The three-block stretch of Catalpa Avenue between Lincoln and Western Avenues was part of a citywide program to widen roads and open new ones in the 1920s, which was motivated by growth in auto traffic. An ordinance to widen Chicago arterial's was passed in 1926 and completed in 1928.
This part of Catalpa was designed as the connection between the newly widened Lincoln Avenue to the north and the newly widened Western Avenue. Lincoln Avenue couldn’t be widened south of Catalpa because Lincoln was already too heavily developed. So Catalpa Avenue was widened to provide a convenient place for traffic coming from the south on Western Avenue to cross over to the northern part of Lincoln Avenue, which is also part of US Highway 41. At the time, Highway 41 was the major thoroughfare into and out of the city from the north.
Much of Chicago north of Catalpa was undeveloped, so it was relatively easy to widen the streets there. Once the streets were widened and traffic increased, development began to spread. Of course, many arterials that were part of the widening project were in developed areas, which led to some odd building modifications.
Parts of several buildings on Ashland Avenue were literally sliced off when this project got underway. One of the most dramatic examples is the massive Our Lady of Lourdes church on Ashland south of Lawrence. It was moved across the street, rotated to face Leland Avenue, cut in half, and then expanded by 30 feet.
Compiled by Neil Gale, Ph.D.