Turk's Head, City Bicycle School, Singer

image from http://www.boogaj.com/.a/6a00d83451ce9f69e201bb08c73029970d-pi

There's so much to love in this 1883 photograph from Aldgate, London: the quaint, gritty buildings (now long gone), the moody fog, the blur of passing traffic, the barrels being delivered by a team of horses. And looking even closer, the signage for Turk's Head Imperial Wine & Spirit Warehouse and the City Bicycle School at Chequer Yard...

image from http://www.boogaj.com/.a/6a00d83451ce9f69e201b8d1acd201970c-pi

...and this fantastic ad for Singer's Sewing Machines...

image from http://www.boogaj.com/.a/6a00d83451ce9f69e201bb08c7315f970d-pi

That's just perfect, how the name is curved into a big S.

March 11, 2016 in History | Permalink | Comments (0)

Labor Day


"City of the big shoulders" was how the white-haired poet put it. Maybe meaning that the shoulders had to get that wide because they had so many bone-deep grudges to settle. The big dark grudge cast by the four standing in white muslin robes, hands cuffed behind, at the gallows’ head. For the hope of the eight-hour day.

The grudge between Grover Cleveland and John Peter Altgeld. The long deep grudges still borne for McCormick the Reaper, for Pullman and Pullman’s Gary. Grudges like heavy hangovers from men and women whose fathers were not yet born when the bomb was thrown, the court was rigged, and the deed was done.


(Photo: Haymarket Memorial, Desplaines Street, Chicago. Sculpture by Mary Brogger, photo by me.)

September 7, 2015 in History | Permalink | Comments (0)

Fading Ad: Red Cross Pharmacy, Antimigraine

Anti-migraine (small)

This fading ad (in Savannah, Georgia, at the corner of Broughton and Habersham Streets) appears to actually be two ads, of two different but related businesses that once occupied the building: the lower ad ("Antimigraine Cures Headaches") must have been from the The Antimigraine Company, which was here from 1891 to 1892, while the upper ad ("Red Cross Pharmacy", with a faint yellow background), from 1904-05. The building has undergone an extensive restoration by the Savannah College of Art and Design; until recently, the ad was hidden by a coat of white paint, and was only painstakingly recovered:

When work began the entire building was painted white. There was no evidence of a commercial sign though students thought it might be "neat" if there was a Coke sign under the paint. To remove the white paint a chemical and power washer (hot water) were used. One day as Jim was inspecting the project he saw the letter "A" begin to unveil itself in the paint removal process. He immediately stopped the workmen. He did not want to strip away any of the historical evidence of the commercial sign. To uncover the sign, which must have been painted with lead-based paint, the paint stripper was diluted and the power on the washer was turned down. What eventually was revealed are the words "Anti-migrane Cures Headaches" of the original 1890 business of the Anti-migrane Pharmacy. The round disks shown simulate pills. Also revealed was "Red Cross Pharmacy" which was what the name of the pharmacy was at some point during its history. And, if you look closely to the south end of the sign you might see lady looking toward you in profile.

That lady isn't visible in this photo, and while I did take another that captures that section, the image is badly deteriorated and the lady can now be seen only with a great deal of imagination. How wonderful that the preservationist took such care to save this ad. If that is at all suggestive of the work that has been done on the interior of the building, it must be a lovely restoration indeed.

June 1, 2015 in History, Photography | Permalink | Comments (2)

"So this is the end. Is this what peace looks like?"

In the Guardian, contemporary accounts of the final days of World War II, seventy years ago this week.

May 8, 2015 in History | Permalink | Comments (0)



In Marseilles, Illinois, there is a canal lock without a canal. The Illinois and Michigan Canal fell into disuse in the early 20th Century, having been supplanted by railroads and bigger canals, and while most of its original 96 miles still exists as stream and marsh, some sections have been filled in, as shown here in Marseilles. (And more notably on the southwest side of Chicago, where the Stevenson Expressway follows the old canal bed.) I frequently ride alongside the canal on my Saturday morning bike treks, and quite of the few old locks still exist in the Joliet area. I haven't seen the dry Marseilles lock myself, but will hunt for it next time I'm around there.

