The City of Chicago is planning to tear down the Western Avenue overpass at Belmont-Clybourn. The junction of the three streets will once again be a normal, at-grade intersection.
Back in 1902 the Riverview amusement park opened at the northwest corner of Western and Belmont. The park drew thousands of patrons each day, most of whom arrived on streetcars—one of the lines was even named Riverview-Larrabee. Private vehicles of any type were rare.
By the 1960s more and more people were driving cars. Traffic around Riverview was congested. The modern solution to the problem was the Western Avenue overpass.
Fifty years ago, the city was in love with fly-over intersections. Similar viaducts were being built at Archer-Ashland and at Ashland-Pershing. Dozens more were in the talking stage. They were mini-expressways, an efficient way to move traffic.
The Western Avenue overpass opened in 1962. It did its job well for five years. Then Riverview closed.
Forty years ago today—May 3, 1973. Has it really been that long?
On Wacker Drive in downtown Chicago, the Sears Tower was topped off. Our city now had the tallest building in the world.
Sears had maintained its main office in North Lawndale for decades. During the late 1960s the company decided to build new headquarters. After looking in the suburbs, they chose a centrally-located site, just west of the Loop
The original plan was to build two separate buildings. That was changed to a single structure, 1,454 feet high. As board chairman Gordon Metcalf explained, “Being the largest retailer in the world, we thought we should have the largest headquarters in the world.”
Construction began in 1970. The foundations were dug, and the steel frame began to rise slowly over Wacker Drive. At the 1,369-foot mark the Sears Tower passed the former record holder, the twin towers of the World Trade Center in New York.
Raw, windy weather nearly postponed the May 3rd topping-off festivities. The ceremonial final girder contained the signatures of the 12,000 people who had worked on the project.
The Archdiocese has delayed demolition of St. James Church. That calls to mind a historic church that wasn't saved: the old Old St. Mary’s.
St. Mary of the Assumption was the city’s first Catholic church, built in 1833 on Lake Street west of State Street. Three years later the building was moved to Michigan Avenue and Madison Street. In 1843, when Chicago was established as a diocese, a new St. Mary’s Cathedral was constructed at the southwest corner of Madison Street and Wabash Avenue.
The Great Fire of 1871 destroyed St. Mary’s Cathedral. Afterward the Catholic bishop decided to rebuild his cathedral in Holy Name parish. He also purchased the five-year-old Plymouth Congregational Church at 9th and Wabash, rededicating it as St. Mary’s Catholic Church. The parish was placed under the direction of the Paulist Fathers order of priests.
The decades passed, and the South Loop went into a long decline. Anyone with money moved out. By the 1930s the area was mostly commercial—and what wasn’t commercial was slum. Aging gracefully while the neighborhood deteriorated, the church remained one rock of stability.
As a black woman, pioneer aviator Elizabeth Coleman overcame two career obstacles before dying in a flying accidentt on April 30, 1926.
Coleman—always known as Bessie—was born into a large family of Texas cotton farmers in 1892. She joined the great migration north in 1915, settling in Chicago. Her first job was as a manicurist.
Coleman was intrigued by stories of combat flying during World War I. Yet when the war ended, no American flight school would accept her. She had to go abroad to achieve her dream.
She learned French, saved her money, and got financial help from Defender publisher Robert S. Abbott and other businessmen. She went to France and earned her pilot’s license. Finally, in 1921, Bessie Coleman returned to the U.S. as the country’s first female African-American flier.
Commercial aviation was in its infancy. Coleman could become either a mail pilot or a stunt flier. Both were dangerous jobs, but stunt flying paid better.
Coleman was young, attractive, and extroverted.
Politicians love to get their names on things. So when a politician passes on, it's natural that the living politicians try to find something public they can rename to honor a departed colleague. In Chicago, this process can become quite creative.
Take Kelly High School and Kelly Park. They’re across California Avenue from one another, just south of Archer Avenue. But each is named for a different Kelly.
Thomas Kelly was born in 1843. He got into Democrat politics and was elected alderman in the 28th Ward. He later became a trustee of the Chicago Sanitary District. Kelly was serving on the Board of Education when he died in 1914.
In 1928 a new junior high school opened at 4136 South California Avenue. Thomas Kelly had been on the school board and lived in the neighborhood, so the building was named for him. In 1933 it became a four-year high school, which it remains today.
The school also owned a parcel of vacant land across the street, on the east side of California Avenue. In 1947 the Park District signed a lease for the property with the idea of building a park. A number of adjacent home owners were forced to sell by court order, and their houses leveled.
It was the biggest celebration of a single person Chicago had ever seen. Over 3 million people lined the city’s streets. The date was April 26, 1951.
After 14 years on foreign soil, Douglas MacArthur was back in the United States. America’s General had returned. And the city went wild.
As any true Chicagoan knows, Western Avenue is the longest street in the city. Would you believe it was once named Woodrow Wilson Road?
Woodrow Wilson, 28th President of the United States, died on February 3, 1924. He’d been an icon of the Progressive movement and led the country through the First World War. The Chicago City Council wanted a suitable way to honor him.
A few years before, after Theodore Roosevelt died, the aldermen changed 12th Street to Roosevelt Road. What was good for a dead Republican president should be good for a dead Democratic one. Since the city already had a Wilson Avenue, it was decided to use President Wilson’s full name on his street.
It’s not clear why the lawmakers chose Western Avenue for renaming. On April 25, 1924 they voted to re-designated the street as Woodrow Wilson Road.
The 12th-to-Roosevelt change had caused little controversy. But now the property owners along Western objected to the expense involved in renaming their street.