Posts Tagged 'West Side'

Then and Now, Ogden-Washington

1937–Ogden Avenue @ Washington Boulevard, view southwest

2018–the same location

Looking down Ogden Avenue in 1937, the large building in the distance at Monroe Street is a Wieboldt’s department store.  Facing Union Park on the right, at 1549 West Warren Boulevard, is the Viceroy Hotel.  Just visible on the left side of the photo—at what was then 1523 West Ogden Avenue—is the apartment building where Walt Disney lived in 1917 while attending McKinley High School.

The Wieboldt’s store is now condos.  The city has purchased and renovated the old Viceroy Hotel—since there’s now a Viceroy Hotel on State Street, I don’t know what to call that yellow brick building on Warren.  And today a parking lot for Pipefitters Local 597 occupies the site of Walt’s teenage home.



Big Barn on Madison Street (3-28-1929)

Chicago won another battle in its war with New York on this date.  The Chicago Stadium opened for business.

This was the Second City Syndrome in 1929.  New York boasted Madison Square Garden, which could accommodate 20,000 spectators.  So Chicago had to do better.  Now, $7 million later, our city had the world’s largest sports arena—with an announced capacity of 25,000.

3-28--Stadium image.jpg

P.J. Harmon was a West Side promoter who’d made his rep running dance halls.  In 1926 he organized a syndicate of investors, and they quietly began buying up property around Madison and Wood streets.  They eventually acquired a square block.

When plans for the Stadium became public, many people were skeptical.  This whole giant barn was too immense!  And once ground was broken and construction got under way, strikes by 17 different craft unions delayed the project.  Still, Harmon pressed ahead.

Now it was ready.  Chicago fire officials had never dealt with such large crowds in an enclosed space, and decided to proceed cautiously.  Sale of standing room at the Stadium was temporarily banned.

Opening night featured a boxing card.  The main event was the light-heavyweight title bout between Tommy Loughran and Mickey Walker.  A total of 15,000 fights fans came out.

And, hey!  The joint sure was impressive.  The soaring walls towered over the surrounding cottages and tenements.  Attached to those walls, two vertical electric signs spelled out “STADIUM” in giant letters.

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But it was the inside that knocked your socks off.  Three balconies full of bright red chairs circling the room.  Twelve huge iron girders holding up the roof—no posts to block your view.  And the noise!  Fifteen thousand voices echoing up and back and around and through.  Yeah, it was gonna be fun coming here!

While Loughran was busy beating Walker, interns at nearby County Hospital spotted flames shooting from the Stadium’s roof.  Firemen were called, and they extinguished a burning tar barrel.  The spectators inside didn’t learn of the blaze until they opened their papers the next morning.

The Chicago Stadium became a popular venue for sporting events, concerts, political conventions, pageants, and other large gatherings.  It was torn down in 1994, replaced by the United Center across the street.

P.J. Harmon did not witness his arena’s greatest glory.  He was killed in an auto accident a little more than a year after the grand opening.  In keeping with his last wish, Harmon’s wake was held at the Stadium.


Then and Now, Western-Cullerton

1955–Western Avenue @ Cullerton Street, view north

2017–the same location

Our view is from the ‘L’ platform on the Douglas Park (Pink) line.  In 1920 the city council renamed 20th Street after the recently-deceased alderman “Foxy Ed” Cullerton, founding father of what has become Chicago’s longest-running political dynasty.

Notice that the streetcar tracks in the older photo are off-center.  When Western Avenue was widened to four lanes during the 1920s, in most places the tracks were moved.  Here they remained in their original location, resulting in unbalanced traffic lanes.  Today, no more problem!


Then and Now, Washington-Pulaski

1951–Washington Boulevard @ Pulaski Road, view east

2017–the same location

Before the Congress (Eisenhower) Expressway opened, Washington Boulevard was one of the main auto routes into downtown Chicago, carrying the designation “City U.S. 20.”  Traffic was especially heavy here at Pulaski, in the middle of a major shopping area.  On the left side of the older photo is a branch of Robert Hall Clothes.  Just down the street on the right side, you can pick out a sign for a Goldblatt’s parking lot.

Today most of the West Side’s through traffic uses the expressway.  Robert Hall and Goldblatt’s are only memories.  But the Burlington’s Zephyr and Empire Builder trains continue to run, though now part of Amtrak.


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?

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.




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.

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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?