Looking back at Uptown in the mid-1970s

Looking back at Uptown in the mid-1970s

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In 1973, Bob Rehak was 24-years-old, living in Rogers Park and working downtown at an advertsing agency. His daily commute took him through Uptown, a gritty, struggling neighborhood on Chicago’s North Side. 

An introvert working to break out of his shell, Rehak gave himself a challenge: Get off the Red Line ‘L’ train at Wilson Avenue, walk up to the first person he saw, and ask if he could take their picture. It worked.

“Much to my suprise, what I found was people were extremely friendly,” he said. “They didn’t beat me over the head and steal my Nikon as I’d feared. I think they were flattered that somebody was there paying attention.”

From there, he was hooked. Rehak documented Uptown and its residents for the next four years, developing nearly 5,000 black and white photographs. In the end, he created a portrait of one of the most dense and most diverse neighborhoods in Chicago history.

Until recently, those images have been largely forgotten. But when the photographer uploaded them online in July, they went viral, reaching 4.5 million page views in a just a few months. Rehak said more than 500 people have contacted him about the photos, some of whom appear in the very shots he took forty years ago. 

Now remastered as a book, titled “Uptown: Portrait of a Chicago Neighborhood in the Mid-1970s,” the collection is now available in stores. 

Use the sliding tool to see Uptown then and now:

Rehak took this photo of Wilson Avenue, looking east toward Sheridan Road on the ‘L’ platform. In the background is the Sheridan Plaza Hotel, which sat vacant for many years before it was renovated and turned into apartments in 2009.

Rehak took this shot at Lawrence Avenue and Broadway on Dec. 27, 1975. The Riviera Theater was playing “Snow White” and Lawray Drugs was advertising Bufferin for $1.09. Today, a Starbucks and abandoned Borders dominate the view. (Photo cropped for comparison.)

Alyssa Edes is a digital media intern at WBEZ. Follow her on Twitter @alyssaedes.