Once Upon a Time on Washington Street – One Fantastic Block

  The east-west presidential streets we know today already existed on an 1833 map of the Chicago Loop – Washington, Madison, Monroe, Adams, and Jackson. During the 20th century, a number of intriguing businesses existed on Washington Street. The most famous non-defunct landmark may be the Marshall Field clock at the corner of State and Washington (installed in 1897) and the one on the corner of Randolph and State (installed in 1902). While many people, including yours truly, mourn the demise of Marshall Field, at least we still have the beautiful, massive iconic clocks. This blog is specifically about Washington Street from Dearborn to State Street and the businesses lost to history that once graced this block. It all started with the above photo and blossomed … as the saying goes, one thing leads to another. Unfortunately, some of the photos I included don’t have dates – the majority of the street shots are from the 1940s to 1950s. We’ll start this tour at the northeast corner of Washington and Dearborn Streets and the sign atop the landmark McCarthy Building and travel east, then cross the street and head back to Dearborn.  George D. Kells Democrat George D. Kells served as an alderman of the 28th Ward from 1931 to 1951 and also made an unsuccessful run for County Treasurer in the November 7, 1950 election. This is the same election in which Richard J. Daley became the Cook County Clerk, a position he held until he became mayor in 1955. Kells was born in 1893, died in 1959, and is buried in Hillside at Mount Carmel Cemetery. According to the book Organized Crime in Chicago: Beyond the Mafia, the 28th Ward was the headquarters of Pat Nash, who was Kells’ mentor. The book states that the underworld forced Kells…

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Majestic and Delicious – Memories, Chicago Style

What started out as a blog solely about Wimpy restaurants morphed into a broader blog when I discovered the above photos. What a shame it would be to not write about the Shubert Theatre and other businesses captured in these great photos. Wimpy Restaurants Originally called Wimpy Grills, the Wimpy brand was incorporated on September 12, 1934 by Edward V. Gold, with its first location in Bloomington, Indiana. The name was inspired by the hamburger-loving character J. Wellington Wimpy from Popeye, created by E. C. Segar. Gold opened the first Chicago area restaurant in 1936, after opening grills in five other Midwestern cities. The restaurant on the Northeast corner of Randolph St. and Wabash Ave. was the 10th Wimpy Grill in Chicago and the 25th in the U.S. when it opened in 1940. I don’t know when the location opened on the northeast corner of Clark and Madison, but these photos date back to 1955 and 1958. I wonder how many people grabbed a bite at Wimpy or the Bamboo Inn before going to the renowned Blue Note Jazz Club next door!   In the 1950s, Gold closed most of the U.S. locations and expanded his operation to Europe, working with J. Lyons & Co., a British catering company. In 1967, he sold the European operations to Lyons, which had more than 1,500 restaurants at that time, while retaining the U.S. restaurants. United Business acquired the UK restaurants in July 1977 and in February 2007, Famous Brands, owner of the Wimpy franchise in South Africa bought out Wimpy UK. As of 2011, Famous Brands operated 509 Wimpy restaurants in South Africa, making it the largest Wimpy franchise. When Gold died in October 1977 at the age of 70, nine Wimpy restaurants in the Chicago area were still in business, including…

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One Picture is Worth a Thousand Words … or a Little Less

  Sometimes a picture is worth a thousand words, or at the very least, a few hours of sleuth work. When I saw this wonderful Vivian Maier photograph, circa August 1960, the first thing I saw was Donald Koehler, once billed the world’s tallest man at 8 ft. 2 inches tall. I love the two ladies standing in the middle of the sidewalk – both appear to be looking at and talking about Koehler. I can almost hear them clucking their tongues in amazement. A fellow standing against the light post also appears to be looking at him from afar. Koehler was days away from his 35th birthday when Maier took this photo and she had turned 34 on February 1. Photographer and subject were exactly 5 months apart in age to the day.     I wrote briefly about Koehler in my first Lincolnwood blog. I remember seeing him get up after dining and walk through the aisle past my table at a little coffee shop on Cicero just north of Devon. I was very young, but an incredible visual sight like that tends to stay with you forever. His dad owned the card shop on Cicero, just north of Devon, in the same little strip mall as the coffee shop. The Koehlers didn’t live in Lincolnwood, but close enough in West Rogers Park. Believe it or not, Koehler had a twin sister who at a mere 5 ft. 9 inches tall was 29 inches shorter than her famous brother. He started growing abnormally at age 10, although it’s unclear when he was diagnosed with acromegaly, the pituitary disorder that results from excess growth hormone. This is the same disease that afflicted Sam Kappel, owner of Howard Clothes, who I wrote about in this blog.     Koehler won…

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That Great Street – Not State Street – Randolph, Once Upon a Time

Vivian Maier 1961 Chicago

  The summer after 8th grade, I went downtown a few times a week to take classes at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago Young Artist’s Studio program. The photo silk screening class was in the Pakula building at 218 S. Wabash. The painting class was in a studio on the campus building behind the Art Institute. On occasion, I would shop at the Woolworth’s on State Street and the Stop & Shop at 16 W. Washington. When I was about 18, I summoned the courage to walk into an X-rated book store located on Dearborn at Randolph, if memory serves me right. I hightailed it out of there when a freaky guy in a trench coat leered at me. Perhaps he would have flashed me, or my vivid imagination got the better of me. I was fascinated by Randolph Street, in particular the block between State and Dearborn. It had a similar kind of sleazy charm as Times Square in the 1970s, albeit on a tiny scale. The photographs featured in this blog provided inspiration for businesses to include and a search for materials such as matchbooks, postcards, and menus. This ephemera offers a glimpse at a street that was once vibrant and thriving with an incredibly cool and eclectic array of businesses. Sadly, by the time I ventured downtown, most of these businesses were long gone or had lost their luster. I primarily researched businesses between State and Randolph, west to LaSalle. Of course the beautiful Chicago Cultural Center’s north lobby is on Randolph at Michigan.

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