in this crazy upside-down world of ours, I find myself spending more time recalling the past, as a kid in a simpler Chicago. Neighborhoods were safe and we didn’t lock our doors. Maybe not all of you are as old as I am but bear with me while I remember my Chicago in the 1950s.
The picture above is of Kindergarten September 1949, Daniel Boone School on the far northside of Chicago. I am the kid behind the birdcage, already having to wear glasses.
Growing up was carefree as we rode our bikes through burning leaves at the curb and stayed out til the streetlights came on. How I remember the unmistakable smell of those smoldering leaves.
We had water balloon fights on hot summer days and played ball in the alley. Third base was Mrs. Erickson’s garbage can.
Well before our softball game or water fights, the milkman would come down the alley in his tiny white truck. The strawberry man would come down the alley selling lugs of fresh strawberries. The scrap man would come down the alley loudly calling out “rags and old iron”. I always thought he said “ragsolion” but what did I know? I was just a kid. Without apology, this was simply my Chicago as I was growing up.
We captured butterflies, grasshoppers and lightning bugs, we climbed trees, built a fort on an empty lot. We ran through the lawn sprinklers. We traded baseball cards and had a cherry Coke at the soda fountain. We drank Kool-Aid or set up a lemonade stand on a street corner.
please understand that I’m seeing our city from a Northside perspective not intending to slight the South side. Your mileage may vary but please read on and enjoy. It gets better.
We built racers out of old baby buggies or orange crates. Roller skates provided wheels when there was nothing else available. As a kid, anything with wheels was a good thing.
And the best thing of all was my 1953 Schwinn which opened up the neighborhood to me. I could explore places on my own rather than just what was on my own block. Most everyone in my family worked at the Schwinn factory.
my Grandpa Nick was a guard there for decades, My uncle a tool and die maker. My aunt hand striped thousands of bicycle fenders. My sister worked in the office. So it is no accident I rode a Schwinn.
As I got older and bike paths opened, I would often ride from Foster Beach down to Navy pier where I would buy fish and chips at Rocky’s bait shop. I remember the hotdogs with the dark brown mustard at the Café Brauer beach stands. But for the best Chicago dog complete with tomato, pickles and celery salt, there was Tony’s Pump Room, a simple hot dog stand usually around Addison at the lakefront. My blog about Tony can be found here:
if I was not on my bicycle, I loved he Chicago El and subway . For a dime I could explore Chicago. The old wooden cars and even the green el trains are long gone.
There were trolley buses on Irving Park but my favorite was the green hornet streetcar which replaced the older red street cars. I remember going to school with a CTA pass and a dollar for 12 tokens .
Dad always owned Chevrolets, a creature of habit I guess. As a young man his parents disapproved of his first 1928 used car, deciding that “a machine”, as they called it, was not necessary. They changed their mind when they realized that dad’s car could take them beyond their neighborhood.
Cars became big and flashy after World War II. Chrome and fins were in. There were dozens of car dealers like Nickey Chevrolet with the backward K or Z Frank on Western.
On television there were those fast-talking car salesman in plaid suits. The best was Linn Burton for Bert Weinman Ford on North Ashland. There was Jim Moran “the courtesy man” and Earl Scheib who would paint “any car, any color $19.95”. And in Chicago back then be careful of parking in an illegal spot lest your car be towed by Lincoln towing.
As a kid dad would take me on the outer drive pointing out the Palmolive building with its powerful beacon. he had me discover lower Wacker for the first time. As a young adult my first car was a well-used 1959 green Volkswagen bus, one of many that I was to own. Only 40 hp but great gas mileage. I remember the gas stations for their free road maps and giveaways.
I was still in grammar school when I would go downtown by myself to spending the day in the huge public library with its Dewey decimal system, exploring State Street, the bus stations, having lunch in the Walgreens basement cafeteria at State and Randolph
In 1959, the tallest building at 42 stories the Prudential building. Dad helped build it. There were the movie theaters, Woolworths, and all the department stores including Marshall field (now Macy’s), Carson Pirie Scott, the Fair store, Goldblatt’s, and Wieboldts, but if you kept walking farther south, State Street turned into a jungle of burlesque houses and sleazy bookstores. As a kid it was then time to turn around.
