June 28, 2011

Plymouth Hotel / Goldblatt's, circa 1980s

This is pretty much how I remember this stretch looked when I first moved to Uptown. A bit of the decorative terracotta that once graced the facade of the Plymouth Hotel can be seen in the lobby of the condo building that replaced it. Image from Flickr using the "Share on Blogger" feature.

June 27, 2011

The Cubs, the Bleachers, and Bert Wilson

Bill Matteson
Uptown Chicago History Correspondent

As kids, we would walk straight south on Sheridan Road, and it ran straight on to Sheffield Ave. We would enter the bleachers at Waveland Ave. I think it cost 30 cents for the bleachers, which were, at that time, long benches. Sometimes, if we were lucky enough, we would get to walk down Sheridan with the Cubs' left fielder Andy Pafko, who stayed at the Sheridan Plaza Hotel. In the few times that we walked with Andy, we never once thought of asking him for his autograph.

 Original baseball card for sale on eBay.

I would come home from a game and my dad would mention the great plays that he heard on the radio and would ask me about them. I would tell Dad I didn't see any plays that were outstanding and could never figure out why he was asking me about spectacular plays.

Until one day, when I was listening to Bert Wilson call the ball game—wow, how exciting it sounded. It was then we realized that the radio announcer could basically say anything he wanted to. There was no TV at the time and it was the announcer's job to make it sound interesting.

Bert Wilson: "It's hit, there's a long fly ball going into deep center field. 'Peanuts Lowery' is racing back. He's climbing the vines, he leaps, and makes a one-handed stab. What a play, folks, I've never seen anything like it."

I was there that day—a blooper fly ball fell into Peanuts Lowery's glove.

That's when me and my friend Lionel decided to bring a portable radio with us. Now, in the mid-forties, portable radios were big bulky and very heavy. Lionel had a Trans-Oceanic short wave portable that was powered by big dry cell batteries; it was so heavy that we would take turns carrying it. We sat down on the bleachers and turned the radio on; it was the hit of the bleachers, listening to the way Bert Wilson described the game as opposed to what was actually happening.

On the way out, a big Andy Frain usher* told us never to bring the radio again.

Think maybe I was an original bleacher bum?

A couple of baseball expressions I haven't heard in a while are Texas Leaguer and the "old automatic." Sometime in the late 40's, my dad was listening to a Sox game (very rare in our house). Rudy York was at bat; Bob Elson the announcer said if he puts this one in the stands, I send everyone a turkey for thanksgiving. Rudy smacked out a homer, Sox won. My dad sent a letter to Bob Elson requesting the turkey. Around the first of November, we received a card, die-cut in the shape of a turkey, saying thanks. I always wondered how many they had to send out

*Editor's note. According to the Andy Frain website: Andy Frain Services was founded in 1924 by Andrew T. Frain who was certain that he could solve the perennial gate crashing problem at Chicago Stadium hockey games. After Andy and his small group of ushers showed the hockey promoter what honest gateman could do for his gate receipts and crowd control, Andy moved to Wrigley Field. William Wrigley, Jr. was so impressed with Andy's group, that he invested capital necessary to outfit Frain's men in their traditional blue and gold uniforms. The uniforms became a hallmark for professionalism and customer service, which still is demonstrated in Andy Frain Services today.

June 23, 2011

60's or 70's Uptown/Lawrence stop

Posted via the "Share on Blogger" feature. Thanks to Uptown Update for first locating this photographer on Flickr.

Detail of Terracotta on the McJunkin Building

McJunkin by Jonie Snake
McJunkin, a photo by Jonie Snake on Flickr.
Holy Cow! The old terracotta was beautiful. Image posted via Flickr's "Share on Blogger" feature. Thanks to Uptown Update for first locating this photographer.

The Ornate Facade of the Uptown Theatre, 1986

The Ornate by Jonie Snake
The Ornate, a photo by Jonie Snake on Flickr.
Shared via Flickr's "Share on Blogger" feature.

