Strolling on Canal Street
I love this 1953 view of Canal Street, looking north from Fulton Street. I'm intrigued by the presence of the woman and child - back then the area was almost entirely industrial sites and railyards, and not exactly the ideal place for a stroll. All I can think of is that with the Chicago & North Western railroad station having been a few blocks from that corner, maybe the two had a layover between trains and the woman wanted the kid to burn off some nervous energy before getting on their next train.
Here is the current view from almost the exact same vantage point. The tall building in the old photo (North American Cold Storage) is just visible as a sliver at the left of the right-hand condo tower - the cold storage building itself was converted to condos during the 1990s. The industrial building on the west side of the street in the old photo is now Cassidy Tire, which is marked by red signage.
Fading Ad: Champlain Building
Walking down Wabash this afternoon, I was surprised to see this faded ad in the distance, a few blocks south on the opposite side of the street. I don't remember ever seeing it before, but I guess the El tracks block its view from most vantage points other than where I happened to be walking. The lettering is hard to make out, but I could just discern "Champlain" and "37", which I later found out was the Champlain Building, at 37 S. Wabash. Though the faded ad itself leaves much to be desired, I like the composition of this photo, particularly the contrast of the vertical columns of the buildings against the diagonals formed by the streetlights, tracks and windows.
Ordinarily I love vintage signage, especially for a former Chicago institution like Karoll's. But I have to admit that this signage (shown in 1977) was kind of tacky, and really marred the exterior of the Reliance Building, one of the Loop's true architectural gems.
(Via Calumet 412.)
Yesterday afternoon, while enjoying a brief stroll, I couldn't help admiring this bas relief on the Commonwealth Edison substation at 115 N. Dearborn. Though I'm not sure what that's supposed to be - maybe a superhero? Electric Power Man?
Hinky Dink Kenna's gold star
Sweet relic of Chicago, interesting backstory. But the saloonkeepers and pimps of the First Ward owed Kenna a hell of a lot more payback and appreciation than that.
Church of the Holy Pigskin
When my morning train passes through the Brighton Park neighborhood, to the south I always see a hulking building that looks like an auditorium. This morning, a few minutes of Google Mapping and a quick address search finally revealed its identity: the St. Agnes Parish Center, once a thriving local landmark (roller rink! bowling lanes!) but now vacant after having become much less vital with the demolition of the adjacent church a few decades ago. Clearly this parish took their sports very seriously, as this carved figure would attest. Carved gargoyles and crosses I'm used to seeing in church architecture, but football players? Hardly.
Sad: former Bulls center Tom Boerwinkle has passed away, at age 67.
"He was a great teammate with a heart of gold," Love said. "And I always tell people: Half of my baskets came from him. He's one of the best-passing big men of all-time."Boerwinkle was a mainstay of the Bulls when I first became a fan, anchoring the middle for one of the greatest lineups to never win an NBA title: Boerwinkle, Bob Love, Chet Walker, Jerry Sloan and Norm Van Lier.
Welcome to glamorous WestmontJulie and I recently noticed an interesting phenomenon while driving through the western suburbs: the long stretch of luxury car dealers on Ogden Avenue in what is mostly a middle class area - primarily Westmont and to a lesser extent Clarendon Hills and Downers Grove. Most of the high-end makes are represented: Bentley, Lamborghini, Porshe, Mercedes, BMW, Infiniti. Our guess is that the rich people of Oak Brook, Hinsdale and Burr Ridge refuse to allow something as tawdry as a car dealership within their village limits, thus forcing dealers to set up shop in the next town over, where they rub elbows with considerably more prosaic neighbors. Thus, Bentley of Downers Grove is directly across the street from this underwhelming site, and the palatial Lamborghini Chicago (actually in Westmont) is next door to a strip mall with a nail salon, yoga studio and wheelchair dealer.
From stable to chop house to coffee house
This is fantastic: Asado Coffee is opening a coffee roaster and cafe in the Pickwick Stable, a wonderfully obscure and out-of-the-way building that survived the Great Chicago Fire. The building is at the end of a gated alley on Jackson just west of Wabash, and is completely enclosed by the surrounding buildings. (It's the darkened square at the center of this satellite image.) It's also tiny - each of the three floors is only 19' square, which means the entire building is only 1,083 square feet. I first heard about the building last year and have been fascinated by it ever since. I can't wait to have coffee there, likely on a regular basis.
