lensMy blog niche is drifting. It’s headed towards Chicago and, more often than not, Chicago as it’s remembered. Not only in my memories, but in the memories of others as well.

My blog posts may, however, still fit the niche I carved — life, work and the Internet.  The Internet is increasingly where we find memories. It’s where we find people we knew in school, TV shows we used to watch, photos we want to share.

I already know several bloggers remembering Chicago, but I searched the Internet to find others. I found Forgotten Chicago, which you’ll certainly enjoy if you enjoy old signs and buildings you haven’t thought of in years. I got deeply lost in history on that site, but eventually found my way out and over to The Online Photographer and a post about a book, On City Streets: Chicago 1964-2004.


It’s a collection of photographs taken by Gary Stochl from 1964 to 2004, but if you’ve become acquainted with Chicago relatively recently, say within the past ten years, you may not recognize the city. Stochl focused on an individual or on a group of figures. There are no full frontal shots of landmarks here.

Instead, if you look closely, you’ll see barely recognizable fragments of Chicago icons. In the cover shot, for example, there’s a reflected logo of an O’Connor & Goldberg (O&G) shoe store. A photograph of a crowd includes a man carrying a Zimmerman’s shopping bag. The neon letters “orn” in cursive writing visible in a shop window are part of a Garrett’s caramel corn sign.

In Stochl’s photographs, the subject or subjects are captured as they’re moving  from place to place. Riding escalators, waiting for buses, crossing streets, walking on sidewalks so wide you look twice, pushing revolving doors — people moving wordlessly through a modern urban landscape.

The title index at the end of the book reads like a list of bus stops. I don’t have rights to reproduce the photos on this blog, but here’s a few links to the photographer’s gallery site:

This is the Loop back when its glory days as a vibrant shopping and entertainment district were a distant memory. Back when the city made State Street a pedestrian mall/dedicated CTA bus thoroughfare that seemed soulless except for the man who played sax on the northwest corner of State and Monroe during the evening rush hour. Nothing to get nostalgic over in these photographs.

And yet.

Cold, grey and bleak as these photographs are, they are the Chicago I remember. In 1978 I returned home after college and carried an almost empty briefcase around the city on my way to interviews that seemed as unlikely to lead to job offers as the State Street Mall would lead to a revitalized Loop. Demographics were against me, I was told. The same applied to the Loop.

The city jackhammered the mall in 1996. Long before that, I found a job, several in fact. The Loop and I, we haven’t looked back, but Stochl’s photographs made me miss those days.

If you’re interested, there’s a good backstory about how Stochl was discovered in 2003 with forty years’ worth of photographs. You can read about it in the foreword to the book or on the Online Photographer blog post linked above.

I’ll continue to post once a week on life, work, the Internet and memories of Chicago. Look for a new post every Monday and occasionally on Thursday or Friday.

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9 Responses to Focus

  1. Marshall Rosenthal January 11, 2010 at 12:01 pm #

    Frances, Thank you very for this wonderful post. I have found everything very useful. I’ve joined the “Forgotten Chicago” Flickr group and will go through my Flickr photos to contribute to it; I’ve reserved the Stochl book at the public library, and have been delighted by your links to the Loop photos.

    You are a font of good info and a delight to read!

  2. frances728 January 11, 2010 at 12:09 pm #

    Marshall, thank you for the kind comments. I will see you at Forgotten Chicago. I’m looking forward to posting our collaboration, maybe next week.

  3. Ilene Ciccone January 11, 2010 at 2:17 pm #

    I remember the loop in it’s late glory days–the late 40’s and early 50’s when a trip downtown with my mother on the el required getting dressed up (for her high heels, a hat and gloves)for shopping (I got left in the play areas that Marshall Fields and the Fair store had) and lunch with the adults at Henrici’s…My father would ocme from his office to meet us….

    I also remember when you did not go downtown without a skirt on…as late as the early 60’s on Christmas vacation from school and using the library to do a paper.
    I’m not sure I miss those days, but I have gone back to taking the el downtown instead of driving, even if I do where jeans….

  4. frances728 January 11, 2010 at 2:34 pm #

    Ilene, we had the dress-only rule as well, and it lasted well into the sixties in our household. I was in seventh grade the first time I wore jeans into the Loop and it was a hard-fought battle.

  5. mamacandtheboys January 11, 2010 at 5:34 pm #

    I love how you worded your shift, and all of the resources here. it is so refreshing to see such a passion written about with such intention!

  6. Danny January 11, 2010 at 7:45 pm #

    Heaven. I am such a Chicago historyphile and wasn’t aware of some of these resources. Thanks so much, Frances, and keep writing about Chicago!

  7. frances728 January 11, 2010 at 9:38 pm #

    Thanks to you for showing the way. Come to think of it, I should have interviewed you for this story about the view of State Street from your grandfather’s store, Karoll’s Red Hanger.

  8. Bonnie McGrath January 12, 2010 at 11:41 pm #

    it just seems like every year, i get more and more of a soothed feeling, a pleasant melancholy, a pleasant sentiment the more i delve into chicago history. and you fit the bill by providing the fuel, with what you are serving up!! i love it…

  9. frances728 January 13, 2010 at 7:52 am #

    Thanks, Bonnie. Fortunately there’s no end to interesting stories about Chicago because so many have written so much and so well about the city.

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