Archive for the 'CHICAGO’S CHANGING SCENE' Category

The Central Avenue “Nazi House”

When I was growing up on the Northwest Side in the 1960s, the two-flat at 4819 North Central Avenue was notorious among my friends.  That was the building with the swastika.  We called it the “Nazi House.”

We didn’t know that the swastika was an ancient symbol of good luck that the Nazis had appropriated.  The two-flat was from the 1920s, and had been built when Hitler was still a minor-league rabble-rouser.  Hardly anyone on this side of the Atlantic had heard of him or his party then.  Whoever had decided to put up this particular swastika likely had no political motives.

Today Confederate flags and other symbols of an unenlightened era are consigned to the junk heap.  I wonder what passers-by thought of the Central Avenue two-flat during World War II, when the United States was actively involved in a death-struggle against the Nazis?  Or did the owner of the building cover over the swastika until V-E Day?

I took the photo of the “Nazi House” when it was being torn down in 1974.  An apartment building now occupies the site.

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Then and Now, Jackson-Ashland

1955–Jackson Boulevard @ Ashland Boulevard, view west

2019–the same location

In the later 19th century this West Side neighborhood was home to many rich families with roots in Kentucky—Ashland Boulevard was named after Henry Clay’s estate in Lexington.  But by the 1950s, the area had gone into decline.  Most of the old mansions had been torn down or cut into smaller units.

Today the area around the onetime “Kentucky colony” is on the upswing.  There are boutique hotels and trendy restaurants.  The Illinois Medical Center has expanded into these blocks as well, with a pedestrian bridge spanning Jackson Boulevard to a new parking garage.

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Then and Now, Berkeley-43rd

1909–Berkeley Avenue @ 43rd Street, view north

2019–the same location

In 1909 this area of East 43rd Street in the Oakland neighborhood was recognized as a desirable location.  The Illinois Central Railroad and the Kenwood Branch of the South Side ‘L’ had stations nearby.  A few blocks to the east, there were Burnham Park and Lake Michigan.  The housing stock was solid, substantial, and pricey.

Oakland went into decline during the second half of the 20th century.  Though commuter trains no longer stop at 43rd Street, and the Kenwood ‘L’ is long gone, today the neighborhood has been reborn.  All the buildings in the 1909 photo have been replaced by newer structures—including the townhouses a block north, which mimic the style of their predecessors.

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Then and Now, Monticello-Wrightwood

1903–Monticello Avenue @ Wrightwood Avenue, view north

2019–the same location

In 1896 the Metropolitan ‘L’ extended its northwest branch to a temporary terminal at Logan Square.  That sparked a building boom in the surrounding neighborhood.  Our location is about a half-mile due west from the terminal, just past Central Park Avenue.

That “temporary” Logan Square ‘L’ terminal lasted until 1970, when CTA extended the line to Jefferson Park, and eventually to O’Hare Airport.  Today Monticello-Wrightwood still enjoys the benefits of convenient transit.  All the buildings visible in the older photo remain in place.

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Then and Now, Randolph-Wells

1947–Randolph Street @ Wells Street, view east

2019–the same location

Seventy-odd years ago, Randolph Street in the Loop was a two-way street with streetcar tracks.  Here at Wells Street, the Bismarck Hotel dominates the south side of Randolph, and the Palace Theatre has been converted to a movie house.  Down the street on the left the Sherman House hotel is visible.

Randolph Street is one-way westbound in 2019, and the streetcars tracks are gone.  The Sherman House has been replaced by the Thompson Center.  But the Bismarck Hotel has found new life as the Hotel Allegro, and the Palace Theatre once again hosts live entertainment.

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Then and Now, 69th-Anthony

1948--69th Street @ Anthony Avenue, view east

1948–69th Street @ Anthony Avenue, view east

2019–the same location

During the 1850s the first railroads from the east pushed their way through to Chicago along the right-of-way in the older photo.  By 1948 this route was part of the New York Central system.  Beyond the viaduct, South Chicago Avenue runs parallel to the railroad.

During the 1950s May Motor Sales and other buildings along this side of the railroad were demolished to make way for the Chicago Skyway.  The railroad is still there adjacent to the Skyway in our time, though now the trains are operated by Amtrak.

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Then and Now, Broadway-Grace

1955–Broadway @ Grace Street, view north

2019–the same location

We are at 3800 north, 800 west.  The 1955 photo features the Vogue Theatre.  Once a vaudeville house known as the Chateau, the building also had offices, a bowling alley/billiard parlor, a ballroom, and a garage.  And on the right side of that 1955 photo, notice the two street lights—the reflective glass enveloping the incandescent bulb was considered state-of-the-art then.

Today the Vogue Theatre building has been replaced by a high-rise apartment.  Behind it, other old buildings have been cleared to make way for Gill Park.  And though the 1955-model street lights are gone, other retro styles of street lights are popping up all over the city.

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