(Photo by The American Canal Society.)

May 3, 2015 in History | Permalink | Comments (0)

Guitars! Hamsters!

Guitar hamster

While searching for history on a faded ad that I photographed this week, I came across this 1951 issue of Popular Mechanics. I find these classifieds - play guitar! raise hamsters! - simply fascinating. And reassuring in how they make you realize that human dissatisfaction is by no means just a 21st Century condition. We've always been looking for something, or something else, to do with our lives.

March 29, 2015 in Ephemera, History | Permalink | Comments (2)

Cass Street


Great photo of Cass Street in Joliet from the mid 1950s, looking west across the Chicago Street intersection. All of these buildings are still standing (remarkable, given the city's fondness for parking garages and surface lots), though not as thriving as they once were. The jewelry store on the corner had a beautiful gut rehab a few years ago (here are some photos from early in the renovation), but the first restaurant there closed last year and a second restaurant is now giving it a try. Panning left, the white-front building (a Goldblatt's department store back then) has been vacant for at least ten years. Next is the former Ottawa Street Methodist Church (a very odd church building - it looks more like a bank) which is now the Joliet Area Historical Museum. The last building (with the angled corner) is the former Al Baskin clothing store (forerunner of Mark Shale) which this century had three restaurants come and go in a span of just two or three years and has been vacant for quite some time.

I thought about posting a current photo of this same block, but the sight would be too depressing. Other than a steady stream of cars passing through without stopping, there are few signs of life - no cars parked while their drivers patronize local businesses, and almost no pedestrians. This should be the most bustling corner downtown, but the area continues to struggle.

March 22, 2015 in History, Joliet | Permalink | Comments (0)

Heinz strained beets! Swan's soap! Public telephones!


I love this detail from Gordon Parks' 1943 photograph of a Harlem street scene.

February 22, 2015 in History, Photography | Permalink | Comments (0)

McKinley Park


I love this 1906 image of the McKinley Park swimming pool in Chicago, and particularly the fact that something as mundane as a public pool could have had such grandeur (and white-uniformed attendants). The park still has a pool, but the neo-classical structures are long gone.

(Actually, the building on the left still stands, though in sadly degraded form. The other structures and pool are gone.)

July 11, 2014 in Chicago Observations, History, Photography | Permalink | Comments (0)

Clark and Madison


Lively image of the bustling (northeast) corner of Clark and Madison, in 1948. Ah, to be able to take in a show at the Clark Theater, followed by some liquid refreshment at the Bamboo Inn or Kozer's Tap, and then an afternoon nap in an air-conditioned room at the Planters. None of which, sadly, is possible at that same corner today.

June 27, 2014 in Chicago Observations, History, Photography | Permalink | Comments (0)

Haskell, Barker, Sullivan


Detail of Louis Sullivan's gorgeous cast-iron facades on the Haskell and Barker Buildings, at 18-22 S. Wabash. The facades were rediscovered during a 2009 renovation, under twenty coats of paint. Alas, the exposure meter on my iPhone wasn't quite up to task; capturing the black detail resulted in the white detail being partly washed out.

June 19, 2014 in Chicago Observations, History, Photography | Permalink | Comments (0)

Fading Ad: Dexter Folder Company


Fading ad for Dexter Folder Company, on Harrison Street in the South Loop. At first I assumed that Dexter once made folders of the manila file variety, but I subsequently learned that its folders were actually automatic folding machines that were used to assemble newspapers, books and magazines. Which makes perfect sense: this building is immediately adjacent to Printer's Row, the city's old publishing district.

June 10, 2014 in Chicago Observations, History, Photography | Permalink | Comments (0)

Vienna Sausage


A true Chicago icon: the Vienna Sausage Company (now "Vienna Beef") at its grand opening in 1894. The building was at Halsted Street and 12th Street (now Roosevelt Road) near the legendary Maxwell Street open market, but no longer exists after the entire neighborhood was redeveloped as University Village during the early 2000s. Although the sign claims the company's products as "celebrated" and thus indicates the company was already in existence at this time, this may have been its first permanent location. The company first rose to fame during the 1893 Columbian Exposition in Chicago.

