Posts Tagged 'South Side'

Then and Now, 112th-Avenue H

1937–112th Boulevard @ Avenue H, view west

2018–the same location

In 1937 this was 112th Boulevard, the last link in the chain of Park District boulevards that stretched from Jeffery-93rd via 93rd-Escanaba-100th-Anthony-Avenue L-112th to Eggers Woods at the state line.  Though settlement here was still sparse, there were grand plans for the future.

Today the East Side community is residentially mature.  The streets in the boulevard chain have lost their special designation, including what is now called 112th Street But except for parts of Escanaba, they all remain as wide as any arterial through street.

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Then and Now, Western-116th

1914--Western Avenue @ 116th Street, view north

1914–Western Avenue @ 116th Street, view north

2015--the same location

2018–the same location

In 1914 Chicago annexed the village of Morgan Park.  Western Avenue here was still a dirt road.  Contemporary maps indicate the west side of Western was part of Mount Hope Cemetery.

Today the area is fully developed.  Mount Hope Cemetery is still in business, but several blocks to the west.  The cemetery sold off some of its unused land, and the blocks bordering Western are now a residential community called Beverly Woods.

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The Alderman Helps Out (7-26-1914)

“Constituent service” was the name of the game for 3rd Ward alderman Jacob Lindheimer.  The Chicago Beach Hotel was operating a private beach for guests off 50th Street.  Neighborhood residents wanted access, but the alderman was advised that nothing could be done until the courts rendered a decision.

So Lindheimer paid a visit to the hotel’s manager, and presto!—half of the beach was thrown open to the public.  The episode was just another part of a Chicago alderman’s daily routine, one for the voters to remember when the next election rolled around.

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Joe Louis’s Home

Joe Louis was born in Alabama and grew up in Detroit. He spent his later life in Las Vegas.  But during the twelve years he reigned as heavyweight boxing champion of the world, he lived in Chicago.

Born Joseph Louis Barrow in 1914, he dropped his last name when he began amateur boxing as a Detroit teenager, so his mother wouldn’t find out what he was doing. As Joe Louis the kid fighter attracted the attention of John Roxborough.  Roxborough, one of the city’s gambling kingpins, became Louis’s manager.

In 1934 Louis turned pro. Roxborough began grooming him for a shot at the heavyweight championship, and that meant a move Chicago, where Louis could train under Jack Blackburn. Local promoter Julian Black joined Roxborough as a partner.  He found Louis an apartment on 46th Street off South Park Way (King Drive).

Joe and Marva

Louis quickly rose through the ranks with a string of knockouts. During one of his gym sessions he noticed Marva Trotter, a secretary at the Chicago Daily Defender newspaper. They started dating.  On the morning of September 24, 1935 Joe and Marva were married in New York.  Joe then went off to Yankee Stadium, knocked out ex-champ Max Baer in four rounds, and went back to his hotel and Marva.

The new couple settled in at the Rosenwald Apartments at 4648 South Michigan Avenue. The 454-unit complex had been built by white philanthropist Julius Rosenwald to provide decent housing for the city’s African Americans.  Louis later said that the Rosenwald “was the most fabulous building black people could live in at the time.”  Gwendolyn Brooks, Nat “King” Cole, and other prominent Chicagoans were also residents.

Louis continued winning in the ring until Max Schmeling stopped him in June 1936. Louis then rebounded with a new string of victories.  On June 22, 1937, he knocked out James J. Braddock at Comiskey Park to become the new heavyweight champion.

Marva was not at the fight. According to the Tribune, she listened to the action on the radio in their apartment at 4320 South Michigan Avenue.  After the fight, Louis had trouble driving back the few blocks home through the crowds.  “I thought all of Chicago was standing outside my house,” he wrote in his autobiography.  “Marva and I had to come out, I don’t know how many times, and wave at the people.”

Joe Louis’s Chicago Home

Exactly when the Louises relocated from the Rosenwald is unclear. According to the 1940 Census, Joe had purchased the three-story apartment building for $7500—about $140,000 in today’s money.  Their personal flat had five rooms.  At that time the tenants in the other five units paid rents ranging from $40- to $65-a-month.

One year to the day after he’d won the heavyweight title, Louis took care of his old nemesis, Max Schmeling, in just over two minutes. In the course of twelve years Louis would successfully defend his title 25 times, more than any other boxing champion.  Some critics scoffed at his challengers as the Bum-of-the-Month Club.  More likely, Louis was just too good for anyone.

Louis served in the army during World War II, mostly fighting exhibitions. When he came out of the service, his skills had noticeably deteriorated.  He won a few fights, but the magic was gone.  In October 1949 he announced his retirement from the ring.

Meanwhile, Louis’s marriage had also deteriorated.  Joe liked the ladies, and the ladies liked Joe.  Joe and Marva divorced in 1945, remarried in 1946, then divorced a final time in 1949.  Marva kept the two children and the apartment building on Michigan Avenue.

The rest of Louis’s life was not happy. He had trusted too many people with his money, and the Internal Revenue Service came after him for back taxes, which he couldn’t pay.  A boxing comeback was an embarrassment.  He had health problems and battled substance abuse.  His final years were spent as a greeter in a casino.

Joe Louis died in 1981. He was buried at Arlington National Cemetery.  A few years after his death, his favorite local golf course—Pipe O’ Peace in Riverdale—was renamed Joe Louis the Champ Golf Course.  The apartment building he owned on Michigan Avenue during his glory years remains a private residence.