Visiting Brookfield zoo or Lincoln Park zoo were always a treat especially to see the giant gorilla Bushman. Although no longer alive he can be seen at the Natural history Museum in a glass case.
I often visited the smallest zoo in Chicago at Indian boundary Park on Lunt Avenue west of Western. As a kid I would go there on my lunch hour and feed the bears. And how many of us visited the Museum of science and industry, down into the coal mine or walking through a human heart? There was the planetarium and the Shedd aquarium. Joining the Cub Scouts included a great field trip to the Hawthorne melody farm and zoo Libertyville.
Who all remembers Amling’s haunted house or the Olson waterfall at Diversey and Crawford Avenue, (now just a parking lot)?
July was time for our family automobile trips. Closer to home there was Starved Rock, Tommy Bartlett’s water show in the Wisconsin Dells, or the Illinois state fair at Springfield. with little money back then my dad carefully planned longer trips. We rarely stayed in fancy hotels but usually private tourist homes in smaller towns. One year was Mammoth cave, another year up into Wisconsin and the giant statue of Paul Bunyan at Bemidji, still other years to Badlands, Estes Park Colorado, New Orleans, Florida, Gettysburg, Atlantic City, or New York. When we got home, we would take all our black-and-white film over to our local drugstore or Skrudlands. Color film came later. Later my mother took 8 mm movies taken with an inexpensive Kodak movie camera.
Every September it was back to school. Does anybody remember sniffing a newly printed mimeograph page smelling like alcohol? At lunchtime we would go across the street to Sander’s drugstore and buy a kite, baseball cards or a yo-yo for a dime. We all had great teachers that helped mold us into the people we are today. My sixth grade teacher introduced me to electricity, bells, and buzzers paving the way for a lifetime passion for electronics and now computers.
My four years at Lane tech high school with 6000 other boys (no girls yet) were some of the best of my life, thanks to dedicated teachers. I wouldn’t be writing these blogs without the help of my high school English teacher Elin Felt. Lane back then, had something like 30 shops, including wood, electric, foundry, forge, aviation, welding, machine shop, plastics, and sheet metal. I remember the huge Lane cafeteria where each day you could buy a hot meal for $.37. Dad passed away while I was a freshman, but he knew I was getting a good education. After high school there was Wright junior college a good school for those who could not afford Northwestern.
My parents went shopping on Devon Avenue, buying groceries from Hillmans and bakery goods from Schlosser’s. And there was the local butcher shop with sawdust on the floor. . My mother bought my clothes from Crawford’s, Red Goose and Buster Brown shoes from Abrams, and an Easter suit from Robert Hall. On Devon Avenue there were many dress shops, great delicatessens, a record shop, shoe stores, Walgreens, Woolworths, Neisners, General Camera and Hobbymodels to mention a few
Before huge supermarkets or Walmart many of our parents had World War II victory gardens in a nearby empty lot.
Back then, we had the Jewel, Certified, A&P, Stop and shop, National tea and others.
But the backbone of retail in Chicago was the small neighborhood store run by people you knew and people who knew your name. There was Pete’s grocery on the corner of Pratt and Campbell. homemade potato salad at Helga’s delicatessen just a block or two away. Back then without Home Depot. we shopped at a small neighborhood Ace Hardware. Mehlmann Florists on Western Avenue was another of those wonderful mom-and-pop businesses who knew you and were happy to see you. There was the “big-box stores“of the day Sears, Montgomery Wards, First Distributors, Shoppers World, and Turnstyle,
Chicago had many dairies including Sidney Wanzer , Bownan and others. I was honored to be the milk boy in grammar school who distributed milk each day just before lunch.