June 6, 2014 in Chicago Observations, History, Photography | Permalink | Comments (0)

Fading Ad: Schmitz & Gretencort


I strongly prefer to find fading ads on my own, finding much more pleasure in unexpected discovery than taking the shortcut of an Internet search. But yesterday, for some reason, I happened to google "ghost sign" (the more common term for fading ads) and "Joliet" and came across a Flickr photo of an ad in Rockdale, a tiny factory town that is almost completely surrounded by Joliet. I was surprised, as I had hunted in Rockdale in the past but hadn't found anything; apparently I must have always driven west down Moen Avenue, and thus missed seeing this west-facing ad.

Last night, after picking Maddie up from her guitar lesson, we swung down to Rockdale and found the ad, and that's my photograph above. Though the ad is in poor condition and hard to read, my knowledge of local history helped me immediately recognize the name "Schmitz & Gretencort", an old department store in downtown Joliet. (Here's an earlier blog post I did about the store.) There's additional wording above the name, the only clear part of which reads "The Boys." Oddly enough, the white van in the photo also appears in the exact same location in the Flickr photo. Possibly belongs to the owner, though, sadly, more likely a regular.

May 16, 2014 in History, Joliet, Photography | Permalink | Comments (0)

E.J. Brach



The photo at the top is an early home of E.J. Brach & Sons, on the northeast corner of LaSalle and Illinois, circa 1909. After seeing this online and, on a whim, doing a Google Street View of the address, I was delighted to see that the building is still standing. I took the lower photo today during my afternoon walk. Most of Chicago's once-thriving candy industry is now gone, so sadly this building now only houses nothing more unique than yet another Jimmy John's outpost, plus whatever happens to be upstairs.

May 15, 2014 in Chicago Observations, History, Photography | Permalink | Comments (1)

19 S. Peoria Street, then and now


19 south peoria

Sure, that parking lot is convenient and the employee picnic table looks inviting, but, still, I'm sure things were a lot more lively at Waller's Public Bath.

April 23, 2014 in Chicago Observations, History, Photography | Permalink | Comments (0)

Fading Ad: A.C. McClurg & Co.


I was quite pleased to suddenly discover this fading ad during my afternoon walk last Friday. I was strolling west on Adams, approaching Wabash, and happened to glance up, above the El tracks, where I saw the ad high up on a building at 218 S. Wabash. Because of where the ad is situated (facing a narrow gap over a small four-story building, next to which was a tall parking garage) the exact spot where I happened to be at that moment is essentially the only point where the ad can be seen from the street. I rode the elevator to the top level of the garage, walked past the cars and to the edge, where I was able to take this shot.

The ad is for A.C. McClurg & Company (you can see all but the "A.C." and the "Mc"), once one of the most prominent publishers in Chicago; McClurg most notably published Edgar Rice Burroughs' Tarzan books as well as The Dial, one of the most prominent literary journals of its day. McClurg also operated a major book store which eventually morphed into the legendary Kroch's & Brentano's. In an interesting twist, this photo actually includes a second ad: in the upper left corner you can see an ad for Lyon & Healy, which I have previously documented.

Parking garages are a great place to photograph from, or just to take in unique views. Most of what we see downtown is either from street level or from high up in tall buildings. But garages provide an interesting middle ground: five to ten stories high, with the uncovered top level providing an open, panoramic view. Especially on the streets along the El tracks (Wabash, Van Buren, Wells, Lake) where redevelopment has come slower than the more marquee streets of the Loop, garages provide a rare glimpse of scruffier and (to me) more charming older buildings. And since they're open to the public, garages are easily accessible without having to navigate through security.

