“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
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.
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.
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.
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.
“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.
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.
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.