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.
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.
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