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Places and spaces, courtesy of the University of Chicago photo archives

WBEZ architecture critic Lee Bey finds a trove of well-done architectural street photography in an unlikely place: The University of Chicago archives.

SHARE Places and spaces, courtesy of the University of Chicago photo archives

The University of Chicago has been keeping me up at night lately.

Nothing nefarious, thankfully. But I have burned a bit of midnight oil checking out the photo archives from the university library’s Special Collection. Much of the collection is devoted to the university’s own buildings. The image above is an undated photo of White City Amusement Park that stood at 63rd and King Drive until was condemned in 1939.

But a great number of the archive’s images—and perhaps the best ones—were taken by midcentury photographers who documented the area surrounding the campus. The shooters captured a metroplis in transition as blocks were wiped away for big urban renewal projects. The 1951 photograph below shows an unidentified street that would be demolished to build the Lake Meadows residential development:


This 1948 photograph shows a building that will be razed to make way for the Eisenhower Expressway (referred to as the Congress Street Superhighway in the sign in the photo):


And here’s a color shot from 1958 of row houses on 29th and Prairie. These aged beauties were demolished in the 1960s:


The archive is plentiful: parks, neighborhoods, the lakefront, downtown and, of course, Hyde Park, documented by different photographers. One photographers, the late Mildred Mead, stands out. All the images accompanying this post are hers, with the exception of the White City photograph.

And perhaps her sense of humor was as sharp as her eye. The archive includes the image below that Mead took of a tow truck driver changing a flat tire on Mead’s own car in 1952: She doesn’t say where she is—dig the beautiful buildings in the background—but she does include this note: “Going around demolition is hazardous to tires, you pick up nails.”


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