Recently in the Chicago Tribune, Bob Secter poked fun at Google Maps for errors it made mapping Chicago. He points out a biggie, McCormickville. Today no one knows the term, but a hundred years ago, Secter says, everybody knew it referred to the area where McCormick family mansions were clustered.
At least one McMansion still stands—there may be others, but I’m fixated on the one at 100 E. Ontario. When I was young, the building housed a Swedish restaurant called Kungsholm. I was there at least twice and remember it as a fairy-tale palace with chandeliers and high ceilings, a sweeping staircase, an enormous smorgasbord and an enchanting puppet show.
The Encyclopedia of Chicago tells me I got the smorgasbord right but the puppet show was known as the more impressive-sounding Chicago Miniature Opera. Kungsholm was open from the early 1940s until 1971. Lawry’s The Prime Rib moved into the mansion in 1974.
The Miniature Opera puppets lived for a while at the Museum of Science and Industry. In 1993, under the direction of Hollywood set designer William B. Fosser (Home Alone, Backdraft, Ground Hog Day, Ordinary People), they moved to their present home with the Rolling Meadows Park District. Fosser had worked off and on at Kungsholm as a puppeteer from the time he was a teenager in 1943 until its closing. Though he left Chicago for the movies, the Miniature Opera was his lifelong passion. He died in 2006 but the theatre lives on as Opera in Focus and is currently performing “La Boehme” plus “White Christmas Interlude.” If tickets are still available, I’m going.
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It’s fascinating finding old landmarks on the Google map of Chicago. When you see, for example, Herzl Junior College, well, that’s another chapter of Chicago history.
Located in the North Lawndale neighborhood on Chicago’s west side, the school was founded in 1915 and named for Theodor Herzl, the founder of the Zionist movement. (BTW, the McCormick family business, later called International Harvester, was located in the adjacent South Lawndale community.) Starting around the turn of the 20th century, North Lawndale was home to Russian Jewish immigrants and many Jewish institutions. During the forties and fifties, as African-Americans from the Deep South moved into the west side, the Jewish population migrated north. Herzl Junior College became Malcolm X College and later relocated to Van Buren Street.
Two recent books document this chapter of Chicago history. I haven’t yet read Chicago’s Jewish West Side by Irving Cutler, but if it’s as good as his The Jews of Chicago: From Shtetl to Suburb, it’s terrific. The book I have read is Family Properties: Race, Real Estate, and the Exploitation of Black Urban America by Beryl Satter. It’s a long book, full of statistics and yet deeply personal and painful. It about government-enforced racially segregated housing practices and, if you really want to understand a map of Chicago, you may want to read it.