A youth among the prairies of Hollywood Park


I was thrilled to hear from John Erickson, an Illinois physician who grew up in Hollywood Park during the 1930s and ’40s. His comments provide a glimpse of my childhood neighborhood during the years when residents were keeping the wolf from the door and local businesses were more Swedish than Jewish.

Dr. Erickson’s family lived at three different addresses in the area during their years in Hollywood Park and they had relatives nearby. From 1938 to 1941, the Ericksons rented this classic Chicago bungalow at 5723 N. Drake. According to city records, the home was built in 1931. Many identical houses are sprinkled throughout Hollywood Park and, judging from the 1916 Municipal TB Sanitarium photo below, this model may have been among the first built in the neighborhood.

Neighborhood pioneers

Early_bungalows_in_Hollywood Park

Bungalows on the 5800 blocks of Central Park and Drake in this 1916 photo are identical to the former Erickson home. Many Hollywood Park lots remained undeveloped until the 1940s.

Frances: Early aerial maps and fire insurance maps show numerous empty lots in Hollywood Park well into the 1940s and even the ’50s. Was that your impression as a child?

John: Indeed, the Hollywood Park area was half undeveloped in the ’30s. We had many whole block areas for play and exploration.

There wasn’t a single structure in Budlong Woods bounded by Foster, Bryn Mawr, the canal, and Lincoln. There were no buildings from Ardmore to Peterson, Kimball to Central Park. That area was a favorite for large groups to pick dandelions for greens and wine on Sunday afternoons.

The area was dotted with empty lots we called “prairies” even though the lots had only a 35 or sometimes 70-foot frontage.  We played “bounce or fly” softball in the street since there were very few cars in the neighborhood in the ’30s with NONE parked on the street in daylight.

Frances: The custom of calling undeveloped lots in Hollywood Park “prairies” extended into my childhood in the early 1960s, though only a handful of “prairies” remained.

The lots I remember were located at the NW and SW corners of Peterson and St. Louis, about two city blocks from my house.  We rode our bikes, never walked, to the lots, always taking along glass  jars with holes punched into the lids for collecting insects, especially fireflies.

At some point in the mid-1960s office buildings were built on these lots. The one on the south side of Peterson has an adjacent parking lot with a nice ramp for cruising down on bikes, a small consolation for the loss of our prairie.

John: I remember horse-drawn milk delivery wagons sharing the alleys with horse-drawn garbage wagons, rag and iron collectors, and knife/scissor sharpeners on foot.

When we lived at 5723 Drake, across the alley from us, the entire block facing St. Louis was empty north of 5706. We were permitted to bank a large portion of the block for ice skating, which the Chicago Fire Department flooded for us. A similar “rink” was at Christiana and Balmoral.

Getting around

Frances: What public transportation was available at the time?

John: The feeder bus” (trolley) ran from Peterson to Lawrence on Kimball.  The Kedzie street car ended at Bryn Mawr.  During the war the feeder bus was cancelled and we had to take the street car to the el station at Kedzie.

Frances: In November 1949 the CTA announced it was replacing Kedzie street cars running north from Logan Square to Bryn Mawr with bus service and extending the route to Peterson Avenue.

John, did your family belong to a church?


John: We belonged to Albany Park Lutheran which started out in 1917 on Ainslie and Sawyer, south of Hibbard School, and moved to 3311 W. Thorndale, at the corner of Spaulding and Thorndale in 1930. The first building (shown above)  became a synagogue and the second (shown below) a Korean Methodist church when “All Saints” merged with a Rogers Park congregation.


Frances: And where did you go to school?

John: My sisters and I all attended Peterson and Von Steuben. My grandmother, Betty Victor Thelander, was a friend of Mary Gage Peterson, for whom Peterson School was named. My grandparents lived at 5700 N. Bernard … Grandma had been in the Chicago Fire. Her father had been killed at Vicksburg, MS, in the Civil War, newly arrived from Sweden, hired to replace a drafted boy into the GAR.  My dad was administrator of Augustana Hospital at 411 Dickens for 35 years, 1923-1958.