March 24, 2014 in Chicago Observations, History, Photography | Permalink | Comments (1)

Henrici's at the Merchandise Mart


Now, that was a bar: the lounge of the Henrici's in the Merchandise Mart, which opened in 1948. (Not to be confused, however, with the Henrici's flagship location on Randolph Street.) The Merchandise Mart location was designed by James Eppenstein (the subject of this long feature at Forgotten Chicago, where I got the photo; scroll way down in the article for much more on this Henrici's), and that fantastic mural was by Frank Ruvolo. It almost makes me feel like I could slide onto a stool at that glorious curving bar and order an Old Fashioned. Sadly, all tangible vestiges of Henrici's are now long gone.

February 20, 2014 in Chicago Observations, History | Permalink | Comments (0)

The imaginary libraries of Old London



This is wonderful: British artist Adam Dant has created a series of illustrations that fancifully imagine old London as being full of arcane libraries. The illustration above is his "The Subterranean Bovine Archive," followed by a current photograph of the same street. (Note that the building on the left is identical in both the illustration and photo. The implication is that the newer buildings on the right in the photo were built on the site of the Archive.) More pairings are on display at Spitalfields Life, from Dant's new book, Bibliopolis: Imaginary Libraries in the City of London. The spirit of these illustrations, and especially the quirky names of the libraries, remind me of Ben Katchor's not-quite-New York City; "Library on a Pole" could easily have come, in more modernized form, straight from Katchor's pen.

February 19, 2014 in Art, Books, History | Permalink | Comments (0)

Blymyer Building, Cincinnati


This 1912 photo of downtown Cincinnati is very cool in general (such bustling energy!), but even cooler is this inset photo of the top of the Blymyer Buidling and this glorious ad:


Unfortunately, it's not a fading ad now, since the building no longer exists - still, this is the most extensive "building directory" ad I've ever seen. That building apparently was quite the mecca of the writing trade - two typewriter dealers, a printer and a stationer.

January 31, 2014 in History, Photography | Permalink | Comments (0)

Lake Chicago


Wow, this is so cool: this map depicts the Chicago area at the end of the last ice age, around 14,000 years ago. (I knew about Lake Chicago - the predecessor of Lake Michigan - and was aware of its general environs, but had never seen an actual map.) The shaded portions are the land areas that existed back then, while the dotted lines show the modern-day Chicago River and shoreline of Lake Michigan. What is now the city of Blue Island was indeed an island back then, and even today with the waters having receded, it's an unusually elevated area in an otherwise flat landscape. Same thing for Mount Forest Island, which is between Lemont and Willow Springs; I ride right past there every day on my train.

What's really interesting to me about Mount Forest Island is the two outlets that are shown: the Sag Outlet, the low-lying ground where the Cal-Sag Channel was dug during the early 1900s; and the Desplaines Outlet, which is the current course of the Des Plaines River. As Lake Chicago receded, the Des Plaines formed into a river, bending to the north near McCook Station and roughly following the course of the old shoreline shown in the map.

January 24, 2014 in Chicago Observations, History | Permalink | Comments (1)

Fading Ad: Boston Store redux


My good friend Frank Jump was kind enough to repost this photo that I put up last week on Facebook, where I've been running an album called "Photo a Day", of photographs that I've taken each day this year. One afternoon last week, I was walking down Washington Street and looking for a subject, and happened to look across the street at the Block 37 office building, and was very pleased to see the old Boston Store fading ad reflected in the glass. (I had previously photographed the ad - posted here - and inevitably look for it every time I'm walking nearby.) In his post Frank provides more background on the Boston Store, including a great old newspaper ad. I really like the photo, particularly its juxtaposition of modern and aged.

January 22, 2014 in Chicago Observations, History, Photography | Permalink | Comments (0)

"The Character of a Coffee-House"


Spitalfields Life presents a lovely map, by Adam Dant, of 17th Century London coffeehouses, including interesting factoids on each, like the one shown above for Batson's.

"And it wasn’t just coffee they sold but alcohol too," he added, fleshing out the historical background as he sipped his glass, "so you could get drunk in one corner and sober up with coffee in another."

