Girl on a Chicago Porch

This is young Florence Gantwerker, who was Mrs. Saper to me when I lived on North Central Park Avenue back in the sixties and early seventies. If you read my recent post you’ll know she was undoubtably photographed in Chicago–the back porch gives it away. You may also recognize the left-hand edge of the National sign over a storefront in the background. National Tea Co. was a Chicago-based grocery chain.

Mrs. Saper’s daughter, Carol Saper Barstow, provided some additional background on her mother’s youth. It is a story familiar to a generation of Chicago Jews who grew up on the West Side and migrated to the North Side.

My Mom was born in Chicago and lived there her whole life. Her parents were Jewish immigrants from Poland (Jacob and Sylvia Gantwerker).  If I remember correctly, she attended Ryerson Elementary School, Austin High School, Herzl Junior College and the Illinois Institute of Technology (where she graduated with a degree in Dietetics — the first one in her family to earn a college degree).

Unfortunately, I don’t know the year of the picture — late 1940’s perhaps? I think she said she was still in her teens (late teens, I’m assuming), because I remember her commenting that she thought it was interesting that high school kids in Chicago (during my Von Steuben days) were still wearing flannel shirts to school, just like she had when she was young!

— Carol Saper Barstow

The Sapers lived two doors to the north of us. My sister and I played with the two older girls, Elyse and Audrey. I remember Carol as a tow-headed toddler but not much more than that. Carol started kindergarten at Peterson Elementary School the year I started high school at Von Steuben.

Carol_in_Chicago_backyard

It’s unlikely we ever played together as children, but thanks to the Internet Carol and I are friends. We fill in the gaps for each other, what happened in our neighborhood before she was born, what happened in our neighborhood after I left for college.

What happened is our neighborhood, Hollywood Park, changed. It changed the way Hemingway described a man going broke, “gradually and then suddenly.” In Carol’s Peterson School graduating class Scandinavian children outnumbered the Jewish children. There weren’t all that many Scandinavians to begin with. In my day, Scandinavians, the orginal settlers of the North Park community of which Hollywood Park is a part, were a minority in a predominantly Jewish school.

In 1950, 96 percent of Chicago’s Jewish population lived in the city. By 1971 about half of the Jewish population had moved to the surburbs. For the girl on the porch, Mrs. Saper, it was her second time around witnessing the dismantling of a Jewish neighborhood in Chicago. First the West Side, then the North Side.

Like the pioneers again and again pulling up stakes and moving further westward, the Jews of Chicago settled, then abandoned various neighborhoods. It’s an old story, Hollywood Park was no exception. What bewilders and fascinates me about growing up where I did and when I did, in Hollywood Park in the sixties and early seventies, is I had no sense at all, not even an inkling, of the changes to come.

Do you have a West Side story to share?

Credits: Both photographs courtesy of Carol Saper Barstow.

Resources: (1) I’ve written about where Herzl Junior College was located and its renaming in an earlier post. (2) Another view of Chicago porches appears in William Horberg’s blog. (2) Chicago Jewish population figures from The Jews of Chicago: From Shtetl to Suburb, Irving Cutler, page 256.

Check out my new page, Bryn Mawr Avenue Business District Hall of Fame!

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14 Responses to Girl on a Chicago Porch

  1. Merle Citrin Monroe June 14, 2010 at 9:08 am #

    My personal “West Side Story”…. Until I moved to Hollywood Park in early 1953, I lived at 3947 W. Congress St. in a large 3rd floor apartment my family shared with my paternal grandparents. Yes, we had a porch…shared with the Brin family (who were cousins with the Port family on the 2nd floor). Once, an ice-pick being used to build model airplanes by the Brin son rolled off the porch and got stuck in my shoulder as I played at ground level. We moved to the North Side (after my first semester of kindergarten at Delano School) because the building was scheduled to be torn down for the construction of the Congress (now Eisenhower) Expressway. One day just prior to “the big move,” my mother let me color on all of the walls of the apartment. That was fun until my dad got home and was most unhappy about my art project….saying that we should leave the apartment in perfect shape, even if it was going to the wrecking ball.