Frances: As with so many former Hollywood Park residents I’ve met through this blog, I found I had a connection with Dr. Erickson: both our fathers worked at the same hospital, Augustana, though at different times, and John did a portion of his residency there. In the 1960s my father was an attending physician at Augustana. I knew the hospital lobby, gift shop and cafeteria well. On Saturday mornings I sometimes accompanied my father on his rounds at Children’s, Grant and Augustana–a straight shot down Lincoln Avenue.

Local businesses

John: I remember Bloom’s on Foster just east of Kimball was a school supply store and deli. Irving Bloom, the owner’s son, was my classmate both at Peterson and Von in the 1934-1945 decade. Also, Wasberg’s “Varsity Inn” was a restaurant on Foster between Spaulding and Sawyer in the ’30s with complete Sunday dinners for $0.55. “Pete” Peterson’s barber shop was next to Socatch.

The famous Swedish bakery Signe Carlson, 1701 W. Foster, had a North Park outpost.

The Signe Carlson Bakery located on Foster near Ashland had a branch outlet for a short time before WWII on the north side of Foster between Spaulding and Christiana.


3300 block of Bryn Mawr, circa 1935

On Bryn Mawr there were Nordeen’s Grocery, Carlstedt’s Fish Market, and Heinemann’s Bakery across the street from Jewel, Dutch Mill Candies, National Tea, and Woolworth’s. Braverman’s Drug Store was on the corner, a dry good store on the north.

Lee’s Chop Suey, Weiner’s Deli, Denbo’s Ice Cream, Gold Medal Cleaners, and around the corner on Kimball Ivar and Ann Lambert’s Swedish Deli. Oscar’s Barber Shop was next door. Dave’s Pharmacy was west of Kimball.

The gas station at Bryn Mawr and Kimball gave free glasses and pitcher with fill-up of gas at 18 cents a gallon. The Terminal, Metro, and Alba theaters on Lawrence were our Saturday destination.


Frances: Besides ice skating and exploring prairies, what else did kids do for fun?

John: The clay hills along the west bank of the canal from Bryn Mawr to Foster were a fine bicycling course. Those days were carefree for us kids, but worrisome for our folks who had a family to feed, clothe, and succor in Depression times. We played NBC baseball at River Park where Marv Rotblatt of the Rangers (later U of I and the White Sox) overwhelmed the rest of us. (See this post for more memories of Marv Rotblatt.)

Frances: My thanks to Dr. Erickson. My family lived two blocks away from where he lived on Drake and I see similarities between the Hollywood Park of his day and my own–empty lots,  line ball, ice skating, bike rides and a variety of local businesses, some of which endured into the early 1960s–but even more fascinating are his family ties back to the Chicago Fire, the Civil War and the first generation of Swedish immigrants to arrive in the United States.

You can learn a lot of history from a tiny neighborhood on Chicago’s far North Side.

Sources: Chicago Tribune, November 19, 1949, CTA TO EXTEND BUS SERVICE TO KEDZIE AV. ROUTE.  Black-and-white photos of Albany Park Lutheran Church from the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America website. Black-and-white photo of Bryn Mawr from Chicago: Growth Of A Metropolis, Harold Meyer and Richard Wade, p. 345.

Related posts: Bryn Mawr business district through the years, Hot Dogs and Baseball: An Albany Park Boyhood.

If you’re interested in sharing your Hollywood Park stories on this blog, contact me.

