A look at pre-1960s Chicago, in color

December 17, 2013

Here's a 16mm gem from the Chicago Film Archives: an hour-long look at Chicago between 1941 and 1960, shot over a 19-year-span by the late Chicago amateur filmmaker and attorney Marion Kudlick. 

It's a pretty easy hour to watch, especially when you see 1940s Chicago—normally seen these days in black and white—in color. North Michigan Avenue makes an early appearance and the Historic Water Tower and Pumping Station were still tall enough then to dominate the view.

Michigan Avenue looking south from near Adams pops up at the video's 2:30 mark. The streetwall is virtually unchanged since then. 

And in a shot that looks from the roof or upper floors of the Congress Hotel looking east, we get a rare color look at intersection of Congress and Michigan before it was widened to accommodate car traffic headed to (and from) the Eisenhower Expressway. You'll see it was a beautiful pedestrian plaza with a gentle rise of steps leading to the bronze Bowman and the Spearman sculptures. Too bad it was all ripped up in the name of progress.

Kudlick also takes his camera to the neighborhoods and suburbs. He spends time in now-vanished Maxwell Street, and captures footage of a bluesman in action.

The magnificent and long-gone Olson Rug Company Park and Waterfall, at Diversey and Pulaski, is there at 8:13. There is also pretty good footage of the groundbreaking at Weber High School, which opened in 1949. You can see Archbishop Samuel Stritch blessed the event, as he smiles at the camera in a close-up.

This 20-year slice of Chicago is fascinating for what we see and for what we now know happens afterward. The Chicago seen here was a brash, growing city of 3.6 million. A middle-aged person then, born in 1900 or slightly before, would have seen the city's population double within his or her lifetime.

But in the 20 years after Kudlick's frame, the population would shrink by almost 600,000. Steel mills would close, suburbia would rise, and the city would be beset with social, racial and economic problems we're still working to correct.

For more great stuff from the Chicago Film Archives, check out the group's YouTube Channel, and its website.