Lawrence El Station, 1989

L station by Jonie Snake
L station, a photo by Jonie Snake on Flickr.
Thanks to Uptown Update for first locating this photographer on Flickr. Shared via the "Share on Blogger" feature.

June 22, 2011

Wrestling Comes to Chicago

Bill Matteson
Uptown Chicago History Correspondent
June 22 2011

In about 1948, TV came to Chicago, which really didn't do anything for us kids until it brought wrestling with it. I still don't know if wrestling made TV popular or TV made wrestling popular.

I had never seen a wrestling match in my life until I saw one through the store window at an appliance store on Broadway next to the Riviera theater.

One day I went down to Barney's Tavern, which was on the N.E Corner of Leland and Kenmore. I knew my dad was in there and drinking; I also knew he was a soft touch depending on the amount he had to drink. Well, I walked in, and there he was, his usual place at the end of the bar, talking with some long haired, strange looking guy. This guy had his middle two fingers missing. Dad introduced him as Tarzan Zimba. Wow, Tarzan Zimba right there in front of me. Problem was, I never heard of Tarzan Zimba.

Dad said him and I were invited to watch Tarzan Zimba wrestle that night at the Rainbo Arena. We went on the Lawrence Ave street car up to Clark St. and walked in with Tarz. I could call him Tarz, now that we were buddies.

Tarz fought some guy; I thought they were going to kill each other. Tarz was the mean wrestler, and he was disqualified, then we all took the street car home, even the guy I thought Tarzan tried to kill. They were laughing and telling jokes and it took me too long to figure out what was going on.

Tarzan Zimba who's real name was Eddie Pottsman; he came from Canada. Sometimes he wrestled with his brother Jack as a Tag team. Jack Zimba. I would think anyone using a name like Zimba could come up with a more exotic name than Jack.

Wrestling hit Chicago big time. Three nights a week the Rainbo Arena, Marigold Arena, and the Chicago Stadium. My dad even bought an Admiral 9" TV From Goldblatt's to watch the matches.

Tarz lived on Lawrence Ave Between Kenmore and Winthrop; he had a one room apt. and my job was to make sure he was awake in time to get to the arena.

Now, most of the wrestlers had a gimmick to set them apart from the other wrestlers.
And Tarzan Zimba was no exception. He had long hair around the sides but was bald on top. He had three toupees made, one was red, one black and one blond. He had a pair of wrestling shoes to match each wig, not to mention matching robes and trunks.
So if he wore a blond wig, he had golden shoes and a golden robe and gold-colored trunks.

Tarzan would enter the arena to jeers of the fans. My Sister Edwina would follow, carrying a small pillow. I came behind her with a folded towel.

Tarz would climb in the ring and make a big display of taking off his top piece, this he made look more difficult than it was, because of his missing fingers. He would place the wig on the pillow, held by my sister; he would then take off his robe which he gave to me as I handed him a small towel to mop the top of his head. I would fold his robe. Sis and I would sit near Tarz's corner. After the match, I would give him his robe, Sis would give him his hair, and we would march back up the runway.

Now, I never made any money with this wrestling gig, but I had every autograph of every wrestler that came through our area. Well, almost all, and because of this I was the envy of my class.

Tarzan was one of the few wrestlers to have a contract; he made three hundred a week and wrestled who, when, and where they told him.

There was always a grudge match going on. This one night Tarz was going to fight the wrestler who bit off his fingers (he actually lost them in a wood cutting accident,
but stories mattered and facts didn't).

I miss Tarz and I wonder whatever happened to him.

June 21, 2011

Flea Market at the Aragon Ballroom, 1969

What a great idea! It'd be fun to bring flea markets back to the ol' ballroom. Does anyone remember if this was a regular thing?

Original image available for purchase on eBay

June 20, 2011

Montrose Pier and Harbor and George the Hot Dog Man

Editor's Note: Ron of Knotmyline.com, who fished from Montrose Pier as a child, has given us kind permission to reprint this post. Ron, now in his seventies, lived on Chicago's North Side when he was a kid. Be sure to visit his blog for more stories.