  2. Frances June 14, 2010 at 9:13 am #

    Merle, Your father’s comment about the walls brings to mind a flood of memories about the way things used to be. I’m sure my mother would have said exactly the same.

  3. John Verity June 17, 2010 at 10:30 am #

    That “girl on the porch” is a beauty! Great foto. Is she still with us?

    And yours is a great blog. I just stumbled onto it and am hooked. Keep up the good work!

    ps – In NJ, where I am from, there are some back porches and staircases that look quite similar to yours, though I would not be surprised if Chicago’s have a distinctive design.

  4. Frances June 17, 2010 at 7:57 pm #

    John, thanks for visiting and I’m particularly glad to hear that you enjoy the blog even though you’re not from these parts. As far as the porches go, you know we Chicagoans have a reputation for overpraising our city at times. A lot of people do think the porches are unique to Chicago but I’m not surprised to hear they do in fact exist elsewhere. Even though I didn’t like our porch as a young child, later in life I rented an apartment with a fabulous old porch and it was like having an extra room in the summer.

  5. Frances June 17, 2010 at 8:02 pm #

    In response to your other question, Mrs. Saper passed away. That really is a wonderful photo and I am thankful Carol shared it with me.

  6. Carol Barstow June 26, 2010 at 2:01 pm #

    Thanks, again, Frances, for recording my mother’s story, and thanks to everyone for your comments. My mother would have felt like a real “celebrity”! 🙂

  7. Richard Jacobson July 7, 2010 at 4:27 pm #

    The observation that the Scandinavian kids outnumbered the Jewish kids cracked me up. When I was at Peterson, from 1958-1961, we Swedish kids were the definite minority. On the High Holidays the school didn’t close but it totally cleared out. I remember one year when it was me, Linda Bergquist, and Ann Liljegren, alone in the classroom and killing time on Rosh Hashanah. And in winter, at the Holiday concert, there would be more Hanukkah songs than Christmas carols. All useful experiences for me in the long run, as I married a Jewish girl and ultimately converted.

  8. Frances Archer July 7, 2010 at 5:05 pm #

    Richard, that’s priceless. Three kids in a classroom!

  9. Brian Gantwerker October 24, 2010 at 12:37 pm #

    Hello! Thanks so much for posting pics of my Aunt Florence. That is an awesome history to look at my family’s roots. Thank you so much!

  10. Frances Archer October 24, 2010 at 1:09 pm #

    Thanks for stopping by. Carol gave me the photo and history. It was fascinating for me to learn of Mrs. Saper’s background so many years later.

  11. Carol Barstow December 1, 2010 at 11:59 am #

    So nice to see Brian’s post!! I realize that I forgot to include in my mother’s story that she had two older siblings, Charles (who, I believe, was born in Poland like his parents) and Ida. “Uncle Charlie” was Brian’s grandfather.

  12. Jillian August 20, 2011 at 8:12 pm #

    This is really cool! Thank you for sharing.

    I think Mrs. Saper is one of my grandmother’s cousins — my grandmother listed her as one of the people she grew up with, and I believe my great-grandmother was Jacob’s little sister Goldie. I’m trying to do genealogy research, but I’m not in Illinois, so it’s mostly just web searches. I’m really happy I found this photo, though!

  13. Frances Archer August 21, 2011 at 10:46 am #

    Jillian, thanks for stopping by. I will let Mrs Saper’s daughter know of your comment.

  14. Carol Barstow August 22, 2011 at 8:14 am #

    It’s great to see Jillian’s comment! We must be distant relatives! My grandfather, Jacob, was a kind, wonderful man. (Lots of the grandkids were named “J” names after him!) He passed away when I was about 7 years old, so, sadly I didn’t get to hear a lot of his stories about his family, but I remember how much I loved playing with him as a little girl. I’m sure he was a wonderful big brother to Goldie!

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