Old Absinthe House. The French Quarter bar that’s has a 200 plus year history. The place where a pirate named Jean Lafitte made a deal with Andrew Jackson and in return helped propel the British from advancing down the Mississippi and ended the War of 1812.
Around 1997, I went on a road trip to the West Coast. While in San Francisco, I stumbled upon an underground scene where Swing music was enjoying a revival. It was complete with clubs that played live big band music and cool kids who dressed in vintage 1940’s Zoot suits and poodle skirts. Fedoras were a must. The trend came to Chicago to places like the Holiday Club but it didn’t get a big as it was on the West Coast. That was too bad because I enjoyed getting dressed up in vintage clothes and seeing those big bands play.
In Chicago, the area of Portage Park where the intersections of Irving Park Rd., Cicero Avenue and Milwaukee Avenue meet is traditionally known as 6 Corners. Some people out there will immediately argue and claim Milwaukee/Damen/North Avenue as 6 Corners– It is not! In my forty plus years on this earth, it’s always the area on the Northwest side of the city by where the (former site) Sears is located. This photo was taken on a foggy evening in December 1995.
During the summer of 1998, I was on this kick of photographing neon signs. I was out riding around with my friend Pat one evening when this caught my eye. The Fish Keg is located on Howard Street in the Chicago neighborhood of Rogers Park. It is at the city’s northern limits. It’s still around– same sign and everything. Its one of the few places in the city that you can buy seafood from an independent retailer.
At one time in Chicago, Caffe Pergolesi and No Exit were the oldest coffeehouses in Chicago. They were both in existence since the 1960’s. At the time of this photo (1998), Pergolesi saw the North Halsted neighborhood emerge from working class to the center of Chicago’s LGBTQ community. It was a one of a kind place, kind of dark and cozy. A good place to read a book and sip on a cappuccino. There was a while where it seemed like Starbucks had taken everything over, but luckily, some indie coffeehouses have begun to reemerge.
By 1998, I was getting a little restless and, admittedly, slightly bored with the Urban Views project. I knew that I needed to explore new places in the city. On this day, I traveled to Chinatown. This was down on Wentworth. This little store caught my eye. It has this charm to it.
When I was really young, I remember seeing these City Of Chicago parking lots all over the city. They were eventually phased out by the 1980’s . Back then, community shopping areas were the norm. The big box stores of today were not around. You had your neighborhood grocer, perhaps a fruit market, a bank, a library, and maybe a department store to buy some clothes. These lots allowed you to park your car off the main street and then walk to whatever store you were going to.
Of all the things that have disappeared in Wicker Park, I believe this store front has remained unchanged through it all. I’ve been going to the area since about 1992-93 and this is the same sign that probably has been up for decades. Everything around them has been gentrified. Back in 1993, there was not a lot of places to go into down this stretch and the area would get sketchier the further south you went down Milwaukee Avenue. I used to have this cleaners sign as my landmark to “turn back” to safety. Of course, it probably wasn’t as bad as I originally perceived it.
The landscape of the Lincoln Square neighborhood has undergone major changes over the last twenty years. While still hanging on to it’s German roots, this area has definitely gotten more upscale as bistros and specialty shops have opened here. This was the old North Town (as the area was once known) Frigidaire. The old sign hailed back to the days of the local repair man and sales store. These were the days before buying an appliance at Best Buy. This storefront has been gone for years, replaced by a Potbelly’s Sandwich Shop and a Chase Bank.
This great old sign was beckoning for me to capture it one day in 1996. Diversey-River Bowl is located on Logan Boulevard and Diversey Parkway. Much of the area has changed since this photo was taken. New condo lofts and retail have taken over by the river, removing the grittiness the area once had. Today, the sign has been updated with a LED readout. The Lathrop Homes (public housing complex) just east of there remains as the city is currently renovating them.