Out on the Back Porch

“As I looked these photographs over, it seemed that the porch was indeed a center of activity for my family and neighboring families.” — Merle Citrin Monroe

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The porch

Knowing of my interest in Chicago back porches, Merle Citrin Monroe sent me these old family photographs. They were taken on the third-floor back porch of the Citrin’s apartment at 3947 W. Congress between 1944 and 1950.

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Merle Citrin Monroe

The Citrin’s back porch served as an elevated backyard, a play area safely within earshot of the apartment’s back door. Notice the safety gate at the top of the stairs in the photograph below.

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Merle Citrin Monroe with grandmother Nettie Citrin

Some of these photographs look as though they were taken yesterday. Others, like the one below taken while Merle’s father was home on furlough, belong to history.

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Jack and Rose Citrin

The old neighborhood

Merle’s family’s apartment was located in West Garfield Park, on the northern edge of what author Irving Cutler describes as Greater Lawndale, which reached from California on the east to Tripp on the west and from Washington on the north to 18th Street on the south. For someone my age, it’s difficult to imagine Chicago’s Jewish West Side or the Great West Side, as the area was sometimes called. The numbers were staggering.

The former Hagro Anshe Wilno

“On the first day of Rosh Hashanah, over twenty-five thousand Jews would proceed to the Douglas Park lagoon to symbolically ‘cast off’ their sins in the traditional Tashlich custom by emptying their pockets.” (The Jews of Chicago: From Shtetl to Suburb, p. 217)

According to Cutler, during first half of the 20th century about 40 percent of Chicago’s Jewish population lived in Greater Lawndale. By 1930, 110,000 Jews lived there and they walked to one of sixty synagogues.

Congregation Hagro Anshe Wilno would have been the closest one to the Citrin’s apartment. Until the early 1950s it was located at Congress and Springfield, then it was demolished to make way for the Congress (Eisenhower) Expressway. The photograph shows the congregation’s subsequent location at 210 S. Hamlin.

The new neighborhood

In 1952, Merle’s family moved out of their apartment at 3947 W. Congress. Longtime readers of my blog, you know where I’m going with this post. Due north, up Pulaski Avenue and take a right at Bryn Mawr Avenue. Yes, the Citrins moved to Hollywood Park, the same neighborhood where–some years later–my  family moved, the neighborhood at the epicenter of my version of Chicago history.

Merle’s is the third Hollywood Park family with West Side roots I’ve written about: the others are Florence Gantwerker Saper, our neighbor on the 5900 block of Central Park, and Nicholas T. Feurzeig, the man who sold my parents our home.

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Former Congregation Lev Someach, 5555 N. Bernard

With West Side people came West Side institutions. Lazar’s Kosher Sausage, Rosenblum’s Jewish Bookstore, and Fluky’s Hot Dogs. I grew up going to these businesses. I considered them longtime fixtures of Hollywood Park and nearby Albany Park and West Rogers Park, but actually they were West Side transplants.

The Home for the Jewish Blind on Foster in Albany Park–from Douglas Boulevard in Lawndale. Beth Sholom Ahavas Achim, on Jersey just north of Bryn Mawr– from Maxwell Street and North Lawndale. Lev Someach, the Bryn Mawr Avenue synagogue–also from the West Side. Much of the land in Hollywood Park wasn’t developed until the 1940s, but thanks in part to its ties to Chicago’s earliest and largest Jewish communities, this North Side neighborhood flourished like a child wise beyond her years.

Peterson_School

Merle and I attended Peterson Elementary School during different years. If it weren’t for Facebook and its large group of former Hollywood Park residents, we never would have met. But we discovered a more direct connection that goes back before my family moved to Hollywood Park.

During the peak baby boomer years Peterson was overcrowded and sent its seventh and eighth graders to the Von Steuben Upper Grade Center. At the time, my family lived in Budlong Woods and my mother was a Spanish teacher at Von. Merle was in her class.

Check out the complete collection of photos of Merle’s back porch on the West Side.

Credits: Thanks to Merle Citrin Monroe for sharing these striking photographs of herself and family members. Thanks to Frederick J. Nachman for permission to use the photograph of the former Congregation Hagro Anshe Wilno. Check out his collection of of nearly 300 photographs of former Chicago synagogues over on Flickr.

Resources: As so many times before, I’m indebted to The Jews of Chicago: From Shtetl to Suburb by Irving Cutler.

Related posts: Girl on a Chicago Porch, Of Porches and Backyards in Chicago–Part 1, Of Porches and Backyards in Chicago–Part 2

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16 Responses to Out on the Back Porch

  1. Chris Hancock August 2, 2010 at 7:58 am #

    That was a very heartwarming story with great photos!!