Sounds like my kind of place.

January 21, 2014 in Food and Drink, History | Permalink | Comments (0)

Michelangelo's grocery list


This is pretty wonderful: Michelangelo's handwritten, illustrated grocery list. Illustrated, because his servants were illiterate, and couldn't read the words. I often joke about favorite writers, saying I'd gladly read anything of theirs, even their grocery lists. But Michelangelo's list is surely one of the few that qualifies as a priceless relic.

(Via Austin Kleon.)

January 10, 2014 in Art, History | Permalink | Comments (0)


"These are the times that try men's souls."
- Thomas Paine

As Goodreads notes, Paine's (literally) revolutionary pamphlet Common Sense was published on this date in 1776. The manifesto ultimately provide some of the most influential moral and philosophical underpinnings for the American Revolution. No less an authority than John Adams once said, "Without the pen of the author of Common Sense, the sword of Washington would have been raised in vain." Sadly, his later years were marked by obscurity, and only six mourners attended his funeral. He was one of the greatest of our country's founders, but history has largely ignored him, at least compared to the deified Washington, Jefferson and Adams.

I've certainly been no help to Paine's legacy, having never read any of his writings. I hope to finally read Common Sense this year, probably sometime around Independence Day.

January 10, 2014 in Books, History | Permalink | Comments (2)

Catholics and girlies and air raids, oh my!



Love this 1942 photograph by Fenno Jacobs of a magazine stand in Southington, Connecticut. If you click here for the full-sized image, you can zoom in on the various covers. I particularly like how randomly the publications are arranged - that inset photo shows, all within a few inches, Catholic International, Smiles (based on the cover, some sort of girlie/lingerie pulp?), Little Oscar's First (Air) Raid and an astrology magazine.

January 2, 2014 in History, Photography | Permalink | Comments (0)

"The Cries of London"


Spitalfields Life presents a charming 19th Century pamphlet, titled "The Cries of London", which displays the cries of various London street merchants. Though I wonder why someone ever published this in the first place - maybe for tourists? - it's a lovely relic that I'd love to own.

December 6, 2013 in Ephemera, History | Permalink | Comments (0)

Stearns Quarry


It's pretty astounding that this 400-foot-deep hole once existed in the middle of a busy city neighborhood on the Southwest Side. If you look at the lower edge of the quarry in this photo, you can see there were houses right across the street. The quarry still exists (though, I assume, at much shallower depths) and has been redeveloped into Palmisano Park.

October 24, 2013 in Chicago Observations, History | Permalink | Comments (1)



Love this 1907 ad, which apparently appeared in Chicago theater programs. (I wonder how many people waited until the show was over, and how many snuck out for a quick nip during intermission.) Wonderful graphics, but oh, such shoddy punctuation: the incorrect usage of "it's", and the accent mark placed above the S instead of the E in "cafés."

October 11, 2013 in Chicago Observations, Ephemera, History | Permalink | Comments (0)

"Step high, stoop low, leave your dignity outside."


Aimee Leavitt has a terrific piece, "The migration of the hipster", in the Chicago Reader which surveys the city's primary artist/bohemian/hipster neighborhoods since the end of the 19th Century. This quote, from an unidentified University of Chicago student, is nearly perfect:
"This is no place for a beatnik, and the weather is the principal reason. If you want to lie around like a beachcomber in Chicago, contemplating your navel and grumbling about the uselessness of it all, you're out of luck. It gets cold here in the winter time, and you might have to go to work. And that would spoil everything."
And I admire Leavitt's observation that Nelson Algren, while admittedly a Wicker Park hipster of the 1940s, probably would have beat the crap out of the wimpy Wicker Park hipster/musicians of the 1990s.

October 3, 2013 in Chicago Observations, History | Permalink | Comments (0)

Hanson Gregory, inventor of the doughnut?

