Horsecars, cable cars and streetcars needed a place to sleep at night. They had been called trolley barns, car barns, car houses or more recently bus barns. Some are still around in Chicago, but many of the early structures are long gone or have been repurposed.
One such “trolley barn” was a modest brick building at 329 Lincoln Ave. on Chicago’s North side. About 1909, Chicago renumbered all streets, so 329 Lincoln became 2356 N. Lincoln.
This building housed horse-drawn street cars owned by the North Chicago Street Railway Co. serving both the Fullerton and Lincoln Avenue lines and possibly others. The first horsecar line in Chicago opened on State Street in 1859, replacing the even earlier horse-drawn omnibuses. One of the benefits of the horse drawn streetcars was the use of fixed rails in the streets, enabling the horsecars to travel slightly faster and providing the passengers with a somewhat smoother ride. Horse-drawn streetcars also predated the short era of cable cars in Chicago which ended in 1906 only to be replaced by electric streetcars.
After its life as a “trolley barn” it had several later tenants. In 1916 it was home to the 1st Battalion Engineers and the Battery Field Artillery of the National Guard. In 1921 trucks were being sold out of that location. Rent in 1926 was only $125. it was used as a warehouse, the Steiner furniture store circa 1952 and the Bargain Center warehouse.
And finally in about 1969 the old trolley barn was converted to a theater.
And as Paul Harvey would say “and now for the rest of the story”
2356 N. Lincoln began became the Kingston Mines theater one of the first theater companies to be part of the storefront theater scene along Lincoln Ave., Halsted, and other nearby Northside streets. It was named after an actual town of Kingston Mines Illinois in central Illinois.
On February 5, 1971, in that old trolley barn, the Kingston Mines Theater Company premiered a play written by Jim Jacobs and Warren Casey. The play was Grease!
The interior of the old trolley barn building was cleaned up and repurposed. Bleacher seats were built for the audience.
Back in 1971 I had the pleasure of hearing music from within that old trolley barn. I paid three dollars for an 8:30 PM performance, but at the time I had no idea that this was history in the making.
The play was Grease, a rock ‘n roll musical all about the 50s. It was conceived by Jim Jacobs, born October 7, 1942, in Chicago and Warren Casey born April 20, 1935 in Yonkers New York. The play was set in 1959 at the fictional Rydell high school, but Jim Jacobs actually based the play on characters and his experiences as a student at Taft high school on Chicago’s Northwest side.
Grease! of course would later explode onto Broadway with over 3000 performances and then of course the blockbuster movie Grease in 1978
At Kingston Mines, Danny Zuko with played by Doug Stephenson, the role eventually played on screen by John Travolta. On the Lincoln Avenue stage, Marilu Henner played Marty, Terry Houston as Roger, Hedda Lubin as Frenchy, and Polly Pen as cheerleader Patty Simcox. Sandy was given a last name of Dumbrowski but later on on Broadway and in the movie, it was sanitized to Sandy Olsson.
At the start of the senior’s term at Rydell high school, we meet the T Birds gang and Pink Ladies. There is the school lunchroom, a girls pajama party, a school dance supposedly broadcast live on national bandstand, a street race and more. At the end of the play Danny wins Sandy.
Who can forget the music: “Hopelessly Devoted to You”, “You’re the One That I Want”, “Summer Nights”, “Beauty School Dropout”, “Look at Me, I’m Sandra D”, “Freddie My Love”, and of course “Hand Jive”.
After Kingston mines, on February 14, 1972 the play reopened off-Broadway at the Edens theater, a former burlesque house on the lower East side of New York, several miles from Times Square. That year it was already nominated for a Tony.
There were mixed reviews, with some critics having little or nothing good to say about the play. One said, “Grease is a hilarious musical with absolutely no moral nor message – just memories of the inanity another decade.” Another said simply it was tasteless. Newsweek wrote that it was “simply mediocre with flat dramatic scenes and lethargic pacing”. But as time went on reviews became more positive. The Guardian wrote “it’s still a sugar rush of the film” and others portray it as a “pleasing energetic musical with infectiously catchy songs that never gets old”.
And then came the incredibly successful movie released on June 16, 1978 which became the highest grossing musical film ever at the time. The film was selected to be preserved in the National film Registry by the Library of Congress.
Who knew a trolley barn could become famous!
If by chance you saw that original production on Lincoln Avenue, please leave a comment or write me at bartonius84@Hotmail.com. For the rest of you have seen Grease on stage or the movie, your comments would be welcome as well. The trolley barn on Lincoln Avenue is just a memory, but a good one at that.
And if you’re still with me, here is a few bits of trivia (optional reading):
William Howard Taft high school at 6530 W. Bryn Mawr Ave, was the inspiration for the fictional Rydell High School, built in 1939 and named after the 27th president of the United States and the 10th Chief Justice of the United States.
For you people like me who love Chicago history and its streets, Lincoln Avenue was actually named Little Fort Road before it became Lincoln Avenue. Originally it was a Native American trail running along a slight ridge in the usually soggy ground of pre-settlement Chicago. It ran from Chicago to a Potawatomie Indian settlement known as “Little Fort”, which is now Waukegan Illinois, some 40 miles north of Chicago. In Morton Grove, Lincoln Avenue was known as Miller’s Mill Road.
The trolley barn on Lincoln Avenue was only one of many car barns in Chicago. One of the earliest and largest was the “Limits” originally constructed at Wrightwood and Clark as a horse car barn in 1880 and until 1889 was just north of the Chicago city limits hence its name. It became a streetcar house in 1909, then was housing buses after 1938 closing in 1994.
Opened in 1893, the Chicago North Shore Street Railway housed its streetcars at 5847 N. Broadway later replaced by the Devon Avenue car house in 1901 a.k.a. “car barn” located at 6454 N. Clark as the largest in the city. A major fire there on January 26, 1922 destroyed 90 streetcars. It closed in 1957 and the site is now the 24th district Rogers Park police station.
The street car barn opened in 1909 by the Chicago Railways Co. at Jackson Boulevard and Kedzie Avenue was located on land that was once a very popular amusement park, the Chicago Water Chutes Park opened in 1896.
It included a water chute much like the iconic ride that Many of us loved Within Riverview Park. At Chutes Park there was also a Hurdle Auto ride, giant swing and a carousel. There were 3 roller coasters, the Velvet Coaster, the Figure 8 Toboggan, and the Loop the Loop. The amusement park closed in 1907 and was replaced by the street car barn, and later by a CTA bus facility in 1984.
For the story about the beloved Shoot the Chutes at Riverview Park at Belmont and Western, click on the link:
Thanks for reading. I love Chicago, its streets, and its cemeteries. Feel free to browse some of my other 125 stories on this website. Stay safe and well, be kind and for your safety, close cover before striking.
50 years in Chicago, now chronically disadvantaged living in Arizona
3 thoughts on “Music in the trolley barn – February 5, 1971”
Nicely done again!
Sent from the all new AOL app for iOS
I went to Taft, but later than Jim Jacobs. I enjoyed seeing Grease. I enjoy your blogs. Thank you for them.