Posts Tagged 'West Side'

The Mystery of Woodward Drive

Anyone interested in Chicago history should get a copy of Streetwise Chicago. This 1988 book by Don Haymer and Tom McNamee lists the origins of thousands of the city’s street names. They gathered their information mainly from files at City Hall or the Chicago Historical Society.

There are a few gaps. Woodward Drive, a little roadway in Garfield Park, is dismissed with “source unknown.” Obviously the Park District didn’t keep very good records.

Woodward Drive

Chicago’s Woodward Drive

I have no way of proving it, but that roadway was probably named for Augustus Brevoort Woodward.

Woodward was quite a character. For one thing, when he was born in 1774, his given name was actually Elias. He later changed it to Augustus, after the first Roman emperor. That fact alone tells you something about the man’s opinion of himself.

He came from a prominent New York City merchant family. After graduating from Columbia Woodward got a job in the Treasury Department, and eventually became a lawyer. Along the way he became friends with Thomas Jefferson.

Woodward, Augustus

Augustus Brevoort Woodward

By 1805 Jefferson had become president and appointed Woodward one of the federal judges for the Michigan Territory.  Woodward took up his post in Detroit just after the little settlement had burned down. He immediately went to work rebuilding it.
Woodward put together a grand city plan based on Washington, D.C. Most of it was never realized, though he did name the main street Woodward Avenue, and that stuck. The Judge claimed that the name was merely descriptive of the street’s general direction toward the north woods—“wood-ward.”
He was greatly interested in science and education, and in his spare time developed  a prospectus for a school he called the Catholepistemiad. Again, only some of Woodward’s ideas were adopted. His school later became the University of Michigan.
Woodward scheduled court sessions according to his whims. In summer they were held outdoors under a pear tree. “He was known as a two-bottles-a-day man,” one historian wrote. “It was not unusual for him to fall off the kitchen chair he used as a bench and go to sleep on the ground.”
The Judge did draw up most of the territorial laws of Michigan, known as the Woodward Code. Still, he had to be the top dog in whatever he did. He quarreled constantly with his fellow judges and the governor. They finally succeeded in getting rid of him.
In 1824 Woodward was shipped off to Florida as the territorial judge for the new territory. He died there three years later. A bachelor with no family to mourn him, his grave has been lost.
As far as anyone knows, Augustus Brevoort Woodward never visited Chicago. But isn’t he the sort of person who deserves a street in our city?
–30–
Advertisements

Then and Now, Randolph-Clinton

1954–Randolph Street @ Clinton Street, view west

2017–the same location

In 1954 this area just west of the C&NW railroad terminal was mostly warehouses and factories.  Randolph Street had been converted to one-way traffic recently.  Though streetcars have ceased operating here, the old two-way tracks have not yet been covered over.

The West Loop has been revitalized over the course of six decades.  Many old buildings have been torn down and replaced.  However, this particular block remains intact—for now.

—30—

 

 

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?

—30—

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.

—30—

 

Then and Now, Division-Western

1941--Division Street @ Western Avenue, view west

1941–Division Street @ Western Avenue, view west

2017--the same location

2016–the same location

Division Street: America was Studs Terkel’s first oral history book, published in 1967.  The older photo nicely captures the feel of the book, and the era when the street was the gritty crossroads of the West Side, at once a melting pot and a pressure cooker.

By the 1960s this stretch of Division Street had become the heart of Chicago’s Puerto Rican settlement.  Since 1995 two metal sculptures of Puerto Rican flags have spanned the street.  More recently, gentrification and the dispersion of the local Puerto Rican community have converted the flags into historical artifacts.

—30—

Then and Now, Grand-Chicago

1972--Chicago Avenue @ Grand, view west

1973–Grand Avenue @ Chicago Avenue, view west

2016--the same location

2016–the same location

In 1973 electric trolley buses were in their final days on Grand Avenue.  The coach yards of the Chicago & North Western Railroad were just to the south of here.  The neighborhood was mostly small factories and light industry.

Today Metra operates the coach yards.  The large warehouse behind the trolley bus in the older photo now houses a recording studio and other businesses.  But Joe Boston’s Italian Beef Stand—now decked out in bright green—still feeds hungry patrons at the point of the intersection.

—30—

Then and Now, Division-Milwaukee

1941--Division Street @ Milwaukee, view east

1949–Division Street @ Milwaukee Avenue, view east

2016--the same location

2016–the same location

The West Town neighborhood experienced a building boom in the aftermath of the Great Fire of 1871.  Many of the new settlers were Poles, and in 1949 the few blocks around Milwaukee-Division-Ashland was the heart of the city’s “Polish Downtown.”  The white building at the far left was headquarters of the Polish Daily Zgoda newspaper.

Today most of the Polish population has dispersed.  The Zgoda building houses a sporting goods store.  Along the south side of Division Street, the 27-story Noble Square Co-operative has replaced the 1880-vintage buildings.  And subway trains now run under Milwaukee Avenue.

—30—