Recently I met photographer Jerry Pritikin, who grew up in Chicago’s Albany Park neighborhood during the ’40s and ’50s. Even though he attended Von Steuben High School some 20 years before I did, we remember many of the same neighborhood institutions and landmarks.
If you’ve read my stories about growing up in the Hollywood Park neighborhood on Chicago’s far North Side during the 1960s, you’ll recall that neighborhood parks and hot dog stands were among the primary settings for my early years. Same was true for Jerry.
Albany Park, North Park, Hollywood Park, and Peterson Park—this northbound swath of mostly Jewish neighborhoods fed into Von Steuben. After interviewing Jerry, I’m convinced the area changed less in the years between 1944 – 1974 than it did between 1974 – 1980.
Jerry’s Chicago friends and family know him by a different name. At age 3 he couldn’t pronounce his first name, “Jerome.” He became “Omie,” a nickname that stuck for the first 20 years of his life.
I’m publishing my interview with Jerry and his family photos in two parts. The first part will focus on neighborhood life and the second on baseball, the official language at the kitchen table of Jerry’s childhood home.
Frances: Where did you grow up?
Jerry: We moved into a two-flat at 4839 N. Troy on May 3, 1944. I went to Hibbard Elementary School and Von Steuben High School.
Frances: Did you spend much time at River Park?
Jerry: Oh yes, I played softball at first park, and even a little tennis. At second park, we played some hardball choose-up games.
On the site of the WWll Victory Garden, they built an outdoor swimming pool. During opening week (I believe it was 1947), it was dedicated by Jim Thorpe, and the following week by Buster Crabbe, the actor who played in the movie serial Flash Gordon.
In winter, we went sledding at both parks and ice skating.
Frances: What’s first park and second park? There was a Victory Garden at River Park? And, I checked–the pool opened in 1948.
Jerry: First park is west of the river and second park is east of the river, where the fieldhouse is.
During WWII people were encouraged to plant vegetable gardens in their backyards. People who lived in apartment buildings planted in community gardens. The one at River Park was located behind the fieldhouse, where the pool is now.
There also used to be a bridle path at River Park.
Frances: I took a lot of different classes in the fieldhouse, starting when I was four. I remember kids playing around the water fountain outside the fieldhouse. It had four nozzles and if you covered three of them, water shot up really high out of the fourth.
Line ball rules
Frances: What did kids do in your neighborhood for fun?
Jerry: We had a block team (North Troy Street) and played some teams from other blocks. One of our best pastimes was playing in the alley between Troy and Albany… line ball (singles, past the pitcher; doubles, over the pitcher’s head; triples, touched by the outfielder; and a homer, over his head.)
There were several sets of brothers: me and my brother Allen; Bruce and Al Block; Roy and Arnie Wainer; Dave and Jerry Cohen, and cousins Chuck and Torrie Faso. My brother was a “Reguler Fella”!
We also played softball on Hibbard’s campus, as well as fast ball pitching, using a Pink Spaulding rubber ball. or tennis balls.
Frances: Did you call them “Spaulding pinkies?” We did. Boys played a game called pinners with them on the school playground. They threw the balls against a ledge on the school wall.
Jerry: Same game. We threw the ball at a curb to make it fly over the fielder’s head.
Frances: Where did kids hang out?
Jerry: The first hot dog place we hung out at was Lerner’s on the 4800 block of North Kedzie. A hot dog, on a sheet of wax paper, fries and and a small drink for 37 cents!
Frances: I went to Lerner’s, too, but at a different address on Kedzie. Jay Lerner told me that Seymour, his father, and Sam, his uncle, opened their first hot dog stand at 4848 N. Kedzie in 1949. They moved to the 5541 N. Kedzie location, the one I knew, in 1953.
Jerry: My brother Neil had Neil’s Dugout, across from the Alba Theater in 1948, (before it was made into a bowling alley). It only lasted a year. On the same block was the Hollywood Roller Rink.
On Saturdays we went to the Balaban & Katz Terminal Theater. The movie came from the Uptown Theatre, after playing at a downtown theatre. After playing the Terminal, the movie played at the Alba. Across the street was the Metro, which played mostly westerns and low-budget movies. Cooper & Cooper was popular for 12-cent hamburgers. It was on Kimball, across from the Ravenswood “L” terminal.
