That’s not the Hollywood Park I remember

Hollywood_Park_golfish_pond

They filled in the goldfish pond before I was born. Removed the rock walk, pergolas, and stone pillars marking entrances to the park. Never built the sunken garden and the horseshoe, handball and volleyball courts.

Hollywood_Park_drawing

At the time of these drawings, Spaulding ran north to Peterson Avenue and was the eastern border of Hollywood Park.

Bad Timing

These structures appeared in multiple versions of not-fully-realized plans for Hollywood Park on Chicago’s North Side. The park had the misfortune of coming into existence just before the Great Depression and growing up during World War II. Hard times for everyone, especially recreational spaces.

 

Hollywood_Park_stone_walls

Stone pillars marked the entrances at Christiana and Thorndale, and at Spaulding and Thorndale

Founded in 1926 by the Hollywood Park Commission and taken over by the Chicago Park District in 1934, Hollywood Park started out at 2.75 acres, half its current size. Plans and blueprints dating back to 1936 tell the story of a different way of thinking about park landscaping.

Over the years, the plans changed but the vision remained the same: Hollywood Park was to be a gentle breath of fresh country air. An escape from the city’s overcrowded grid. Meandering paths and stands of trees made up spacious outdoor “rooms.” As visitors strolled the gravel walks, they’d be pleasantly surprised by new vistas around each bend.

 

Hollywood_Park

 

It was a park designed more for eyes than  limbs. Trees, shrubs, perennials and annuals were planted in great variety and abundance along the edges of small meadows. You could stroll, you could picnic, but you could not play football, softball or basketball.

The ice skating pond was, however, there from the beginning. In the 1930s skaters could warm up inside the original field house, which looked a lot like the house  in the woods where the Seven Dwarves lived. Built by the WPA, it measured 20 feet by 30 feet.

Hollywood_Park_fieldhouse

The original Hollywood Park fieldhouse circa 1930s

Extreme Makeover

In 1956 the Chicago Park District gave Hollywood Park a new look. Clearly the improvements were conceived with baby boomers in mind. Trees and gardens were replaced by sports fields and children’s play areas.

new_fieldhouse

And the new fieldhouse seemingly was designed to fulfill a single criteria: build an edifice that can’t be vandalized.

New_fieldhouse

In August 1956 work on the bunker was completed. If you look to the right of fieldhouse in the above photograph, between the two trees with dark trunks, you can maybe see the faint outline of our beloved cement block. We would hoist ourselves to the top, sit on its bumpy scraping surface for hours, with no idea what purpose it served. Does anyone know?

park

The park has far fewer trees now that it did back in 1956. Some were removed for the sports fields and some died from Dutch elm disease. Less money spent on replacing landscaping and more on maintaining tennis courts, softball diamonds and a basketball court located on the exact spot where the original plans called for horseshoe, handball and volleyball courts.

Teen Magnet

Its fate was sealed, I suppose, with the opening of one of the earliest McDonald’s in Chicago across the street. Hollywood Park became, in the words, of someone who grew up in the neighborhood, “every kid’s social life.” I’ve asked people from the neighborhood if they know when kids started hanging out at the park. Here’s a few answers:

“When I first moved to Hollywood Park in the early 1950s, the Park had a rock garden with water pools, which was a nice place to sit and read.”

“Regarding MacDonald’s, I’m guessing it was opened in ’58 0r ’59. I remember we were there at the Park every day on our bikes and would ask them every day when they were opening.”

“I began high school in ’62. I believe that we learned of the gathering of kids at Hollywood Pk from teens at Lincoln Village or Kiddieland in ’63.” –from someone who grew up in nearby West Rogers Park.

Back to the Future

Hollywood Park still was the neighborhood hangout when I started going there in seventh grade and it was throughout my high school years. There were, and this is an understatement, a lot of kids at the park every night. An unspoken rule restricted the youngest kids to the area around the fieldhouse, by the cement block, and gave older teens free rein over the benches along the path leading towards McDonald’s.

I don’t know when neighborhood kids stopped going to Hollywood Park. Maybe the opening of the much larger and better appointed Peterson Park on the grounds of the former Municipal Tuberculosis Sanitarium and the demise of neighborhood schools in Chicago were factors. The posted signs announcing the park closes at 8:30 p.m. point to other explanations.