(Via Gapers Block.)
A 1930s tile facade for a long-gone hamburger stand, revealed during renovation of a former Mexican restaurant. I'll have a burger. Oh, hell, I've got ten cents - give me two.
This week I was pleased to discover that my office building stands on the former site of the Chicago recording studio of pioneering jazz label Okeh Records, where Louis Armstrong and His Hot Five cut all of their sides. Alas, my building only dates to 1987, so Satchmo's spirit doesn't exactly stalk the halls. And I haven't been able to find a photo of the old building.
Sometimes train delays are good things. Yesterday morning my train was stopped for several minutes on the southwest side, in the Garfield Ridge neighborhood, which gave me time to fully take in the scene outside. A dusting of snow had partially covered this vacant industrial lot, which used to be a car junkyard but was recently cleared and graded, for some unknown purpose. I couldn't decide how to best describe the scene; at first, the snow mixed with the dark soil reminded me of powdered sugar on chocolate cake, but as I gazed longer the table-flat lot ringed with wild grasses looked almost like a lake. And obviously, the cake and lake versions are impossible to reconcile. Fortunately, images often succeed where words fail, and this photograph describes the scene more vividly than I can in writing.
Boy's gotta have it.
What a fantastic bit of local ephemera: a tape box cover from Chicago's Universal Recording Studios, circa 1960. Music-related, vivid artwork, and a Bertrand Goldberg-designed building that still stands. What's not to love?
The lost West Fork
I never cease to be amazed by facts that I gradually discover about Chicago. The latest: there used to be a West Fork of the Chicago River on the southwest side of the city, running west from the South Branch at Damen Avenue, all the way to the city limits and beyond, finally emptying into the Des Plaines River near the towns of Lyons and Forest View. In the Rand McNally map from 1910 shown above, the West Fork is the dark curvy line above the parallel lines of the Sanitary and Ship Canal ("Drainage Canal") and the Illinois & Michigan Canal. The West Fork was basically made obsolete by the Sanitary Canal (which was fully completed in 1922), and was filled in during the late 1920s. The only obvious traces of the West Fork today are several diagonal property lines (between California Avenue and St. Louis Avenue) which once ran along the river's banks.
The West Fork's current obscurity is somewhat strange since, as Libby Hill notes here in The Chicago River: A Natural and Unnatural History, the fork is the reason Chicago first came to exist, as it was the only waterway link between the Great Lakes and the Mississippi River. Because of the fork, voyagers could travel almost entirely by water, with only a short overland portage required at the fork's western terminus, before continuing on to the Des Plaines, the Illinois River and ultimately the Mississippi.
Farewell, HelixHelix Camera is closing, after 49 years in business. I don't think I ever bought anything at Helix, other than having some film developed at their former store in Champaign. (Most of my camera equipment was inherited from my brother, and my darkroom equipment came from the long-defunct Lion Photo.) One by one, camera stores are disappearing. Thank goodness that Central Camera is still with us.
(Via Gapers Block.)
Michigan Avenue, 1960
I love this 1960 foldout cover of the Saturday Evening Post, which looks west from the Art Institute across Michigan Avenue toward the "street wall" that overlooks Grant Park. The tinting and the pedestrian bustle, plus charming little details like the man in the lower left corner taking a snapshot of the artist, make this a really wonderful image. And I especially appreciate the fact that most of these buildings are still standing, more than fifty years later. This stretch of Michigan Avenue has been remarkably resistant to the ravages of urban renewal.
The Kings' new home
What a wonderful image: Martin Luther King and Coretta Scott King (the couple at the top center) at the apartment they moved into in 1966 at 16th and Hamlin on Chicago's west side, to bring attention to living conditions in the city's slums.
Oh my god, I'm suddenly jonesing for German food. Laschet's was the home venue of my billiards team back in my city days, though then it was just a bar with no dining. Now it's a full restaurant-bar, which looks great from a food standpoint, although the dining room is now where the pool table used to be. But for good German food, I can forgive the loss of pool. And desserts from Dinkel's, plus a complimentary schnapps? Be still my heart.