I remember once a couple of older Jewish men bribed my friend Marvin Weiss and me as we were coming out of the Terminal. They offered us 50 cents each, so they could have a minyan!
When we were going to Von, there was a hot dog stand called Reds. It did so well the owner built a one-story building on Foster near Kimball. That was the first place to serve celery salt! They also served soft drinks, including Upper 10 (3 more ounces then 7UP!!) Ne-Hi, Nedlogs (Golden spelled backwards) and Royal Crown.
On the northwest corner of Kedzie and Lawrence was Steinway Drugstore. It had a soda fountain, and hot fudge sundaes were 25 cents. Malts were served with a pack of two cookies and real whipped cream for 27 cents; shakes were 2 cents less.
The first TV in an Albany Park home
Jerry: In 1946 I remember seeing my first TV image. The set was in the window of Little Al’s Radio and Phonograph Store, on Lawrence near Spaulding. (Its slogan was: “Where the customer is always wrong!) I watched the last out of a Cubs game.
In early 1947 Steiners Tavern on the northeast corner of Kedzie and Lawrence had the first TV in the neighborhood. I began to sneak in, and sit on the foot rail to watch Cubs games, Blackhawk games and basketball games.
My dad heard I was hanging out there. I remember him coming home from work and asking me to go with him. We went to Little Al’s, and he bought the first TV in Albany Park that was not in a tavern.
Al Turner of Little Al’s put a temporary antenna up. The first image on the screen was a kids show. It was Oct 13,1947. The show, Junior Jamboree, later to be called Kukla, Fran and Ollie, was making its debut.
From that time on, our house became the center of attraction for the neighborhood kids. On Tuesday nights, we had a couple of dozen people in our living room to see The Milton Berle Show. One of my classmates wrote an article in the Hibbard Herald, the school paper, called, “Keeping up with the times,” about our TV set (I wish I had a copy now!).
Frances: Did your family have relatives living in Albany Park or nearby? Do you know when your parents moved into Albany Park and where they lived before?
Jerry: My dad and his partner Morrie Wainer bought our two-flat home in 1944. The Wainers came from Douglas Park on the West Side, and we came from Lakeview. My parents had a few friends living in Albany Park before we moved there.
The location was great. Big red wooden streetcars on Lawrence, the Ravenswood el and buses on Kedzie. My Dad and Morrie sold tomatoes on South Water Market.
After the end of WWll, many new stores and restaurants opened up in the area. Because there were so many kids in the neighborhood, milk trucks (Bowman, Western United, Kramel) were making deliveries 2-3 times a week.
There was a large A&P on Kedzie, and a National Tea on Lawrence. Walgreen’s came in the early 1950s. There was a small Weinstein Chapel between Troy and Kedzie. In the early 1950’s Kaufman’s Bagels opened up on Kedzie. There were several shoe stores (4 Brother’s, Bergers). They had machines that you put your foot into, and it allowed you to see an x-ray like image to make sure you had the right size. My brother and I always played with it, and no one stopped us.
Frances: Some Sundays we’d get bagels at Kaufman’s on Kedzie. My mother double-parked and I had to run in. It was always packed.
Jerry: I remember there was a linoleum store on Christiana and Lawrence, and a very popular delicatessen called Purity’s just west of the Terminal Theater. The public library was just west of Kimball.
Frances: Did your family attend a synagogue?
We didn’t belong to any synagogue, but the first day my brother and I went to Hebrew school, we were kicked out for playing catch with our yarmulkes. My parents attended High Holiday Services at Jules Bowling Alley and Pool Hall on the 4700 block of N. Kedzie.
In the early 1950s, Budlong Woods area near California and Foster had a housing boom, as well as many new synagogues. Very few houses had window fans and air conditioners didn’t arrive to the late 1950s. To attract new members, they all advertised that they were air conditioned! I recall the biggest new synagogue was on the 5700 block of Kimball (I can’t recall the name).
Frances: That was Shaare Tikvah. It opened in 1947, and just this past year, they sold the building and have relocated.
Update: Check out this video documentary about Albany Park in 1983, when the area was ruled by the Latin Kings gang.
Credits: Except where noted, all photographs courtesy of Jerry Pritikin.