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30 Responses to A youth among the prairies of Hollywood Park

  1. Jerry Pritikin February 22, 2011 at 8:40 am #

    Thanks for the great history lesson. The mention of Pete’s barbaer shop, reminded me of 2 barbers in the Albany Park neighborhood. Joe’s was on Lawrence between Troy and Kedzie. It was also a bookie joint. My dad used to place his bets there! I remember getting my quarter hair cut, and Joe broke one of his combs trying to part my hair… and said he was going to charge me an extra 2 bits for it. However my favorite was the barber shop just north of Ainslie and Singer’s Drug store. The owner lived in the back with his wife. He was always making with the jokes… and once while on a trip to South Haven… my dad took me to a barber there. The next time I came in for a haircut… he said he was going to charge me for getting a hircut elsewhere. When ever he put water on my head, shaken from a pop bottle with holes in the cap… I would ask him what’s in the bottle? He would say arch-water… later admitting it came from the tap! What I found out many years later… I was reading a story about Michael Ovitz… the President of Disney… saying his father had a barber shop at that location… and when Michael left Disney…he received a 140 million dollar severance package. That would be a lot of haircuts at his pop’s barber shop!

  2. Frances Archer February 22, 2011 at 8:49 am #

    Jerry, I had no idea Ovitz had an Albany Park connection. Love your stories.

  3. Gordon Schultz February 22, 2011 at 10:01 am #

    Loved the stories. Thanks for posting them.

    Growing up on the South Side, we too called any vacant section of land regardless of size, it seems, a prairie. They became baseball fields in summer, football fields in fall and early winter, and if the November-December rains were right, ice-skating ponds in deep winter. And during the heavy spring rains melting the ice and snow those prairies became seas on which we sailed, poling left-over foundation forms for rafts. As spring glimpsed the coming summer we collected tadpoles in those watery prairies.

    I loved those Chicago days.
    Question: When I moved to North Park in 1965 to go to college, there was a bakery on Foster Ave that to my sadness, closed that year . For me, it had been like my grandmother’s kitchen moved to the North Side. Was that still Signe Carlson’s?

  4. Frances Archer February 22, 2011 at 10:17 am #

    Thanks, Gordon, for stopping by. I searched through my comments archives back to an earlier post about North Park. A couple people do mention Signe Carlson’s bakery being around in the ’50s, so it may have still been around in the ’60s. When I get a chance, I’ll check a 1962 phone directory I now have on a CD, thanks to a reader.

  5. Bonnie McGrath February 22, 2011 at 12:27 pm #

    so interesting!! thanks for the informative post!

  6. Frances Archer February 22, 2011 at 12:36 pm #

    Bonnie, thanks, glad you like it!

  7. Merle Citrin Monroe February 22, 2011 at 12:58 pm #

    My first church experience was at the Albany Park Lutheran Church on Thorndale. A girl who lived in my building, Margaret Stewart, invited me to Christmas Eve services. I enjoyed the services and, especially, the singing…..and I believe I went to Christmas services with her for several years thereafter.

  8. Alice Rifkind Gutenkauf February 22, 2011 at 2:33 pm #

    Nedlogs was mentioned in one of the reviews. My dad was their accountant for many years. The office was on Elston just north of Belmont. The building is still there.

  9. Martha Peterson February 22, 2011 at 7:33 pm #

    Thanks for the great article! I’m going to share it with my dad. He grew up on Avers Ave. right off of Lawrence. He also grew up at Albany Park Lutheran and his parents met in confirmation class there in the early 1920’s. My grandpa used to do a lot of maintenance work (he was a painter and decorator) and I remember all of the beautiful wood in the church – especially the front doors. Thanks, again!

  10. Frances Archer February 22, 2011 at 7:50 pm #

    Martha, that’s fascinating. Now you’ve made me interested in searching for the building and seeing if I can get a peek inside. Can’t wait for the spring to start my explorations in earnest.

  11. Frances Archer February 22, 2011 at 7:51 pm #

    I grew up calling Nedlogs “orange pop” and I’m guessing that’s a phrase used only in Chicago!