Montrose Pier and Harbor

I was just a toddler when first my parents took me out to Montrose Pier.  The mile or so long pier extends out into the lake and ends with a horseshoe or fishhook shape.  There were several tall towers on the pier with lights and foghorns to warn and alert vessels on the lake.

Some of my early memories are of fishing for perch with my dad and brother on Montrose pier. Pilings about 16 feet apart had been driven into the lake bed, fill of some sort was added and on top of the fill were huge limestone blocks at about 10 feet square.  I imagine that at one time these blocks had been placed somewhat evenly on the fill, but over the years due to erosion and weathering they had become a jumble of uneven stones. In many areas there were big gaps between the blocks and to get from one to the other was an adventure. A few years after World War II the park district renovated the pier.  They encased it entirely in concrete and put in a center chain handrail.

My brother tells of how in the early and mid 40′s the lakefront was still being developed and he would take a bus to the old Lake View pumping station at Clarendon and Montrose and then walk on pipes and fill and junk to get to the pier. This expansion and improvement of Chicago’s parks began with the 1930s projects of the New Deal. The area along Lake Shore Drive in Chicago from Jackson Park to Montrose Harbor is actually a 15-mile chain of land entirely created by dredging, landfill and plantings, accomplished with the labor of hundreds funded by the Works Progress Administration (WPA).  The development of Montrose Harbor started in 1934, the year I was born.

One of my favorite characters associated with Montrose pier was George the hot dog man.  Before the renovation George would carry his wares out to the anglers, but once the concrete was in, he had a large steam cart that rolled on wheels easily along the pier. He would push his cart along and every once in a while shout at the top of his lungs, “Hot coffeeeeee”, “Hot Doggggs” and folks would gather around.  “Keep the change?” he would ask his patrons in his broken Greek accent adding, “Always, in the old country, I would tell the old man – keep the change, old man!”  On warm sunny days he would sneak up on on an angler sound asleep on the pier.  Standing nearly on top of the person he would shout “QUIET, QUIET PLEASE, MAN SLEEPING!”  Usually the sleeper would almost leap into the lake startled with that shout. If someone needed their trolley anchor thrown out into the lake, George was the man for the job.  He would wind up and pitch that anchor further than all but a few.

The renovation of the pier made life a lot easier for anglers and sightseers. Prior to it the pier was a dangerous place.  Broken bottles, old fishhooks and other assorted trash collected between the limestone blocks.  Lazy anglers used the dark recesses between blocks as a toilet, filth accumulated around the towers and the stench could be nauseating. The concrete brought an end to most of that, a welcome sight to most of us. Because of Lake Michigan’s dangerous waters, the pier is still a place where one needs to be alert at all times. Occasionally a seiche will occur on the lake and those waves can easily wash across the pier and leave it barren.  But regardless of all the effort and possible danger, a day at the pier can easily be one of the best you can enjoy.

Trolley Fishing at Montrose Pier, Chicago

Editor's Note: We've had a number of readers curious to learn more about trolley fishing in Lake Michigan. Ron of Knotmyline.com, who fished from Montrose Pier as a kid, has given us kind permission to reprint this post, which includes an illustration of the setup.

Trolley Fishing at Montrose Pier

Some of my early memories are of fishing with my dad and brother on Montrose Pier. In those days it was a common practice to fish from the pier with a “trolley”. That practice is far less common these days. The last time I was there was in the 70s, and even then I saw only a few trolley anglers. A trolley was quite a complicated setup. You needed a spider anchor, about 100 yards of anchor line, a 2-3 ounce trolley, a 6 foot long sturdy wood pole, a 6-8 foot long piece of fish line with a snelled hook every foot or so attached to 100 yards of fish line, and a “bell’.

The spider anchor is thrown out into the water as far as a person can fling it. The arms of the anchor catch on debris on the bottom and the angler tightens the attached anchor line and ties it to the top of the pole.  The pole is fitted into slots in the concrete at the edge of the pier.  The weighted trolley is attached to the anchor line.  It has two wheels that sit atop the cord and its weighted body hangs under the line. The wheels roll along the anchor line as the angler raises or lowers the trolley.