Someone here at the office wondered aloud if doughnuts are an American invention, and a quick check of Wikipedia indicates they probably are. Of course, fried dough has been around for a long time, and no single individual could reasonably claim to have thought up the original concept. However, a little online digging unearthed a 1916 article from the Washington Post, in which an old sailor, Hanson Gregory, claimed to have been the first to cut a hole in the center, sometime around 1847, which would make him the inventor of what we now know as the doughnut. Here's the full, charming article. I love how he compares himself to Columbus and Admiral Peary.

'OLD SALT' DOUGHNUT HOLE INVENTOR TELLS JUST HOW DISCOVERY WAS MADE AND STOMACH OF EARTHS SAVED; Special to The Washington Post.; The Washington Post (1877-1954), Washington, D.C.; Mar 26, 1916

Boston, March 25. — The man who invented the hole in the doughnut has been found. He is Capt. Hanson Gregory, at present an inmate in Sailor's Snug Harbor, at Quincy, Mass. Doughnut cutters have made fortunes for men; millions eat doughnuts for breakfast and feel satisfied. Doctors do not assail the doughnut. And all of this owes its being to Capt. Gregory, who made the doughnut a safe, sane and hygienic food.

It's a long story, mates; but as the 85-year-old chap relates it, it's only too short. Outside the fact that Capt. Gregory is a bit hard of hearing, he's as sound as new timber.

He's a product of Maine; and so Maine can lay claim to the discoverer of the hole in the doughnut, along with the discoverer of new ways to evade the prohibition laws. But Capt. Gregory's discovery is of real use in the world; millions have risen, and millions more shall rise up, and call him blessed.

"It was way back—oh, I don't know just what year—let me see—born in '31, shipped when I was 13—well, I guess it was about '47, when I was 16, that I was aboard ship and discovered the hole which was later to revolutionize the doughnut industry.

"I first shipped aboard the Isaac Achorn, three-masted schooner, Capt. Rhodes, in the lime trade. Later I joined other crews and other captains, and it was on one of these cruises that I was mawing doughnuts.

"Now in them days we used to cut the doughnuts into diamond shapes, and also into long strips, bent in half, and then twisted. I don't think we called them doughnuts then—they was just 'fried cakes' and 'twisters.'

"Well, sir, they used to fry all right around the edges, but when you had the edges done the insides was all raw dough. And the twisters used to sop up all the grease just where they bent, and they were tough on the digestion."

"Pretty d—d tough, too!" profanely agreed one of the dozen pipe-smoking fellows who were all eyes and ears, taking in their comrade's interview by The Post reporter.

With a glance at the perfervid interrupter, the discoverer continued:

"Well, I says to myself, 'Why wouldn't a space inside solve the difficulty?' I thought at first I'd take one of the strips and roll it around, then I got an inspiration, a great inspiration.

"I took the cover off the ship's tin pepper box, and—I cut into the middle of that doughnut the first hole ever seen by mortal eyes!"

"Were you pleased?"

"Was Columbus pleased? Well, sir, them doughnuts was the finest I ever tasted. No more indigestion—no more greasy sinkers—but just well-done, fried-through doughnuts.

"That cruise over, I went home to my old mother and father in Camden, Me., where I was born. My father, Hanson Gregory, sr., lived to be 93, and my mother lived to be 79. She was a pretty old lady then. I saw her making doughnuts in the kitchen—I can see her now, and as fine a woman as ever-lived, was my mother.

"I says to her: 'Let me make some doughnuts for you.' She says all right, so I made her one or two and then showed her how.

"She then made several panfuls and sent them down to Rockland, just outside Camden. Everybody was delighted and they never made doughnuts any other way except the way I showed my mother.

"Well, I never took out a patent on it; I don't suppose any one can patent anything he discovers; I don't suppose Peary could patent the north pole or Columbus patent America. But I thought I'd get out a doughnut cutter—but somebody got in ahead of me.

"Of course a hole ain't so much; but it's the best part of the doughnut—you'd think so if you had ever tasted the doughnuts we used to eat in '31. Of course, lots of people joke about the hole in the doughnut. I've got a joke myself: Whenever anybody says to me: 'Where's the hole in the doughnut?' I always answer: 'It's been cut out!'" and the old chap laughed loud and longat his little sally, while the rest joined in.