  2. Bonnie McGrath August 2, 2010 at 8:42 am #

    i just love this post. so filled with fate and sentiment–i have the shivers. wonderful!

  3. Marshall Rosenthal August 2, 2010 at 9:09 am #

    Another good entry, Frances, thanks!
    Notice on the porch photos a small wooden door to the left of the people.
    That’s where the ice man put the block of ice. The door opened directly to the ice box.

  4. Shirley Hebert Nieman August 2, 2010 at 9:34 am #

    I am a former Peterson/VonSteubenite and a friend of Merle’s. I thoroughly enjoyed your posting and the great pictures…..they brought back wonderful memories! Thank you

  5. Frances Archer August 2, 2010 at 11:16 am #

    Thanks for pointing the ice box door. I’d hear about those, and that were designed so the ice man didn’t have to come inside the apartment to deliver the ice. I’m amazed at how much information I can learn from these photographs.

  6. Frances Archer August 2, 2010 at 11:20 am #

    Thanks Shirley for visiting. Always good to meet more people from Hollywood Park.

  7. Frances Archer August 2, 2010 at 3:08 pm #

    Thanks Chris.

  8. Frances Archer August 2, 2010 at 3:08 pm #

    Thanks, Bonnie. Looking forward to seeing you in person soon.

  9. Lisa August 4, 2010 at 8:49 am #

    Oh, wow, do I ever love this post and the photos. It’s like reading a really good short story. Thank you!

  10. Frances Archer August 4, 2010 at 9:10 am #

    I’m returning the favor and mentioning that everyone interested in creativity and intensity and related matters should check out Lisa’s blog. She’s just completed an amazing 31 days straight of posting for her July Intensity Project.

  11. Jill O'Grady August 7, 2010 at 12:45 pm #

    The picture of the girls on the back porch in the pool reminded me of wearing my bathing suit to ‘swim’ in the bathtub on a hot day.

  12. Frances Archer August 7, 2010 at 1:21 pm #

    Jill, Until you mentioned it I had forgotten we used to go swimming in the bathtub on really hot days too. Simple pleasures, huh?

  13. Ellen Chernoff October 13, 2010 at 5:32 pm #

    Hi Frances,
    I found your wonderful stories by way of a picture of the old “Tower Cabana” on Facebook. My family lived on Spaulding and my sister Renee and I both went to Peterson and Von (she’s two years younger than me but she was only one year behind me in school, I taught her everything I had learned so she skipped a grade!). I’ve had several reunions with people from the “block” and they will remember us playing “flashlight tag” at night. One person would be “it”, with a flashlight and the rest of us would “hide” in a specified area in the neighborhood. We hid on back porches and in alleys, all without fear of anyone calling the police, or shooting at us etc. Times back then were so much fun, you could roam the streets at night without fear and ride your bikes all day instead of never going out of the house because you’re on the computer or have Wii. I absolutely LOVE your stories and pictures of “the good old days”, it brings back wonderful memories. Renee and I have been on the phone reminiscing….thanks!

  14. Frances Archer October 13, 2010 at 6:46 pm #

    Ellen, thank you. We lived on the 5900 block of Central Park, about as far away from Peterson as you could live but we still walked. Getting home for lunch was a problem, though, so I used to bring my lunch and eat in a classroom most days. Another thing I remember was an empty lot on Peterson Avenue where we caught fireflies. Your comment about so many relatives living nearby is something I hear again and again from people in the neighborhood. Renee and you are welcome to collaborate on a guest blog with some of your memories, so I’ll send you an email to see if you’re interested.

  15. Carol Darlington Boberg November 14, 2013 at 12:35 pm #

    I love your stories about Hollywood Park! It brings back so many wonderful memories
    I believe it is safe to say that living in Hollywood Park were some of the happiest days in my
    Life! We didn’t move there until 1973, when we bought one of the lovely and spacious
    3 flats in the 5700 block on Spaulding Avenue? The address was 5747 N. Spaulding.

    I raised my son there. He attended St. Hillary’s on Bryn Mawr and finished up grammar school
    at Petersen! He loved Petersen! He had many good friends and often tells me that it was one of the happiest times of his life.

    We regrettably moved to the suburbs after 21 years of happiness. The neighborhood was changing quickly and perhaps I made the wrong decision. I often wish I could come back there, somewhere in the neighborhood! I miss my home!!!

    Thanks for listening!

    Carol

  16. Bill Baar January 2, 2015 at 2:55 pm #

    You might like this http://digital-libraries.saic.edu/cdm/ref/collection/mqc/id/12913 Hagro Anshe Wilno before it was demolished for the expressway.

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