Ice cream from Walgreens came in all flavors and back then were 6 pints for a $1.00. Jewel sold the Yummy brand. How can we forget the Good Humor man in his white truck wearing a snappy white uniform and black belt.
A summer evening treat was a trip to a Dairy Queen or Tastee freeze . Downtown we had Charmets on Michigan Avenue. There was Lockwood Castle out west on Devon and Margies Candies on Western. There were those wonderful Dove bars on the south side. We all had our favorite candy whether it be Hershey bar, Milk Duds, Butterfinger, Baby Ruth, Tootsie Roll, Mounds, Snickers , Three Musketeers or even just those tiny candy dots on a paper strip. There was the semmingly “all-day” Holloway sucker. Anybody remember Necco Wafers or Charms? Most were made right in Chicago. And don’t forget Chicago’s own Cracker Jack and Affy Tapple.
Chicago had hundreds of neighborhood old school bakeries. There were larger brands and chains like Davidson’s, Heinemann’s, Burny brothers, and Dressels whipped cream cakes. Among the most popular bakeries were Dinkels bakery on Lincoln,Biels on Montrose, Lutz’s pastries on Montrose near Western with an outdoor cafe. There were smaller mom-and-pop bakeries in every neighborhood. There was the Gladstone bakery on Milwaukee, the Swedish Bakery in Andersonvillle, Fleig’s Bakery on Clark, just to name a few. Bakeries were the place for delicious strudel, kolachkys, coffee cake, fresh bread, brownies and wonderful layer cakes.
Chicago was a city of Schlitz, Pabst blue ribbon, Hamm’s “the beer refreshing”, Blatz, Budweiser, and Miller high life “the champagne of bottled beer”.
When Prohibition hit, soda was some produced by some breweries just to stay alive until repeal. There was was Dad’s root beer, NEHI, Orange Crush, Hires, Green River, Shasta , Canfields, Lassers and Fanta. For extra money we would take empty bottles back to the store for two cents each.
You couldn’t just drink soda without pretzels or popcorn. It was just the way it was. Cretors in Chicago the largest manufacturer, bright red popcorn carts and wagons. And don’t forget those large metal cans of Jay’s potato chips or New Era Potato chips.
There were so many products back then with household names like Bosco, Wonder bread and Ovaltine. Oscar Mayer, Jello, Cracker Jack and Spam are still around. Many brandnames did not survive like Cherrioats, Dutch boy bread, Post Crakos, Black Bottom Candy bar or Celery Cola. Really!
We never went hungry but over the years Chicago has lost a lot of restaurants and fast food, both small and large. Some of them include That Steak Joynt on Wells, Grassfield’s on Ridge, Villa Sweden, Roy Roger’s Roast Beef, Arthur Treacher’s fish and chips, the Red Barn, Golden Bear, Beefy 19 on Western, Henry’s drive in, Miller’s steakhouse on Western (SHeldrake 3-3333), JoJos, Tast-E Dog and Superdawg on Milwaukee near the Jensen Slides, and so many pizza places long gone.
Chicago was home to great German restaurants such as Johnny Held’s Brown Bear on Clark, the Black Forest, Schulien’s on Irving Park, Heidelberg downtown, Zum Deutschen Eck on Southport, Math Iglers Casino on Melrose.
As I got older there were themed restaurants like Sally’s Stage on Western, the Ground Round, Doctor Jazz on Montrose,“Soups on” and the Pickle barrel in Old Town, Lawrence of Oregano, on Diversey, Shakey’s Pizza with their sing-along.
When my father had a few extra dollars he was so proud to take us to a nicer restaurant on a Sunday after church. Some of his favorites in the city were Allgauers on Touhy and Lincoln, , Town & Country on Ridge, which later became Carson’s ribs. the venice Patrician on Peterson, Como Inn, Golden ox, Elliott’s Pine Log, Nielsen’s smorgasbord on North Avenue, or Mangum Château on the far south side. Richer people than us went to Villa Venice and could hobnob with gangsters. Look on this website where you will find a story about Villa Venice.