So there he sits—in the Snug Harbor by the sea. And whenever there's doughnuts on the day's fare, Capt. Gregory takes a personal pride trying to do what nobody's succeeded in doing yet—in trying to find the hole in the doughnut. And whenever the old salts rally him about it, he always springs his little joke:

"The hole's been cut out, I guess!" to the delight of the whole shipful.

August 23, 2013 in History | Permalink | Comments (0)

A tale of two buildings


The photo above shows the top floors of the Waterman Building at 127 S. State Street, right next door to the Palmer House Hilton. Designed by Holabird & Roche and built in 1920, the building originally housed the Chicago branch of the Waterman fountain pen company, with a luxurious street-level retail showroom and assembly/warehousing operations upstairs. The building is now considerably worn and showing its age, but still retains a sort of muscular elegance.


Meanwhile, this photo shows the Beef & Brandy Restaurant, also on State, which dates from the 1960s and is also showing its age. The ugly maroon awning, atrium-like front windows (which always remind me of a 1980s-vintage Wendy's) and pseudo-Colonial upper windows add little to the aesthetics of State Street, which itself has been aesthetically challenged for decades.

The strange thing is that both of these photos are of the same building. Here's the full view:


This might be the Loop's most comically incongruous building. Designslinger has much more about the building. As that site notes, the blank white area in the middle floors was once an enamel background for a two-story-high sign; for some reason when the sign was removed the enamel panels were left behind, and are still pockmarked by holes from the sign's former mountings. I'd love to see the latter-day embellishments of the bottom four floors totally stripped away, and the building restored to some semblance of its former luster. Perhaps for a high-end jeweler, condominiums or a boutique hotel. But I'm probably just dreaming.

August 21, 2013 in Chicago Observations, History | Permalink | Comments (4)

Cocktails at Henrici's


I'd love to have a framed original of this cocktail menu from Chicago's legendary Henrici's, circa 1945. Having it would probably inspire me to finally find a vintage cocktail cabinet for our living room, which it would hang directly above. Until I saw this, I didn't realize that a Cuba Libre is basically the same as a rum and coke, but with a much better name. I'd guess it became known as the more generic "rum and coke" during the Cold War, when making any sort of tribute to Cuba would have been a major no-no.

Incidentally, if you've ever been to Chicago's Museum of Science and Industry, you may remember Yesterday's Main Street, a re-creation of a Chicago street, circa 1910. For many years, one storefront was made up to look like Henrici's. But with that restaurant now long gone, presumably along with any potential benefactors to the museum, that space now depicts the still-thriving Berghoff, whose family owners undoubtedly made a generous donation to the museum to make this happen. I preferred the Henrici's.

August 18, 2013 in Chicago Observations, History | Permalink | Comments (1)

Fading Ad: W.W. Kimball


This fading ad is pretty tough to read. Running vertically down the right side of this building, you can just barely see the name "Kimball", with the "K" being even more faded than the rest. This was the former home of W.W. Kimball and Company, the famous manufacturer of pianos and organs, at the corner of Jackson and Wabash. (And, incidentally, right across the street is the old Lyon-Healy building; Wabash was once Chicago's Music Row.) Both the Kimball and Lyon-Healy buildings are now owned by DePaul University as part of its downtown campus.

August 16, 2013 in Chicago Observations, History, Photography | Permalink | Comments (0)

Federal Street


This charming medieval couple has clearly been keeping diligent watch over the fire alarm at 314-316 S. Federal for decades. The building was originally St. Hubert's English Chophouse (which was quite the destination in its day) but is now used only for storage by the adjacent Union League Club.

August 15, 2013 in Chicago Observations, History, Photography | Permalink | Comments (2)

Happy birthday, Chicago!


