April 3, 2013

Uptown Chicago Revisited

Bill Matteson
Uptown Correspondent

A friend of mine gave me a book titled Landmarks and Legends of Uptown. I really loved looking through it, as it's always a trip down memory lane for me and my wife. We both grew up in Uptown on Kenmore Ave.

So today it's 10 AM and we're both a little older than our Uptown days. I just blurted out, "Hey hon, let's  take a trip to the old neighborhood." She was at the closet getting her jacket before I finished my statement. We gassed up the car in Harvard, Illinois, where we now live, hit the tollway outside of Marengo, and headed east,  to Lawrence Ave.

Both of us were reliving our youth as we talked about our old friends, at least the ones we could remember,  the things we done, and the old buildings.

The trip east on Lawrence was exciting. I had long forgot city driving and pedestrians, who all seem to have a deathwish as they dart out in front of you in the middle of the street. I slam on my brakes so I won't run into them and they give me the evil eye ... I was thinking they should be thanking me instead.

Lawrence was always a melting pot of diverse ethnic groups, and it still is really diverse. I do believe we made a world tour just on one street. As we passed Clark St. and St Boniface, things started to really change. The stately high brick wall that used to run down Lawrence was gone, someone dismantled it, took it down, or just allowed it to fall into ruin. I wanted to get out of the car and find the person responsible. As we get east of Broadway, we start to get into our "hood." The old El station, no Marquis lunch cafeteria, no National T store, no watchmakers shop, no pawn shop. Progress, I guess.

I saw the old Ritz grill still standing,empty and dilapidated, but no one would know that the best hamburgers and chili were once made there. The New Lawrence Hotel was almost unrecognizable. Sir James Night Club was missing, the Viceroy hotel—well, the building is still there, and all the windows of Garys Payless drug store were bricked in. The empty lot that used to be south of the Viceroy was in our time built into a single story structure that housed a Laundromat and is now boarded up. The corner where Happy Jacks Deli was is still there, although it's something else now. I couldn't tell what. All the old buildings at Lawrence and Sheridan to the north on both sides of the street were razed and replaced. No C.C. Club,  no 21 Tap.

We turned south on Clarendon to Leland then turned east. I forgot they blocked off some parts of Leland so we turned around, continued south to Wilson, then East to Kenmore, the street of our youth. On  the southwest corner was a large building. Gone were the apartment buildings that used to predominate the neighborhood. Leibermans Drug Store, Ma Skinners Diner, the Pretzel Benders Bar, the very corner that was so sacred to us for hanging out on, for playing pinner, for lagging coins, now all gone.

On the opposite corner Barney's Tavern is now some other store...sadly. I parked in front on 4734.  My wife lived at 4740 and me at 4737. We got out, I took a picture of her in front of her old building. We couldn't get close because of a large locked iron fence—the same as in front of the house I once lived in. In our day the front doors were rarely locked but privacy was always respected.

My wife had to go back to the car and rest. A young lady walked by and I said, "Hi, could you do me a favor?" The look on her face was priceless and a little quizzical. "That depends," she said. I smiled my best grampa smile and asked her to take my picture in front of my old house. I told her we just wanted to see the old neighborhood. She asked, "Both of you?"  "Yes. She lived there and I lived here." "You were childhood sweethearts; oh how sweet." Now we were pals; she took two pictures of me and walked off saying, "How sweet, how sweet."

We went up Kenmore  past St. Thomas to Argyle then west, past where the old Agmore used to be. We turned south on Winthrop Ave,  which turns back into Kenmore.

Winthrop Ave from Leland to Kenmore in our day was all black. An empty lot on Leland used to house the Colliers Chicken shack. They made the best fried chicken. They even delivered it in a 1949 Crosley. The same empty lot was also home to a traveling carnival once a year.

West on Wilson, then north on Broadway. Our hearts fell as we saw what used to be a very majestic structure, the Wilson Ave El.. What happened here? OMG, it's criminal to let this beautiful old building fall into such a state. I'm blaming Richard Daley for this, him being a southsider, a sox fan and all. Glad to see  all the stores on Broadway, even though I wouldn't go in one. No Kresge's dime store, no Woolworth dime store.

And as we passed Leland Ave no Majestic Men's store.  No Goldbaltts, now that is sad..

We drove around becoming more depressed. LOOK WHAT THEY DONE TO OUR SONG, MA was the tune running through my head. Our movie theaters, all gone. The Uptown, our Friday night home, gone. The Rivera, the Lakeside, the Argmore, the Pantheon, the Mode, the Sheridan...At Irving and Sheridan the bar on the NE corner, the Berlitz, featuring the "Dynatones," is now a lot. Then to cap it all they've closed my old school, the same school that gave us the Exorcist, Raiders of the Lost Ark, and Harrison Ford. We ended up driving west on Montrose. We found Hagen's fish Market. Glad to see it still in business. We drove home with a bag of shrimp and a bag of scallops.They advertised Lake perch. I asked which lake, they said Erie. I said make that a 1/2 pound.

Was the trip worth it? Yes... will we do it again... no, we  want to remember our Uptown, the Uptown of our youth, and the Kenmore Ave of our memories.

To the Residents of Kenmore Ave: I am glad you are there. You have painstakingly restored Kenmore back to an era in time and made it better. Thank you for this. 4737/39 looks like it's a 6-unit condo now instead of the 25 cut-up apartments when I lived there. Wish I could have seen the backyard, the scene of many a marble tournament, baseball, and football games.. but then maybe it's better this way.

Bill Matteson, 4737 Kenmore
Eileen Griffin, 4740 Kenmore
married 58 years
9 children
21 grandchildren
11 G grand children


1 comment:

Sharon said...

Awesome,Dad! Brought tears to my eyes "riding along" with you and Mom in my mind as I read this.


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