Several times over this past summer I visited Hollywood Park and each time I was struck with the stillness of the place. Now entering its eighth decade, Hollywood Park has become what the original park commissioners envisioned back in 1926–an escape from the noise and crowds of the city.

 

block

The unsolved mystery of Hollywood Park

All photographs, except the cement block, courtesy of Chicago Park District Special Collections. Thanks to Mike Fisher for the cement block photograph.

Thanks to Julia Bachrach, Dept. of Planning and Development, Chicago Park District, for sharing her time and knowledge.

Related links: Chicago Park District’s Hollywood Park page. On this blog, The Abandoned Fieldhouse: History of a Chicago Neighborhood Park.

Read more about Chicago park landscaping in Inspired by Nature: The Garfield Park Conservatory and Chicago’s West Side (Amazon affiliate link)

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22 Responses to That’s not the Hollywood Park I remember

  1. richard whitman November 16, 2010 at 2:40 am #

    This has been a long time comin’ – THANKS SO MUCH!!!!!!

  2. Frances Archer November 16, 2010 at 8:19 am #

    Dick, thanks. Glad to hear from one of the locals.

  3. Luke November 16, 2010 at 10:46 am #

    Such a great post. Loved this line.. “Hollywood Park became, in the words, of someone who grew up in the neighborhood, “every kid’s social life.” What happened to that? I guess texting, fb and twitter took over the way kids chill these days. There are 2 side to every coin. Great post. Loved it! Thanks.

  4. Frances Archer November 16, 2010 at 10:58 am #

    Thanks for stopping by. I’m afraid the crowds were long gone before FB arrived on the scene.

  5. Ellen Chernoff November 16, 2010 at 9:41 pm #

    I remember summer”day camp” at Hollywood Park…we made laniards and pot holders…we rode our bike down Spaulding from our apartment, there was one “creepy” building on Spaulding, just north of Ardmore, had a great courtyard, we always rode around it. Great pictures of the park by the way Frances, and another great story about our wonderful childhood neighborhood!

  6. Frances Archer November 17, 2010 at 8:43 am #

    Thanks, Ellen. Looking forward to hearing from you next week.

  7. Steve White May 20, 2011 at 3:30 pm #

    This is a rather late comment to this story, but I couldn’t resist. “The Park” was my second home from the mid-50’s to the early 70’s. I feel safe in saying that no one has spent more time there than my friends and I – making the aforementioned laniards and potholders at Mrs. Crowley’s day camp; playing every sport and game imaginable, inside and out; terrorizing the long-running supervisor, Mr. Kreutzer, among others; spending countless hours just hanging out (at one time we actually stole Mr. Kreutzer’s key to the fieldhouse, quickly had a duplicate made and replaced his, and we then had our “after hours” hangout on cold winter nights); in later years, doing other things that may be better left unsaid – and I have never had the slightest idea of what’s in/under that cement block!

  8. Frances Archer May 20, 2011 at 3:44 pm #

    Steve, there’s more left unsaid than said here. I started going to the park in the last two years of the sixties, so we probably were there at the same time. Since I was among the younger kids, we stayed close to the fieldhouse and the cement block, except for the walk to McDonald’s.

    Did you remember when the fieldhouse was built, or was it already there? It went up in 1956.

  9. Steve White May 20, 2011 at 4:00 pm #

    Gee, I hope you never saw me do anything too stupid!

    The summer of ’57 was when it began for me, so the fieldhouse was there when I arrived.

  10. renee chernoff October 18, 2012 at 1:12 am #

    as an aside to my sister Ellen’s comment, I don’t remember the “creepy” building she was referring to, but I do remember a really creepy one on Kedzie near Christiania that really looked like a haunted house. It was set back far from the street and always scared me; in fact, i remember always crossing the street before nearing it just so I could walk past it on the other side of Kedzie, it was so frightening as a little kid…

  11. renee chernoff October 18, 2012 at 4:52 am #

    another correction needed…the haunted house on Kedzie was at Ardmore or Victoria, not Christianana…thanks to Google for setting me straight on my streets…

  12. Eric Darlington December 17, 2012 at 1:22 pm #

    Frances,

    I have just spent hours reading your posts and related links.. Thank you very much for all the effort. My years in the neighborhood were from ’73-91. This history of Hollywood Park and the Doctor who lived on Drake describing the neighborhood were a treasure to read..