My parent’s favorite was the Ivanhoe on Clark at Wellington with its orchestra, dancing, catacombs and Two ton Baker on the piano. You are served by fine waiter but there only one waitress, a vaudeville style comedian named Mary would never say a word . She would do crazy things like stirring your water with her finger are rubbing grandpa’s baldhead with his napkin. You could tip her in advance tell her who your victim should be your party. Look for her story on this website.
There was a lovely dinner and puppet show at the Kungsholm. Further out there was the Morton house in Morton Grove, Wellers, and a long ride the Country Squire in Libertyville.
On the radio my parents listened to the hit parade for the latest hits and for news they tuned in to Gabriel heatter who sign-on was “There’s good news tonight”. Later it was Paul Harvey and the news who had a wonderful segment called “and now the rest of the story”
Late at night we there was Franklyn McCormick and his the all-night Meister Brau showcase
There was Dick Biondi, Clark Weber, Eddie Schwartz and Wally Phillips on our transistor radios. At noon, we could hear the WGN farm report with Orion Samuelson. . We had phonographs back in the day, playing the 45s with the large hole in the middle. I remember going to the record store a copy of the latest hits compliments of WCFL or WJJD radio.
I made a fort in my parents living room in front of the television simply a card table with a blanket over it from which I watched the Cubs while sorting my trading cards.
We watch the world series on a black-and-white television sometimes even in the classroom. Televisions back then were made by Zenith, RCA, Majestic or Muntz. Station call letters included WMAQ, WBKB, WGN, WNBC. WTTW came later.
We watched live wrestling from Marigold Arena and women’s roller derby. We have forgotten most newscasters like Ulmer Turner, Fahey Flynn and his bowtie, Walter Jacobson, Bill Kurtis, Joel Daly, Alex Dryer, Floyd Kalber, Len O’Connor. We got our nightly weather from PJ Hoff.
My dad loved Walt’s Workshop sponsored by Hines lumber. We watched Dragnet, I Love Lucy, the Honeymooners with Jackie Gleason, Arthur Godfrey, Sid Caesar, What’s My Line and so many more. And then there was Capt. kangaroo, Super Circus with Claude Kirchner and Mary Hartline
And who could forget Kukla, Fran and Ollie. There was Howdy Doody and Clarabell and Bob Bell as Bozo the clown. Some of us ate our lunch along with Johnny Coons or watched Shock Theater on Saturday night with Marvin and his wife “Dear”.
Growing up there were church carnivals and picnics with sack races and raw egg tossing contests. Back when we knew our neighbors some of us enjoyed a block party especially when a Chicago fire engine would stop by. There was Old Town, Pipers Alley, Santa’s Village and Adventureland. For a short time, there was the Old Chicago amusement park in Bolingbrook.
And just south of Lane Tech was the famous Riverview amusement park, tame by today’s standards, but then one of the finest amusement parks in the country. Sadly It was torn down in 1967 and the land is now a shopping center. Many of you might still remember the Bobs and several other roller coasters. The Tunnel of love was originally called Floss on the Mill. Remember the shoot the chutes, the sideshow, Aladdin’s Castle, the Pair of Chutes, and the miniature train. There were two engines, the Chief and the Scout . There were games would take your money like Spill the milk, Fascination, the shooting galleries or a few penny arcades.
Riverview had an enormous picnic Grove that could hold 10,000 people. Picnic groves, beer gardens and summer gardens in Chicago were very popular places to drink dance and be entertained. There was Sieben’s Beer Garden, Scheiner’s Grove within Bohemian cemetery and Kolze’s Electric Park just to name a few
Kiddieland on North Avenue and Hollywood Kiddieland at McCormick and Devon were magical places for us kids. They even had a fire engine come and pick up you and your friends a birthday party. And just across the street from the Hollywood Kiddieland were several miniature golf courses, a trampoline center, and the Bunny Hutch
I still remember Leon Berry at the pipe organ the Hub roller rink on Harlem. I never learned how to skate backwards. He had his own pipe organ in the basement of his home and recorded an album titled “Beast in the Basement”. Pipe organs were majestic instruments in many of the Chicago theaters. Organists like L Carney, Pearl White, Virgil Fox and Hal Pearl entertained us.