It's hard to imagine now, but there once was a CTA elevated track running right down the middle of North Wacker Drive (then called Market Street). That photo above shows the Market Terminal at Madison Street, where the line terminated, in front of the grand Civic Opera House. The stub was demolished during the late 1940s, undoubtedly to the relief of the Opera House's owners. This memorable 1946 painting by John Falter shows a scene beneath the terminal, at roughly the spot where the lone car protrudes from underneath the structure in the photo. I walk past this intersection on a regular basis and always admire the broad, airy expanse of Wacker Drive, and although I'm normally a traditionalist, I'll admit that the demolition of the Market Stub is one act of urban renewal that I have absolutely no objection to.
(Photo by David Schalliol)
I can't believe I haven't heard of this place before: the Marktown neighborhood in East Chicago, Indiana, which was built in 1917 as an industrial housing project by the Mark Manufacturing Company. As you can see from the photo above, the neighborhood is now a residential island completely surrounded by heavy industry. And due to the planned expansion of BP's nearby refinery, the entire neighborhood is now at risk. What a shame it would be to lose this quirky little relic.
(Via Gapers Block.)
"The Lowest Possible Prices"
I recommend this photo to any writer who is setting a story in Chicago's skid row circa 1964, and wants to be as accurate as possible when referencing the price of cheap booze. Half a gallon of bourbon for eight bucks. Egad.
"Business Is Bad. We Now Serve All Parties...Even Republicans"
Great 1950 image of the original Billy Goat Inn, on Madison Street across from Chicago Stadium - its previous location before moving to Hubbard Street and worldwide fame. (I would guess that's the original owner, Billy Sianis.) I love the place for its gritty aura (and Mike Royko connection, of course), but now I realize that I love its politics, too.
Mary's houseMary Bonelli has lived in her house at 2334 N. Mason Avenue in Chicago since 1958, and the house has been in her family since 1921. But thanks to an error in Fifth Third Bank's automated mortgage payment system, her loan went delinquent and then quickly into foreclosure, and now she's fighting eviction. Yet another example of how utterly broken our mortgage lending system is.
Let's do the time warp again
Fantastic: the now-vacant Ebony/Jet Building on Michigan Avenue was built in 1972, but the groovy interiors have remained virtually unchanged. WBEZ's Lee Bey toured the building.
Corporations often change their interiors dramatically, especially over the course of 40 years. But at the former Ebony/Jet building, Johnson saw to it that things were maintained, replaced, re-milled or remade with exactly what was there when the building was completed. Carpet. Furnishings. Wall coverings. The colors of the '70s are still there - and boldly so: rusts, reds, harvest golds, deep browns.Columbia College now owns the building, and has begun making renovations. Here's hoping they retain as much of that 1972 vibe as possible.
My friend Richard Grayson posted interesting side-by-side photos on his Facebook page, which are shown above. Both photos are of 311 Washington Avenue - the first in Brooklyn, the second in Miami Beach. I thought I'd do likewise for Chicago and Joliet. Here is 311 W. Washington Street in Chicago:
This building is half a block from my office, and primarily houses an AT&T switching station. (Interesting how those utilitarian AT&T buildings were designed so ornately back in the old days.) And here is 311 E. Washington Street in Joliet:
Not much to see here, other than the Rock Island railroad embankment and a sliver of the roofline of Joliet Central High School. But this address is somewhat historically significant, as the opposite side of the street is the former site of the Gerlach-Barklow Company, which was once one of the biggest manufacturers of art calendars in the United States.
(Note: There is no 311 E. Washington address in Chicago; that number would be located somewhere in the middle of Grant Park. And 311 W. Washington in Joliet would be in the middle of an intersection, so thus the street address doesn't technically exist either. So, the Chicago and Joliet addresses I used above were the closest matches to Richard's addresses.)
Hurray for Megan Cottrell!Well deserved: Megan Cottrell has been named a winner of the 2013 Studs Terkel Community Media Award.
"My stories are often about the bizarre conundrums of living in poverty and how services and systems are designed to help people and often end up hurting them or overlapping in ways that don’t help them at all," Cottrell paused, "When they’re meant to give them a leg up."I've been avidly following Cottrell's work for several years now, after a random search for information on the LeClaire Courts housing project (as background for one of my Marshland stories) lead to her articles at Chicago Now about the now-demolished LeClaire. Her writing is plainspoken and sympathetic to its subjects, and she is truly a credit to the local journalism community.
