Of Porches and Backyards in Chicago — Part Two


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.


The Big Snow, 1967


I’m third from left, roasting marshmallows with our neighbors.

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.

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22 Responses to Of Porches and Backyards in Chicago — Part Two

  1. Christine Hancock June 7, 2010 at 7:17 am #

    Wonderful story, I too wanted to go back to the home I grew up in. I had to get the address from my birth certificate. Grabbed my camera & notepad and headed northwest to Mt. Prospect. When I arrived it had been knocked down and a mini-mansion was in it’s place. Sad….not to be able to “go back”

  2. Frances June 7, 2010 at 7:49 am #

    Chris, nice to hear from you and thanks for visiting me here. I already miss our WordCamp group. That is sooooo sad about your childhood home. We expect them to be there forever.

  3. Marshall Rosenthal June 7, 2010 at 7:52 am #

    Another fond memory. Thank you, Frances!

  4. Zev Shandalov June 7, 2010 at 9:16 am #

    WOW! I just love the pic of us in your backyard…it truly brings back so many good memories. I also remember the sign your dad painted…Maybe one day you will visit Israel and see OUR backyard!

  5. Frances June 7, 2010 at 9:25 am #

    Zev, that photo is pure happiness. I hope we do get to see your backyard. The view in your videos looks incredible.

  6. Frances June 7, 2010 at 9:26 am #

    Marshall, They’re all fond memories at this point.

  7. Crystal Jigsaw June 7, 2010 at 2:42 pm #

    Fabulous pictures to accompany this very nostalgic post.

    CJ xx

  8. Frances June 7, 2010 at 2:53 pm #

    Thanks for visiting and for your comment.

  9. Jessalyn Peters June 7, 2010 at 11:08 pm #

    Hi Frances, this is a lovely story.

  10. Frances June 8, 2010 at 7:33 am #

    Jessalyn, Great to hear from you. Thanks for visiting me here. We’re just talking about planning our S.F. trip this year. I’ll catch up with you on FB.

  11. Danny June 10, 2010 at 1:07 pm #

    Love this. Just got back from a quick trip to Chicago and my dad still lives in the house that I grew up in (on Drake, as you know) so I’m frequently in the ‘hood. I’d love to get into our first apartment on St. Louis. I miss those days when you just found friends on your block, no matter what their age. Our “Drake Kid Club” included orthodox Jews, Italian Catholics, teens, and toddlers. Love that photo from your birthday party. I can spot you but I’m dying to know who those other kids are. Names, please!

  12. Frances June 10, 2010 at 2:40 pm #

    Danny, thanks. Back row (l to r) Iris Rothstein who was my best friend but moved away at the end of second grade, Susie Hurst (family friend), Elise Kapnick. Wendy Belcove also on the far left, second row. The only others from the neighborhood were Linda and Margaret (Peggy) Schub (first row, second from right and right). That’s me lounging in front. All the others are from outside the neighborhood or I don’t recognize. Loved your photos of Chicago. What a beautiful boy you have.

  13. Kate June 13, 2010 at 9:05 pm #

    Thank you for posting the wonderful pictures… one can always tell a Kodak Color photo. 🙂 Fondly,

  14. Frances June 13, 2010 at 9:09 pm #

    Thanks for visiting Kate. Looking to getting to know your blog as well.

  15. Sherry Cizek Magid July 31, 2010 at 9:41 am #

    Hi Frances,

    I really love your blog. It brings back all my memories of growing up 1 neighborhood away in Albany Park.
    My parents are Holocaust survivors, so we were always a neighborhood behind. I was born in Humboldt Park.

    Thanks for all the wonderful pictures and stories.

  16. Frances Archer July 31, 2010 at 10:35 am #

    Sherry, thanks for visiting me here. I’m working on getting more Albany Park stories. We should catch up one these days and you’ll tell me yours. We’re not far from you.

  17. renee chernoff October 13, 2010 at 5:35 pm #

    We grew up on Spaulding just north of Bryn Mawr. We could walk to school, play around the neighbourhood at night, ride our bikes everywhere and walk without fear of being kidnapped or assaulted. Last year, my sister and I went back to our old house to see if we could visit it but the people who now live there were either not home or refused to answer the door. Our grandparents lived across the street, our aunt and uncle lived on the second floor above us in the same building and they, in fact, owned the apartment building just south of our house. What a great time and place to grow up!

  18. Renee Rosenstock Goff March 6, 2011 at 5:49 pm #

    Hi Frances,
    I loved the article you wrote! You share my sentiments exactly! I lived at 4924 North Central Park and my grandparents lived two houses down from ours at 4912 North Central Park. I have never lost my love for that house and have visited since my parents moved to a condo in West Rogers Park. I still long for those carefree days growing up in Albany Park. It was different time and one I feel blessed to have experienced. I am still friends with my kindergarten playmate who I met while strolling around the block, alone, at the age of five! BTW, my parents purchased their home in 1953 for $14,500 and paid off the mortgage in two years!
    I hope all is well with you and your family.

  19. Frances Archer March 6, 2011 at 6:11 pm #

    Renee, I am so glad to hear from you and I’m glad you enjoyed the blog. I’ll send an email later to catch up.

  20. Donny February 19, 2012 at 3:28 pm #

    Hey, Frances. Very nice pictures and narrative. Our family moved from Drake and Ainslie (Albany Park) to St. Louis and Petersen (6016 N. St. Louis Ave.) also in 1959 or was it 1960? I used to walk past your house many times on my way to Foster and Central Park. I really loved those allies!!! My sis graduated from Von Steuben in 1961, but I went to Roosevelt. My first cousin, Norm Spellman graduated from Von in 1945. He passed on this year. My folks moved from St. Louis Ave to California in 1972. Thanks and BE WELL!

  21. Donald Cherry September 6, 2012 at 5:42 pm #

    I love your site. I grew up on the north side of Chicago. Been in Japan now for about 20 years. There are some things I really miss about Chicago, one of them being those porches, or landings, or fire escapes, or whatever. So hard to describe, really. I’ve tried to describe them in poems, but have failed each time. Thanks for the photos and writing here.

  22. Frances Archer September 6, 2012 at 5:44 pm #

    Donald, thanks for taking time to let me know my blog is read in Japan. Very nice thought and I’m glad to bring a vision of Chicago to you.

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