Farrell’s South Side. Algren’s Near West Side. Bellow’s Hyde Park. And now the world can read about Martin Marcus’s Hollywood Park.
It’s true. Hollywood Park, that far North Side neighborhood barely known outside its own vaguely defined borders, has joined the ranks of Chicago neighborhoods immortalized in fiction.
Best of all, Marcus’s Hollywood Park is entirely recognizable as my Hollywood Park. Although Marcus set his story in the early 1930s, more than twenty years before I was born, I knew some of the landmarks mentioned in the book.
Take, for example, the Hollywood Smart Shop, where a character in the novel buys a pair of ice skates. In real life, there was a Hollywood Smart Shop on Bryn Mawr, and it was open in the early 1960s. Same goes for the Dutch Mill candy shop on Bryn Mawr: in the novel and in real life, up until my day.
My all-time favorite Bryn Mawr store, the Hollywood Bowl, isn’t mentioned by name in the novel, but I have no doubt this is a reference to it, or its predecessor:
“Strangely silent was the tiny candy and supply store that served the children from his daughter’s, Joyce’s, grammar school across the street.” (Hollywood Park, p.220)
And there’s the park. Just as this small parcel of Chicago Park District land at Peterson and Jersey was the heart of the neighborhood in real life, the park serves a similar purpose in the novel. One difference, though. In my day, the park was a hangout for kids; in the book, it’s the moms who go to the park every day:
“Even into late November, in good weather they gathered daily with their perambulators on the benches in the small common that the surrounding neighborhood took its name from: Hollywood Park. What dreamer in the Department of Naming had invoked that frothy image for this thirty-two square block jumble of courtyard flats and bungalows interrupted everywhere by gaps of empty lots like a bad set of teeth.” (Hollywood Park, p.36)
The novel tells the story of two related, extended Jewish families. When we meet them, they’ve already been laid low by the Depression and things keep getting worse. I’m well versed in Depression-era images, both from my mother’s stories as well as from books and films, but reading about the near-destitute trudging along the same streets I walked on to go to elementary school made the hard times more vivid and sad.
Even if you’re not from Hollywood Park, you’ll enjoy this novel if you like reading about Chicago in the days of the old ethnic neighborhoods. And if you’re from Hollywood Park: this was our neighborhood, before it was fully formed and yet already what it is in our memories.
Hollywood Park by Martin Marcus. 250 pages. Published 2002.
Next week I’ll post my interview with Marty Marcus, the author of Hollywood Park, and some old photographs he shared with me.
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