  12. Noel B Perlman February 23, 2011 at 1:01 pm #

    What a great blast from the past! My story bridges both mentioned locales since we lived on Christiana near Foster during my pre-school days and through mid-third grade at Hibbard. We moved to Spaulding and Hollywood in May, 1941, and I of course graduated from Peterson, went on to one year at Von before transferring to Lane Tech. Would you believe that Lane had been so crowded from the baby boom of the 20’s that they temporarily suspended their freshman year? I remember the Signe Carlson Bakery on Foster as well as Greenberg the butcher, two symbols of the transition from Swedish to Jewish taking place at the time. I was gratified to see Community Bakery in the Bryn Mawr photo; it is often overlooked in rundowns of the businesses here. The twin sons of the owner, Arthur Gordon, are my life-long friends to this day. Arthur and his brother-in-law, Charlie Lubin (who was an actual baker), developed a secret recipe during WWII for a unique cheese cake, named after Charlie’s daughter, Sara Lee! They made their initial fortune from government contracts to supply the armed forces with the cake.

    And yes, it was a great outdoor life for us kids, endlessly riding around the area on our bikes, playing 16″ softball on the Peterson playground, belly-flopping with sleds on the side streets in winter, and ice skating whenever possible. We also frequented the “hills” (Virginia Park) on the west bank, both with our bikes (bicycle Riverview, we called it) and our sleds. The interview mentions the bank south of Bryn Mawr but we went approximately from Bryn Mawr north to Thorndale for the roller coaster hills.

    Two more notes: The projectionist at the Terminal Theater lived on the first floor of our building; he often sneaked us in through the fire escape. John Oliver, the son of the pastor at Albany Lutheran Church, was in our class at Peterson.

    Thanks for the memories.

  13. Frances Archer February 23, 2011 at 1:52 pm #

    Noel, thanks for adding so much to our group history here. I have a feeling you’ll really enjoy my next post, in about a week and a half: I’ve got a surprise from Peterson Class of 1947 coming up next!

    Ask the Gordons if they’d like to share their memories with me, and if so to contact me via the form on this blog.

    Interesting how popular ice skating was in our neighborhood, perhaps all over Chicago. They flooded Hollywood Park in my day, and I believe this is the first year that didn’t have outdoor skating there.

  14. Noel B Perlman February 23, 2011 at 2:17 pm #

    Don’t want to spoil any surprise but I think I know about it since I came to this blog through a tip from Marty Marcus, another life-long friend from the same group of friends (seven of us still get together on a regular basis). We are all from the 1947 Peterson class.

  15. Noel B Perlman February 23, 2011 at 2:25 pm #

    Oops, forgot to mention: The Hollywood Park that you knew is the successor to the one we did. Before they leveled the entire four square blocks this was a heavily planted park with many trees, bushes, winding paths, and a large rock garden with running water and “falls.” The only recreation area was tennis courts fronting Christiana.

  16. John Erickson February 23, 2011 at 8:05 pm #

    Noel, it’s so long since I was last in the neighborhood I was surprised to hear that 4 blocks have been levelled.. The Hollywood Park of my era (the 30s and early 40s) was about 3/4 of the block from Thorndale to Peterson and had one tennis court where Dick Pipenhagen and I competed. What’s it like now?

  17. Frances Archer February 23, 2011 at 9:01 pm #

    Noel, I discovered that difference when I visited the Chicago Park District archives. They have blueprints and photographs of the original design. I copied some to a blogpost called That’s Not the Hollywood Park I remember. So any comments John and you have about how it looked are welcome as there’s not much information other than the plans.

  18. Noel B Perlman February 23, 2011 at 11:50 pm #

    Frances and John, very exciting to see the photos of the old park, the park that I knew growing up. I believe but am not certain that the east boundary was extended to Jersey and Spaulding was cut off at Thorndale. The boundaries that I remember were Jersey, Thorndale, Christiana and Peterson. I am a little puzzled by the information about recreational areas always being a part of the park, particularly the ice skating, since I don’t remember any of that being there. My father was an avid skater and taught me by driving us over to Gompers Park on west Foster where there was a huge outdoor pond. I think that if there had been a pond at Hollywood I would have gone there often but I don’t remember doing so. It’s possible that it was there but too small to consider.