The trolley is a good device that allows the angler to fish at varying depths in the water column depending on the spacing of the hooks and how far the trolley is permitted to ride down the anchor line.

The bell is screwed into the pole or some times into a weighted block of wood adjacent to the pole. The fishing line is attached to the bell and when a fish bites, the bell will vibrate and sound a “fish on” alert to the angler. When a school of fish – mostly Perch in those days – pass by they will be attracted to the baited hooks and it is not unusual to catch two or more fish on a single drop to the bottom.

More on Chicago's Tidal Wave of 1954

Contemporary accounts and eyewitness reports of the seiche that struck Chicago in 1954 can be found here: Tidal Wave

June 18, 2011

HORSESHOE REVISITED or Give em a Broadside

Bill Matteson
Uptown Chicago History Correspondent
June 18 2011

Some time in the early 70s, Salmon were introduced to the Great Lakes, and the lake front fishermen went crazy. We could catch Jumbo perch about 1 lb, or salmon 5 lbs and up. The Lake Michigan charter boat business was born. Now the problem was, they had no experience fishing for salmon, hadn't the slightest idea of how or where to catch them. So they would troll along the lake front with outriggers, downriggers, planner boards, flat lines and just about anything imaginable.

The Horseshoe fisherman had enough problems without putting up with these pesty charter boats. Large salmon would hit on a trolley and run, taking most of the gear and/or messing it all up, and if that didn't happen, the charter boat would come too close and their down riggers would pull up all the gear

This added to everyone's frustration, and a lot of insults and threats of physical violence were hurled back and forth. It was at this time the trolley fisherman had to put away his trolley gear and power line fishing became more common.

Power line is a 10 foot rubber band that had a 12 to 1 stretch ratio. The rubber attached to a 2 once weight, thrown out two hundred feet, and then pulled in slowly bia stretch hooks every 12", baited, and then let back out via stretch the line then attached to bell. When a salmon hit, it was easier to pull in.

Like I said before, the Horseshoe fisherman was an inventive lot , how did we get the claws and weight out two hundred feet or more? Most had the "Polish Cannon," a tube fired by lighter fluid. The weight wrapped in kleenex (biodegradable) was used.

One day the charter boats were all coming too close to the pier, as if they were doing it on purpose.
Everyone with a cannon lined up on the lake side of the pier, and when the boats came by, they got a broadside.  Bam. bam. bam.

It was like an old pirate movie, and we were all Errol Flynn. Tennis balls and potatoes. T.hey stayed away the rest of the day. Cops came and couldn't find any polish cannon.

A few weeks later they were outlawed..That's when we discovered that CO2 fire extinguishers worked better.

My power line gear is packed away, next to my trolley gear, and right next to a lot of great memories.
Maybe I'll get to the lake this summer, take the grandkids.

June 15, 2011

Vonda Urban: Dance Instructor, Author, Teacher, Theosophist, Astrologer, Musician

If you danced at the Aragon ballroom in the fifties, you may remember dance instructor Vonda Urban. Or maybe you were a student of hers when she taught Theosophy. Vonda Urban passed away this week at the age of 92. The Tribune has her obituary and condolence book here: Vonda Urban. You can see some of the titles she wrote here: Quest Books.

From the Trib:

Vonda Urban, 92, native of Massachusetts, Theosophist, musician, astrologer; passed away June 3, 2011, after a brief illness. Vonda was a vibrant part of Chicago's entertainment scene in the 50's and 60's, and developed a following with her work as an instructor of dance at the Aragon Ballroom, and later as a spiritual teacher. Her passing is a great loss to the Theosophical community. She is survived by an extended surrogate family; and many admirers, including her best friend Rodger George; and her nieces Teena and Deborah Urban, and Jeannette Davie. A celebration of her life is being planned. In lieu of flowers, donations may be made in her name to the Southern Poverty Law Center, 400 Washington Ave., Montgomery, AL, 36104. Arrangements by Cremation Society of Illinois.

"Thou canst not travel on the path before thou hast become that Path itself."

