Archive for the 'CHICAGO’S CHANGING SCENE' Category

Then and Now, Adams-Dearborn

1950–Adams Street @ Dearborn Street, view east

2017–the same location

In 1950 Loop streets still had two-way traffic and still had streetcar tracks.  Henry Ives Cobb’s monumental Federal Building is just visible to the right in the older photo.  Across Dearborn is the Peter Pan Restaurant, part of a city-wide chain of moderately-priced establishments.  The large ad above the restaurant is for Mogen David Wine, “the home-sweet-home wine like Grandma used to make.”  Down the block on Adams is the Berghoff.

In our time the Adams in a one-way street and the streetcar tracks have been covered over.  The old Federal Building has been replaced by the high-rise Kluczynski Federal Building and a single-story post office on an open plaza.  The Dirksen Federal Building occupies the site of the Peter Pan.  But the Berghoff is still in business, and you can still buy Mogen David Wine.

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Then and Now, Prairie-32nd

1959--Prairie Avenue @ 32nd Street, view north

1959–Prairie Avenue @ 32nd Street, view north

2017--the same location

2017–the same location

Starting in the late 1950s, great chunks of the Douglas Community Area were cleared for new housing and institutional use.  A few blocks of 19th Century row houses between 31st and 35th Streets were left untouched, and soon became known as The Gap.

In our time the vintage row houses here have been rehabilitated, and new construction fills the vacant lots.  The Gap is now an official Chicago landmark, the Calumet-Giles-Prairie District.

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Then and Now, Eddy-Southport

1908–Eddy Street @ Southport Avenue, view east

2017–the same location

Our location is a short block south of Addison Street.  This part of Lakeview was still thinly settled in 1908.  However, the Ravenswood branch of the North Side ‘L’ had just been extended through the area, with a station at Southport.  New construction was already starting to pick up.

In 1914 a baseball stadium for the fledgling Federal League opened a few blocks east of here.  Though the Federal League didn’t last, the ballpark still stands, and has given the neighborhood a new name—Wrigleyville.

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Then and Now, Jefferson-14th

1937–Jefferson Street @ 14th Street, view north

2017–the same location

In 1937 the neighborhood around Jefferson and 14th Streets was mostly tired commercial buildings.  Here and there, you might spot an ancient frame cottage—though the Great Fire of 1871 started a few blocks to the north, the flames did not touch this area.  Public transit was provided by the 14th-16th streetcar line.

In 2017 every building in the older photo is gone.  So is 14th Street, with the UPS facility sprawling over its onetime site.  And if you’ve compared as many “then and now” photos as I have, you’ll notice that Chicago streets have a lot more trees today than they did years ago.

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Then and Now, 111th-Morgan

1943--111th Street @ Morgan Street, view east

1943–111th Street @ Morgan Street, view east

2017–the same location

In 1943 the area around 111th and Morgan Streets had a few small cottages, but was mostly vacant.  Low population density meant low demand for public transit.  Except for the passing siding in the photo, the local streetcar line was single track.

What a difference 74 years makes!  Repave the street, put in some sidewalks, add street lights, and plant a few trees.  And while you’re at it, cut an alley through just beyond the fire plug.  Now this stretch of 111th Street looks pleasantly settled.

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Then and Now, Devon-Western

1934--Devon Avenue @ Western, view west

1934–Devon Avenue @ Western Avenue, view west

2016--the same location

2017–the same location

The shopping district around Devon and Western began to take off during the early 1920s, with various retail stores, restaurants, a couple of banks, and the usual business mix springing up as the decade moved on.  However, the Great Depression brought a halt to new construction.  A few vacant lots are visible in the 1934 photo.

In 2017 the vacant lots are long gone from the Devon Avenue strip.  Once a predominantly Jewish neighborhood, the area is now the center of the city’s Indian, Pakistani, and other South Asian communities.

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The Island

The Chicago neighborhood known as The Island is only about eight miles from the Loop.  But it’s the kind of place you won’t find unless you are looking for it.  And even then, you might miss it.

Go straight west out Madison Street.  Just before you hit the suburbs, you arrive in Austin.  This is Community Area #25, one of the city’s largest in both area and population.  The Island is the far southwest corner of Austin.

Why call this neighborhood The Island?  The name is explained by geography.

9-15--The Island map.jpg

First of all, The Island is cut off from the rest of Chicago.  To the north is Columbus Park and the Eisenhower Expressway—and even before the expressway was built, there were three rail lines at grade level here.  Directly to the east is a major factory area.

So much for the connection to Chicago.  What about the other two sides?  To the south is a suburb, Cicero.  To the west is another suburb, Oak Park.

The result is an isolated City of Chicago neighborhood totally surrounded by alien territory—an island.

Island Convenience Store (Roosevelt and Austin)

The precise boundaries of The Island are vague.  Some locals claim that only the five residential streets count.  Others want to include all of Census Tract 8314.  To make things simpler, I’m declaring that The Island is the area bounded by Austin, the Eisenhower, Central, and Roosevelt.

When the Town of Austin was annexed by Chicago in 1899, The (future) Island came with it.  Then the area was mostly vacant.  The ‘L’ came through shortly afterward, as did the Chicago, Aurora & Elgin interurban line.  The 12th Street (Roosevelt Road) streetcar line was also extended to Austin Boulevard.

California-style bungalows (900-south block Mayfield Avenue)

The 1920s were the years for building.  The first five blocks in from Austin Boulevard were filled in with bungalows and two-flats.  East of Menard Avenue the land was zoned for factories.  A ribbon commercial strip developed along the Roosevelt Road car line.

A monumental event in local history took place on April 27, 1926.  William McSwiggin, an assistant state’s attorney, was gunned down as he left a speakeasy at 5615 West Roosevelt Road.  The crime made national news and was never solved.  Technically, McSwiggin died on the Cicero side of Roosevelt—but the killers did drive by on the Chicago side!

Two-flats (1100-south block Mason Avenue)

It’s anybody’s guess when the neighborhood started calling itself The Island.  A friend of mine who grew up there in the 1940s said the name was already in use then.  The Island Civic Association dates its founding from 1956.

The population has held steady at around 1,800 for decades.  As late as 2000 it was a mostly White enclave.  Since then, African Americans and Hispanics have moved into the neighborhood, and it is now integrated.

Chicago Studio City (5660 West Taylor Street)

Today, the residential blocks of The Island are much the same as always—quiet, clean, and well-tended.  The major changes have taken place in the industrial zone.  Though some factories remain, many have been replaced by other types of business.

A small shopping plaza has opened at Roosevelt and Central.  The old Victor Products factory has been replaced by a new branch of Hartgrove Hospital.  Along Taylor Street, Chicago Studio City operates a 100,000-square-foot facility with three soundstages, the biggest movie-making plant between the coasts.

Olson Rug Company (832 South Central Avenue)

The Island is also home to the Olson Rug Company.  Older Chicagoans fondly remember the park which the company operated at its old headquarters on Pulaski Road.  Now that the industrial land is being revitalized, is there a waterfall in the future for The Island?

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