In historical writing and analysis, PRESENTISM is the introduction of present-day ideas and perspectives into depictions or interpretations of the past. I believe presentism is a form of cultural bias, and it creates a distorted understanding of the subject matter. Reading modern notions of morality into the past is committing the error of presentism. I'm well aware that historical accounts are written by people and can be slanted, so I try my hardest to present articles that are fact based and well researched, without interjecting any of my personal opinions.
In the late 1800s and early 1900s, today's Old Town area was known as "Cabbage Patch" from the German immigrants that grew potatoes, celery, and cabbages on the marshy land. The area was then called "North Town" (not Nortown) as it straddled North Avenue, which at that time, was the northern boundary of Chicago.
On October 14, 1948, about 25 neighborhood residents met to discuss improving what was referred to as Old Town (the attribution of which is generally credited to Charles Collins of the Chicago Tribune in 1944). At that time the “founders” referred to themselves as "The Clark, Ogden, North Triangle," later shortened to "The Triangle" until September 20, 1951, when members voted to officially change the name to the "Old Town Triangle Association," which was initially sponsored by the North Side Planning Council, a Chicago city agency.
During World War II, the triangular area bordered by North Avenue, Clark Street, and Ogden Avenue, which ran up to Lincoln Park until the 1960s, was designated a “neighborhood defense unit” by the Chicago Civil Defense Corps.
|1940s North Town Triangle|
NOTE: According to a 2008 Tribune article, Old Town is bounded by Division Street (south) to Armitage Avenue (north), and Clark Street (west) to Halsted Street (east).The first President elected to the Old Town Triangle Association was James Beverly.
Helen Guilbert and Sara Jane Wells were two of the movers and shakers regarding trees in the Triangle. plant flowering “Hopa” crabapple trees in 1959. They watered the trees with the help of area residents loaning their garden hoses to water the trees by their houses for the months it took for the trees to stabilize and then letting mother nature take over.
When Bob Switzer passed away he endowed the OTTA with funds to improve the parkways in the late 1970s.
The Menomonee Boys Club, a not-for-profit organization, was founded in 1946 by a group of concerned Old Town neighbors to “provide wholesome recreation as a means of keeping children off the streets.” Menomonee funding has always been tied closely to the neighborhood.
This building is called the Willow Clubhouse opened in 1950, and is the oldest of four Menomonee Club buildings.
With the help of the North Side Boys Club, the group rented an Old Town storefront and began offering ping pong, shuffleboard, boxing, baseball, woodworking, and choral singing. Membership was 50 cents and more than 100 children joined during the first few weeks. It started out being a boys’ club, with girls allowed in once per week. That didn’t last long. Soon, girls were coming regularly and The Menomonee Club for Boys and Girls was born. Kids gathered to take lessons, play checkers, and just hang out.
In 1950, the Club’s director Joe Vitale, discovered a two-lane bowling alley on Willow and The Club was able to buy it for $13,000. Its founding members scraped together a down payment and spent the next four years raising the rest of the money for the Menomonee Clubhouse. When it was finally paid for, a celebration was held – a mortgage burning party!
The Crilly Court Apartments held a Jamboree (block party) which predated the Old Town Art Fair, to raise money for a playground. The event was so successful that the Crilly residents decided to expand its mission to include The Menomonee Club and other neighborhood activities. Folklore says the Jamboree inspired the Art Fair.
The Old Town Triangle Association decided to hold an art fair they named “Old Town Holiday” in June of 1950 to raise funds for the Menomonee Club. Shortly thereafter, the Art Fair's name was changed to the Old Town Art Fair which evolved into a nationally-known event.
|Old Town, Chicago, Art Fair, 1954.|
In its early years, people didn’t go to Old Town on Wells Street (5th Avenue before the 1909 Chicago street renaming and renumbering)... they just went to Wells Street. During the early 1960s, when the commercial part of the area, the "Old Town" designation, was commandeered. The residents in the area were not happy and considered changing the name of “The Triangle” to "Old Town" until they realized that they had owned that designation first.
To clarify; The Triangle = Old Town and vice versa. The residents went as far as changing the direction of streets (St Paul, and Eugenie) to one way going east to spare themselves the horrendously large volume of auto traffic on Wells. In the 1960s there was so much Friday and Saturday night traffic, it could take 2 hours to drive either way North Avenue to Division Street or Division to North Avenue.
Wells Street turned into Old Town's main street sometime in the early 1960s. Rumor has it that the Old Town School of Folk Music, founded in 1957, was the catalyst for the retail development of Wells Street as musicians flooded into the area, drinking and entertainment establishments flourished and retailers followed.
In an age when people were fleeing the city for the suburbs and then urban renewal was leveling nearby areas, local small business owners dug in and Old Town became a medley of bohemian artists, trendy shops, flashy tourist spots, bars and taverns, museums and lots of restaurants.
Guilbert ran a short-lived newspaper called "The Old Town News" beginning in 1957.
In the late-60s, Old Town became Chicago's hippie haven.
Frank C. Wells, senior vice president of L.J. Sheridan & Company, Maiden Lane's leasing agent, said this may be one of the smallest shopping centers the firm has ever assisted in developing and leasing, but it is also one of the most interesting. Actually, Wells pointed out, Maiden Lane follows the latest concepts of shopping center design, including a heated covered mall, outstanding shopper circulation, and distinctive architecture. There are no giant department stores there, but you will find Granny's Toy shop, the Tye shop, the Smugglers Gift shop, Wiggery, and other interesting shops.
Piper’s Alley was opened in November of 1965 by Rudolph Schwartz and Jack Solomon, owners of the five buildings making up the 15 shops that once made up Piper’s Bakery and stables.
|A giant Tiffany lamp hung outside the entrance to the maze of unusual retail shops.|
|Charlies General Store|
|La Piazza in Pipers Alley, 1967|
|La Strada Restaurant in Piper's Alley, 1965|
|Chances R Interior|
|The Fig Leaf and Paper Dress Store.|
|House of Horrors was close to Lum's, across the street from the Emporium.|
|Photo not from the Chicago Ripley's Believe it or Not!|
LIVE - Miles Davis Quintet at the Plugged Nickel Club, Old Town, Chicago, Illinois.
December 22, 1965
1st Set [1:20]
2nd Set [1:08]
Steve Goodman Live at the Earl of Old Town, Chicago, Illinois. (date unknown)
Lincoln Park Pirates
Compiled by Neil Gale, Ph.D.
VISIT THE OLD TOWN SOUVENIR SHOP
The Fire at Piper's Alley, March 1, 1971.
The Fire at Second City Comedy Club, August 26, 2015.
On Wednesday, August 26, a fire ignited inside of a grease chute above the kitchen in Adobo Grill on Wells Street in Old Town. The fire spread to the building housing The Second City, a comedy club and school of improvisation, destroying offices and memorabilia from alumni. Months after the accident, the community is still cleaning up the mess.
VISIT THE OLD TOWN SOUVENIR SHOP
Compiled by Neil Gale, Ph.D.
Thank you, David Pfendler, Archivist for the Old Town Triangle Association, for the early history of the Old Town area.