The Day a "Tidal Wave" Struck Montrose Harbor, Chicago

After Bill posted about the 1954 seiche that struck Chicago, I became interested in learning more about the phenomenon and found this photo on eBay of the aftermath:

And this article from the Tribune:

The Big Wave
The Fateful Day Chicagoans Learned The Meaning Of `Seiche`
August 18, 1985|By Article by William M. Gordon.

When the last body was recovered from the lake 10 days later, a coroner`s jury could finally rule that the deaths had been caused by an act of God. It was small comfort for the bereaved. What had happened to their loved ones on the city`s lakefront was still unexplained and hard to believe. Without warning, a 10-foot wave had risen suddenly from a calm Lake Michigan and swept eight shore fishermen to their deaths on a hazy Saturday morning in June of 1954.

It was an unheard-of natural disaster. By Sunday morning, however, the newspapers had taught Chicago what to call the wave and how to pronounce its quaint French name: "seiche," pronounced saysh. But when it came to explaining what had caused the wave, reporters foundered in the half-explanations of weathermen who did not yet understand it themselves... (article continues here: The Big Wave)

The Horseshoe Pier "JUMBOOOOOOOO"

Bill Matteson
Uptown Chicago History Correspondent

The Horseshoe was one of my favorite places. I used to fish there, when it was just a pile of large jumbled rocks. We had to jump from rock to rock in order to get out a distance from shore, then wedge in our trolley poles and fish. Sometime in the early / mid 40s, the city came in and added more rocks and paved it all over. They even added little metal slots on the sides, every 10 feet or so. This was to accommodate the metal rectangle that we added to our trolley pole. Now we could really fish.

Trolley fishing is very unique to the horseshoe and the lake front. I have fished all my life and the horseshoe is the only place I have ever seen it done. We would get out there before sunrise and fish until late afternoon. We bought our bait at "C. Berry for Bait," a green shack just east of the Harbor. "Shinners" were at 10 cents a dozen, peelers were 25 cents. I could catch 50-60 nice perch. Still today, the best eating fish is Lake Michigan Perch.

Herring would come in twice a year, spring and fall. We had herring due to the opening of the St. Lawrence seaway. You had to use a real small hook for herring, but the herring eventually went away.

When fishing the Horseshoe, you were obligated. when catching a big perch to holler out, JUMBOOOOO. It became automatic .

The trolley fishermen were a strange bunch. We all had our own personalized, modified gear.You couldn't go to the store and by a trolley fishing outfit. You could buy some components, then make your own. I still have mine; as junk, it's worth $2.00, but to me it's priceless.

For those of you who don't know what trolley fishing is, take a leaded claw type anchor, attach a sturdy cord, wind up and let her fly, then pull back on the cord. Set the anchor and tie it off to your pole. On the cord that runs from the pole to the claw, we attached a large lead weight that has two brass pulleys. T his was the "trolley" to which you added a length of line that had 7 hooks hanging spaced every 12", this line was let out into the water after baiting.

After you found the best guesstimated depth., the line was attached to a spring bell., the fish bit, the bell rang, you pulled in the fish.

I went out to the Horseshoe a few years ago;  it isn't the same horseshoe I used to know. They fish differently today.

Trolley fishing is a thing of the past, a lost art, so to speak. One of my greatest desires is to make a documentary on the Horseshoe and trolley fishing. I have sent letters and so far no takers

I'll never forget the shout Jumbooooooo.

One day a few years ago, when I was fishing on a pier in Boca Raton, Fla., another fisherman caught a fish and yelled "Jumbo." I turned to him and said "Horseshoe," he smiled and gave a thumbs up. My granddaughter said, "What's that all about?" I just said, "You wouldn't understand."

June 13, 2011

North Shore Baptist Church, 5244 North Lakewood

Vintage postcard image of the North Shore Baptist Church on Lakewood Avenue. Dr. Weldon M. Wilson was the pastor at the time. Original postcard available here: North Shore Baptist

June 12, 2011

The Rocks, The Waves, The Seiche

Bill Matteson
Uptown Chicago History Correspondent
June 12 2011


We referred to Lake Michigan as the Rocks. As kids, we swam at Montrose Beach. Then as we got older, we swam at the "Rocks." It was an age progression thing, first at Wilson Ave; then, as we got older, we went to Leland Ave and worked up to Lawrence Ave in our early teens.