    While my younger days at Hollywood Park mimic those there years earlier, the neighborhood went through a great culture change in the mid 80’s as I’m sure you recall. The Hollywood Park Day Camp was alive and thriving in the early 70’s but before the end of that decade, there was not enough enrollment to keep going. I felt my generation was the last to represent the long trend of what Hollywood Park was to all of us. Not long after, it would seem desolate, the ice rink was reduced to a fraction of the size (unsure if it was ever revitalized) and I’d hardly ever see anyone on that cement block! – which I remember to be green in the early 70’s. I still remember seeing kids around the city wearing their respective park district day camp tee shirt..

    Odd distinctive memory.. In one of the photos of the new field house being constructed in ’57, there is a light pole with a ‘no bicycle riding’ sign on the pole. I remember that sign from the late 70’s being very rusted and wondered how they expected anyone not to ride their bike on that stretch but I would avoid it in my younger years..

    On a daily basis, we would play ‘fast pitch’ against the field house. There were 4 boxes to pitch into and there were times when they were occupied and we’d have to wait for our game. There were 2 boxes facing Thorndale and 2 boxes facing the tennis court and Christiana. I recall not long after I left the neighborhood the boxes were gone and because of the lack of interest for the game, trees were planted against the field house.. a tough moment for me!

    Thanks for listening!

  13. Frances Archer December 17, 2012 at 1:50 pm #

    Eric, so nice to hear from you. I enjoyed your recollection of the “no bicycle riding” sign. I can’t say I noticed it, though I passed it many times. When I very start writing about the neighborhood, one of my interests was understanding what year the neighborhood changed, because it did seem to me as though it happened all of a sudden. I didn’t remember my years as being ones of transition for the neighborhood, but as I dug more into the history and gather people’s stories, I found that there had been signs of change all along. It’s really interesting that you recall the cement block being painted green. As I wandering through the area a couple years ago, I found an identical cement block painted green at River Park. I had never seen the block at Hollywood Park painted green. But it was clear at Hollywood Park that the block was related to the water dept in some way. I’m sure someone in the city could answer the question of exactly what it is.

    My general impression is that between 1951 and 1974 or so, the neighborhood underwent change at a slow, nearly imperceptible pace. The experiences of kids growing up in the area during that year are more alike than different. It seems to me that change came more slowly and later to this neighborhood than in other nearby areas, in part because the neighborhood was small and somewhat isolated by the boundaries formed by the institutional spaces of WTTW, Northeastern, TB Sanitarium, etc., and because the neighborhood had such a long history of stability.

    Thanks again for stopping by. I have a lot of contributors from the early years, not so many from the later years.

  14. Jeff K January 8, 2016 at 1:18 am #

    A little to reply (some how I’ve missed this page the past several years) but, Eric, I know what you mean about the game of fast pitch dwindling away to oblivion.
    My son, 16, has been playing baseball 11 seasons this past summer and has never played fast pitch, for that matter (I’ve coached all his teams) neither has any of the other boys.
    I’ve always told my kids to continually play, with siblings/friends/parents after the season ends or on days we don’t have a game or practices and I’d tell them about fast pitch and how you can play with as little as 2. None ever heard of it, most other dads didn’t either, all the ones that grew up around here that is. I’m 50-ish miles north of the old neighborhood now, close enough to Wisconsin to smell the ‘dairy air’. (heh heh) Hardly any brick buildings around here, could be the reason.
    Some times when down there to visit my mother I’ll point out some buildings, like the field house, where we’d play it.
    Used to be seeing the fast pitch box on most brick walls was so common they didn’t stand out, now, when I go down there, the lack of them screams like an air raid siren.
    My good friend at the time Robert Hoover and I would play fast pitch there all the time, as well as on the south side of Lazars building. Robert lived in that big old (had to be 1800s built) house between Lazars and United Roofers.
    I forgot exactly, I think we were freshmen or sophomores he moved to Albany park, same thing around there, there almost wasn’t a brick wall facing a parking lot or open area that didn’t have a box painted on it.

