Old Maxwell Street remembered on film

June 17, 2013

It's been 20 years since the first eviction notices were served on the vendors of old Maxwell Street; the opening salvo in a preservation battle that wiped away the Near West Side open-air market.

For decades, the area flanking Halsted just south of Roosevelt was a bustling, decaying place where you could find anything from clothes to car tires—all set against a sonic backdrop of electric blues musicians who jammed out in the open for shoppers.

What an incredible place. Of course, it's all gone now and replaced by a sedate neighborhood of residences, restaurants and facilities for the University of Illinois at Chicago. The university was the prime mover behind the redevelopment.

This brings us to the above video: a clip from the 1981 film Maxwell Street Blues. The 56-minute documentary by Raul Zaritsky and Linda Williams shows the neighborhood as it was and focuses and the folk who made the music there. Facets Multimedia has a DVD of the film.

The market still exists, but as a city-regulated, Sundays-only event on Des Plaines Street north of Roosevelt. Vendors set up shop, but the whole thing vanishes—like Brigadoon—until the next week. Frankly, I miss the old place.

Let's close with another vintage view of Maxwell Street from 1980 movie The Blues Brothers:

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