Scenes from Chicago's West Side under National Guard patrol, 1966

November 16, 2011

We'll get back to more architectual stuff here soon, I promise.

But in the meantime, I wanted to share this silent black-and-white video of Illinois National Guard troops patrolling the West Side of Chicago--not during the King riots of 1968, as we'd assume, but two years earlier in the summer of 1966.

The razor sharp clip provides a pretty good look at 1960s North Lawndale, especially Roosevelt Road near Central Park Avenue. Once you get past the mild shock of seeing military guys in Jeeps, helmets, uniforms and rifles patrolling Chicago streets, the video reveals some great stuff.

At the :55 mark, there is the Central Park Theater, 3535 W. Roosevelt--Benny Goodman made his debut there decades earlier--showing The Silencers, a Matt Helm movie starring Dean Martin.

There's an A&P grocery store at 2:07 mark.

And at 3:15, there's a great midcentury modern fast-food place with a pitched roof and a beautifully clear glass curtain wall--and 29 cent Polish sausages.

The shot of the moving jeep at 4:00 is almost cinematic.

You also see how dense the North Lawndale's commercial streets were then. Pre-war buildings line the thoroughfare cheek-to-jowl, with none of the yawning vacant lots that would plague the neighborhood for the next 40 years.

So why were troops patrolling the streets?

The person who posted this video on YouTube, squaream, writes the troops were called in to restore order after residents rioted in protest of a man who was arrested for re-opening a fire hydrant in July 1966.

A little digging beyond that shows the riot was a pretty serious dress rehersal for the troubles that would come to the area later in the 1960s.

The riot left two people dead and injured 80. Two Chicago policeman were shot, 400 (!) people were arrested and business owners reported $2 million in losses due to rioters.

Writer Ellis Cose grew up in North Lawndale during the 1966 riot. He talked about the disturbances in a 2007 Newsweek piece.

"As my parents, my brothers and sisters and I sat huddled away from the windows, listening in horror to the gunshots and screams, I knew that something huge was happening outside and that the world I thought I knew was about to change," he wrote.

"That riot was only a prelude to the explosion to come. Two years later, in April 1968, my neighborhood was among those that erupted after the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr."