September 6, 2007
I was born in Chicago in 1969, but grew up in the suburbs—Bloomingdale, Illinois, to be specific. I went to college in Iowa, spent some time in Minnesota, and eventually found my way back to the City in my late twenties. I now live in Uptown, a stone's throw from the Aragon Ballroom, and just around the corner from "Little Saigon" and the excellent Vietnamese, Thai, and Chinese restaurants that line a short stretch of Argyle Street.
While I'm relatively new to the Uptown neighborhood, both of my parents grew up around here. My dad lived in Andersonville, and my mom grew up near Lawrence and Hermitage. (That's her in 1948 or so with a new Brownie camera.) Technically, I'm the fourth generation on both sides of the family to call this neighborhood home.
It didn't take long for me to completely fall in love with Uptown and its rich culture and history. Here's a description I wrote a few years ago; it's from a petition to save and restore the Uptown Theatre at Lawrence and Broadway:
“A 20-minute train ride north from the Loop takes you to Uptown, one of Chicago’s most diverse neighborhoods. Originally settled by German and Swedish immigrant farmers, by the 1920s Uptown had become the premiere retail and entertainment center of the Windy City—rivaled only by the Downtown district. It boasted the very fashionable Loren Miller department store, the Edgewater Beach Hotel, Essanay Studios, several public beaches, and dozens of luxury apartments and hotels. Uptown was known for its cafes, vaudeville theatres, restaurants, music venues, dance halls, ballrooms, and movie houses. As one author wrote, 'Here is a community complete in itself...it has every accessory of a city—delightful places in which to live, dozens of smart and utilitarian shops, great churches and strong banks, and every imaginable form of entertainment.'
“The Uptown neighborhood was a place to see and be seen and attracted thousands of young single adults. A number of famous entertainers performed here early in their careers including Judy Garland (when she was still known as Frances Ethel Gumm), Hoagy Carmichael, Bing Crosby, Frank Sinatra, Ruth Etting, Gloria Swanson, the Andrew Sisters, Larry Fine of The Three Stooges, and Charlie Chaplin...”
Of course, that was Uptown in its so-called heyday. Since then, it's gone through many cycles of decay and rebirth, and has been home to numerous new immigrant groups. Uptown is always reinventing itself. Today, it's one of the most diverse neighborhoods in Chicago, and one that is--for better or worse--undergoing rapid gentrification.
The purpose of this blog will be to share some of the many hundreds of images and stories I've collected about Uptown these last five or so years. If you have stories to share, or if anything I post triggers a memory of your own, please feel free to make a comment or send me an e-mail.