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