    I think I remember that sign too, though I don’t ever recall *not* riding my bike (unless we walked there) all over the park, even through the sprinklers. We used to ride under the jungle jim and grab onto it hanging there while the bike continued on by itself. We’d have contests to see whose bike would go the farthest on it’s own.
    We’d also jump the shallow pits that formed at the bottom of the slides, Evil Knievel was popular then. One time my friend Scott hauled his bike to the top of the big slide and was going to ride it down. Scott was a bit more on the wild side then most. He had second thoughts at the top and sent the bike down on its own.
    Another time, we were racing around the field house. We would make the turn around the cement block tight and, if you recall there was gravel, crushed limestone IIRC, around that area, the bikes would skid around the turn on that gravel in a controlled (if you did it just right) fish tail. One lap Scott timed it wrong and slammed right into the block. He flew over the handle bars onto the block and rolled off the other side. One of the funniest things I ever saw. I was laughing so hard I almost hit a tree. Scott being Scott after he was able to stand up again, cursed up a storm blaming the bike and the block. Kicked the bike a few times then picked it up and flung it into the block. The whole time laughing myself to tears.

  15. Eric January 8, 2016 at 12:38 pm #

    Jeff,

    Quite a story! Good thing he reconsidered riding his bike down that slide.. I don’t recall there being any angle at the bottom of that slide to elevate himself – he would have once again found himself going over the handle bars. We tried it in the winter with sleds and it wasn’t very pleasant for the same reason. The large slide I recall had two slides angled apart from each other with one stair case going up but I might be mistaken..

    Fast pitch at Hollywood – If records were kept, I’d have to be in the top 10 for most games played. I was obsessed. When friends weren’t around, I would go by myself and just pitch or find a game within the hour. I played at River Park all years eligible and played in HS in southern California (my father lived in Huntington Beach). I did play at Mather my freshman year (1980). My junior year, our coach was looking for new pitchers and asked me to take the mound, I was an OF with a good arm.. I had never pitched before in hard ball (always hid in the OF or 1B – lacking confidence). I had very good success as a pitcher my last 2 years and never enjoyed baseball more but I attribute that to all the fast pitch I played. I had excellent control with a very good curve ball and that’s pretty much all you need in HS. Sadly, the Cubs were not interested..

    I also have boys in baseball and also coach their teams. I share the same thoughts in promoting practice. Think of all the extra ABs we enjoyed playing fast pitch while building arm strength from pitching. I can recall playing up to 3 seven inning games (2 out innings) a day at times (pitch counts??).

    In the early years of 3rd – 5th grade, we’d play with a tennis ball against the field house facing Christiana and the tennis court. We were just starting, so we wanted to hit in grade 3 so we called it ‘medium pitch’! Those early years, hitting it over the first fence was a HR, then hitting the 2nd fence on a fly, then over the second tennis court fence by 7th or 8th grade. Eventually, we outgrew it and moved to my favorite of all time, Shaare Tikvah parking lot. It was very close to home and the lot was always empty during the week days. Weekends were more of a challenge. The distance from the wall to the far fence was perfect. There was an extension of the fence on the left side or “monster” that came into play from time to time. High moon shot HRs would occasionally hit the roof of the house on the other side and come back into the lot without hunting for the HR ball. The big problem would have been for left handed hitters who would be pulling the ball onto Kimball, although we hit plenty as right handed hitters. At times northbound cars would hit a foul ball and it would be crossing Peterson Ave before it stopped.

    The alternative was Peterson School. I always wanted a fence to hit HRs over, I was stubborn about that. Games against the boiler building were not fun as that would have been a 380′ HR on to Bryn Mawr (impossible- even for Dave Kingman) – not to mention the same distance in shagging ground balls, etc. I preferred the box under the class room windows next to the gym. The windows had some type of hard plastic protection on them and could not be broken. The HR fence was now a more realistic for 8th grade and above – Plumpers Deli can attest. It seemed even a HS player had to hit a rubber ball square to get to 220′ or so because of great compression. I also remember playing in my HS days, going through 6-8 balls a game because we were throwing and hitting harder. Brand new balls with the paint fresh on them moved like crazy when fast balls were thrown to point I’d peel off the cracked paint to gain control.