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Then and Now, Stony Island-63rd

194-1974-Stony Island @ 63rd

1974–Stony Island Avenue @ 63rd Street, view north

2018–the same location

In 1974 the Jackson Park ‘L’ terminal at 63rd-Stony Island was in its eighty-first year of service.  By that time the neighborhood was in decline, and many of the buildings that had gone up around the terminal had been town down.  Meanwhile, CTA had announced plans to replace the old station with an elaborate park-and-ride facility.

Today the ‘L’ line ends a mile west of here at Cottage Grove.  The South Side YMCA now occupies the site proposed for the park-and-ride garage, and the Obama Presidential Library is the area’s latest redevelopment project.

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Death in the Evening

The intersection of State and 63rd  Streets looks pretty much the same today as it did on May 25, 1950.  This view is probably the last thing that Paul Manning saw.

Manning was a 42-year-old CTA streetcar motorman.  At 6:30 on this spring evening he was piloting his southbound car down the tracks in the center of State Street.  There were no expressways yet and the ‘L’ didn’t go past 69th Street, so Manning’s car was crowded with rush hour commuters.

A heavy shower had passed through the area.  Just ahead, the Pennsylvania Railroad viaduct was flooded.  Since electric streetcars could not operate through standing water, a CTA supervisor was on duty.  He was diverting southbound cars into an emergency terminal on the east side of State.

Manning approached the intersection at full speed.  He must not have known that the viaduct was impassible.  Nor did he see the supervisor running toward him, frantically waving his arms.  The car hit the open switch.  Instead of continuing south on State, it lurched violently to the left, across the oncoming lanes of traffic.

5-29--generic streetcar.jpg

Mel Wilson was driving a tanker truck northbound on State.  The truck was loaded with 7,000 gallons of gasoline from a refinery in Whiting, Indiana.  Wilson had just cleared 63rd Street when the turning streetcar slammed into him.

There was a moment of awful silence, then the truck exploded.  Flames shot through the streetcar and rolled down State Street, igniting everything in their path.  Trees, cars, buildings—in thirty seconds the block had become a vision of hell.

At the rear of the burning streetcar, the conductor forced open the back window and about a dozen people escaped, many of them on fire.  They were the lucky ones.  The exit doors had jammed.  The rest of the passengers were roasted to death.

Fire alarms jangled in all the South Side stations.  The department rushed thirty-three pieces of equipment to the scene.  The sound of the explosion and the black smoke rising through the air attracted hundreds of spectators.  Squads of police were called out to hold back the crowds.

5-29--wrecked streetcar.jpg

Firemen worked through the night, extinguishing the stray flames and searching for survivors.  The next morning, with the odor of burning flesh still in the air, city crews went to work dynamiting the shells of seven buildings.  Over 150 residents had lost their homes.  Thirty-three people were dead, among them motorman Paul Manning and truck driver Mel Wilson.

As a result of the accident, the CTA refitted the rear exit doors on its vehicles, so they could be manually pushed open.  The policy of replacing streetcars with buses was accelerated.  By 1958 the last trolley was gone from Chicago’s streets.

The definitive account of the incident is The Green Hornet Streetcar Disaster, by Craig Allen Cleve.

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The End of Big Jim Colosimo (5-11-1920)

This was one historic day in the annals of Chicago gangland.  This was the day Big Jim Colosimo was killed.

Big Jim

Colosimo was a native of Calabria, in southern Italy.  He’d come to Chicago as a teenager in 1895, and at first was just another two-bit hustler hanging out on the 22nd Street Levee.  Then he grabbed for the gold.  He married one of the city’s leading madams.

Colosimo had a good head for business.  He expanded his wife’s operation until the couple was running dozens of brothels and gambling halls.  By 1910 he had also become a political power in the First Ward.

That year Big Jim opened a cafe at 2126 South Wabash Avenue.  Italian cuisine was considered exotic by mainstream American then—think Ethiopian food today—and Colosimo’s became a chic dining spot for the “best people.”  Visiting celebrities and knowledgeable tourists flocked to the place.

In the spring of 1920 Big Jim divorced his first wife and married a young singer.  A few weeks later, on May 11, he went to his cafe to wait for a delivery.  At about 5 in the afternoon one of the employees heard a shot.  The man followed the sound and found Colosimo lying dead.

Souvenir postcard from Colosimo’s

The police had two suspects, the dumped wife and the trophy wife.  Both women were cleared and dropped out of sight.  The killing was officially credited to that old standby, “person or persons unknown.”  Only later did the whole story emerge.

Johnny Torrio

Johnny Torrio was Colosimo’s chief lieutenant.  Prohibition was on the way, and Torrio knew there was a fortune to be made supplying liquor to thirsty citizens.  Big Jim balked at the idea.  He’d gained a certain measure of respectability, and didn’t want to rock the boat.

So Torrio decided that Big Jim had to go.  The identity of The Man Who Shot Big Jim Colosimo is still in dispute.  But many scholars say the deed was done by Torrio’s young friend from Brooklyn, Al Capone.

Torrio proved to be a visionary.  With Colosimo out of the way, bootlegging became big business.  And with the profits from that business, the mob entrepreneurs flourished and grew.

Colosimo’s Café endured some hard times after Big Jim’s death.  For awhile the business was shuttered.  A new owner took over in 1948, but couldn’t make a go of it.

Still, Chicagoans counted the café at 2126 South Wabash Avenue as one of the city’s historic sites.  When the building’s planned demolition was announced in 1958, the property was overrun by hundreds of souvenir hunters.

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