On January 15, 1963, my parents bought their first, and only, house in Chicago. According to the deed, they purchased “Lot 19 Block 8 in Oliver Salinger & Company’s Kimball Boulevard Addition to North Edgewater . . .” Which is to say, they bought the house I still consider the perfect house, the house I’d still like to live in, the house at 5915 North Central Park Avenue.
I was going to write about our idyllic new backyard, so much bigger and greener and more private than the old backyard behind our two-flat in Budlong Woods. Former Chicago Daily News readers will recall Sydney J. Harris wrote occasional columns called something along the lines of “Things I Learned While Looking Up Something Else.” This is one of those.
The property description alone provides insight into the development of Chicago. I can’t find anything on the Internet about Oliver Salinger & Company, but the firm is listed as the developer for a good part of the far north side and suburbs. An Oliver Salinger of 4148 Grand Blvd, Chicago, was listed in a 1910 directory of Jewish national organizations. The December 12, 1917, edition of the Chicago Tribune ran an obituary for an Isadore Salinger of Milwaukee, father to Oliver and husband to Yettie. Is this the same Oliver Salinger and how did he end up developing so much land?
1963 prices, 2010 mortgage rates
Purchase price for our house in 1963? $26,000. Doesn’t seem like much now for a two-story, two-bedroom brick house with a finished basement and a two-car brick garage. If it weren’t for Northwestern University, however, my parents might not have been able to purchase it.
They had moved to Chicago from Cuba and had started over in their careers, my father redoing his residency and internship and studying for the Illinois medical boards, my mother getting a Ph.D to teach college level Spanish. At the time they didn’t qualify for a bank mortgage, but my mother was a Northwestern graduate student. She applied to the university’s “Real Estate Department” for a mortgage loan and received a 15-year, fixed-rate $14,000 loan at 5 1/2 percent — same as today’s rates, though the university no longer helps students purchase their homes.
What made the house irresistible for my parents was the owners, Nicholas T. Feurzeig (1909-1999) and his wife, Naomi Ferne Feurzeig, threw in all their furnishings. The inventory accompanying the purchase contract lists everything from a Baldwin spinet piano to a G.E. television set. Sheets on the bed, dishes in the cupboards, liquor in the bar–all were included. Wouldn’t the Feurzeigs’ descendants be surprised to know the O’Cherony family still uses some of their belongings?
West Side Connection
Not only did I find traces of Chicago history in the deed, I again encountered the familiar story of Jewish migration. Nicholas Feurzeig originally was Nathan “Nate” Feurzeig, a “nice Jewish boy from the West Side” and he was a Chicago cop. He landed on the force thanks to Grandpa Louis putting in a word with then 24th Ward Committeeman Moe Rosenberg. If you haven’t heard of Rosenberg, you may have heard of his great-grandson, former 43rd Ward Alderman Edwin Eisendrath.
Going further back in the history of our house, the Feurzeigs bought it from another Jewish family, William and Mayme Jaffee. And, yes, I have a lead on the Jaffees. It turns out they were members of the same temple my family attended. Who knew?
The house was built in 1942 on a typical Chicago lot, 30 by 125 feet. It had a backyard with a real porch. Never mind the porch was ringed with wasps’ nests, we loved it. In summer we ran through sprinklers, in fall we piled leaves and in the winter we tunneled through the snow.
What my mother did
The novelty of our backyard never faded. It wasn’t simply the luxury of private space, we felt connected to the land. My mother became a gardener and planted flower beds along the perimeters, marigolds underneath the white picket fence, ivy and hostas in shady corners and geraniums under the shrubs in the front.
We had a small vegetable garden. I mean really small: a narrow patch of dirt, towards the alley, between the crosswalk and the garage, the only spot that received full sun most of the day. My mother would have been fine with tomatoes, but I insisted on more variety. Pumpkins, peppers, cucumbers, even corn. Vegetables proved, in a way that flowers did not, we had our own land.
What my father did
The alley behind our house, between Central Park and Drake, worried my father. Cars sped through constantly, bypassing the maze of one-way streets in the neighborhood. My sister and I were always crossing the alley to a neighbor’s or playing in it or just standing around.
Feeling he had to do something, my father painted a warning on the trash can. He was very proud of it, we were very embarrassed by it. But if at the time I failed to show him my appreciation for his concern over our safety, I’ve made up for it. How thrilled he would have been to know the whole world can see his hand-painted sign.
Have you ever gone back to visit the apartment or house you grew up in? Did you ask the currrent residents if you could go inside? What was it like?
Sources: “Memories of Dad the Policeman Well to the Surface for Father’s Day” by Gail Umeham.