    What changed? My personal perspective was there didn’t seem to be the next corp coming up. Additionally, the new ethnicity of the neighborhood did not take to baseball. As with everyone else, I too recall older and younger kids at all busy times. The park was very dead in the 80s with the exception of basketball. My friend’s younger brother had the job at the field house in the 80s and he commented about the slow down as well. It felt like my generation was among the last to bring life to Hollywood Park but I’m also aware that could be just my personal point of view. At some point in the 90’s I noticed no signs of boxes anywhere on the field house, Shaare Tikvah and Peterson was completed redone at some point. The overwhelming sport became soccer. If you google earth Hollywood Park, they squeeze as many soccer fields (white chalk) on every grassy area available. In all my years at Hollywood (’73-’85), I cannot remember one soccer game.

    As far as fast pitch outside the city/neighborhood, it did not seem to exist even back then. We had family in the suburbs and I made friends with their neighbors who would just give a blank look when I mentioned fast pitch. You nailed it when referring to lack of brick buildings with parking lots – it was just a city thing.

    Thanks for bringing this up!

  16. Jeff K January 8, 2016 at 3:11 pm #

    Your recollection of the big slide is right on, one set of steps, a platform at the top and two slides.

    I played at River Park too, from the Pee Wee league to Might Mites. I still have the Pee Wee league picture from when I was 8. I would take it with to one of the practices of my little league teams (coaching) and see if the kids can pick me out. Played at Thillens a bunch too.
    Played only freshman year in high school. Was damn good too, nothing got past me at 3rd or short, strong arm too I had no problem throwing people out from deep 3rd, little above average hitter. Coach told me, next year, try out for the varsity team. Didn’t make it that far. I had issues with the coach, just getting over a nasty cold or flu, he was getting on my case for lagging behind at a practice. I told him how I was just getting over being sick but he kept pushing, eventually I told him what he could do to himself and a buncha other things and walked out.
    Few years later, 16 or 17, I started playing on mens 16″ softball leagues around the city, and 12″ softball, and later, on some mens regular fastpitch baseball leagues. Always got complements from the older guys but since we were basically self coached and went to trade school so I never played in college, thus I never saw my full potential.

    Anyhow, I dont think fastpitch was just a city thing, some closer ‘burbs did it too. One of my oldest friends, since we were 12, lived in Morton Grove then. Our mothers were friends in high school, Roosevelt, lost touch after hs then ran into one another when we were 12, thats how we became friends. Anyhow, hopping over his fence (no alleys) you were in the grammar school, with lots of boxes around it.when I’d go up there we’d play all the time. The field ran parallel to his yard but if you really pulled one SPLASH, right in his pool.

    As many times we hit the church, I’m surprised we never broke a window there.
    Yeah, at Peterson playing by the gym, that was always a celebration hitting one onto Bryn Mawr, even more so on the roof of those stores. Speaking of Plumpers, we went there all the time, my friend Robert (mentioned on the other post) older brother worked there.

    I know what you mean about the change to soccer . I tried playing it, I was around 9-10 at River Park. Running back and forth chasing a ball bored me to tears. Seemed pointless. A third world game it is, all you need is a rock, piece of garbage or goats head. This is America, we can afford equipment to play real sports. We also have higher developed skills we can run AND use our hands at the same time, comprehend strategies and rules. Not just mindless kicking to one side or the other. 😉
    (disclaimer….got most of that from a website “why soccer sucks dot com”)

    That said, some how my friend from Morton Grove, big into baseball back then, some how during his college years started getting into soccer…big time, still plays in adult leagues.

    Ahhh yes, I remember spend a lot of time not only peeling the cranked paint from rubber balls, but also trying to clean up afterword. Those little bits of peeled paint would cling to everything tenaciously.

  17. Eric January 8, 2016 at 7:42 pm #

    Jeff:

    So you probably played with Israel Sanchez, KC Royals ’88? I faced him at River Park around ’76 and got high fives for fouling off 3 pitches before I struck out, one of them I actually got around quickly enough to hit the first base dugout (righty). I remember he wore his hat off center when he pitched. First time in my life I saw a fast ball tail, I was 11. My buddy Alex Prodanovic said he pitched every other game for Von. I heard he had arm problems but that might be wrong. From what I remember, Von had a very good team.

    I tolerated 16″ softball for the most part, line ball was fun.

    The church you mentioned, was that the church across from Hollywood Park? I recall an older kid did break one of the windows off the Thorndale side, but there was a level of glass in front of the stain glass that broke.