Now the Rocks between Lawrence and Leland was always crowded. So, to ensure a "Spot on the Rocks," every group painted a rectangle, circle, or square with the names of their particular group inside. A lot of these areas had some pretty fancy designs inside. These areas were always respected and never violated. If we got there and someone was inside, we asked them to move, and they always did. So, we would put our towels inside the square, our girlfriend at the time would write her name on our back in lipstick so when we got a sunburn and wiped off the lipstick you could see her name in white skin right there on our backs.


Now here was one of the dumbest things we ever came up with. Starting at the end of Spring, when the winds begin to blow, we would all head to the Rocks. We would stand on the very top tier of the rocks,  look out a couple of hundred feet, and watch for a big swell coming in. As the swell got within about 25 feet, we would run to the bottom row, up to the edge, and then try to get back up to the top of the Rocks without getting wet. Most of the time we didn't make it; we didn't care, we were challenging nature. The long walk home, soaking wet, down Lawrence Ave was rough.

We all knew it was a dumb thing to do, but we also knew it was the thing to do, because it was something to do. We never really thought of the danger involved. At that age you're immortal and can live forever.


I never heard of a Seiche or knew what it was until about 1954. A seiche is sort of an inland Tsunami, when a swell of water came up and washed over the Horseshoe and Jetties and washed over a hundred fishermen into the lake. Eight drowned; they had nothing to hold on to. This is the reason that today there is a cable running the length of the pier and jetty.

(Editor's Note: To learn more about Seiches on Lake Michigan, and to see the full-size view of the below graphic, go to: Lake Michigan Coastal Seiches)

June 11, 2011

Glenwood and Balmoral, Chicago

A 1923 ad for apartments at Glenwood and Balmoral. Image currently available here: Balmoral and Glenwood

June 6, 2011

Mann's Million Dollar Rainbo Room, Chicago

Currently on eBay

Mann's Million Dollar Rainbo Gardens was on Clark at Lawrence. Click label links below for more info on the Rainbo.

Pheasant Hunting in St. Boniface Cemetery During WW2

Bill Matteson
Uptown Chicago History Correspondent

There were times during the war years we ate pretty good. Perch from Lake Michigan and Pheasant from St Boniface Cemetery. St. Boniface ran along Lawrence from Magnolia west to Clark Street.

We would sneak into the cemetery from Magnolia, mainly because there wasn't any traffic and we did this towards dark so we wouldn't attract attention. You had to be careful climbing over the wall, which was high and concrete, because some mean person put broken glass on the top to keep people from doing exactly what we were doing.

One day, a few friends and I decided to sneak into the cemetery and play war and hide and seek. While walking around through the tombstones, we would kick up a pheasant or two. We also noticed that they weren't afraid of us; they were tame, and fat, maybe to fat to fly.
Me and my buddy John went back sometime later and brought a gunny sack with us and a half of an old broom stick, with tape around the handle, that we would also use for fast pitch. I would chase the pheasants close to John and he would whack them over the head and then wring their necks. We would put a couple in the bag and take off. We always left before it got totally dark. That place was scary enough in the daylight.

My mom knew how to dress them out, and pluck all the feathers. Pheasant and Lake Michigan perch are some of the best meals I ever had.

I still have my WWII ration books, Mom says to keep them, just in case.

Between John and I, over a two- year period, we must have taken 8 birds. We never wanted to thin out the flock, so we practiced some sense of conservation. I wonder if there are any left?

When I told them this story, one of my grandkids didn't understand what plucking feathers was, and another wanted to know what a gunny sack was.

Bill Matteson

June 3, 2011

More on the Chelsea

Even if you've already visited part one of Jon Trott's history of the Chelsea Hotel/Friendly Towers, it's worth visiting again. He's added some more information and another picture of the exterior.


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