    Frances, I shall contact the Gordon twins with your information (they were also directed to this blog by Marty) and tell them that you would like their input.

  19. John Erickson February 24, 2011 at 7:02 am #

    Noel, in my time all the neighborhood skating was done on empty lots flooded via hydrants for us kids to skate and play hockey. The Gompers Park ice was the best skating surface, by far, but no hockey playing was permitted.. Last night I “toured” the neighborhood via vPike.com and see the changes made in Hollywood Park. That lone tennis court appears to remain.

  20. Frances Archer February 24, 2011 at 3:12 pm #

    Jerry, I found the article about Michael Ovitz’s father.

  21. Gordon Schultz February 25, 2011 at 3:17 pm #

    Really enjoying this. Noel’s stories are wonderful, too. Being a South Sider, I’m surprised by how much this area still means to me. One of the things I enjoyed the most, being a nordic kid was the contrasting Jewish and Swedish character of the community. I loved the watching the Jews going to services, their pride and the centrality of their faith. Swedes are so different; they tend to hide their convictions, so the contrast was delightful.

  22. Noel B Perlman March 1, 2011 at 10:25 am #

    So many memories came flowing out and into my notes above that I forgot to follow up on the very first reply from Jerry Pritikin. Jerry, are you from the same Pritikin family I knew on west Lawrence Ave, I think somewhere between Central Park and Pulaski? I was classmates at Von with (briefly) the girl of the family, Farrell (spelling uncertain), and the mother was den mother of a Cub Scout pack that I mentored as a senior Boy Scout from Albany Park troop 898. The troop met at the synagogue on Ainslie & Bernard and I preferred traveling there to joining the troop in Hollywood Park which had just organized and still didn’t have it together.

  23. John Erickson March 2, 2011 at 7:39 am #

    Hadn’t that been a Presbyterian Church in the late 30s on Bernard and Ainslie?

  24. Jerry Pritikin March 6, 2011 at 9:37 pm #

    @ Noel, That was another Pritikin. I recall that there was a Stuart and a Rhoda Pritikin who went to Von,too. The story about the Pritikin’s, was that they were all related, that is until they became millionaires! Ainslie and Bernard was near the Deborah Boys club. When my sister Toby got married in 1948, their first apartment was at 4915 Bernard in an 1 room attic with a low slanted ceiling and shared a bathroom. Apartments were hard to find at that time. I believe their rent was $45. a month.

  25. Noel B Perlman March 11, 2011 at 1:03 pm #

    John, I wasn’t familiar with that corner in the ’30’s but the building housing the synagogue didn’t look like a former church, as I remember, and was located on the northwest corner.

  26. John Erickson March 14, 2011 at 7:21 am #

    Albany Park Presbyterian was on the southwest corner.

  27. John Erickson March 14, 2011 at 1:34 pm #

    …….of St. Louis and Ainslie

  28. Ralph July 25, 2013 at 5:17 pm #

    My father worked for Signe Carlson Bakery after WW II until 1965. He met Seymour while serving in the Pacific. He started out as a delivery driver then turned baker. After that he then he went to work at Burney Bros. Bakery until they closed down.

  29. Frances Archer July 27, 2013 at 8:58 pm #

    Ralph, I don’t think I ever went to Signue Carlson, but I’ve seen many fond memories of it. I read of two locations, one on Foster and the other I’m not sure of. Where there others?

  30. Ralph July 28, 2013 at 8:30 am #

    From what my Dad has told me that there were a total of three Signe Carlson Bakeries. One one at 1701 West Foster Ave., and two others after WW II. The last one to close was the one on Foster Avenue in December 1974. That’s where my father worked at. They use to sell their bakery goods across the city. I don’t recall where the other two stores were.

    After they closed the store on Foster Ave., I was told that the grand kids opened a bakery there called, Let Them Eat Cake around 1985. I don’t know much about them at all except that by 2007 the property was sold and condos went up.

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