Ice Ice Baby
Real estate developer Sterling Bay Companies and architectural firm Perkins + Will are converting the old Fulton Market Cold Storage Company building into commercial loft space. One catch: they had to defrost the building first. (Check out the fascinating time lapse video.) Anyone who has ever moved out of an apartment with a cheap refrigerator can certainly sympathize.
(Via Gapers Block.)
Once, there was greatness here.
The McClelland-Marx SummitTed McClelland insulted  1980s pop star Richard Marx online, which irritated Marx so much that the two eventually held a sort of summit meeting at a neighborhood tavern in Rogers Park. Here's McClelland's pre-summit assessment of Marx:
Richard Marx — author of the 1980s pre-prom ballad "Right Here Waiting," the 1980s prom ballad "Hold on to the Nights," and the 1980s post-prom ballad "Endless Summer Nights" — was not just far outside my musical tastes, I thought he was ear cancer. I was convinced Richard Marx was a poor man’s Kenny Loggins who had written "Hold on to the Nights" after consulting with a marketing team who told him the cassingle could be sold to 18-year-olds at tuxedo rental stores and dress shops.And his opinion of Marx didn't exactly change after meeting him. Funny piece, well worth your time.
 That is, Marx felt insulted. The comment wasn't an insult. Truth hurts, baby.
College hoops in Chicago
Interesting confluence of lengthy pieces today on Chicago's top (but underachieving) college basketball programs: at ChicagoSide, Daniel Libit focuses on local guy Howard Moore at UIC, while at the Chicago Reader, Adam Doster takes a longer view of DePaul's infrequently-storied heritage. Two things of particular interest: Moore's struggle to keep local high schoolers at home (it seems that many can't wait to get out of town, even if only to Champaign), and the odd footnote that the George Mikan-era Blue Demons played their games at the DePaul Auditorium (aka The Barn), a former theater at Sheffield and Belden. That photo above shows Mikan playing in The Barn - those pillars made quite a dramatic backdrop.
This should be interesting: the Sun-Times will be republishing its landmark 1978 series of articles based on the Mirage Tavern, the undercover sting operation run by the newspaper and the Better Government Association that ensnared countless corrupt city officials in various degrees of graft. And if I don't keep up with the articles (each to be republished 35 years from the day it first appeared), I can always hunt down the book. (But I'm puzzled by this comment: "Special thanks is due to NYU who has a thorough archive of the original articles." Doesn't the Sun-Times itself already have a thorough archive of the orignal articles?)
I've long wondered why the Chicago "community area" that includes the famous Bronzeville neighborhood is called Grand Boulevard, when there is no street by that name in the area. (The name has nothing to do with Grand Avenue, on the North and Northwest Sides.) Now I know: Martin Luther King Drive was formerly known as South Parkway (this I already knew), which was formerly known as Grand Boulevard (this I did not know). One of my Marshland stories, "Singing for the Here and Now", is set in Grand Boulevard, at 48th and King Drive.
Schulze Baking Company
This morning, Frank Jump posted this photo of a faded ad for Schulze's Butternut Bread. And thanks to a Metra debacle, this morning I had to take the Rock Island train instead of my regular train, which serendiptiously brought me within two blocks of the old Schulze Bakery. My hurried photograph of the building (at 55th and Wabash) is shown above. Butternut was baked there until 2004, before the owners shut it down. I'm not sure what business (if any) operates there now, but at least the building is still standing, and the Schulze name is still emblazoned across the top.
End of an eraSad: Mark Shale closes last 3 stores.
Baskin worked for his father's men's clothing shop in Streator, Ill., but longed to branch out on his own. After finding a 600-square-foot space in Joliet, Baskin opened up shop in August 1929, right before the Great Depression.Mark Shale merchandise was really top-notch. Shortly after college, I bought a bunch of Shale-brand Oxford cloth dress shirts at the old company outlet on Elston Avenue - and they lasted for twenty years before finally wearing out. Sad to see them go, though I suppose 83 (mostly) good years is an impressive run for any business establishment.
Early on, he didn't have much inventory, but placed boxes underneath the clothing on display so customers would think he had more than he did. When he ran out of merchandise every few weeks or so, he'd jump on a train to Chicago to stock up.
