When Lincoln Village opened in 1951 in the Peterson Park neighborhood on Chicago’s northern border, the mall’s motto was: “You’ll find it at the Village.”
Earlier this month, the agenda for the Hollywood-North Park Community Association meeting included this item: “What’s the future of Lincoln Village?”
In the years that span these two remarks, a Chicago neighborhood and way of life changed. Back in the sixties, Lincoln Village was a beloved mall: Bagel and Tray, Harmony Hall, the Village Nut Shop, the deli. In 1968, the fabulous Lincoln Village Theater opened, screening films as well as presenting live stage shows (comedy and singers) direct from the Borscht Belt. Fiddler on the Roof opened and sold out on an advanced-ticket-sales-only basis. Lincoln Village was a shopping center completely in sync with the surrounding mostly Jewish city neighborhoods and suburbs.
No more schlepping
It cost South Side banker E. G. Shinner two million dollars to build the 15-acre shopping center that was designed with the automobile in mind. Shinner told a Chicago Tribune reporter:
“The oft-repeated expression of shoppers, ‘My feet are killing me,’ should seldom be heard at Lincoln Village.”
The parking lot, with space for 1,300 cars, originally had eight entrances: five on Lincoln, two on McCormick and one on Devon. So you shouldn’t have to drive around too much to find an entrance.
Shinner’s car-centric vision for this mall of the future was memorialized on a bronze plaque:
“This center is conceived to meet the modern way of motorized American life, and dedicated to the idea that shopping can made a pleasant and enjoyable experience to merchant and patron alike.”
Shinner built Lincoln Village 5 years before Old Orchard Shopping Center opened. I don’t know if Lincoln Village influenced the developers of Old Orchard, but to my eye, Old Orchard in its early days was Lincoln Village on a vastly larger scale.
A sense of place
If you only know from what Lincoln Village Shopping Center looks like today, then E. G. Shinner’s 1950 vision of a pleasant shopping environment makes no sense at all. Putting aside the empty storefronts that used to house Borders, What’s Cooking and Payless Shoes, the refurbished mall is not easy on the eyes. I’m not suggesting the original design deserved landmark status, but the Lincoln Village I remember was attractive, and it belonged in the neighborhood. (An aside to former locals: the Lincoln Village developer, E. G. Shinner, also developed Nippersink Resort.)
When it first opened, Lincoln Village had four buildings. Building A was the larger strip that ran more or less parallel to Lincoln, the small B ran perpendicular to Lincoln, backing up to the North Shore channel. Buildings C and D were small triangles, also facing Lincoln. One housed the restaurant and I don’t recall what was in the other one. In fact, I don’t recall the fourth building at all. At the west of end A, there was a two-story medical office center with a pharmacy on the first floor. Frank Lee, the druggist, was elected first president of the Lincoln Village Business Men’s Association. I guess there were no women business owners at the time.
A combination of limestone, Red Roman brick and redwood was used to give each storefront a different look. A wide canopy extended from the top of the buildings over the walkways. The canopy was held up with decorative wrought iron pillars. The walkways were made of pumice, ground glass and cement for a mosaic effect. There were several built-in flower gardens. Most storefronts had large display windows just like downtown. Shinner had loudspeakers attached to the canopies and placed inside the stores for piped-in music.
A new idea about shopping
The arrival of Lincoln Village Shopping Center in this area marked a major shift in the neighborhood. What a contrast to the old, cramped and dark storefronts lining Bryn Mawr between Kimball and Kedzie. And parking was a problem on Bryn Mawr, where there were no public lots.
Neighborhood commercial districts like Bryn Mawr between Kimball and Kedzie came about in the days before most families in the neighborhood owned a car or a refrigerator. Until women started working away from home and every family bought a car, the mom-and-pop merchants had enjoyed a captive audience.
The post-war generation wanted things fast and easy to fit their changing lifestyles. Shinner understood this new attitude. He understood that shopping was no longer going to be considered a chore, it was becoming a middle-class recreational activity–for both adults and youth alike.
While Lincoln Village may have been tied to the future, it wasn’t a radical break with the past. Except for the Mandel Brothers department store (a 21,000 square-foot space later taken over by Wieboldt’s), the shops were all local mom-and-pop businesses. The developer, Shinner, took great pride having attracted small business owners to the shopping center.
This is not the future they envisioned
Lincoln Village Shopping Center opened for business at a time when the middle class in Chicago faced an unambiguous future. In the 1950s, everything about the Hollywood and Peterson Park neighborhoods was getting better: a new school opened (Solomon); an enormous synagogue opened its doors on Kimball (Shaare Tikvah, 1949); Hollywood Park was redesigned to accommodate more playing fields for kids (1955); single-family homes, some of them quite large and grand, were going up in all the empty Hollywood and Peterson Park lots that had been called prairies by the local kids.
Today, Lincoln Village may well be representative of another major shift in attitudes about shopping. Do we want local businesses in our neighborhoods? Do we want to be on a first-name basis with shop owners? Do we want that third place in our communities where we can casually meet neighbors as we go about our daily lives? Or, in the future, will we do all our shopping online?
References: VERONICO, NICHOLAS. “Lincoln Village Park and Shop to Open Sept. 15.” Chicago Daily Tribune (1923-1963): N1. ProQuest Historical Newspapers: Chicago Tribune (1849-1987). Aug 16 1951. Web. 17 Jan. 2012. Chase, Al. “Sells Lincoln Village, New Shop Center.” Chicago Daily Tribune (1923-1963): B5. ProQuest Historical Newspapers: Chicago Tribune (1849-1987). Jan 05 1952. Web. 17 Jan. 2012 .
Credits: Photo of Wieboldt’s sign at Lincoln Village Shopping Center at night, courtesy of Allan Zirlin. Photo of Lincoln Village Shopping Mall, VERONICO, NICHOLAS. “Lincoln Village Park and Shop to Open Sept. 15.” Chicago Daily Tribune (1923-1963): N1. ProQuest Historical Newspapers: Chicago Tribune (1849-1987). Aug 16 1951. Web. 17 Jan. 2012.