Archive for the 'CHICAGO’S CHANGING SCENE' Category

Then and Now, Dearborn-Hubbard

1953–Dearborn Street @ Hubbard Street, view south

2017–the same location

Dearborn Street just north of the river was home to factories and warehouses in 1953.   The gabled Chicago Varnish Company building is visible down the block at Kinzie Street, while beyond it is the narrow 1870s bridge over the river.  And in 1953 Chicagoans were still getting used to one-way streets, as evidenced by the car parked facing the wrong way.

The 1960s brought a new Dearborn Street Bridge, the new Marina City complex, and the beginning of transformation for this area.  Most of the old industrial buildings are gone or have been converted to other use—the onetime varnish factory now houses Harry Caray’s Steakhouse.  Though the neighborhood has definitely improved, I do miss that funky “DO NOT ENTER” sign hanging over the street on the light pole.


Then and Now, Wentworth-Cermak

1959--Wentworth Avenue @ Cermak Road, view south

1959–Wentworth Avenue @ Cermak Road, view south

2017--the same location

2017–the same location

Chicago’s earliest Chinese settlement was on the few blocks of Clark Street just south of Van Buren.  In 1912 escalating rents and ethnic discrimination prompted the beginning of a general exodus to the neighborhood around Wentworth Avenue and 22nd Street (Cermak Road).  By the time the older photo was taken, the Chinese community was already well-established there.

Today most of the buildings in the 1959 photo remain.  The most notable change is the Chinatown Gate.  Sadly, the Dragon Cue pool room—on the north side of Cermak—is long gone.


Then and Now, Belmont-Parkside

1972–Belmont Avenue @ Parkside Avenue, view west

2017–the same location

It’s 1972 in the heart of the Belmont-Central shopping district.  Electric trolley buses run on Belmont, and the Will Rogers Theater is showing Nicholas and Alexandra.  Across the street from the theater, the Goldblatt’s Department Store has been expanded.  The cars are big, bad, and loaded with chrome.

Forty-five years later, diesel buses have succeeded electric buses.  The Will Rogers has been replaced by a strip mall, and the onetime Goldblatt’s store has been converted into Tony’s Fresh Market.  You make your own call on the cars!



Haven School

Chicago’s Haven Elementary School was located at 1472 South Wabash Avenue.  I often drove by the school in the early 1970s, when few people lived in the South Loop, and wondered how a neighborhood school could continue operating in that particular neighborhood.  It couldn’t—I took the picture in 1973, and Haven closed in 1974.

Haven School was named for early school board president Luther Haven.  The first school was built on the site in 1862.  Within twenty years it proved to be too small, and was replaced in 1885 by a new Haven, the building in the photo.  Today Coliseum Park occupies the property at the southwest corner of Wabash Avenue and 14th Place.


Then and Now. Madison-Ogden

1947–Madison Street @ Ogden Avenue, view west

2017–the same location

Chicago’s first stock yards opened near the triple intersection of Madison, Ogden, and Ashland in 1848.  After the animals moved south a few years later, a commercial district grew up in the area.  The 1947 photo is dominated by the Wendell Bank Building in the triangle between the three streets.  The building was later headquarters of the Turtle Wax Corporation, and sported a giant turtle statue on its roof.

Today the Wendell Bank Building has been replaced by a mini-park, and the other buildings in the older photo are also gone.  However, the Billy Goat Tavern now has an outpost on the southeast corner of Madison and Ogden, a few blocks east of its original site.



Then and Now, 115th-Michigan

1895–115th Street @ Michigan Avenue, view east

2017–the same location

In 1880 George Pullman began building railroad sleeper cars in a plant at 111th Street and Cottage Grove  Avenue.  By 1895 an independent settlement had developed to the west, partially populated by Pullman workers who didn’t want to live in the boss’s company town.  Michigan Avenue, running along the top of a glacial ridge, was the main business thoroughfare.

The Pullman company’s car-building business went into a long decline before finally closing during the 1980s.  Meanwhile, the surrounding area went into a similar decline.  Now the designation of the Pullman National Historic Park has brought hope of revitalization.



What Color Is Your Street Sign?

When I was very young and we’d go for rides in the car, I could always tell when we left the city and crossed into the suburbs.  The street signs would be different.

Traditional City of Chicago street sign

Chicago had yellow street signs with black letters.  The outlying villages had any colors that struck the fancy of the local politicians.  Some of those hamlets, like Park Ridge, even substituted vertical pillars for conventional signs.

(The yellow Chicago street signs gave me my first lesson in air pollution.  When I was ten we went to visit some relatives at 83rd and Brandon.  The street signs there had all turned a rich tan, courtesy of the nearby U.S. Steel plant.)

Chicago Park District street sign

Somewhere along the line I discovered that Chicago actually had two styles of street signs.  The boulevard system was controlled by the Chicago Park District, in those days an independent entity.  Park district streets had brown signs with white letters.  After the city took over the park district, the brown signs were retained, as a convenient way of warning trucks to stay off the boulevards.

In the 1970s, the feds told Chicago that all the street signs would have to be green and white.  Somehow a local salvage company got hold of hundreds of the old yellow signs.  I bought a Ridgeway Avenue sign for my father-in-law, who’d grown up on that street.  Now that he’s passed on, the sign hangs on my garage.

Transition–both old and new style signs (1977)

Meanwhile, the feds have expanded their guidelines over what constitutes a proper street sign.  In 2009 our government in Washington announced that existing signs had to be junked if the letters were all caps.  Having both capital and small letters would make the signs easier to read at a distance.  The decree was accompanied by the usual threat that federal funds would be withheld if a town didn’t comply.  After a massive public outcry, the feds backed off—for now.

But perhaps we haven’t yet become totally homogenized.  A few years ago, a friend told me of seeing a pair of the old yellow signs at an intersection on the far South Side.  I went down to 127th Place and Eggleston Avenue—and it was true!  For whatever reason, the authorities had missed these two.

The last survivors?

I don’t know whether those signs are still in place today, and I realize that I’m taking a chance pointing out this anomaly.  Somewhere, deep in the bowels of government, there’s probably an official who won’t be able to sleep nights, knowing that there are at least two yellow street signs remaining in Chicago.

My advice—leave them alone.  Consistency is an over-rated virtue.