"...he winds up with a hangover and a screaming wife..."In "Mr. Grobnik and the Three-Martini Lunch" (collected in Sez Who? Sez Me), Mike Royko rails against corporations getting tax deductions for executive lunches, when regular working stiffs get no federal handout at all for the snorts that get them through the workday.
People do business all the time without buying each other martinis. I have holes in my roof, so a roofer recently came around to look at it and quote a price. He didn't take out a pint and offer me a swig. I he had, I don't think he would have been able to deduct that swig from his taxes.Terrific piece. My only surprise is that Royko didn't append that first paragraph with something like, "And I certainly wouldn't have let him go tottering around up on my roof without calling my insurance man first."
So why do we have this tradition of corporations feeling that the federal government should assume part of the cost of their executives getting loaded at noon or while they are weaving down Rush Street during a convention? If an ordinary sot wanders into a topless joint and buys some young thing a quart of champagne, he winds up with a hangover and a screaming wife. The conventioneer winds up with a tax break.
Besides, most of them aren't drinking those three martinis to close a big deal or make a sale. They have them in order to calm their nerves so they can go back and face a harrowing afternoon of protecting their backs from other executives. Or to steady their hand for a try at someone else's back.
"A Christmas Carol, 1978"In 1978, Mike Royko updated Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol to late-1970s Chicago. The hilarious result, "A Christmas Carol, 1978" was published in the Chicago Sun-Times on December 24, 1978 and was later collected in Sez Who? Sez Me, my favorite Royko compilation book. Here is my sonorous (but, I hope, not soporific) reading of this holiday classic.
This is one of several water-intake cribs on Lake Michigan, from which Chicago and many suburbs get their drinking water. The cribs were built three miles from shore, primarily to adequately dilute the pollution spewing from the Chicago River, which was an open sewer for decades. The water was (and still is) pumped to shore via underground tunnels.
My dad used to tell me than when he was a kid, the lake would freeze solid all the way to the cribs in winter, and it was possible to walk across the ice to the cribs. Though I didn't totally believe him - it sounded like a tall tale a father would be fond of telling - now I have visual proof. (Which is not to imply that my dad was a kid in 1875, when this photo was taken.) Forgive me for doubting you, Dad.
Milwaukee & Racine
Charmingly shabby image of the corner of Milwaukee and Racine, 1958. I'm pretty sure those two toughs are up to no good. Here's a current view of that same intersection, which has been utterly condo'd beyond all recognition.
Hello, MacKinlay KantorThis book sounds interesting: the Chicago-based novel Diversey, by MacKinlay Kantor, originally published in 1928.
Marry Javlyn, a promising young journalist from Clay City, Iowa, is enticed to Chicago by the opportunities for professional advancement that the city has to offer. Marry adjusts quickly to his new environment, establishing a liaison with Jo Ruska from across the hall; cultivating a friendship with Steve Gold, a local gangster; and playing politics to get a job in City Hall. Literally speaking, Diversey is the story of one man and the influences that the city has on his character. In a broader sense, it is the story of an entire segment of Chicago society - the segment which inhabits the streets, the Loop, the cabarets, the boardinghouses, City Hall, the elevated trains, and the newsrooms of that teeming metropolis. Kantor's first novel, Diversey has suffered the criticism commonly applied to the works of meritorious young novelists - too long, too ambitious, too tightly knit - but all critics agree that it is a well wrought story and a splendid impression of 1920s Chicago. (Book Review Digest, 1928, p. 418-9.)Diversey is being reissued by local indie Fifth Star Press, which is focused on Chicago nonfiction and fiction. I hadn't heard of the book, author or publisher until just yesterday, but now all three are definitely on my radar.
Chicago nightlife......as imagined by Ethel Spears...
...and as realized by the Minsky Brothers.
Though they were from different time periods (two or three decades apart), I would have loved to take in the show at Minsky's, followed by coffee at Spears' diner.
As a historical footnote, the Minsky ad announces a comedy act by Joe DeRita, who would later become the "Sixth Stooge", replacing Joe Besser as the third member (commonly known as "Curly Joe") of the Three Stooges, alongside Moe Howard and Larry Fine.