Going to the movies on a Saturday or a Sunday to watch cartoons and then a double feature for a quarter. Popcorn was a dime at George’s candy store next door to the Nortown. Movies of my youth were High Noon with Gary Cooper and Grace Kelly. There was the House of Wax in 3-D, the High and the Mighty, Seven Brides for Seven Brothers. up my way there was many movie theaters like the 400, Adelphi, Devon, Uptown, the Howard, Riviera, the beautiful Granada and others. In my parent’s day, the glamorous movie theaters promoted “air-cooling” and often gave away free dishes to boost traffic.
Downtown there was the crown jewel Chicago Theater with it’s beautiful pipe organ, and stage shows. I saw Jack Webb, Jackie Gleason, and more on stage. And there was Cinerama, a massive movie experience using three screens.
And don’t forget the drive-in theaters where the whole family could watch a movie wearing pajamas. And as a teenager the drive-in was a great place to take young lady to steal a kiss. There was the Sunset on McCormick, Harlem Irving drive-in, the Oasis and many more. Who can forget the “Trunk Boy” episode on Cheers where Frasier had to ride in Ma Clavin’s trunk to avoid paying.
Airplanes and Trains
Midway Airport once the busiest airport in the United States was the place to go to see airplanes. I never flew in an airplane growing up. There was no money for that. The closest we ever got to an airplane was the observation tower at Midway Airport for $.10. There was an airplane turned into a restaurant on the south side. So many airlines have gone out of business . There was Midway Airlines, TWA. Saturn Airways, Capital, Eastern, Pan Am, Chicago helicopter Airways and dozens more.
Chicago was the railroad capital of the United States with hundreds of trains daily. There was the Burlington, Illinois Central, Chicago and Northwestern, North Shore, and many more My dad loved trains and took me to watch the speeding Milwaukee Road Hiawatha speed through on a summer’s night at the Edgebrook station.
In 1949 my dad took me to Chicago’s Railroad Fair held on the lakefront
Chicago was a huge manufacturing hub. There were large factories like Coleman, Lincoln logs, Zenith, Kraft Foods, Western electric, Bell & Howell or the Dodge Chicago plant. Lyon and Healy made harps. There was Brach Candy Co, Curtiss, Tootsie Roll, and Mars all making candy.
On a summer’s night dad would take me to fill Thillens stadium to watch a free Little League game.
With a school friend I went to Wrigley Field to watch the Cubs or a school field trip to Comiskey Park for the White Sox. In 1959, Fire Commissioner Robert Quinn ordered the air raid sirens to be sounded to celebrate the White Sox world series victory. Scared most everybody in Chicago thinking the Russians were bombing us.
Most everything I have mentioned is gone but not forgotten. I am now happily retired in Phoenix Arizona because i didn’t want to shovel Chicago snow anymore.
Many of us might well remember the January 1967 blizzard.
But when I do go back to Chicago for a visit, it’s not the same. I hardly recognize today’s downtown, the neighborhoods or major intersections like Six Corners or Lincoln/ Lawrence anymore. So many landmarks were torn down like the Potter Palmer mansion, the Coliseum (once Libby prison), the Union Stockyards, the original Comiskey park and the International Amphitheater. The original McCormick Place built in 1960 burned in 1967. but was rebuilt.
Some things never do change like our cemeteries, the Chicago River, our parks, and our beautiful lakefront.
But the most important thing for all of us not to forget is family. It’s really all about family. Remember and celebrate those have passed on, and hug those that are still with us.
And one more thing, feel free to count all the places in this blog that you too have been. Let me know in the comments or email me at email@example.com. tell me about those memories from your childhood that I missed. Such fun. Thanks for reading. Barry Fleig