Happy 180th birthday to Chicago, which was incorporated as a town on this date in 1833. I'm not sure exactly when this map dates from, but it must be from very early on since the town mostly consisted of just four square blocks at the time. (The map's orientation is skewed - the top of the map is west, not north.) I'm intrigued by that branch of the river that extends from Water Street (now Wacker Drive) and State Street, and runs southwest before ending near Clark and Washington, as well as the shorter one that parallels LaSalle and Clark. I've heard about underground rivers beneath other cities (particularly Manhattan) and have wondered if any remain in Chicago. These two undoubtedly no longer exist, as they would have interfered with the vast network of freight tunnels which were later bored beneath the Loop, and were surely filled in during the nineteenth century. Still, I have hopes of discovering some other river (or, more accurately, a stream) around here that was built over instead of filled in - that is, just not one that runs under my house.

August 5, 2013 in Chicago Observations, History | Permalink | Comments (0)

Organization men


Seeing this 1954 photo of commuters getting off the Illinois Central train in Park Forest, Illinois, reminds me that I still want to read Walter H. Whyte's landmark study The Organization Man, which was based on the denizens of Park Forest, one of America's first centrally-planned suburbs. After Whyte's book, I'd also like to read The Man in the Gray Flannel Suit, Sloan Wilson's bestselling novel of the same era and subject matter. Based on this photo, it looks like Park Forest had quite a few gray-suited organization men back then.

August 5, 2013 in Books, Chicago Observations, History, Photography | Permalink | Comments (0)

Union Special


River North usually gets a bad rap as being a vacuous playground for suburbanites, but at least the area has preserved its architectural heritage much better than the Loop has. Here is the main entrance for the old Union Special Machine Company building, at 310 W. Kinzie, right behind the Merchandise Mart. The building is now condominiums - which is far better than being demolished.

July 30, 2013 in Chicago Observations, History, Photography | Permalink | Comments (0)

Randolph Neon


I just can't get enough Randolph Street photos from the fifties and sixties, and only partly because my dad used to work in the block shown above, between State and Dearborn. The signage (including, just on the north side of the street, Eitel's Old Heidelberg, the Oriental Theatre and the Woods Theatre) is so gaudy that it's almost beautiful. Plus I love that there was a bowling alley right in the middle of downtown; its unlit sign is in the left-center of the photo, above the bus.

June 17, 2013 in Chicago Observations, History, Photography | Permalink | Comments (0)

Meet me at the drive-in



Having not driven the north end of Illinois Route 47 for many, many years, I was quite pleased this past weekend to discover that the towns of Huntley and Hebron still have their old-fashioned ice cream stands: Huntley Dairy Mart and The Dari, respectively. The Dairy Mart even still appears to offer car-side service. Both places were packed on Sunday afternoon (not evidenced by these photos, which are from Google Street View). Nice to see that some old traditions still endure.

June 17, 2013 in History | Permalink | Comments (0)

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.

May 23, 2013 in Chicago Observations, History, Photography | Permalink | Comments (0)

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.

May 21, 2013 in Chicago Observations, History, Photography | Permalink | Comments (2)


(Photo by Erik Kwakkel)

I had no idea such places still existed: chained libraries, virtually unchanged since the Middle Ages, in which all the volumes were chained to lecterns or shelves, which provided access to the public while protecting the volumes from theft. The image above is from the chained library in Zutphen, Netherlands, one of only three left (in their original state) in Europe. More on the libraries here. So beautiful.

May 14, 2013 in Books, History | Permalink | Comments (2)



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.)

April 30, 2013 in Chicago Observations, History, Photography | Permalink | Comments (0)

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.

April 16, 2013 in Chicago Observations, History | Permalink | Comments (0)

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.)

March 21, 2013 in Chicago Observations, History | Permalink | Comments (0)

So cool.


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.

March 19, 2013 in Chicago Observations, History | Permalink | Comments (2)



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.

March 14, 2013 in Chicago Observations, History, Music | Permalink | Comments (0)

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?

March 6, 2013 in Art, Chicago Observations, History, Music | Permalink | Comments (0)

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.

March 5, 2013 in Chicago Observations, History | Permalink | Comments (0)