A few weeks ago my evening train stopped briefly on the Western Avenue viaduct in McKinley Park (between 36th Street and Archer Avenue), and I was very pleased to capture this image. The bumps on the diagonal are rivets in the steel walls that line the edges of the overpass (the dark tails are shadows from the late-afternoon sun), the square with the one curved corner is a patch of dirt and dead grass next to the entrance to a Jewel supermarket parking lot, and the whitish blur at the upper right is a passing car. The only clearly recognizable, non-abstract element here is the sewer cover near the upper edge of the photo.
"...sometimes lit butts flickered out, forgotten, in the ashtray after his sixth or seventh beer..."Dmitry Samarov shares some memories of the daytime regulars at an old dive bar in Roscoe Village. Here is his touching sketch of Tommy, a down-and-outer from Kentucky:
Stray strands of Top tobacco would collect around him as the afternoon turned to night; sometimes lit butts flickered out, forgotten, in the ashtray after his sixth or seventh beer. He'd rest his elbows on the bar and stretch his back and drowse, waking occasionally to confirm that everything was as he'd left it.I lived a few blocks from there during the mid-1990s, but never drank in the neighborhood and don't remember the bar - seems like I missed out. I'm still meaning to read Samarov's Hack: Stories from a Chicago Cab.
It wasn't ever clear where he lived, but odds are it was some underpass away from the wind that whips this city's streets. He'd refuse offers of food with a low-key politeness; despite being in a bad way, there were still lows he wouldn't sink to. Some shred of pride he had to maintain to keep going.
He'd leave as the late-night crowd filled the place for what passed for a rush, returning after closing time. After I threw the empties into the dumpster, restocked the beer, and wiped down the bar, he'd go get the mop and bucket from the ladies' bathroom. Passing its gray threadbare head over the chipped and worn black and red linoleum tile earned him tomorrow's bottomless beer stein. Night after day after night.
Jos. Kohler's Bier Halle, 1883
Vielen dank, Herr Kohler. I'll have a lager in my regular stein.
More on the Wicker Park Walgreens
Lynn Becker has a fine, lengthy post on the Walgreens bank-to-drugstore renovation that I mentioned last week. Gorgeous. Looks like the company really put their heart and soul into this project. Great for them, great for Chicago.
Now, Walgreen's gets classy too
Last year I posted about CVS remaking a classic Chicago bank building into a drugstore, at Chicago, Ashland and Milwuakee Avenues. Now, Walgreen's is doing the same thing eight blocks north, at North, Damen and Milwaukee. Though it's somewhat disheartening to see the tacky drugstore shelving and goods inside such elegant structures, at least the buildings are being saved and revived.
The Organization and the BookieMy friend Marie Carnes shares a lovely remembrance of an old man's bar on the Northwest Side. Though my own bar-crawling days were mostly spent in age-appropriate bars, most of those blur together in my mind (was that McGee's? or Kincade's?), while the handful of old man's bars that I drank in were truly unique experiences, and each bar remains vivid in my mind, all these years later.
Garrick Restaurant, 1963
This 1963 photo of a Chicago parking garage is pretty cool, but even cooler for me is the inset photo above, which shows the front of the Garrick Restaurant, where my dad ate lunch every day for fifteen or twenty years before his office moved out to the suburbs. (I'd like to pretend that the dark-suited man just reaching the front door is him, but given the odds that would be just wildest fantasy on my part.) Though I've seen a few interior photos that my brother took during a downtown visit in the early 1970s, this is the first time I've seen the outside of the building. Nice.
What a fantastic image: a tower of empty beer crates at the Schoenhofen Brewery in 1933, waiting to be filled at the repeal of Prohibition. This implies that Schoenhofen must have been one of the few Chicago breweries that refrained from surreptitiously continuing to brew and sell beer during Prohibition. Because the city never came close to going dry.
Excellent work, Tribune
This graphic appears this morning on the front page of the Chicago Tribune website. Though I haven't scrutinized all of the nationwide election results from last night, I assume this means that Montana passed a referendum for annexing part of Canada.
"It means the end...That’s what the last name means."
WBEZ reports on the A.J. Thomas Midwest Cash Register Company, which is closing shop after 120 years in business. End of an era. Not sure if there are other cash register dealers still around the city, but I wouldn't be surprised if this was the last one.