at 3:52 am

    Must have been around 1952 (I was very young then) as my mother and I were traveling south on the Western Ave. streetcar. It made a turn east on to 69th street, and the noise and grumble of the wheels scared me so much that I hid under the seat until the turn was completed. That was probably my first streetcar ride, but after surviving that scare, I actually liked riding on streetcars. Which is why I really enjoyed the ride on the last surviving Chicago “Green Hornet” streetcar at the Illinois Railway Museum, in Union, Illinois.

    • 8 J.R. Schmidt July 23, 2020 at 2:19 pm

      Chicago’s “Green Hornet” streetcars were technically known as postwar PCC cars. They lasted a little over ten years in Chicago, from 1947 through 1958. However, in Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, San Francisco, and other cities, the PCC cars continued to run into the 1980s. And the last I heard, a refurbished group of four PCC cars is still in regular service on a high-speed line in suburban Boston.

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