    I do remember playing fast pitch at a friends school in Glenview – so you’re right about that. It just wasn’t the same on grass with bushes 280′ away, etc.

    I have a lot of respect for soccer players, its a brutal sport but I don’t get it at all. I played ice hockey in men’s leagues for 20 years. You have equipment everywhere to protect yourself plus when you get tired, you can glide!

  18. Jeff K January 8, 2016 at 11:12 pm #

    Yeah I remember Isreal, I tried following his carrier a while. He was on their farm team mostly for several years, got called up a few times and pitched to a bater here and there, I think once or twice pitched a whole inning..maybe. He didn’t really get any time in. I do not recall his minor league record, actually not sure I ever found much about that.
    Yes he was good but (during my brief time in HS ball) but never woulda guessed he’d make the majors. In scrimmages I did pretty good against him. Always made me wonder how far I could have gone. Oh well.

    I remember Alex very well, a classmate of mine, occasionally we’d hang out (different circle of friends) if we ran into each other in the park or something. Good guy. Still in contact with him? Tell him I said hi.

    Yes, that church, forgot the name then but think it was a Lutheran church. Anyhow, I remember that protective layer (or just storm windows?) of glass.

    A current friend has lived all his life in Waukegan, he’s 61. We had dinner tonight, I asked him if he played/remembered fast pitch, he did too.

    Ice hockey eh? You ever play at McFetridge or know Steve Tischler? He was a hockey playing nut too. Really good at it. One of my regular friends and fellow trouble maker from 7th or 8th grade on thru hs. He lived on Christiana right across from the gym, maybe 3rd or 4th building south of Davis cleaners.

  19. Eric January 9, 2016 at 6:39 am #

    I didn’t really hear about Israel until it was over. His numbers were pedestrian, 3-2 5.36 ERA, he got into 30 games and faced 204 batters. He struck out 19 and had 1 start. Most came in ’88 and saw limited time in ’90 – he must have been injured in ’89. Still, the only one from River Park I am aware of who made it – are you aware of anyone else?

    Alex – I haven’t seen him in over 15 years. I had a job in the south west suburbs in the 90’s and ran into him at a gas station, he was the owner. He had 2 or 3 back then and was doing well. I invited him to play on my hockey team and we skated for a few years then he quit. We’d play golf from time to time as well. He hadn’t changed, very down to earth and humble. One of the nicest guys in the neighborhood. He never treated me as the underclassman I was, I always respected him for that.

    I was younger than Tischler but remember him well by reputation. I also remember where he lived, how convenient that was. I believe he would occasionally school us at hockey at Hollywood Park, being 2 years younger, I wouldn’t get in those games. I remember every March or whenever the snow would begin melting, the dozens and dozens of pucks we’d find. Alex loved hockey too and he and I would typically be the last out there. The street lights from Kedzie and Peterson gave just enough light to skate at night. Weekends, we’d be out there 6+ hours. I remember a time where we had a snowfall just like the one last week where it was hard and frozen. I would actually put my skates on at home and skate down Spaulding, all the way to the rink. I hated putting my skates on outside when the FH was closed. My son (14) skated all over the neighborhood earlier this week, he probably skated 3 miles all in backyards (no fences). Shortly after, he logged 6+ hours of XBOX.

  20. Frances Archer January 11, 2016 at 8:24 am #

    Eric, I have fond memories of the Hollywood Park ice.

  21. Eric January 11, 2016 at 12:30 pm #

    Frances,

    I’ve read about the popular ice skating rink at the old Cabana club between McDonalds and the river. Do you believe that is what inspired Hollywood Park to provide such a large ice rink after the Cabana place shut down? I always appreciated the effort it took to make that rink in those days. As I recall, they would come out every night for several days to add layers. In the mid 70’s that rink was huge. They would also do the basketball court and for one year the tennis court. Hard to imagine anyone making that level of effort today.

  22. Frances Archer January 12, 2016 at 12:51 pm #

    I’ve read recollections of the Hollywood park ice skating rink from back in the late ’50s so it definitely predated the closing of the Cabana. Ice skating was very popular, not just in our neighborhood. In the comments on this blog, people remembered when the streets were frozen for skating before much are the area was developed(late 30s) and skating on the river by River Park.

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